A Ghazi turned Kafir: the Case of Akbar’s U-Turn – 2

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from Part-1

Savitri Chandra of JNU, the wife of Marxist historian Satish Chandra, analyzes Akbar’s philosophy of religious tolerance to be a continuation of ‘Sulh-i-Kul’ (Universal Peace) a spiritual concept of the Central Asian sUfI-s as described by abul fazl, a theory to which many have contributed before her. She however takes a leap forward in comparing it with the ideas of yuga-dharma and maryAdA taught by Akbar’s contemporary tulasIdAsa, and that of ‘nipakha’ (non-sectarianism) proposed by his another contemporary dAdU dayAla, and jubilantly declares: “Akbar’s concept of sulh-kul not only implied preventing conflict (with) various faiths, but according to them a position of equal honour. This implied putting Islam on par with other religions. It also implied giving lower importance to the scriptures of various religions by emphasizing the fundamental unity of God, that different religions were different ways of reaching Him.” [5]

A laughter-worthy conclusion, but we quote the above only as a sample tone of the Secular-Marxist chorus, to highlight the general approach they adopt in presenting Akbar as a Moslem doyen of religious tolerance. The perseverance of these apologists is as painstaking as is their enterprise innovative, since they are faced with not one or two outliers of data to negate and explain, or suppress and ignore, but piles upon piles of evidence pointing unambiguously to the fact that Akbar had neither much value for the supposed equal honour to all religions, nor was he a Moslem when he is said to be practicing this principle. Thus as a workaround, such historians instead of looking at the behaviour of the subject as a primary means to get into his outlook, concentrate on Akbar’s supposed philosophy as articulated and portrayed by his contemporary biographers. They also clutch on to two declarations of policy from early reign of Akbar, the announcements of the abolition of Pilgrimage Tax (1563) and Jizia (1564), and parade these as proofs to show that Akbar was always tolerant and easy on Hindus.

Since they keep their focus diligently away from the actual behaviour of the man as the primary source of the analysis, the results they produce about his outlook abjectly fail to explain his actions. We believe that instead of taking at their face value the philosophical content of the chronicles laced with all their flattery and encumbered with intellectualization by the chroniclers, one should rely chiefly on the anecdotal data and events recorded by them about Akbar’s actual behaviour, and using this make one’s assessment of Akbar’s outlook.

That Akbar began as a ghAzI of standard make & model and remained firmly grounded for many years in the Islamic worldview of perpetual jehAd against infidel, is amply corroborated by all available evidence. The very launch of his career is marked by his tAlibAn-like beheadings of himU and his octogenarian father when captured after the battle of pAnipat and brought before his war camp. Akbar, then in his first teens, made a proposition of pardon if they converted to Islam. himU, afflicted with a severe brain injury and painfully dying already, responded with a short but stern speech that the doorsteps of death appear more agreeable to him and his father than converting to Islam. While the merit of beheading the eighty-year old kAfir was quickly claimed by pIr muhammad khan, a court noble, Akbar himself performed the beheading on the son. “Akbar merely touched himU’s neck by steel”, wrote abul fazl in a negationist tenor three decades after the event when both Akbar and he had remained Moslems no longer, and Akbar was openly regretful about his earlier behaviour. While we have to wait to return to that aspect, for the moment Akbar erected at the conquered battlefield a pyramid of skulls of kAfirs, and likely placed on top the skinned head of himU along with his headgear, if he were truly following the real turuShka tradition.

Arrival of Akbar in India and overthrowing himU was rightly reflected upon by mullAh-s as the descent of a pious mujAhid from dAr-ul-islAm to put down the infidels of hindostAn and rejuvenate the diminishing ghizawat in India. A well known shaikhzAdAh of that period, rizqullAh mushtaqI of Delhi, wrote that Akbar was sent to India by Allah to protect Islam from being suppressed by kAfir himU. [6]

Almost a decade later, now in his middle twenties, when Akbar led his bloody jehAd to chitrakUTa i.e. chittor, he was still discharging the war against Hindus as a religious obligation under commandments of Allah. After the pillage of chittor, slaughter of over thirty-thousand Hindu civilians and jauhar by thousands of rAjapUtAnI-s, the pronouncement of victory which Akbar issued on March 9, 1568, the notorious fathnAmA-i-chittor which seculars find so hard to ever quote in verbatim, is peppered with Qoranic verses, compares the battle of Chittor with jihAds led by Prophet, and reads just like coming from any other ghAzI before and after Akbar:

