Akbar The Great

A.D. 1556 TO A.D. 1605

Here is a subject indeed!

Considering the time--a time when Elizabeth of England found that

England ready to support her in beheading her woman-cousin, when

Charles IX. of France idly gave the order on St Bartholomew's Eve,

and Pope Urban VIII., representing the highest majesty of the

Christian religion, forced the tortured, seventy-year-old Galileo to
his knees, there to abjure by oath what he knew to be God's truth:

considering the country--a country to this day counted uncivilised by

Europe--there is small wonder that the record of Akbar seems

incredible even to the owner of the hand which here attempts to

epitomise that record.

And yet it is a true one. Discounting to the full the open flattery of

Abul-fazl's Akbarnamah, the source from which most information is

derived, giving good measure to Budaoni's grudging criticisms, the

unbiassed readers of Akbar's life cannot avoid the conviction that in

dealing with him, they are dealing with a man of imagination, of


Between the lines, as it were, of bare fact, the unconventional, the

unexpected crops up perpetually, making the mind start and wonder. As

an instance, let us take the account of the great hunt at Bhera, near

the river Jhelum, and let us take it in the very words of the


"The Emperor gave orders for a gamargha hunt, and that the nobles

and officers should according to excellent methods enclose the wild

beasts.... But, when it had almost come about that the two sides were

come together, suddenly, all at once a strange state and strong frenzy

came upon the Emperor ... to such an extent as cannot be accounted

for. And every one attributed it to some cause or other ... some

thought that the beasts of the forest had with a tongueless tongue

unfurled divine secrets to him. At this time he ordered the hunting to

be abandoned. Active men made every endeavour that no one should even

touch the feather of a finch."

Now whether the legend which lingers in India be true or not, that it

was the sight of a chinkara fawn which brought about the Emperor's

swift change of front, we have here baldly set down certain events

which apparently were incomprehensible and but vaguely praiseworthy,

even to Abul-fazl's keen eye for virtue in his master. Viewed,

however, by the wider sympathies of to-day, the fact stands forth

indubitably that the "extraordinary access of rage such as none had

ever seen the like in him before" with which Akbar was seized, was no

mere fit of epilepsy, such as the rival historian Budaoni counts it to

have been, but a sudden overmastering perception of the relations

between God's creatures, the swift realisation of the Unity which

binds the whole world together; for it seems certain that he never

again countenanced a battue.

Now Akbar's life was full of such sudden insights. We see the effect

of them in his swift actions; actions so swift, so unerring, that they

startle the dull world around him. He was that rare thing--a dreamer

who was also a man of action.

That he was full of faults none can deny, but, judging him by the

highest canon, one feels bound to place him amongst those few names,

such as Shakspeare, Michelangelo, Beethoven and Caesar, who seem to

have had equal control over their physical and their subliminal

consciousness; and so, inevitably, head the lists of leaders amongst


Of Akbar's early years enough has been said. From his birth in the

sand-swept desert, to the day on which, a lad-ling of eight, he

finally escaped the clutches of his uncle Kamran, and rode into his

father's camp before Kabul at the head of a faithful contingent, he

had suffered such constant vicissitudes of fortune that there can be

no surprise at the belief, which grew up later, that he bore a charmed


Of the next three years until, at the age of twelve, he marched with

his father on India, and brought success by, with youthful energy,

precipitating a decisive battle, nothing is known, save that he was

married with much pomp to his cousin Razia-Khanum, daughter of his

dead uncle Hindal, a woman many years his senior.

Akbar, then, was thirteen years and four months old when at Hariana, a

town in the Jullunder district, he received the news of his father's

accident, and almost at the same time those of his death. He, together

with his governor, tutor, or, as it is called in Persian, atalik,

Byram-Khan, was engaged in pursuing Sikundah-Shah, the last scion of

the House of Sur, and it seemed to them best, ere returning to Delhi,

to secure the Punjab by securing Sikundah. But their decision proved

of doubtful wisdom; for Kabul instantly revolted, and Hemu, the

shopkeeper-prime-minister of the third Suri king, with an army of

fifty thousand men and five hundred elephants, marched on Delhi,

flushed by his victories, to restore the late dynasty, and took the


In this predicament, Akbar's counsellors advised retreat to Kabul. Its

recovery seemed certain, and he could there await future developments.

But Akbar's instincts were for empire, and Byram-Khan, the old

Turkoman soldier, was with him.

Delhi must be won back at all hazards; so, not without trepidation,

the old man and the boy crossed the river Sutlej, and were joined at

Sirhind by Tardi-Beg, and the forces which had fled from Delhi. Now

Tardi-Beg was a nobleman of the House of Chagatai (which also claimed

the young king as its most distinguished scion), and between him and

Byraem-Khan there had ever been enmity. The latter, therefore, taking

as his excuse the over-haste of Tardi-Beg's retirement from Delhi,

called him to his tent, and without referring to their youthful

master, had him assassinated. The event, common enough in Indian

history, is noteworthy, because it caused the first rift in the

confidence between Byram and Akbar, who, boy as he was, showed his

displeasure, and refused to accept the rough soldier's excuse that

violence was necessary to assert power.

