Akbar Portrait

Akbar the Great: Shah of Shahs


Fortunately for him, Akbar did not inherit the luckless habits of his father, Humayun. Instead, the young monarch began what was to be the greatest reign of the Mughal dynasty. A powerful and brave character in his own right, tales of his superhuman strength and cunning warrior's mind preceded Akbar wherever he went. Such notoriety undoubtedly helped him expand the empire, as he conquered nearly all of modern-day northern India and Pakistan, and successfully converted independent states such as Gujerat and Rajasthan into vassal satrapies.

Beyond his ability as an effective conqueror, Akbar was a keen administrator who developed a centralized federal government that delegated tasks to powerful bureaucracies. But above all, he is perhaps best known for recognizing the importance of tolerance, which was paramount to his dynasty's longterm viability. A ruling class of Muslims could only last so long if its Hindu subjects lacked the opportunities and respect necessary for their own success. Therefore, Akbar removed the tax on Hindus, despite the traditional mandate in Islam to tithe non-believers, and invited scores of religious scholars, including Hindus, Jews, and Christians, to debate him personally in his private chambers, often late into the night. Akbar's wives were also of different religious backgrounds - each marriage was thus a strategic union that would allow the adherents of India's many faiths to feel that they too were apart of the royal household.

Over time, Akbar's fascination with religion grew to almost an obsession when he fashioned his own faith, called Din Ilahi. Din Ilahi was an eclectic mix of the other religions Akbar had studied during those late-night theological debates. He borrowed what he saw as the best components of each and blended them into the melange that became Din Ilahi. The new faith, however, never caught on among the Hindus and Muslims outside of his court, but despite this failure, Akbar continued to support religious tolerance among his people.

Finally, Akbar was the most mobile of the Mughals - every decade or so, it seemed, he moved the capital of the empire from one city to another. Nine years into his reign, Akbar established a new capital at Agra, where he built the marvelous Agra Fort. But by the 1570s, he moved it again, 40 miles west of Agra, to a new capital called Fatehpur Sikri. A local mystic, Salim Chisti, had successfully prophesized the birth of Akbar's first male son in 1569, so in honor of Chisti, Akbar built a mosque and eventually the new capital by the site of the home of the holy man. Fatehpur Sikri was the architectural gem of his reign, but after less than 20 years there, Akbar packed his bags again and moved far north to Lahore, to present-day Pakistan. But again, the time at this capital was fleeting, and eventually Akbar resettled in Agra.

Akbar died in 1605, nearly 50 years after his ascension to the throne, and was buried outside of Agra at Sikandra. The throne was then assumed by his son Jehangir.

Akbar's Architectural Legacy:

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi (1560s)
Arab Sarai, Delhi (1560s)
Khair-ul Manazil Masjid, Delhi (1561)
Adham Khan's Tomb, Delhi (c. 1562)
Dargah of Nizam-ud-din, Delhi (1562-?)
Ataga Khan's Tomb, Delhi (1566)
Afsarwala Mosque and Tomb, Delhi (1566)
Agra Fort, including Amar Singh Gate and Jehangiri Mahal, Agra (1565-70)
Ajmer Fort and Pavilion, Ajmer (1570-2)
Lahore Fort and Palace, Lahore
Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri (1571)
Shaikh Salim Chishti's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri (1571-80)
Islam Khan's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri
Palace, Fatehpur Sikri (1571-85)
Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri (1575-6)
Allahabad Fort and Palace, Allahabad (1583)
Muhammad Ghaus's Tomb, Gwalior
Hari Parbat Fort, Srinagar (1586)
Nasim Bagh, Srinagar
Barber's Tomb, Delhi (1590)

The Mughal Dynasty:

Babur | Humayun | Akbar | Jehangir | Shah Jehan | Aurangzeb

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