“The Merciful One whose Omnipotence has ensured the victory of the Moslems through ‘the promise to help believers is incumbent upon us’, the Omnipotent One who enjoined the task of destroying the wicked kAfirs on the dutiful mujAhids through the blows of their thunder-like scimitars, as laid down: ‘Fight them! I Allah will chastise them at your hands and He will lay them low and give you victory over them.’… In conformity with the happy injunction, ‘This is of the grace of my Lord that He may try me whether I am grateful or ungrateful’, we spend our precious time to the best of our ability in ghizA and jehAd and with the help of Allah, who is the supporter of our ever-increasing empire, we are busy in subjugating the localities, habitations, forts and towns which are under the possession of the kAfir, may God forsake and annihilate all of them, and thus raising the standard of Islam everywhere and removing the darkness of polytheism and violent sins, by the use of sword. We destroy their houses of idols, the temples in those and other parts of hindostAn, ‘Praised be Allah, who hath guided us to this’… While the thoughts of ghizawat and jehAd dominate enlightened mind, (rANA udai singh’s rejection to suzerainty) incensed even more the zeal for the Divine Religion… The armies of Islam placing their reliance in (the Qoranic revelation) that, ‘Allah is sufficient for us and most excellent protector’, fearlessly and boldly commenced the assault… the vigilant bands of Hindus (as despicable) as Jews, set ablaze the fire-raining ‘manjaniqs’ and ‘top’ one after the other… But the people of Islam were busy praying: ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us endurance, make our foothold sure, and give us help against the kAfir…” [7]

The well-known fate awaited kAfir-s at the hands of the young ghazi that was Akbar: “In accordance with the imperative command ‘And kill the idolaters all together’, those defiant kAfirs who were still offering resistance having formed themselves into multiple knots of two to three hundred persons, were put to death and their women and children taken prisoners.”[8] But Tod is much more detailed: “When the Carthagenian gained the battle of Cannae, he measured his success by the bushels of rings taken from the fingers of the equestrian Romans who fell on that memorable field. Akbar estimated his by the quantity of cordons of distinction (yaj~nopavIta) taken from the necks of the Rajputs, and seventy-four and a half ‘man’, or about five hundredweight, is the recorded amount. To eternise the memory of this disaster the number ‘74-and-1/2’ is tilac, that is, accursed. Marked on a banker’s letter in Rajasthan it is the strongest of seals till date, for ‘the sin of the sack of Chittor’ is invoked on him who violates a letter under the safeguard of this mysterious number.” abul fazl records that at least three-hundred rAjapUta women voluntarily jumped into pyre, to save their honour from falling to the hands of the invaders.

After the sack of chittor and likely having decorated the conquered city with the tower of skulls of the slain infidels, Akbar proceeded towards ajmer to fulfill his pilgrimage to the dargAh of muin-ud-dIn the chisht, which he had avowed to undertake on foot if chittor were to be delivered from clutches of kAfir to the lashkar of Islam since he had already tried once and failed in the enterprise. Indeed the fathnAmA was executed and issued by Akbar from the dargAh of sUfI in ajmer, which shows that for him the war was nothing short of a pious duty, an essential stage of pilgrimage for a mujAhid like him.

Just four years earlier in anticipation of this jehAd, Akbar had deployed his lashkar-i-islAm under general khwAjA abdul mAjid Asaf khAn, in destroying the Hindu kingdom of Gonds ably ruled by rAnI durgAvatI, a chandela princess from mahobA. This war that had all the standard methodology of an islAmic jehAd, although Vincent Smith proposed, and now seculars describe, that this conquest was purely driven by Akbar’s insatiable ambition to expand his empire. In any case, the defeated kAfirs were not pardoned, and Hindu princesses who failed to join their sisters in jauhar, notably a younger sister of rAnI durgAvatI and a would-be daughter in law of her, were captured alive and sent to expand Akbar’s harem. Records abul fazl: “A wonderful thing was that four days after they had set fire to that circular pile, and all that harvest of roses had been reduced to ashes, those who opened the door (to womens quarters) found two women alive. A large piece of timber had prevented them and preserved from the fire. One of them was Kamlavati, the Rani’s sister, and the other the daughter of the Rajah of Purangadh… These two, who had emerged from that storm of fire, obtained honour by being sent to kiss the threshold of the Shahinshah.”