The next breach was of the same kind. Passing by our old friend, the

fort of Bhattinda, Akbar gave battle to Hemu on the old field at

Paniput, where, thirty years before, his grandfather, Babar, had

decided his fate.

No doubt the thought of this had something to do with the renewed

victory which left Hemu, sorely wounded, a prisoner in Byram's hands.

Not satisfied with this, the savage old Tartar general brought him

into Akbar's tent, and, presenting the boy with a sword, said: "This

is your first war, my king. Prove your sword upon this infidel." But

Akbar drew back indignantly. "How can I strike one who is no better

than a dead man?" he replied hotly. "It is on strength and sense that

a king's sword is tried." Whereupon Byram, incensed, no doubt, by the

proud refusal, instantly cut down Hemu himself.

They say the boy-king wept; certain it is that he never forgot, never

quite forgave, the incident. Next day, marching 53 miles without a

halt, Akbar entered Delhi, the acknowledged Emperor of India.

What that India was, we know. On all sides was despotism; good or bad

government being the result of the personal equation of the despot.

Akbar was to change much of this by wise, unalterable, and beneficent

laws during the nine-and-forty years of his reign; for the present,

however, he was under tutelage, and the first four years after his

accession passed without the young king's showing any of the

markedly-original tendencies which characterised him in after life.

But during those four years he was learning to recognise what he

liked, what he disliked. Amongst the latter was the arbitrary exercise

of Byram's power. This became more and more galling as the years sped

by, and the boy, now growing to manhood, began to realise himself,

began to dream dreams, began to see realities with a clearness and

insight far beyond those of his tutor. But he had a generous, an

affectionate heart. He hestitated long to throw off the yoke of

tutelage and proclaim his determination to rule in his own way; and

despite the efforts of Byram's enemies--and he had many--added to the

persuasions of Maham-Anagah (Akbar's foster-mother, who all his life,

from the day when, a yearling babe, he was left in her charge while

his father and mother fled for their lives across the Persian

frontier, had been his chief adviser), it was not till A.D. 1560 that

Akbar made up his mind to action. Then, leaving Byram engaged in a

hunting expedition, he returned, on pretext of his mother's sudden

illness, to Delhi and issued a proclamation announcing to his people

that he had taken the sole management of affairs into his own hands,

and that no orders, except those given under his own seal, should in

future be obeyed. At the same time he sent a dignified message to

Byram-Khan to this effect:--

"Till now our mind has been taken up with our education and by the

amusements of youth, and it was our royal will that you should

regulate the affairs of our empire. But, it being our intention

henceforward to govern our people by our own judgment, let our

well-wisher withdraw from all worldly concerns, and taking the

pilgrimage to Mecca on which he has for so long been intent, spend the

rest of his days in prayer far removed from the toils of public life."

The very dignity of this was, however, irritating, and Byram, after a

brief feint of obedience, broke out into open revolt.

It needed Akbar himself to reduce his disloyalty by a display of

clemency which must have convinced the old Tartar that he had here to

do with some one, with something, the like of which he had never seen

before. For when, driven to bay, in utmost distress he sent in an

almost hopeless appeal for pardon, Akbar's reply was the despatching

of a guard of honour equal to his own to bring the unfortunate man to

his presence with every mark of distinction. It was too much for the

old soldier. His pride broke down, he flung himself at his young

master's feet in a passion of tears. Akbar's reply was to raise him by

the hand, order a robe of honour to be flung round him, and to place

him in his old seat by the king's side above all the other nobles.

So in "the very loud voice," and with "the very elegant and pleasant

manner of speech" for which the young king was famous, he addressed

him thus:--

"If Byram-Khan loves a military life, the governorship of Kalpe offers

field for his ambition. If he prefers to remain at court, our favour

will never be wanting to the benefactor of our family. But if he

choose devotion, he shall be escorted to Mecca with all the honour due

to his rank, and receive a pension of 50,000 rupees annually."

Byram chose the last, and from that time Akbar reigned alone; and, to

his credit be it said, except in his disastrous leniency towards his

sons, there is scarcely a mistake to be laid to his charge. Before,

however, embarking on what must necessarily be a very inadequate

sketch of this remarkable man, a few words as to his personality and

his looks may not be amiss. He was "inclined to be tall, sinewy,

strong, with an open forehead and chest and long arms. He had most

captivating manners and an agreeable expression." According to his

son, "his manners and habits were quite different from those of other

persons, and his visage was full of a godly dignity." For the rest, he

was a great athlete, the best polo-player and shot at court, and ready

for any exploit that required strength and skill.

