Akbar was the greatest of the Mughal rulers of India. Through conquest and persuasion, he extended his empire to cover most of what is now northern India and Pakistan. He governed his people with remarkable tolerance, and even created his own religion.
EXPANDING THE EMPIRE
Akbar was born in 1542. He was the third of the Mughal rulers, and the grandson of Babur, who founded the dynasty. Akbar was just 13 years old when he succeeded to the throne of his father, Humayun. To begin with, a regent ruled on his behalf. But Akbar began his military campaigns immediately. His empire was under threat and in danger of splitting up, but he secured his position as its leader in 1556 by winning the Battle of Panipat against Afghan rivals to his throne.
At the age of 18, Akbar began to rule without a regent, and soon had to put down a series of revolts. Like his ancestor Genghis Khan, he was an efficient and ruthless warrior. In the 1580s he started to extend his empire through conquest, first in the west of India, then in the east and finally in the area that is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. He would ruthlessly crush opposition and massacred whole city populations, but he was also generous to those who accepted his rule. By the end of his reign, Akbar’s empire stretched from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal, and right across the northern half of India.
Akbar controlled his empire by running an efficient government, centred upon himself. He appointed loyal and reliable provincial governors and civil administrators to impose his rule.
Like all the Mughal emperors, Akbar was a Muslim. But to run a successful empire, he knew that he had to win the support of the Hindus of India. He abolished many of the unpopular rules that restricted Hindu activities, such as tax that pilgrims had to pay. He appointed Hindus to high-ranking positions in his empire. Among his many wives were two Hindu princesses.
Akbar had a great curiosity for life, and was interested in all religions. Even though he could not read or write he held debates with religious leaders of all kinds at his magnificent palaces. Hoping to remove all religious barriers in his empire, he devised a new religion, called Dini-Ilahi (meaning “Divine Faith”), which combined all the elements that he liked most in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. But Dini-Ilahi never caught on.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Akbar invited the greatest scholars, philosophers, writers, musicians and painters of his empire to work for him. His life and times are well documented by chronicles and numerous beautiful and detailed small paintings, called miniatures. He also created a new capital called Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory), near Agra. Although filled with beautiful buildings, it was soon abandoned, probably because there was not enough water nearby.
When Akbar died in 1605 he was succeeded by his son Jahangir. The Mughal empire was strong enough to last another 250 years.