Akbar and the Hindus

January 14 2013

Akbar recognized that a Muslim regime in India could not survive for long if it failed to win the assent of its Hindu subjects. In 1564 he abolished the poll-tax on non-Muslims. He demonstrated his power to the Rajput descendants of the Huns and Gurjaras by taking Chitor in 1567-8 (this once impregnable rock was not proof against artillery), but, having intimidated the Rajputs, Akbar conciliated them, and this was wise, since they were the most martial of the Hindu peoples before the rise of the Marathas and the Sikhs, and Rajasthan, where the Rajputs had congregated since the Muslim conquest of the Jumna-Ganges basin in the twelfth century, was the nearest to Delhi of all the regions in India in which the Hindus had preserved their autonomy.

However, Akbar’s conciliatoriness to his Hindu subjects was not prompted solely by political considerations; it was partly inspired by an ambition to break down the traditional barriers between the historic higher religions. Akbar initiated a series of debates between representatives of Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Roman Catholic Christianity, and in 1582 he promulgated a new religion of his own, the Din-i-Ilahi (“the Divine Religion”), which, so he hoped, would unite all the older religions by transcending each of them.

The first call on Akbar’s time and energy was necessarily the organization and expansion of his empire. Akbar profited by the administrative and financial ability of the Bengali Afghan Emperor Sher Shah Sur, who had evicted Akbar’s father Humayun from India in 1539-40. In his brief reign (1540-5), Sher Shah had created an excellent administrative and fiscal organization and postal service, and these assets were inherited from him by Akbar.

Mughal mnemonic

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

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