His mind followed suit with his body, though he was absolutely unlike

his grandfather Babar in versatility. Yet he had had, apparently, much

the same opportunity of education. In both, the four years from eight

to twelve were all that Fate gave them for schooling; but Babar

emerged from his, a writer, a poet, a painter, a musician. Akbar,

strange to say, could neither read nor write, but he was counted the

first musician of his day.

Such was the man who at eighteen started to rule India on new lines,

whose head held a new idea concerning kingship. The king according to

this, should be the connecting link between his subjects. He should

rule not for one but for all. Just as Asoka, nigh on two thousand

years before, had protested that conquest by the sword was not worth

calling conquest, so Akbar, whose soul in many ways followed close in

thought to that of the old Buddhist king, felt, vaguely at first,

afterwards more clearly, more concisely, that the king should be, as

it were, the solvent in which caste and creed, even race, should

disappear, leaving behind them nothing but equal rights, equal

justice, equal law. To secure this, it was necessary to make all men

forget conquest.

It was a big idea, and to carry it through in the face of a society

which deemed kingship a personal pleasure to be gained by a long purse

or a stout arm, needed a strong will.

But Akbar was young, and vital to his finger-tips. The first thing to

be accomplished was to annex all India--as bloodlessly as he could.

That is the first thing to be noticed in Akbar's rule. War, even from

the beginning, was never to him anything but the lesser of two evils;

the other being disunion, decentralisation, consequent misgovernment.

His first annexation was Malwa, where the governor, hard-pressed,

"sought a refuge from the frowns of fortune" in Akbar's clemency. As a

result of which he lived, and fought, and died, long years afterwards,

in the service of the king, feeling his honour in no way impaired by

his defeat.

Immediately after this, Akbar had to choose between personal affection

and abstract justice. His foster-brother, Adham-Khan, son to that

Maham-Anagah whose kindly, capable breast had been the young king's

refuge for so many years, began to give trouble. Lawless, dissolute,

he presumed on the king's love for his former playfellow in a thousand

ways. It was he who was chief actor in the tragedy of Rup-mati, the

beautiful dancing-girl with whom Baz-Bahadur of Malwa lived for "seven

long happy years, while she sang to him of love," and who killed

herself sooner than submit to Adham-Khan's desires. This brought down

on him the king's anger, but he defied it still more by assassinating

the prime minister as he sate at prayers in Akbar's antechamber on the

roof. Some say, and this is probably true, that the king, hearing the

old man's cry, came out sword in hand to avenge him, but, restraining

his wrath, ordered the murderer to be instantly thrown over the

battlements. The story, however, is also told that the young Akbar,

coming out from his sleeping-chamber, himself gripped the offender in

his strong arms, and forcing him backward to the edge, paused for a

last kiss of farewell ere he sent the sin-stained soul to its account.

It is, at least, more dramatic.

But either tale ends with the greatest of tragedies for the young

king. Maham-Anagah, his more than mother, died of grief within forty

days--died unforgiving.

The task of consolidating his empire occupied Akbar for the next two

years. It would be idle to attempt to follow him from the Nerbudda to

the Indus, from Allahabad to Guzerat. One incident will give an idea

of his swiftness, his extraordinary dash and courage.

Returned from a long campaign on the north-western hills against his

young brother, Mahomed Hakim, Akbar heard of renewed trouble with the

Usbeks in Oude. Though it was then the height of the rainy season, he

made a forced march over a flooded country, and arriving at the Ganges

at nightfall, swam its swollen stream with his advanced guard, and

after lying concealed till daybreak, sounded the attack.

"The enemy, who had passed the night in festivity, little supposing

the king would attempt to cross the river without his army, could

hardly believe their senses when they heard the royal kettledrums."

Needless to say, the rebels, surprised, were defeated, and, as usual,

pardoned. This was Akbar's policy. To punish swiftly, then to forgive.

Thus he bound men to him by ties of fear and love. Already he had

conceived and carried out the almost inconceivable project of allying

himself in honourable and peaceful marriage with the Rajputs. Behari

Mull, Rajah of Amber (or Jeypore), had given the king his daughter,

while his son Bhagwan-das, and his nephew Man-Singh, were amongst

Akbar's most trusted friends, and held high posts in the imperial

army. Toleration was beginning to bear fruit; but Chitore, the Sacred

City, held out alike against annexation or cajolery. So it could not

be allowed to remain a centre of independence, of revolt. It was in

A.D. 1568 that Akbar began its siege. Udai-Singh, the Fat King, had

fled to the mountains, being but a bastard Rajput in courage, leaving

one Jaimul in charge of the sanctuary of Rajput chivalry.

It was a long business. Once an accident in the mines which Akbar was

pushing with the utmost care, brought about disaster, and the siege

had practically to be begun again. In the end, it was a chance shot

which brought success. Alone, unattended, in darkness, Akbar was in

the habit of wandering round his guards at night, marking the work

done in the trenches, dreaming over the next day's plans. So occupied

in a close-pushed bastion, he saw by the flare of a torch on the

rampart of the city some Rajput generals also going their rounds. To

snatch a matchlock from the sentry and fire was Akbar's quick impulse.

