Babar and Akbar: The Process Of Indianization


To go back. The Afghans had settled down in India and had become Indianized. Their rulers had to face first the problem of lessening the hostility of the people and then of winning them over. So, as a deliberate policy, they toned down their early ruthless methods, became more tolerant, invited co-operation, and tried to function not as conquerors from outside but as Indians born and bred in the land. What was at first a policy gradually became an inevitable trend as the Indian environment influenced these people from the north-west and absorbed them. While the process continued at the top, more powerful currents arose spontaneously among the people, aiming at a synthesis of thought and ways of living. The beginnings of a mixed culture began to appear and foundations were laid on which Akbar was to build.

Akbar was the third of the Mughal dynasty in India, yet it was in effect by him that the empire was consolidated. His grandfather, Babar, had won the throne of Delhi in 1526, but he was a stranger to India and continued to feel so. He had come from the north, where the Timurid Renaissance was flourishing in his homelands in central Asia and the influence of the art and culture of Iran was strong. He missed the friendly-society he was used to, the delights of conversation, the amenities and refinements of | life which had spread from Baghdad and Iran. He longed for the snow and ice of the northern highlands, for the good flesh and flowers and fruits of Ferghana. Yet, with all his disappointment at what he saw, he says that Hindustan is a remarkably fine country.

Babar died within four years of his coming to India, and much of his time was spent in fighting and in laying out a splendid capital at Agra, for which he obtained the services of a famous architect from Constantinople. Those were the days of Suleiman the Magnificent in Constantinople, when fine buildings were rising up in that city.

Babar saw little of India and, surrounded as he was by a hostile people, missed much. Yet his account tells us of the cultural poverty that had descended on north India. Partly this was due to Timur’s destruction, partly to the exodus of many learned men and artists and noted craftsmen to the south. But it was also due to the drying up of the creative genius of the Indian people. Babar says that there was no lack of skilled workers and artisans, but there was no ingenuity or skill in mechanical invention. Also, it would appear that in the amenities and luxuries of life India was considerably behind Iran. Whether this was due to some inherent want of interest in this aspect of life in the Indian mind or to later developments, I do not know. Perhaps, as compared with the Iranians, the Indians of those days were not so much attracted to these refinements and luxuries. If they had cared for them sufficiently they could have easily got them from Iran, as there was frequent intercourse between the two countries. But it is more likely that this was a later development, another sign of the cultural rigidity and decline of India.

In earlier periods, as can be seen from classical literature and paintings, there was refinement enough and, for those times, a high and complicated standard of living. Even when Babar came to north India, Vijayanagar in the south had been spoken of by many European travelers as representing a very high standard of art and culture, refinement and luxury.

But in north India cultural decay was very evident. Fixed beliefs and a rigid social structure prevented social effort and advance. The coming of Islam and of a considerable number of i people from outside, with different ways of living and thought, affected existing beliefs and structure. A foreign conquest, with all its evils, has one advantage: it widens the mental horizon of the people and compels them to look out of their shells. They realise that the world is a much bigger and more variegated place than they had imagined. So the Afghan conquest had affected India and many changes had taken place. Even more so the Mughals, who were far more cultured and advanced in ways of living than the Afghans, brought changes to India. In particular, they introduced the refinements for which Iran was famous, even to the extent of the highly artificial and strictly prescribed court life, which influenced the ways of living of the nobility. The Bahmani kingdom in the south had direct contacts with Iran via Calicut.

There were many changes in India and new impulses brought freshness and life to art and architecture and other cultural patterns. And yet all this was the result of two old-world patterns coming into contact, both of which had lost their initial vitality and creative vigour and were set in rigid frames. Indian culture was very old and tired, the Arab-Persian culture had long passed its zenith and the old curiosity and sense of mental adventure which distinguished the Arabs were no more in evidence.

Babar is an attractive person, a typical Renaissance prince, bold and adventurous, fond of art and literature and good living. His grandson, Akbar, is even more attractive and has greater qualities. Daring and reckless, an able general, and yet gentle and full of compassion, an idealist and a dreamer, but also a man of action and a leader of men who roused the passionate loyalty of his followers. As a warrior he conquered large parts of India, but his eyes were set on another and more enduring conquest, the conquest of the minds and hearts of the people. Those compelling eyes of his were ‘vibrant like the sea in sunshine,’ as Portuguese Jesuits of his court have told us. In him the old dream of a united India again took shape, united not only politically in one state but organically fused into one people.

Throughout his long reign of nearly fifty years from 1556 onward he laboured to this end. Many a proud Rajput chief, who would not have submitted to any other person, he won over to his side. He married a Rajput princess, and his son and successor, Jehangir, was thus a half Mughal and half Rajput Hindu. Jehangir’s son, Shah Jehan, was also the son of a Rajput mother. Thus racially this Turko-Mongol dynasty became far more Indian than Turk or Mongol.

Akbar was an admirer of and felt a kinship with the Rajputs, and by his matrimonial and other policy he formed an alliance with the Rajput ruling classes which strengthened his empire greatly. This Mughal-Rajput co-operation, which continued in subsequent reigns, affected not only government and the administration and army, but also art, culture, and ways of living. The Mughal nobility became progressively Indianized and the Rajputs and others were influenced by Persian culture.

Akbar won many people to his side and kept them there, but he failed to subdue the proud and indomitable spirit of Rana Pratap of Mewar in Rajputana, who preferred to lead a hunted life in the jungle rather than give even formal allegiance to one he considered a foreign conqueror.

Round himself Akbar collected a brilliant group of men, devoted to him and to his ideals. Among these were the two famous brothers Fyzee and Abul Fazl, Birbal, Raja Man Singh, and Abdul Rahim Khankhana. His court became a meeting place for men of all faiths and all who had some new idea or new invention. His toleration of views and his encouragement of all kinds of beliefs and opinions went so far as to anger some of the more orthodox Muslims. He even tried to start a new synthetic faith to suit everybody. It was in his reign that the cultural amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim in north India took a long step forward. Akbar himself was certainly as popular with the Hindus as with the Muslims. The Mughal dynasty became firmly established as India’s own.

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The Discovery Of India – Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru

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