Akbar (Abu-Ul-Fath Jalal-Ud-Din-Muhammad Akbar; Akbar the Great)

The greatest of the Mughal emperors of India, b. 15 October 1542 (Unmarkot, India), d. 1605 (Agra, India).

Abu-Ul-Fath Jalal-Ud-Din-Muhammad Akbar was the grandson of Babur and the son of Humayun, who was driven from his reign and capital Delhi by Sher Sha Sur, an invader from Afghanistan. Humayun could return to Delhi in 1555, ten years after Sher Sha Sur's death, assisted by troops from the shah of Iran. Akbar was 13 years old at the time; his father made him governor of Punjab.

Humayun died a year later, and his governors divided much of the country up between themselves. Hemi, a Hindu minister, claimed Delhi but was defeated by a Mughal army. Akbar's chief minister Bayram Khan consolidated Akbar's reign; but Akbar was a head-strong youth and in 1560, when Akbar turned 18, he sent Bayram Khan on a pilgrimage to Mecca; Bayram Khan was killed while travelling through Afghanistan.

Throughout his reign Akbar expanded the Mughal empire, using a combination of diplomacy, marriage alliances and military conquest. He allowed the Hindu Rajput rulers of Rajasthan to hold their territories if they accepted him as emperor, paid regular tribute, supplied troops when needed and agreed to marriage alliances. Where they resisted he did not refrain from massacres. In 1562 Akbar accepted the offer of marriage with a Rajput princess. Rajput nobles began to enter Mughal government service and advanced to highest positions as generals and governors.

Between 1573 and 1576 Akbar added Gujarat and Bengal to his empire.

But Akbar's major achievements were his administrative reforms, which laid the foundation for 150 years of a multi-religious empire under Mughal rule. Always more interested in physical performance than formal education he remained illiterate throughout his life but took an active interest in all matters of intellect. His son Jahangir wrote of him that he was

"always associated with the learned of every creed and religion, ... and so much became clear to him through constant intercourse with the learned and the wise ... that no one knew him to be illiterate, and he was so well acquainted with the niceties of verse and prose composition that this deficiency was not thought of."

Akbar established separation of state and religion and opened government positions to members of all religions. He abolished the poll tax (jizya) on non-Muslims and the forced conversion of prisoners of war to Islam. He converted the meetings of Muslim clerics into open discussions between Islam, Hindu, Parsi and Christian scholars and in 1579 issued an edict that made him the highest authority in religious matters.

In the civil courts Akbar abolished laws that discriminated against non-Muslims. He raised the Hindu court system to official status side by side with Muslim law and reformed the legislation with the aim to maximize common laws for Muslim and Hindu citizens.

The administration of Akbar's reign was controlled by four ministries, who he appointed and dismissed himself: the prime minister, the finance minister, the paymaster general, and the chief justice, who was also the highest religious official. A system of news reporters across the empire kept the emperor abreast of all developments. A new system of ranks for the administration of the 15 provinces was introduced; the rankholders were allocated state land for the duration of their services, from which they supported themselves through the collection of taxes.

Much effort went into the design of a fair tax system. In 1580 Akbar analysed the state revenue statistics of the last 10 years, which contained information on price fluctuations and land productivity, and averaged crop yield and prices for different regions of his empire. He then established a regional taxation schedule based on the ability of the peasants to pay, which ranged from one third to one half of the total crop value and had to be paid in cash.

The requirement for cash payment of taxes led to a significant expansion of regional markets and rapid economic development. The currency of the empire, reformed by Akbar and featuring a full range of silver, copper and gold coins, became one of the widest known currency of the time.

Many of Akbar's reforms had already been initiated during the brief Afghan occupation of Sher Sha Sur. But Akbar understood the requirements for stable government and how it depended on a stable economy. He abandoned Sher Sha Sur's idea of a uniform tax rate for the entire country. He continued the development of the national road system as a prerequisite for economical expansion.

The full extent of Akbar's reforms was restricted to the lands administered by the central government; it did not include the lands of the Rajputs or the areas allocated to government officers. Traveller reports testify that the Indian peasants continued to live in poverty, while the aristocracy became extremely wealthy. As a result the arts flourished; painters, musicians and poets found generous patrons, and Akbar maintained state workshops for the production of luxury textiles and ornaments. The great period of Mughal painting began during Akbar's reign.

Akbar's reign marked the beginning of much building activity. The first imposing buildings were erected in Agra; but in 1570 Akbar established his new capital Fatehpur Sikri, which saw many splendid buildings rise in a combination of Indian Hindu and Persian Muslim architecture before it was abandoned after 16 years due to a lack of water. Akbar's tomb is in Sikandra, north west of Agra.