It won him Chitore; for the man who fell, shot through the head, was

Jaimul himself. Next morning, Akbar went through scenes which he never

forgot. He saw, as his grandfather had done, the great war-sacrifice

of the Rajputs; but, unlike Babar, he did not view it contemptuously.

It made an indelible mark upon his soul. The story goes, that two

thousand of the Rajput warriors escaped the general slaughter by the

"stratagem of binding the hands of their women and children, and

marching with them through the imperial troops as if they were a

detachment of the besiegers in charge of prisoners."

If this extraordinary tale be true, the explanation of it surely lies

in Akbar's admiration; an admiration which led him on his return to

Delhi to order two huge stone elephants, formed of immense blocks of

red sandstone, to be built at the gateway of his palace. And on the

necks of these elephants he placed two gigantic stone figures

representing Jaimul and Punnu, the two Rajput generals who had so

bravely defended Chitore.

It was during this siege that Akbar's friendship with the poet Faizi

commenced. Five years younger than the young king, who was then but

six-and-twenty years of age, Faizi, or Abul-faiz, as he is rightly

named, was by profession a physician, by temperament an artist in the

highest sense. Charmed by his varied talents, fascinated by his

goodness, Akbar kept him by his side until he died nineteen years

afterwards, when it is recorded that the king wept inconsolably. One

thing they had in common--an unusual thing in those days--they were

both extraordinarily fond of animals, especially of dogs.

This friendship, bringing about as it did the introduction to Akbar of

Abul-faiz's younger brother, Abul-fazl, marks an important change in

the king's mental development.

Hitherto he had been strictly orthodox. In a way, he had set aside the

problems of life in favour of his self-imposed task; henceforward his

mind was to be as keen, as swift to gain spiritual mastery, as his

body was to gain the physical mastery of his world. Possibly he may

have been led to thought by the death in this year of his twin sons;

apparently these were the only children which had as yet been born to

him, and at twenty-seven it is time that an Eastern potentate had

sons. With him, too, the very idea of empire must have been bound up

with that of an heir to empire. So it is no wonder that we find him

overwhelmed with joy at the birth, in 1569, of Prince Salim. Yet his

sons (he had three of them in Fate's good time) were to be the great

tragedy of Akbar's life. Long years afterwards, when the baby Salim,

whom he had welcomed verily as a gift from God, had grown to be a man,

a cruel man, who ordered an offender to be flayed alive, Akbar, with a

shiver of disgust, asked bitterly "how the son of a man who could not

see a dead beast flayed without pain, could be guilty of such

barbarity to a human being?"

How indeed? Were they really his sons, these hard-drinking,

hard-living young princes, who had no thought beyond the princelings

of their age?

This resentment, this disgust, however, was not to be for many years.

Meanwhile, Akbar, having built the fort at Agra, that splendid

building whose every foundation finds water, whose every stone is

fitted to the next and chained to it by iron rings, began on his City

of Victory, Fatehpur Sikri.

And wherefore not, since sons had been born to his empire? It was wide

by this time, but Guzerat was still independent and had to be brought

within the net.

It was in this campaign that Akbar nearly met his end in the narrow

cactus lane at Sarsa, when he and the two Rajput chieftains,

Bhagwan-das and Man-Singh, fought their way through their enemies,

each guarding the other's head.

Akbar's life is full of such reckless bravery, such

wonderful escapes; in this, at least, he was true grandson to


It was in the following year that the famous ride from Agra to

Ahmedabad in nine days was made; and, after all, somewhat uselessly

made, since the emperor was too chivalrous to take his enemy unawares,

and, finding him asleep, ordered the royal trumpeters to sound a

reveillee before, after giving him plenty of time, the imperial

party "charged like a fierce tiger." It is good reading all this,

overburdened though the pages of the Akbarnamah-Abul-fazl's great

History of his Master--may be with flatteries and digressions.

But it is not in all this that Akbar's glory lies. It is in the

far-reaching justice of his legal and administrative reforms, above

all, in the reasons he gives for these reforms, that he stands unique

amongst all Indian kings. We have, however, still to record his

conquest of Bengal (where, it may be noted, he swam his rivers on

horseback at the head of every detachment for pursuit, every advance

guard), still to tell the tale of the Fat King Udai-Singh's son, Rajah

Pertap, before at Fatehpur Sikri, in the twentieth year of his reign,

and the thirty-third of his life, we can find pause to consider

Akbar's principles and practice. Bengal, then, was added to empire

with the usual rapidity. Then arose trouble in Mewar. Udai-Singh was

dead, still defying from a distance Akbar's power, still scorning the

alliance by marriage which had brought his neighbours revenue and

renown; but his son Pertap lived--Pertap, who was to the sixteenth

century what Prithvi-Raj had been to the fourteenth; that is to say,

the flower of Rajput chivalry, the idol of the men, the darling of the

women. He had taken to the hills, he had outraged Akbar's sense of

justice, and he must be crushed. The battle of Huldighat decided his

fate. Wounded, wearied, he fled on his grey horse "Chytuc" up a

narrowing stony ravine, behind him the clatter of another horse

swifter than his own; for "Chytuc," his friend, his companion, was

wounded, too, and more wearied even than wounded.