Even if we accept the argument constructed by the likes of Vincent Smith that Akbar’s zeal came from his insatiable imperialistic ambition and greed, rather than from his religious belief, that hypothesis in no way negates his personal outlook being that of a fanatic Moslem at least in this stage of his life.

During this time, he even aspired like any other moslem monarch (including the fanatic final Nizam of Hyderabad in twentieth century), to become the khalIfA of all the momins of the world: “Insha’allah, within these few days we will reach the seat of the khilAfat”[9]. Quite like his illustrious ancestor Amir taymUr-the-lung who had little scruples in subjugating and slaying the then abbAsI khalIfA to appoint himself khalIfat-ul-lillAh, the Greatest Commander of the Faithful.

Like his ancestors, Akbar was a type of sunnI for whom visiting mazArs and dargAhs of walI-i-khudA was a necessary act of faith, and towards 13th century muin-ud-dIn the chisht he had a special reverence, visiting whose dargAh in ajmer was an annual affair for him. Even the chosen battle cry of his armies used to be ‘yA muin’, in name of the sUfI who was a ghAzI in his own way, and whose arrival from Central Asia to India is mysteriousely close to the arrival of armed jehAd by muhammed the ghorI. Akbar patronized this chishtI dargAh and its shaikhzAdAhs throughout the JehAdI phase of his life, and his abandoning it coincides his abandoning Islam, but that is much later. For now, he was so religiously engaged in sunnI saints that he even moved his capital away from Agra to a smaller town called sIkrI, where a contemporary faqIr from the lineage of the ajmer’s sufI, named sheikh salIm chishtI used to have his dwellings, and whom Akbar had come to patronize after the former miraculously blessed him with a son, who was named by Akbar after the faqir as Salim.

While many have argued that for Akbar, drive for power was above all other considerations including religion, but what seems closer to reality is that at least in this period, for Akbar, both Polity and Faith were one, and means to serve the interest of the other, in true Islamic tradition. We should take note, for instance, of the incident that after the rebellion against him led by Khan Zaman was crushed in 1667, the rebels were brutally and publicly executed by being trampled upon by elephants, but Akbar refused to mete out the same penalty upon rebel Muhammad Mirak of Mashad because he was a Syed and from the Prophet’s lineage [12], which certainly does not help the theory that Akbar had no religious scruples in dealing with the enemies.

He also appointed a little before this time, in 1565 or 66, a fellow sunnI of sUfI lineage, shaikh abdu-n nabI at the post of sadr-i-SudUr to look after the implementation of shariyat. The influence on Akbar of this fundamentalist bigot was so thorough that Akbar used to regularly visit his home to hear his lectures on Qoran and hadIs. It is recorded that he at this time respected this mawlAnA so deeply that at some instances Akbar was seen adjusting the former’s footwear when he rose from his seat. (Of course, much later, Akbar would simply repeal this post itself, and exile mawlAnA to Arabia at the end of which he was found dead in suspicious circumstances.)

Akbar even set up a new post in his cabinet and always appointed senior officials to this post, to look after the arrangements of the journey of Hajj for Moslems, and not unlike the current Governments of India, heavily subsidized the pilgrim expenses. He was said to have even contemplated building a grand sarai in Mecca for residence of pilgrims from India, and his first contact with Portuguese was in relation of arranging the system of voyage when the land route, via Iran, had become unsafe for sunnIs to travel, given the prevailing bloody shia-sunnI relation.

Akbar’s personal behaviour in these years demonstrates little scope of tolerance even for the non-sunnI Moslem sects, what to speak of the Hindus. There are several instances during this part of his reign when many non-sunnI Islamic sects, especially shi’a-s, were persecuted for being heretic and innovators besides numerous instances of suppressing these different sects. Remarkable is his own utterance when he ordered the execution of a sufI who had come from gujarAta and was blamed for having criticized the favourite saint of Akbar, the chishtI of sIkari, the event mentioned by sAMkR^ityAyana quoting from an authority he did not cite.[10]

