From Jalaluddin to Akbar: Analyzing the Akbarid Notion of Kingship

By Saarang Narayan
2016, Vol. 8 No. 01 | pg. 2/4 |

III: Fostering Loyalty

As discussed above, Akbar had to incorporate more and more groups into his nobility. And in doing so, he had to ensure complete loyalty and support of his nobles and bureaucrats to the empire and its emperor. The Mansabdari system played a key role in doing this.

Imperial identity of a noble (that based on his zat) came to dominate his parochial-local identity. This new imperial identity brought into significance the Turkish conceptualization of the “slave” or “bandah.”17 In other words, the individual came to define himself in relation to the emperor and empire, rather than his ethnicity, his village, his family or any other identity that was used up till now.

Evidently, Din-i elahi becomes a matter of consideration; it is a good case to study Akbar as a spiritual-temporal master. Henry Blochmann proposed that the din-i elahi was Akbar’s attempt to move beyond narrow conceptions of and Allah; to further his image as a liberal, incorporating ruler. Begun in 1583, Blochmann argues based on his translation of the Akbarnama, the din saw the induction of 18 elite nobles. This created thus, the din to be an order of the elite nobility of Akbar’s court; which ended with his death.

However, S. A. A. Rizvi has pointed out that Blochmann’s translation of “din-i elahi” as “Divine Faith” is wrong. Rizvi and Richards further go on to demonstrate how the din was to fulfill a specific political purpose–forming of an imperial discipleship. As J. F. Richards puts it, “discipleship represented a major effort to create an exceptionally loyal and reliable cadre of nobles”18

The number of inductees, Rizvi (as cited by Richards)19 says, was a lot more than eighteen. Eighteen is just a metaphorical figure. In reality, a lot more nobles were inducted into the din, in groups of twelve every week. Each Muslim inductee signed a repudiation denouncing conventional Islam and agreeing to revere Allah directly. While being inducted, the initiates were to perform sijdah20 and promise to sacrifice their jan (life), mal (property), din (religion) and namus (honour and name).

Thus, this imperial discipleship formed a direct link between the nobility (murshid) and the Emperor (Pir). This link came to be based upon the new imperial identity that it forged, undermining the older parochial, lineal, local, military or ethnic ties. Thus, a loyal gentry and strong base of support in the nobility was created. This relationship was strong and personal, involving giving away of sacred objects by the king.21 Their “sacredness” was derived from the fact that the gifts were either clothes possessed by the King (robes, garments, turbans) or given by hand to them; thus, the king’s physical touch was deemed divine.

Also, the farmaan of the emperor became another tool of inculcating imperial discipleship. The farmaan came to embody the emperor. As soon as the farmaan arrived, all those who were present were supposed to perform the sijdah. The person who read it out was, for the time, the vessel of the emperor.

This imperial discipleship, under Jahangir, came to be called Khanazaad. Khanazadas (=sons of the house) were those nobles who had been born and brought up in the court. Thus, imperial discipleship became somewhat hereditary. It was easier for post-Akbarid rulers to cement their nobility support through his conception of imperial discipleship. Pride was associated with being born to a mansabdar and serving the imperial court. But over time, especially after Shah Jahan came to the throne, khanazadgi became a matter of service only, not of birth into the palace. Any man serving the emperor could claim khanazaad status as direct contact or physical presence in the court was not necessary.22

IV: Akbar's 'Ideal Man'

So who was the ideal man for Akbar? What was the imperial disciple supposed to be like in his personal and day-to-day life? What were the notions of “good” and “bad” conduct under Akbar’s imperial discipleship?

According to Akbar, an ideal man was one who was thoroughly loyal to the empire, the emperor and the din. This, however, was only possible if the disciple could regulate his household and his women, while suppressing his worldly, material and personal desires. In order to do all of this, a certain ethic was required. This ethic was only possible if there was a balance between the individual’s head, heart, liver and ability to mete justice (adl).23

The way to control the household was to control the women. This was to be done through favours (sexual and material), inspiring in her loyalty and respect (towards himself, by fulfilling all her needs and the needs of the household) and finally by keeping her busy (with chores in the household, not allowing her to be active outside in the public sphere).