"Ho! nila-ghora-ki-aswar!"

["Oh! Rider of the grey horse!"]

The cry rang out amid the echoing rocks. What! Was his enemy within

call already? "Chytuc" stumbled on, urged by the spur.

"Ho! nila-ghora-ki-aswar!"

Nearer and nearer! A cry that must be answered at last. One final

stumble, "Chytuc" was down, and Pertap turned to sell life dearly.

Turned to find his brother.

"Thy horse is at its end--take mine," said Sukta, who long years

before had gone over to Akbar's side, driven thither by Pertap's


"And thou?"

"I go back whence I came."

Those who had watched the chase from the plains below asked for

explanations. They were given.

"Tell the truth," came the calm reply.

Then Sukta told it. Drawing himself up, he said briefly:

"The burden of a kingdom over-weighted my brother. I helped him to

carry it."

Needless to say, the excuse was accepted. And to this day the cry,

"Ho! nila-ghora-ki-aswar," is one of the war-cries of the Rajput.

To return to Akbar, in the twentieth year of his reign. It was just

ten years since Faizi had come into his life--Faizi, the first

Mahomedan to trouble his head about Hindu literature, Hindu science.

It had opened up a new world to Akbar, and when six years afterwards

Abul-fazl entered into the emperor's life also, with his broad, clear,

tolerant, critical outlook, and his intense personal belief in the

genius of the man he served, it seemed possible to achieve what till

then Akbar had almost despaired of achieving. The dream had always

been there. In some ways he had gone far towards realising it. He had,

early in his reign, abolished the capitation tax on infidels, and the

tax on pilgrimages, his reason for the latter being, "that although

the tax was undoubtedly on a vain superstition, yet, as all modes of

worship were designed for the One Great Being, it was wrong to throw

any obstacle in the way of the devout, and so cut them off from their

own mode of intercourse with their Maker."

Then he had absolutely forbidden the slavery of prisoners of war; and

having observed, both during his many campaigns and his still more

numerous hunting expeditions, that the greater portion of the land

he traversed remained uncultivated, he had set himself, alone,

unaided--for his courtiers were content with conventionalities--to

find out the cause. The land was rich, the cultivators were

industrious; the reason must lie in something which made cultivation

unprofitable. What was it? An excessive land-tax? He instantly started

experimental farms, which convinced him that this, and nothing else,

was the cause of the land lying idle. But on all sides he met with

opposition. Convinced himself that the old methods were obsolete, he

had almost given up the task of reform in despair, when he met

Abul-fazl. In religious matters, too, he had gone far beyond his age.

The intolerance the bigotry of those around him shocked his innate

sense of justice. Here again Abul-fazl was a tower of strength, and,

inch by inch, yard by yard, his support enabled the king to fight for

his final position, until in 1577, after endless discussions in the

House-of-Argument (which he had had built for the purpose, and where,

night after night, he sate listening while doctors of the law,

Brahmans, Jews, Jesuits, Sufis--God only knows what sects and

creeds--discussed truth from their varying standpoints), he took

the law into his own hands and practically forced the learned

Ulemas to put their signatures to a document which proclaimed him

Head-of-the-Church, the spiritual as well as the temporal guide of his

subjects. The reason he gave for desiring this decision was, that as

kings were answerable to God for their subjects, any division of

authority in dealing with them was inexpedient.

So in 1579 he mounted the pulpit in his Great Mosque at Fatehpur

Sikri, and read the Kutbah prayer in his own name in these words,

written for the occasion by the poet Faizi:--

"Lo! from Almighty God I take my kingship,

Before His throne I bow and take my judgeship,

Take Strength from Strength, and Wisdom from His Wiseness,

Right from the Right, and Justice from His Justice.

Praising the King, I praise God near and far--

Great is His Power! Allah-hu-Akbar!"

They were not unworthy words; and they were, as Sir William Hunter

well calls them, the Magna Charter of Akbar's reign. He was now free

to realise all his long-cherished dreams of universal tolerance and

absolute unity. In future, no distinctions of race and creed were held

cogent. The judicial system was reorganised and the magistracy made to

understand that the question of religion was no longer to enter into

their work.

The whole revenue administration was altered, and it remains to this

day practically as Akbar left it. In this, as in finance and currency,

he was ably aided by Todar-Mull, a Hindu of exceptional ability and

tried integrity.

