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Akbar – Administration and Policies


Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, more famously known as Akbar the Great, was the third emperor of the Mughal Empire, after Babur and Humayun. He was the son of Humayun and succeeded him as the emperor in the year 1556, at the tender age of just 13.

Succeeding his father Humayun at a critical stage, he slowly enlarged the extent of the Mughal Empire to include almost all of the Indian sub-continent. He extended his power and influence over the entire country due to his military, political, cultural, and economic dominance.

He established a centralised system of administration and adopted a policy of marriage alliance and diplomacy. With his religious policies, he won the support of his non-Muslim subjects as well.

He was one of the greatest emperors of the Mughal dynasty and extended his patronage to art and culture. Being fond of literature, he extended support to literature in several languages.  Akbar, thus, laid the foundations for a multicultural empire during his reign.

At the time of his ascent to the Mughal throne, Akbar’s empire encompassed Kabul, Kandahar, Delhi and parts of Punjab. But the Afghan Sultan Mohammad Adil Shah of Chunar had designs on the throne of India and planned to wage war against the Mughals. His Hindu general Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya or Hemu in short, led the Afghan army to capture Agra and Delhi soon after Humayun’s death in 1556. The Mughal Army faced a humiliating defeat and they soon receded with their leader, Commander Tardi Baig absconding.

Hemu ascended the throne on October 7, 1556 and established Hindu rule in North India after 350 years of Muslim Imperialism.

On the direction of his regent Bairam Khan, Akbar declared his intentions to reclaim his rights to the throne at Delhi. The Mughal forces moved to Panipat through Thaneshwar and faced Hemu’s army on November 5, 1556. Hemu’s army was much larger in size than of that of Akbar’s with 30,000 horsemen and 1500 war elephants and he had the support of native Hindu and Afghan rulers who considered the Mughals as outsiders.

Bairam Khan led the Mughal army from the back and placed skilled generals on the front, left and right flanks. Young Akbar was kept at a safe distance by his regent. Initially Hemu’s army was in a better position, but a sudden change in tactics by Bairam Khan and another general Ali Quli Khan, managed to overpower the enemy army.

Hemu was on an elephant when he was struck by an arrow to his eye and his elephant driver took his injured master away from the battlefield. The Mughal soldiers pursued Hemu, captured him and brought him before Akbar. When asked to behead the enemy leader, Akbar could not do this and Bairam Khan executed Hemu on his behalf, thus establishing victory of the Mughals conclusively.

The Second battle of Panipat thus marked the beginning of the glory days for the Mughal reign in India. Akbar sought out to end Afghan sovereignties that might be claimant for the throne in Delhi. Hemu’s relatives were captured and imprisoned by Bairam Khan. Sher Shah’s successor, Sikander Shah Sur was driven out from North India to Bihar and was subsequently compelled to surrender in 1557. Another Afghan contender to the throne, Muhammed Adil was killed in a battle the same year. Others were compelled to flee Delhi and neighbouring regions to seek refuge in other states.

Relations with the Rajputs

The Mughal emperor Akbar implemented many policies during his reign, which also included ‘The Rajput Policy’. Abul Fazl says that in order to soothe the mind of the zamidars, he entered into matrimonial relation with them.

The Rajputs were the greatest obstacle in his pursuance of policy against the Hindus. Akbar tried several ways to gain the trust of the Rajputs.

The Rajputs ruler of Amber, Raja Bharmal was the first one to establish friendly relation with Akbar in 1562. The younger daughter of Bharmal, Harkha Bai (Jodha Bai and as per Mughal chronicle, Mariam-uz-Zamani) was married to Akbar.

Akbar gave complete religious freedom to his Hindu wives and gave an honored place to their parents and relations in the nobility and he also gave high posts to Rajputs in his empire.

Most of the Rajput kings recognised Akbar’s supremacy and helped him in expanding and consolidating the Mughal empire. Rajputs like Raja Birbal and Raja Man Singh were his most trusted officials. Both of them were also a part of the nine gems- navratnas -of his court. Raja Todarmal was made the head of the revenue department.

