Akbar (1556-1605)


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Akbar (Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar born on 15 October 1542) was only thirteen years old at the time of Humayun’s death. When his father died, Akbar was at Kalanaur in Punjab and therefore his coronation took place in Kalanaur itself in 1556.

It was his tutor and Humayun’s favourite and confidant Bairam Khan, who served as the regent of the Mughal emperor from 1556 to 1560.

  • He became the wakil of the kingdom with the title of Khan-i-Khanan.
  • One of the major achievements of his regency period was the defeat of Hemu and the Afghan forces in the second battle of Panipat in 1556, who were posing a serious threat to the Mughal Empire.

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Regency of Bairam Khan 1556–1560

Bairam Khan remained at the helm of affairs of the Mughal Empire for almost four years, which is popularly known as Period of Bairam Khan’s Regency.

During this phase Bairam Khan appointed his favourite nobles on important positions. He emerged as the most powerful noble.

Bairam Khan became very arrogant. A group of nobles were opposed to him. They managed to influence Akbar also.

By this time Akbar also wanted to assume full control. He removed Bairam Khan. Bairam Khan revolted and was defeated. Akbar pardoned him and asked him to retire.

Bairam Khan decided to go to Mecca for pilgrimage. He was killed by an Afghan near Ahmedabad.

Bairam Khan’s son later on became an influential noble under Akbar and is famous as Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khana.

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Akbar’s Expedition & Expansion

Akbar started a policy of expansion after overcoming initial problems and consolidating his hold on the throne. The major political powers spread in different parts of the country were –

  1. The Rajputs who were spread throughout the country as independent chiefs and kings, and were concentrated mainly in Rajasthan.
  2. The Afghans held political control mainly in Gujarat, Bihar and Bengal.
  3. Khandesh, Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Golkonda and few other kingdoms in South India and Deccan were quite powerful.
  4. Kabul and Qandhar, though ruled by Mughal factions, were hostile towards Akbar.

Akbar through a systematic policy started the task of expanding his Empire. The first step that Akbar took after the dismissal of Bairam Khan was to put an end to the conflict within the nobility. He demonstrated great diplomatic skills and organizational capabilities in handling it.

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Central India

Akbar started his policy of expansion with central India.

  • In 1559–60 the first expedition was sent to capture Gwalior before moving towards Malwa. The Mughals besieged and defeated the Sur forces (Sher Shah‘s successors) in control of Gwalior Fort, the greatest stronghold north of the Narmada river.
  • Malwa in central India was ruled by Baz Bahadur. Akbar deputed Adham Khan to lead the expedition against it. Baz Bahadur was defeated and fled towards Burhanpur.
  • Gondwana, an independent state in Central India ruled by Rani Durgawati, widow of Dalpat Shah, was conquered and annexed to the Mughal empire in 1564.

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Rajasthan

Akbar was fully aware of the importance of Rajput kingdoms and wanted them as allies in his ambition of establishing a large empire.

  • He tried to win over the Rajputs wherever possible and inducted them into Mughal service.
  • He also entered into matrimonial alliances with the Rajput rulers like Bharmal. Raja Bharmal of Amber was the first to enter into alliance with Akbar.
  • The Rajput kingdoms like Merta and Jodhpur were also occupied without much resistance.
  • However, Maharana Pratap, the ruler of Mewar posed most serious challenge to the Mughal emperor and did not submit before Akbar. After a prolonged struggle and siege of the fort of Chittor, Akbar succeeded in defeating the Mewar forces. A large number of Rajput soldiers got killed in the war. However, it could not be fully subdued and some resistance from Mewar side continued for a long time.
  • After the fall of Chittor, Ranthambhor and Kalinjar were captured.
  • Marwar, Bikaner and Jaisalmer also submitted to Akbar.

By 1570 Akbar had captured almost the whole of Rajasthan. The most important achievement of Akbar was that in spite of the subjugation of the whole of Rajasthan there was no hostility between the Rajputs and the Mughals.

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Afghans (Gujarat, Bihar and Bengal)

Akbar’s campaign against Afghans started with Gujarat in 1572. One of the princes, Itimad Khan, had invited Akbar to come and conquer it. Akbar himself marched to Ahmadabad. The town was captured without any serious resistance. Surat with a strong fortress offered some resistance but was also captured. In a short time most of the principalities of Gujarat were brought under his control. Akbar organized Gujarat into a province and placed it under Mirza Aziz Koka and returned to capital.

  • Within six months various rebellious groups came together and revolted against the Mughal rule and the Mughal governor had to cede a number of territories. The leaders of rebellion were Ikhitiyar ul Mulk and Mohammad Hussain Mirza.
  • Akbar got the news of rebellion in Agra and he set out for Ahmadabad. Akbar marched at a rapid pace and managed to reach Ahmadabad in ten days. The emperor quickly suppressed the rebellion.

Bengal and Bihar which were under the control of the Afghans, were paid attention after the Gujarat expedition. In 1574, Akbar along with Munim Khan Khan-i-Khanan marched towards Bihar. In a short time, Hajipur and Patna were captured and Gaur (Bengal) was also taken away. With this the independent rule of Bengal was ended in 1576.

By 1592, the Mughal Mansabdar Raja Man Singh also brought the whole of Orissa under the Mughal rule.