But Akbar was fortunate in his friends. In addition to Faizi, who

appears to have satisfied his philosophic instincts, and Abul-fazl, to

whose clear eyes he always turned when in doubt, he had a third

intimate companion who, in many ways, stood closest to him of the


This was Rajah Birbal, who began life as a minstrel. His pure

intellectuality, his quaint humour and cynical outlook on life, seem

to have given Akbar the nerve tonic, which, dreamer as he was at

times, he seems to have needed; for like all really great men, the

emperor was almost feminine in sensitiveness.

It is difficult to decide what his own personal creed was. That which

he promulgated as the Divine Faith is a somewhat nebulous Deism. That

which is credited to him in the following words is poetically


"In every Temple they seek Thee, in every Language they praise Thee.

Each Religion says that it holds Thee, the One. But it is Thou whom I

seek from temple to temple; for Heresy and Orthodoxy stand not behind

the Screen of thy Truth. Heresy to the Heretic, Orthodoxy to the

Orthodox; but only the dust of the Rose Petal remains to the seller of


Behind all this there lies the conviction so strongly expressed that

"not one step can be made without the torch of truth," that "to be

beneficial to the soul, belief must be the outcome of clear judgment."

But the chronicle of the remainder of his reign claims us.

In 1584 he outraged the orthodox by choosing a Rajputni Jodh-Bai, the

daughter of Rajah Bhagwan-das, as the first wife of his son and heir,

Prince Salim.

He himself had left such things as marriage behind him, and, though

still in the prime of years, led the life of an ascetic. Five hours

sleep sufficed for him; he ate but sparingly once a day; wine and

women he appears to have forgotten. There is a saying attributed to

him of his regret that he had not earlier recognised all women as

sisters. Certainly for the last five-and-twenty years of his life he

had nothing in this respect wherewith to reproach himself. Wider

interests absorbed him. Child-marriages had to be discountenanced,

abolished by a sweep of the pen; education placed on a firmer, better

basis. It seemed to him, as it seems to many of us to-day, that an

unconscionable time was spent in teaching very little, and, hey

presto! another sweep of the pen, and school-time was diminished by

one-half. There is nothing so dynamic as a good despotism!

All this was crowded, literally crammed into a few peaceful years at

Fatehpur Sikri, and then suddenly he left his City of Victory, the

city that was bound up with his hope of personal empire, the city he

had built to commemorate the birth of his heir and removed his

capital, not to Delhi, but to the far north--to Lahore.

Why was this?

It is said that a lack of water at Fatehpur was the cause. And yet

with the river Jumna close at hand, and Akbar's wealth and boundless

energies, what was a lack of water had he really been set on remaining


It seems as if we must seek for a cause behind this patent and pitiful

one. Such cause, deep-seated, scarcely acknowledged, is surely to be

found in the bitter disappointment caused to the emperor by his sons.

From his earliest years Salim had given trouble. At eighteen he was

dissolute, cruel, arrogant beyond belief. His younger brothers, Murad

and Danyal, were little better. Of the three, Murad was the best; it

was possible to think of him as his father's son. Yet the iron must

have eaten into that father's soul as he saw them uncomprehending even

of his idea, his dream. In leaving Fatehpur Sikri, as he did in 1585,

therefore, it seems likely that he left behind also much of his

personal interest in empire.

The ostensible cause of his northward journey was the death of his

brother, and a consequent revolt in Kabul; but he did not return for

fourteen long years--years that while they brought him success, while

they justified his wisdom, brought him also much sorrow and

disappointment. Though both earlier historians and Western

commentators fail, as a rule, to notice it, there can be no doubt to

those who, taking Akbar's whole character as their guide, attempt to

read between the lines, that the emperor's policy changed greatly

after he left Fatehpur Sikri behind him. A certain personal note is

wanting in it. Take, for instance, the war which he carried out in the

province of Swat, and which ended in a disaster that cost him his

dearest friend, Rajah Birbal. Now that disaster was due entirely to

this new note in Akbar's policy. He did not desire conquest; not, at

least, conquest on the old blood-and-thunder lines. He wished, and he

ordered, what we should nowadays call a "peaceful demonstration to the

tribes." The army was to march through the Swat territory, using as

little violence as possible, and return. The idea was outrageous to

the regulation general, so Abul-fazl and Birbal drew lots as to which

of them should go and keep Zein-Khan's martial ardours in check. It

fell on Birbal; much, it is believed, to Akbar's regret. Of the exact

cause of disagreement between Birbal and Zein-Khan little is known;

but they did disagree, and with disastrous results. The whole Moghul

army was practically overwhelmed, and it is supposed that Birbal, in

attempting escape by the hills, was slain. His body was never found.

Elphinstone, in his History, accuses Abul-fazl of giving a confused

and contradictory account of this event, "though he must have been

minutely informed of its history"; but a little imagination supplies a

cause for this: Abul-fazl knew that Birbal was undoubtedly acting on

the king's orders.