Logically, thus, marriage was an important institution for a man to become mature.24 It was seen as a training ground for the management of imperial business. The basic goal of any marriage was procreation and conjugality; it required loyalty towards each other and composure to be maintained in public (emotions of any human were not to be expressed openly in public spaces).

Akbar tried to follow this ideal through and through. For starters, he was of course the spiritual master of all his imperial disciples; but he turned into practice as he banned animal slaughter on certain days of the week in the royal kitchen, turned vegetarian for all his life and banned hunting. Iqtidar Alam Khan writes

He [Akbar] shames meat eaters for having converted ‘their inner sides, where reside the mysteries of Divinity, into a burial ground of animals’. And, again: ‘I wish my body made of elements (jism-i ‘unsarī), was big like that of an elephant so that these flesh-eating ignorant ones would have satisfied their hunger with my flesh, and so spared other living beings’. (Abū’l Fazl, Ā’īn-i Akbarī, vol. III, pp. 184 and 190). What is important about this sentiment is that it is…one of those cultural norms recommended by Akbar that seem to carry the imprint of his very private reflections not fully assimilated in the structure of beliefs and ideas that he was trying to evolve. These were his reflections…as a man who had missed the opportunity of receiving formal .25

Thus, Akbar began to make a move towards what he called sulh-i kul or ‘peace amongst all’. According to Iqtidar Alam Khan, it was a “much closer to the teachings of contemporary Nirguna Bhakti sects. By putting forth sulh-i kul, Akbar was hinting towards criticism of “both Hinduism and Islam for being formalistic and divisive.”26 Khan further writes

The dichotomies of Akbar’s religious belief and intellectuals commitments… are illustrated by the perplexing questions that he is reported to have posed to the Muslim religious divines during the first phase of discussions in the ‘Ibādat Khāna (1575-78).27

It is well evidenced that his debates in the Ibadat Khana are what led to the formation of his world-view as a liberal and assimilative one. However, there are problems with this simplistic understanding as argued above (in revising the view on the ‘Divine Faith’) and further discussed below.

In terms of the matters of material world and the worldly desires, Akbar seems to have conformed to his ideal of the Nasiri . He not only banned , but also used it as a propaganda tool against the Uzbeks. The Uzbeks were widely depicted as homosexual delinquents; they were also the major group of dissidents in the Empire. Akbar himself never wrote or spoke of his sexual desires and activities openly.

In order to maintain the spiritual well being of the city, he shifted all the brothels to one section of the city.28 He also appointed officers to regulate these brothels; all customers would have to file applications to visit a brothel for approval from the officers. This allowed him to keep a check with regards to the sexual innuendoes of his ministers. However, this license system did lead to bribing of the officials to suppress all knowledge of visits by the richer nobles.

In the harem, though, Akbar had over three thousand wives. This was a problem as neither Shi’a, nor Sunni Islam allowed more than four wives for all men. To justify his multiple marriages, he used the doctrines of the Maliki school of Islam to characterize all his marriages as nikah mut’ah or temporary, contractual pleasure marriages.

Regarding rules of masculinity, Akbar also created rules pertaining to facial hair. The beard lost its importance as it was seen as a waste of semen, which was, in turn the source of virility of all men. And this virility was better put to use in serving the empire and the emperor than in growing a beard. It was thus, only a moustache that retained importance as a form of facial hair. Jahangir and his successors, however, dropped this notion and grew full beards.

However, it was not all hunky-dory for Akbar, as we know him. This is because the dominant ideas about the insan-i kamil come from his propaganda machine–Abul Fazl. The question that now crops up is ‘how authentic is the Akbar that we know and how much of it is Abul Fazl’s version of Akbar?’

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