From Jalaluddin to Akbar: Analyzing the Akbarid Notion of Kingship

By Saarang Narayan
2016, Vol. 8 No. 01 | pg. 3/4 |

V: Chronicling the Great Leader

Abul-Fazl ibn Mubarak was inducted into the imperial court in 1582. This was precisely after the rebellion of the Uzbeks and the Shaikhzadas in 1580. By now, Akbar wanted to incorporate more and more elements into his nobility and build his image as the universal monarch. Abul Fazl was the man of that Akbar needed; both their world outlooks largely coincided. Thus, Abul Fazl gained access to all the imperial archives and records along with the bureaucratic machinery, making him capable of writing a wholistic account of Akbar’s reign.

As is discussed above, Abul Fazl created the dynastic links of Akbar to Alanquawa, ultimately portraying him as the farr-i izadi. He went on to describe, in detail, his reign year by year, creating in Akbar the insan-i kamil they both envisioned him to be. The direct antecedents of these have been discussed above in detail.

However, an important task that he undertook was to cover all the discrepancies between the ideals of the insan-i kamil and the actual acts of Akbar. Abul Fazl proved to be highly creative in this manipulation of facts.

Akbar’s illiteracy is widely chronicled and even popular amongst the less academically inclined students in schools even today. Abul Fazl justified this inability to read or write by equating Akbar with the Prophet Mohammad, who was also illiterate. In turn, both were portrayed as possessing a lot of wisdom and knowledge that was not to be found in the books of their times.

The violent campaigns of Akbar and his consolidation of the empire through force were justified as a necessary evil. To bring light into the world, Abul Fazl argues, the darkness must be lifted in a violent stroke. This also provided the need to present another anomaly–Akbar’s rule under Bairam Khan and Maham Anga (1556-1564). Abul Fazl puts it that these were the years when the light in Akbar remained hidden in a veil. It is only in 1564, as Akbar looks to consolidate his position as the emperor that he lifts the veil and shines the light upon the world.

Akbar is celebrated to have shone this light upon the world of the Hindus and abolished the pilgrimage tax and the jaziya. It is, however, little known that both were imposed again, in 1576 to please the orthodox Islamic sections.29 He wanted to do so in order to incorporate the Shaikhzadas into his nobility. Abul Fazl justifies all of this through Akbar ultimately promoting sulh-i kul. This was seen as his greatest achievement. In doing so, Abul Fazl not only legitimized Akbar’s actions, but also the whole institution of monarchy. He argued that monarchy brings order and stability to a populace and thus, further justifies the asking of revenue in return for the state’s protection. Iqtidar Alam Khan writes

Abul Fazl has tried to project the idea that social strife was caused in India primarily by the absence of the spirit of sulh-i kul. He goes on to suggest in the same passage that the absence of the spirit of sulh-i kul in India was caused mainly by the preponderance of an attitude of imitation (taqlīd) and by the suppression of intellect and reason. (Abū’l Fazl, Ā’īn-i Akbarī, vol. III, pp. 3-4)30

These lines are based on Abul Fazl’s reading and quoting of Al-Beruni, as Khan talks about how it was Abul Fazl who formulated the notion of sulh-i kul for Akbar.

Another dichotomy is visible in the looking over of some key instances of Akbar’s reign by Abul Fazl. These include the karori experiment of revenue collection, the experiment of the zuban-i kudrat and the signing of the mahazarnama in 1579. Each of these is evidence that even the insan-i kamil can fail or go terribly wrong in his actions; the farr-i izaadi was in fact, a ghazi before claiming to be the manifestation of the divine light, before he was a universal monarch. To trace further details about these, historians have had to look to other sources. One major source of such information is the infamous (during his own times) historian, Abdul Qadir Badauni.31

VI: Badauni's Criticism

Mulla Abdul Qadir Badauni was an interesting character. He is one of the sources of Akbar’s reign that talks about all that Abul Fazl tries to gloss over in his Muntakhab ul Tawarikh. Inducted into the court in 1576, he was to eventually be contemptuous of Akbar due to many complex reasons, for which this is not the right space to go into. It is key, however, to know that Badauni was a highly pious and orthodox Muslim; thus, he was hypercritical of Akbar and Abul Fazl.

To begin with, he criticised Timur for practicing human trafficking, not keeping his promise and destroying places of worship.32 He did this so as to counter the popular narrative of Timur as a heroic figure in the theosophical and historical space of the Mughal literature.

Badauni further goes on to criticise all material goals of monarchs throughout Islamic history. Being a thoroughly orthodox Muslim, he emphasized the transience of life and the inevitable mortality of all humans. He thus, was critical of all monarchs who were involved in building grand structures and military campaigns.33 His greatest criticism of Akbar was that Akbar manipulated and appropriated spiritual institutions for his own material and authoritarian gains. Badauni goes a step further and thus, criticizes all forms of absolutist rule.

Besides this, Badauni gives details of some of the failed experiments that came out of Akbar’s curiosity and naïve attempts to alter the ways of the world. The first such instance was the experiment of cross breeding a male deer with a babarī goat. This produced a non-productive hybrid deer.34

The second is the experiment of the zuban-i qudrat. Akbar believed, almost like Derrida, that language is something that is made by man; it is inherently materialistic and delinks man from Allah. Therefore, there must be a natural language (zuban-i qudrat) that one inherently unlearns upon being born into this world. So, to bring out this zuban-i qudrat, Akbar locked up six newborn infants in a room, away from all contact with the material world.35 However, as is obvious, this experiment failed.

Another experiment is the karori system of revenue collection. In 1574, Akbar cancelled all jagirdaris and declared all lands to be khalisa lands. This was done in order to revise all revenue assessment and collection methods. All khalisa lands were to be thus divided into circles, each circle to be given to an individual officer. This officer was called the karori as his task was to generate at least one karor (crore or ten million) tankas in revenue in a period of three to four years. However, the karori officers were highly exploitative of the raiyat; besides, land assessment was reduced to the minimum, as circles were drawn arbitrarily. Thus, owing to multiple problems, the karori system was done away with. The only possible good that came out of it was probably that it helped in intensive collection of data regarding the revenue of the lands of the empire.

One major cover-up that can be attributed to Abul Fazl is that of the Mahazarnama of 1579, as drafted by his father Shaikh Mubarak. It is intriguing as to why a son would forget one of his father’s literary texts. The Mahazarnama was signed in 1579 by the leading theologians to recognise Akbar as the Badshah-i Islam. The Mahazarnama itself spoke of the glory of Islam and proclaimed Akbar to be a ghazi, waging jihad against all infidels (kafirs) in India. This sits well in Akbar’s initial attempts to gain the support of the orthodox Muslims and the shaikhzadas. It is ascertained with plentiful evidence that

…in his early years he [Akbar] was not only a practising Muslim but also had a very intolerant attitude towards Hindus. He regretfully admits of having forced many Hindus, during those early years, to be converted to Islam [as recorded in his sayings in the Akbarnama]. Akbar was then looked upon by the orthodox Muslim elements as a pious Muslim committed to defending Islām against infidelity.36

Khan finds this evidence to be only in sources other than37 the Akbarnama. The obvious explanation for leaving this out of the Akbarnama is that it tarnished his image as a liberal emperor and would have angered the Hindu and Rajput elements in the nobility.

Thus, Badauni38 presents to us an alternative view of the universal-monarch; throwing light on the imperfect side of the insan-i kamil and; showing how even the farr-i izadi can, at times, be nothing more than a mere mortal.

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