The emperor for a long time refused even to see Zein-Khan, and he was

inconsolable for the loss of his friend--his greatest friend--who had

known his every thought. It is said, indeed, that these two men, both

keenly interested in the answer to the Great Riddle of Life, the one

Agnostic, the other hopeless Optimist by virtue of his genius, had

agreed that they would come back the one to the other after death if

possible, and that therein lay Akbar's strange eagerness to credit the

many reports which gained currency, that Birbal had been seen again


There can be no doubt but that the loss of his friend saddened the

remainder of Akbar's life. Indeed, it may be said that from the year

in which he quitted Fatehpur Sikri, thus abandoning his Town of

Conquest to the flitting bats, the prowling hyenas, the year also of

Birbal's loss, a cloud seems to fall over the gorgeous pageant of

Akbar's royalty.

Just before this, however, on the very eve of departure, an event

occurred at Fatehpur Sikri which in itself, had the Dreamer-King but

possessed second sight, would have been sufficient to dim the lustre

of his personal life.

For in 1585 three travellers from England arrived with a letter from

Elizabeth their queen, to one "Yellabdin Echebar, King of Cambaya,

Invincible Emperor."

The letter is worth giving:--

"The great affection which our subjects have to visit the most distant

places of the world, not without good intention to introduce the

trades of all nations whatsoever they can, by which meanes the mutual

and friendly traffique of merchandise on both sides may come, is the

cause that the bearer of this letter, John Newberie, joyntly with

those that be in his company, with a courteous and honest boldnesse,

doe repaire to the borders and countreys of your Empire; we doubt not

but that your Imperiall Maiestie, through your royal grace, will

favourably and friendly accept him. And that you wold doe it the

rather for our sake, to make us greatly beholden to your Maiestie, wee

should more earnestly, and with more words, require it, if wee did

think it needful.

"But, by the cingular report that is of your Imperiall Maiestie's

humanitie in these uttermost parts of the world, we are greatly eased

of that burden, and therefore we use the fewer and lesse words; only

we request, that because they are our subjects, they may be honestly

entreated and received. And that in respect of the hard journey which

they have taken to places so far distant, it would please your

Maiestie with some libertie and securitie of voiage to gratify it with

such privileges as to you shall seem good: which curtesie of your

Imperiall Maiestie shall to our subjects at our request perform, wee,

according to our royal honour, will recompense the same with as many

deserts as we can. And herewith wee bid your Imperiall Maiestie to


Akbar's answer was to give the travellers safe conduct. So John

Newbery, of Aleppo, after seeing all that was to be seen, journeyed

Punjab-ways, to be never again heard of. Ralph Fitch, merchant of

London, went south-eastward to find the Great Delta of the Ganges, and

so return to England, and by his report, help to start the first

British venture to the East; and William Leedes, jeweller, who had

learnt his trade in Ghent, remained to cut gems for Akbar.

A notable event, indeed, this first touch of England on India. And it

happened when the Moghul dynasty was at the height of its power, when

Akbar Emperor, indeed, had but one failure in his life--his sons.

Surely it must have been some prescience of what was to come, which

made him, so soon after giving that safe conduct, leave the outward

and visible sign of his personal hold on Empire--the City of his

Heirs--a prey to the owl and the bat?

Akbar's fourteen-year stay in the Punjab, spent partly at the Fort of

Attock, which he built, and which still frowns over the rushing Indus,

and at Lahore, was marked by the annexation of Kashmir, which was

effected with very little bloodshed. Owing to the difficulty of the

passes, the first expedition made terms with the ruling power, by

which, while the sovereignty of the Moghul was ceded, his interference

was barred. This did not suit Akbar's dream of united, consolidated

government. So he refused to ratify the treaty, and when the winter

snows had melted, sent another expedition to enforce his claim to


Dissensions due to bad government were rife in Kashmir. The troops

detailed to defend the Pir-Punjai pass were disloyal. Half, deserted

to the invading force, the remainder retired on the capital.

Whereupon, the whole valley lying at the mercy of the Moghul, terms

were dictated.

Akbar himself went twice into Kashmir. Those who have been fortunate

enough to see the indescribable beauties of its lakes, its trees, its

mountains, can imagine how it must have appealed to a man of his


Sinde and Kandahar followed Kashmir swiftly into the wide net of

Moghul influence, and took their places quietly in the emperor's Dream

of Empire. Kabul followed in its turn. While there, Akbar suffered a

severe blow in the news of the death in one day--though at different

places and causes--of two of his most trusted friends and adherents,

Rajah Todar-Mull, the great Finance-Minister, and Rajah Bhagwan-das,

his first Rajput ally.

The Dekkan was in process of being netted also, when another and still

heavier blow fell on the emperor in the death of his second--and, in

many ways, most promising--son, Murad. He died, briefly, of drink.