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Conflicts & Rebellion

A series of conflicts arose in some regions of the Mughal empire in 1581. Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and the north-west were main centres of unrest. The Afghans were at the root of these problems since they were overthrown everywhere by the Mughals. Apart from this, Akbar’s policy of strict administration of Jagirs was also responsible for this. A new policy was adopted, according to which the Jagirdars were asked to submit the accounts of the Jagirs. This created dissatisfaction and Jagirdars rose in revolt. Masum Khan Kabuli, Roshan Beg, Mirza Sharfuddin and Arab Bahadur were the main leader of rebels. Imperial officers posted there tried to crush the rebellion but failed. Akbar immediately sent a large force under Raja Todar Mal and Shaikh Farid Bakshi. A little later, Aziz Koka and Shahbaz Khan were also sent to help Todar Mal. The rebels declared Akbar’s brother Hakim Mirza, who was in Kabul, as their king. But soon the Mughal forces were able to successfully crush the rebellion in Bihar, Bengal and adjoining regions.

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Punjab And North West

In the Punjab, Mirza Hakim was creating problems for Akbar and he attacked Lahore. Hakim Mirza was expecting a number of Mughal officers to join him but no large group joined him. Akbar decided to march towards Lahore himself. Hakim Mirza immediately retreated and Akbar controlled the whole region. He gave first priority to organize the protection of North-West frontiers. After this he marched towards Kabul and conquered the territory. Akbar gave the charge of Kabul to his sister Bakhtunnisa Begum. Later on Raja Man Singh was appointed governor of Kabul and it was given to him in Jagir.

Another important development in the North-West region was the rebellion of Roshanai who captured the road between Kabul and Hindustan. Roshanai was a sect established by a soldier who was called Pir Roshanai in the region. His son Jalala was heading the sect who had large following. Akbar appointed Zain Khan as commander of a strong force to suppress the Roshanais and establish Mughal control in the region. Sayid Khan, Gakhar and Raja Birbal were also sent with separate forces to help Zain Khan. In one of the operations Birbal was killed with most of his forces. Akbar was greatly disturbed with the death of his trusted friend Birbal. He deputed Raja Todar Mal and Raja Man Singh to suppress the rebellion and they were successful in defeating the Roshanais. Akbar for a long time had his eyes set on conquering Kashmir. It was annexed to the Mughal Empire in 1586.

Some pockets in Sindh in the North-West were still independent. In 1590 Akbar appointed Khan-i-Khanna as governor of Multan and asked him to subdue Bilochis, a tribe in the region and conquer the whole territory. First, Thatta was annexed and placed as a sarkar in the suba of Multan. The conflict with Bilochis in the adjoining regions continued. Finally, by the year 1595, the complete supremacy of Mughals over North-West region was established.

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Deccan

After 1590, Akbar gave shape to a Deccan policy to bring these states under Mughal control. During this period the Deccan states were facing internal tensions and regular conflicts.

In 1591, Akbar sent offers to the Deccan states asking them to accept Mughal sovereignty, but there was not much success. Now Akbar decided on a policy of aggression.

  • The first expedition was dispatched to Ahmednagar under the command of Prince Murad and Abdul Rahim Khan Khanan.
  • In 1595, the Mughal forces invaded Ahmednagar. Its ruler Chand Bibi decided to face the Mughals. She approached Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur and Qutub Shah of Golkonda for help but with no success. A fierce conflict followed. After heavy losses on both sides, a treaty was worked out and Chand Bibi ceded Berar to Mughals. After some time Chand Bibi attacked Berar to take it back. At this point Nizamshahi, Qutabshahi and Adilshahi troops decided to present a joint front. The Mughals suffered heavy losses but could retain their position.

Meanwhile, serious differences between Murad and Khan Khana weakened Mughal position. Akbar, therefore, recalled Khan Khanan and deputed Abul Fazl to Deccan.

After Prince Murad’s death in 1598, Prince Daniyal and Khan Khanan were sent to Deccan.

  • Ahmednagar was captured.
  • Soon the Mughals also conquered Asirgarh and adjoining regions.
  • Adil shah of Bijapur also expressed allegiance and offered his daughter in marriage to Prince Daniyal.
  • Meanwhile Chand Bibi also died. Now Mughal territories in Deccan included Asirgarh, Burhanpur, Ahmedanagar and Berar.

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Along with the expansion of territory Akbar initiated the policy of absorbing the chieftains into Mughal nobility. His policy paid rich dividends to the empire. The Mughal emperor succeeded in getting the support of chieftains and their armies for new conquests. As part of Mughal nobility, their help was also available for administering a large empire. In addition, a friendly relationship with them ensured peace for the empire. The chieftains also benefited from this policy. Now they could retain their territories and administer them as they wished. In addition, they received Jagir and Mansab. Often they got territories in Jagir bigger than their kingdoms. It also provided them security from enemies and rebellions. Many Rajput Mansabdars were assigned their own territories as Watan Jagir, which was hereditary and non-transferable.

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The territorial expansion under Akbar gave a definite shape to the Mughal Empire. In terms of territorial expansion very little was added to the empire after Akbar. Some territories were added during the regions of Shahjahan and Aurangzeb in the Deccan and North East of India.

On 3 October 1605, Akbar fell ill with an attack of dysentery, from which he never recovered. He is believed to have died on or about 27 October 1605, after which his body was buried at a mausoleum in Sikandra, Agra.

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Bibliography : NIOS – Medieval India

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