Iqtidar Alam Khan writes [11]: “he had a manifestly suppressive attitude towards the sects condemned by the orthodox Muslims as heretics. The Iranian nobles, mostly Shi’as were encouraged and used against the discontented Turanis throughout the sixties. But at the same time their freedom to profess and practise their faith was sought to be restricted. A glaring example of such a restrictive attitude towards Shi’as was the exhumation, in 1567, of Mir Murtaza Sharifi Shirazi’s remains from the vicinity of Amir Khusrau’s tomb in Delhi at the suggestion of Shaikh Abdu’n Nabi. The argument put forward in justification of the exhumation was that a ‘heretic’ could not be allowed to remain buried so close to the grave of a renowned Sunni saint. It was no doubt an extreme expression of sectarian hatred. Even Badauni had criticised the exhumation of Mir Murtaza Sharifi Shirazi’s remains as a very unjust act. Akbar’s farman to Abdus Samad, the Muhtasib of pargana Bilgram, directing him, around 1572, to ‘help in eradicating the heresy and deviation from the pargana’ is an indication that the restrictive attitude towards Shi’aism continued to persist till as late as early seventies. Akbars hostility towards the Mahadavis was still more pronounced. His attitude towards them continued to be repressive down to 1573 when he is reported to have suppressed them harshly in Gujarat. It was in the course of this suppression that the leading Mahadavi divine, Miyan Mustafa Bandgi, was arrested and brought to the court in chains.”

When even non-sunnI Moslems were persecuted this way all through the 60s and at least till mid 70s, what to say of the Hindus? There were numerous instances of vandalism of temples by the army of Akbar, which was always full of fanatics. The desecration of the famous deity of the sisodiyA-s of mewAr, ekali~Nga mahAdeva, is a fact recorded in annals. Tod aptly says, “(Akbar) was long ranked with Shahab-ud-din and other instruments of Allah’s destruction, and with every just claim. Like these, he constructed from the altars of Eklinga a pulpit for the Koran.”[13]

The most outrageous vandalism of Hindu temples at the hands of Akbar’s forces was reserved for the lower Himalayas, which were raided by his general Hussein Khan the ‘tukaDiyA’. This general had earlier gained the title of ‘tukaDiA’ due to his dictat to Hindus of North-West, which he governed, to always carry a yellow patch, a ‘tukaDI’, in their headgear, for easy identification. Something which should reminds us of the tAlibAns. So under this zealous commander, Akbar’s armies destroyed many temples and desecrated even more. Several mutilated images in uttarAkhaNDa, till today, bear witness to that barbarity. Most notorious of these events is the episode of nagarakoTa near kAngarA where the famous temple of devI, a shakti-pITha, was desecrated by slaying two-hundred cows in its compound, throwing their flesh and blood about, and finally demolishing the temple besides slaying countless kAfirs. The event is gleefully recorded by badAyUnI, who holds tukaDiA so high in admiration to consider him worthy of having been a contemporary of Mohammed and having participated in the original jehAds. Some Marxists like sAMkR^ityAyana isolate the responsibility to tukaDiyA and absolve Akbar of the crime. Other Marxist R S Sharma also cites some local tradition to state that Akbar had later lamented for this and sent a golden cHatra as atonement. [14] Be that as it may, and it is entirely possible for Akbar to have lamented for his behaviour as we shall get into subsequently, the fact remains that tukaDiyA was a high general in the army of Akbar, rose to the mansab of three-thousand, even higher than Birbal who remained only at two. Father Monserrate who visited Akbar’s kingdom was gladdened to see the idolatry being firmly wiped out by pious Moslems, he actually laments that not enough had been done in this direction.

Bartoli the Jesuit says about Akbar: “He never gave anybody the chance to understand rightly his inmost sentiments…, this was the characteristic manner of King Akbar, a man apparently free from mystery or guile, as honest and candid as could be imagined; but, in reality, so close and self-contained, with twists of words and deeds so divergent one from the other, and most times so contradictory, that even by much seeking one could not find the clue to his thoughts.’

But we think it is rather straight forward, for us, having the benefit of standing removed now from that time, to be able to look back at Akbar and understand something more about his personal religious outlook. During the first phase of his life he was a sunnI Moslem offering namAz five times a day, visiting dargAh-s of the sunnI saint in ajmer once a year, sometimes on foot, faithfully listening to the expositions on Qoran and Hadis by theologians, and above all, waging jehAd against the infidels. All of this is certain. What needs some forensic-like examination is to understand how he suddenly woke up and started questioning the religion of his birth, understood its value and finally liberated himself from it.

That is what we now hope to get into.

continues to part 3


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