Akbar abolished the Pilgrimage tax in 1563 and Jizya in 1564 as both were based on religion discrimination.  He, however, could not succeed in conquering Mewar due to many causes, and it was later conquered by the Mughal Empire.

The Rajput policy of Akbar was unique as it not only helped to end the long drawn conflict between the Rajputs and Mughal ruler but also helped Akbar in the consolidation of his empire. It resulted in the development of a composite culture. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal Empire covered most of the northern and central India and was one of the most powerful empires of its age.

Religious Policy

Diversity of sects and creeds was the source of strife in his kingdom. As a ruler, Akbar needed goodwill of his subjects across the board, in order for him to consolidate the empire. In this regard, he shaped his policies on the principle of religious tolerance known as Sulh-i Kull (Peace with all). This policy of religious tolerance was basically aimed at proper functioning of political and administrative machinery of the Empire.

Nevertheless, Akbar was not the first Muslim ruler in the sub-continent who showed religious tolerance towards his subjects. In fact, Akbar formulated religious policies which not only caused uproars in the circles of orthodox Muslims, but his Muslim subjects considered him as an apostate to Islam. Most controversial policies of Akbar include abolition of jizya, immunity given to Hindu pandits and European Jesuits at the Ibadat Khana, prohibition of cow-slaughter, marriage reforms, discipleship, etc. Perhaps, the most abhorred was the Akbar’s promulgation in 1582 of the Din-i Ilahi (The Divine Faith).

Akbar’s so-called Din-i Ilahi was an amalgam of Sufism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. However, many Muslims took Akbar’s Din-i Ilahi with a pinch of salt and considered that he had actually abandoned Islam. On the other hand, Hindu writers generally held that although he followed a tolerant policy, he lived and died a Muslim.

The foundation for the misunderstanding of Akbar’s religious history was laid in the translation of Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari. The crucial question about Akbar’s religious activity is whether he established a new religion or a new spiritual order. The expressions used by both Abul Fazl and Badauni in this connection, however, are iradat or muridi (discipleship).

Due to Akbar’s ambition for mutual tolerance among different faiths, Hindu pandits, Parsis, Jains, and Jesuits, among Muslim scholars, were invited to the religious discussions at the Ibadat Khana. They did not confine themselves to the exposition of their own beliefs, but reviled Islam and the Prophet in unrestrained language.

Land Policy

In 1560, Akbar appointed Abdul Majeed Khan as his Diwan (Finance Minister). He could not achieve any appreciable success and was replaced by Aitemad Khan in 1563. He separated the Khalsa lands from the jagirdari lands.

In 1564, Muzaffar Khan was appointed in place of Aitmad Khan. He appointed ten senior officials prepared as estimate of the total revenue which was called Hal-i-Hasil. The estimate was not entirely correct and brought about no useful change.

Shahabuud-Din Ahmed Khan, who took over in 1568, restored to Nasq and Kamkut systems by which a range estimate of produce was prepared and revenue was called through land lords and other middlemand.

Akbar’s review system was the more prominent feature of his administration to be followed for a long time, even after the downfall of the Mughals with some adaptations.

Akbar’s accession to the throne marked a new era in the history of administrative reforms. Like everything else the revenue department also felt the master’s touch. During the early years of his rule, he made several experiments in this field but didn’t get much success. Ultimately, the system, which he introduced with the help of Raja Todar Mal succeeded, and this system has been called the Dahsala system.

In 1570, Muzaffar Khan in his second tenure restored back the system based on Hal-i-Hasil and improved it further. Jagirdari lands were also brought under this system, the record, of the quality of land, its produce and revenue prices and others were also fixed under this system, this also provided basis on which Dahsala system was introduced.

Akbar introduced a new system for regulating imperial services which was called Mansabdari system. It was introduced in 1570 A. D. All the gazette imperial officers of the state were styled as Mansabdars. They were classified into grades, from the rank of ten to ten thousands. Ten was the lowest rank and the ten thousand the highest.

The Mansabdars belonged to both Civil and Military department. Officers were Liable to transfer. They were transferred from the civil to military services and vice versa.

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