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Abul Fazl

Abul Fazl

 As Akbar’s official historian, courtier, fierce supporter and friend, Abul Fazl built up an image or metaphor of the emperor’s person as an embodiment of the Mughal empire. A degree of paramount spiritual authority for the emperor was established, which was unprecedented. A clear expression was given by Abul Fazl to an ideology which explicitly projected Akbar’s infallible authority and religious tolerance.

Abul Fazl and his brother, the poet Faizi, were capable and versatile men. They entered the small coterie of Akbar’s chosen advisers and select cluster of ‘companions’.

Abul Fazl erected an intellectual scaffolding on which he built the Akbari ideology. An edifice was needed which would establish a new legitimacy for not only Akbar but also his descendants. It would counteract the challenges posed by critical and disgruntled Ulama and nobles.

Akbar’s need for broad political support, and a mystical sense of his own mission, both found a direct response in the mind of Abul Fazl. The latter brought this into expression through a number of modes: discussions at court, eulogistic writing, and a continuing and wide ranging official and private correspondence

Abul Fazl’s systematic exposition of the new ideology is set out in the best known Mughal history, the voluminous Akbar Nama, an annual recounting of events for 47 regnal years along with its equally bulky appendix: the three volumes of the Ain-I-Akbari, an imperial manual and gazetteer. After years of effort, Abul Fazl presented the magnificently bound and calligraphed first volume of the finished manuscript to Akbar at a well attended court audience in 1595. To enhance the effect and impact of the work, several hundred miniature paintings illustrated the most dramatic events described therein.

His writings

The Akbar Nama and Ain-I-Akbari, completed in the waning years of the 16th century, together forms a definitive work.

It marks a decisive and schematic departure from the predominant historiographical format, as it does in several other aspects of the construction of an alternative world view. The Akbar Nama traces Akbar’s lineage from Adam as his fifty third generation descendant.

Very deliberately it dislocates the historiographical axis from the groove of Islam and seeks to construct an alternative teleology of universal history , in which Akbar, the author’s patron and idol, was not contained within the frame of a sect of humanity i.e. Islam; he was the heir of Adam and thus the ruler of all humanity.

There were other existing notions of the ruler of the universe, such as the Shah-in Shah (King of the Kings) in pre-Islamic(Iran and the Chakravartin (King of the four cardinal directions) in Hindu religio-political ambience, but their vision of universality coincided with territoriality; for Abul Fazl, the coincidence was with humanity instead.

Outwardly, the Akbarnama is only another example in an extensive genre of Indo-Islamic court eulogies. Being written in Persian, it lends itself to ornate and elaborate expression. It also tends to lean towards hagiography, a fault which can be corrected by contemporary antithetical works, such as the Munkhab-ut-Twarikh of Abdul Qadir Badauni. Abul Fazl based his detailed narrative on official records, no longer extant, and on eyewitness interviews. At the core of the work, permeating almost every passage, is an ideology of authority and legitimacy.

The number and true nature of adherents of Din-i-Ilahi was not publicised by Abul Fazl. The nobility and informed observers from the secondary and tertiary ranks of the imperial elite must have fully comprehended the true significance of ‘discipleship’ to the Divine Faith.

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