But the worst blow was the conduct of his son and heir, Salim,

which in 1598 made it necessary for his father to leave Lahore for

Agra, in order to check the prince's open rebellion. He was now

thirty--arrogant, dissolute, passionate in every way; and, finding

himself as his father's viceroy at the head of a large army, made a

bid for the crown, while his father's forces were engaged in the


But Akbar's love made him patient. He wrote an almost pitiful letter

of dignified tolerance. His affection, he said, was still

undiminished. Let his son return to duty, and all would be forgotten.

Salim chose the wiser part of submission, but even as he did so,

prepared to wound his forgiving father to the uttermost.

Abul-fazl was on his way back from the Dekkan, and Prince Salim

instigated the Rajah of Orchcha to lay an ambuscade for this old, this

most beloved companion of the king.

History says that he and his small force defended themselves with the

greatest gallantry, but were eventually cut to pieces. Abul-fazl's

head was sent to Prince Salim, who, however, had craft; for his

father, mercifully, never knew whose was the hand that really dealt

the death-blow. Had he done so, his grief would have been even greater

than it is reported to have been. He touched no food for days; neither

did he sleep.

Akbar, indeed, was fast becoming almost unnerved by his tenderness of

heart. Salim, professedly repentant, abandoned himself to still

further debaucheries at Allahabad.

As a last resource, a last effort, Akbar resolved, in a personal

interview, to appeal to his son's better feelings.

He had hardly started from Agra, however, when he was recalled to his

mother's death-bed. It was yet another shock to Akbar, who, ever since

that day of choice, when, surrounded by smiling, expectant faces, he

had stood frightened, almost tearful, then with a cry found--he knew

not how--Hamida-Begum's loving arms, had held his mother as he held no

other woman in the world.

Something of the pity of it must have struck even Salim's passion-torn

heart, for he followed his father and gave in his submission. Not for

long, however. Akbar could not be hard on those he loved. The

restraint was soon slackened; the physicians who were to break the

drug-habit sent to the right-about, and the patient restored to

freedom and favour.

And still Fate had arrows in store for poor Akbar's wounded heart.

Prince Danyal, his youngest son, drank himself to death in the

thirtieth year of his age, having accomplished his object by liquor

smuggled to him in the barrel of his fowling piece.

A pretty prince, indeed, to be the son of the greatest king India has

ever known.

This rapid succession of sorrow left the emperor enfeebled. He had

always been a hard worker, had spared himself not at all; now Nature

was revenging herself on him for his defiance of fatigue.

As he lay dying in the fort at Agra, the emperor, bereft of his

friends, worse than bereft of his sons, had but one comfort--his

grandson, Prince Khurram, who afterwards succeeded his father under

the title of Shah-jahan. A word from Akbar might have set him on the

throne; but the father was loyal to his disloyal son. He summoned his

nobles around him, and his personal influence was still so great that

not a voice of dissent was raised against his declaration of Prince

Salim--little Shaikie, as he still called him at times--as his heir.

Akbar died at sixty-three, almost his last words being to ask

forgiveness of those who stood about his bed, should he ever in any

way have wronged any one of them.

The Mahomedan historians assert loudly that he also repeated the

Orthodox creed; but this is not likely. He had wandered too far from

the fold of Islam to find shelter from death in it.

So died a man who dreamt a dream, who turned that dream into a reality

for his lifetime; but for his lifetime only. Fate gave him no future.

Even his enemies admit with a sneer, saying he had it a gift from a

Hindu jogi, his almost marvellous power of seeing through men and

their motives at a glance. Did he ever, we wonder, look at his own

face in the glass, and see written there his failure?

Most of his administrative reforms exist to the present day. Some,

such as the abolition of suttee and the legislation for widow

remarriage which he enforced easily, nearly cost us India to


But Akbar had the advantage of being a king indeed.

"There is but one God, and Akbar is his Viceroy."

Such was his first motto. If it made him a despot, his second one made

him tolerant.

"There is good in all things. Let us adopt what is good, and discard

the remainder." And this admixture of despotism and tolerance is the

secret of Indian statesmanship.

Akbar was the most magnificent of monarchs; but all his magnificences

held a hint of imagination. Whether in the scattering amongst the

crowd by the king's own hand, as he passed to and fro, of dainty

enamelled rose-leaves, silvern jasmine-buds, or gilded almonds, or in

the daily Procession of the Hours, all Akbar's ceremonials have

reference to something beyond the weary, workaday world. In the midst

of it all he was simplicity itself.

No better conclusion to this ineffectual record of his reign can be

given than this description of him by a European eyewitness:--

"He is affable and majestical, merciful and sincere. Skilful in

mechanical arts, as making guns, etc.; of sparing diet, sleeping but

three hours a day, curiously industrious, affable to the vulgar,

seeming to grace them and their presents with more respective

ceremonies than those of the grandees; loved and feared of his own;

terrible to his enemies."

One word more. He invariably administered justice sitting or standing

below the throne; thus declaring himself to be the mere instrument of

a Supreme Power to which he also owned obedience.

So not without cause did this record begin by calling Akbar a Dreamer.