Akbar the Great, a Reappraisal


Akbar for long has been hailed as a great Monarch who ruled over his Hindu subjects with benevolence. Sometimes, facts can be stranger than fiction and a fresh look at the evidence available will lead to an entirely different conclusion and historians may have to revise their opinion of Akbar as ‘the great’ to ‘not so great’.

The Killings by Akbar

Akbar as a young man along with his uncle Bairam Khan met the Hindu King Hemu in battle at Panipat on 05 November 1556. Hemu before this battle had beaten the Moslems 22 times.

However a lucky accident saved the Mughal force from defeat, when an arrow hit Hemu in the eye and he was rendered unconscious. As he slumped on his elephant, his army disintegrated and the Mughals carried the day.

An unconscious Hemu was carried before Akbar. As per some reports Akbar severed the head of the unconscious Hemu with one blow. Some historians claim that Akbar did not sever the head and it was done by others. But the subsequent follow up incidents can be hard to explain. Hemu’s head was sent to Kabul as a victory sign while his body was sent to Delhi and exposed to all and sundry. In addition after the battle all the prisoners were beheaded and their heads were made part of a victory pillar.

An Englishman Peter Mundy who travelled in the region some 75 years later (during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s rein), found such towers were still being built. Akbar also privately executed his own cousin in Gwalior in 1556.

The Massacre of the Rajputs

Akbar laid siege to the fortress of Chittor, as it was the only Rajput chief who never accepted Akbar as a superior. Akbar began a siege of Chittor in 1567. After 4 months of the siege Jaimal the leader of the Rajputs, was killed by a musket shot and the Rajputs lost heart. That night thousands of Rajput women committed Jauhar,sucide by burning.

Later, the victorious Mughal army entered the fort of Chittor. At the time there were 40,000 Hindu peasants and artisans residing on the fort besides the Rajput army. It is a matter of eternal regret that Akbar Captured 40,000 Hindu peasants who had supported the Rajputs. Out of these nearly 30,000 were slaughtered like cattle. This massacre cannot be justified and will remain forever a blot on the name of Akbar. Even Ala-ud-din Khilji who had captured the fort in 1303 CE never did anything like this.

Akbar’s Marriages

Akbar used marriage alliances with various royal houses as a way of expanding his empire. In the end Akbar had more than 300 wives. The actual number of women in the harem was nearer to 5,000. Though the Koran limits the number of wives to four Akbar wanted religious sanction to make all his 300 women as wives. But the Sunni Ulemma (Islamic scholars) from his court disagreed. He immediately dismissed the Kazi, the highest religious officer from his court, and replaced him with a Sunni, who agreed with him.

Akbar’s Reign

As per some historians Akbar abolished the Jizzia. But the fact is that the Jizzia was abolished on paper. but in practice it remained. In fact when Badyuni approached Akbar with a desire that he wished to wage a holy war against the Hindus and dye his beard and moustaches in their blood, Akbar was delighted and filled Badayuni’s hands with 50 gold coins.

Akbar was every inch a true Musalman and died as one. Through out his reign temples were razed to the ground and slaughtered cows were strewn on their premises. An example is his rage after the battle of Nagarkot.

In fact Fr Monserrate who travelled in the reign of Akbar writes ‘the religious zeal of the Musalmans has destroyed all the idol temples which used to be numerous. In place of the Hindu temples, countless tombs and little shrines of wicked and worthless Musalmans have been created.”

Perhaps the time has come for a reappraisal of the rule of Akbar in the proper perspective.