Akbar “The Great” was one of the greatest rulers in Indian history. He was born when Humayun and his first wife, Hamida Bano, were fugitives escaping towards Iran. It was during these wanderings that Akbar was born in Umerkot, Sindh, on November 23, 1542. Legend has it that Humayun prophesied a bright future for his son, and thus accordingly, named him Akbar.

Akbar was raised in the rugged country of Afghanistan rather than amongst the splendor of the Delhi court. He spent his youth learning to hunt, run, and fight and never found time to read or write. He was the only great Mughal ruler who was illiterate. Despite this, he had a great desire for knowledge. This led him not only to maintain an extensive library but also to learn. Akbar had his books read out to him by his courtiers. Therefore, even though unable to read, Akbar was as knowledgeable as the most learned of scholars.

Akbar came to throne in 1556, after the death of his father, Humayun. At that time, Akbar was only 13 years old. Akbar was the only Mughal king to ascend to the throne without the customary war of succession; as his brother Muhammad Hakim was too feeble to offer any resistance. During the first five years of his rule, Akbar was assisted and advised by Bahram Khan in running the affairs of the country. Bahram Khan was, however, removed and for a few years Akbar ruled under the influence of his nurse Maham Anga. After 1562, Akbar freed himself from external influences and ruled supreme.

During his reign, Akbar managed to subdue almost all of India, with the remaining areas becoming tributary states. Along with his military conquests, he introduced a series of reforms to consolidate his power. Akbar practiced tolerance aimed at Hindu-Muslim unification through the introduction of a new religion known as Din-i-Ilahi. He appointed nobles and mansabdars without any religious prejudice. Akbar’s religious innovations and policies, and deviation from Islamic dogma, have been a source of debate and controversy. Akbar was a great patron of literary works and scholars. His court had numerous scholars of the day who are well known as “Nauratan”. Akbar had three sons Prince Salim, Murad and Daniyal. Prince Murad and Daniyal died in their prime during their father’s lifetime. However, Akbar faced problems with Prince Salim and the last four years of Akbar’s life were consumed in crushing Salim’s rebellion. Akbar fell ill and died of slow poisoning on October 27, 1605. With him ended the most glorious epoch in Indian history.

This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003