A Ghazi turned Kafir: the Case of Akbar’s U-Turn – 4

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

continues from Part-1, Part-2 , Part-3

The year is 1574 from where we have to pick up the threads of this phase of our story.

Akbar is by now in control over a vast portion of North India, his writ reigning unchallenged from sindhudesha in west up to major parts of va~Nga in east, and from the foothills of himAchala in north up to the boundaries of marahaTTA country in south. The momentum of his imperialist campaign for expansion is now such that the next few years would see him delete the sovereignty of most prevailing kingdoms of India, some with physical military subjugation while others simply bullied into suzerainty, barring remote regions of coastal dakShiNApatha and prAgjyotiSha.

The only exception to this is mewADa, right in the heart of Akbar’s conquered domains, where a saffron banner continues to defiantly kiss the sky, decorated with its golden emblem of the sun and the moon looking over a cow feeding her calf. Pratap Singh Sisodiya the mahArANA neither budges to diplomacy nor is Moghal army able to overpower him militarily. In frustrating every advance of Akbar, he is more than matching imperialist resourcefulness with his single-minded grit and valiance of his dedicated followers. His insignia now includes a nAgarI line in brajabhAShA that more than defines the tumultuous struggle of mewADa: “jo dR^iDha rAkhahin dharama kau tAhi rakhahi kartAr” (Those who are stiff in protecting dharma, are looked after by the Creator). mahArANA remains the chief focus of Akbar’s hostility, the hallmark of which, the bloodbath of haldIghATI is a couple of years out in the future (1576).

Within dAr-ul-islAm Akbar is now considered one of the most powerful monarchs, if not the most, and his name is well known in Mecca, where he sends rich gifts with every contingent of hAjI-s from India. (There is an interesting account that gulbadan has left in her diary, of how when one of these days a fleet of Indian hAjI-s reached Mecca, of which she was a part, it caused a minor riot of sorts among Arabs who had gathered there to receive the presents sent by Akbar.) Arabian world is controlled from Constantinople by the Sultanate of the osmAnI turuShka-s, who are now fast receding in strength, thanks to the continuing push from the Christian west and to some extent the Shi’aite east. The then khalIfA, Murad the third, can measure up to Akbar only on one account, that is, the population of the harem.

Another major bloc in the Moslem world, the usbec-tAjiks of bukhArA are while no match to Akbar’s power, they are kept in good humour by him with diplomacy, since their co-ethnics still form a significant column of his military, and he needs to temporarily maintain peace at North-West to consolidate his conquered inner domains, otherwise his desire of rooting out the very seed of usbecs from the soil of India is well-known. For Akbar the real competition for dominance in islAmosphere is from the safAvI-s of Persia, whose great ruler shah tahmAsp is now in his advanced years, at whose court once humAyUn was sheltered as a political refugee at the time when Akbar was entering this world. shAh is destined to depart in a couple of years (1576), and is imitated by Akbar in many respects including the language policy, army regimentation, administrative structure, even in the numismatic designs. This is also largely because Akbar is continuously importing from Persia a majority share of his employees.

Indeed moslems are now flocking to Akbar’s capital from every known quarter of dAr-ul-islAm, mostly the nobles and mercenaries, scholars and artists, in lure of the blooming career opportunities. There is an interesting account in A’in that informs us of how Akbar conducted job interviews of these prospects, checked their references and fixed their compensations. One of the side-effects that this in-migration has resulted in, of importance to our topic, is that under Akbar are accumulated moslems of a variety of sects loathing each other as heretics and living in sectarian animosity.

There are Hindus too in his service, although their numbers making for a small minority. Some Hindus have reached quite higher up in his civil administration, like Todarmal, as well in military, like Man Singh Kachhwaha, besides some having gained his personal friendship, like Birbal. Such Hindus are joked about by mullAh-s, as kAfIrs spreading the reach of Islam. badAyUnI proudly reports in 1576: “Through the generalship of Man Singh the true meaning of this line of mullA shIrI became known, ‘A Hindu wields the Sword of Islam’ ” [4.1]

The imperial capital has been relocated to sIkarI, a few miles interior from Agra, and renamed as fatehpur the ‘City of Victory’. The selection of new capital is a decision driven largely by reverence to the sunnI sUfI sheikh salIm the chisht, who used to have his khAnakAh here, which is now flourishing under royal patronage while the sUfI himself has departed for Allah’s abode a couple of years back (d1572).

Although there are plenty of political matters that need considerable attention of Akbar at the moment – putting down this rebel here and attending to some other feud there – but things are a lot more stable while the empire is already consolidating, and Akbar can more or less remotely manage these affairs from his new capital.

Earlier concerns related to being childless are not bothering Akbar anymore, who now has two daughters and three princes, while another child is on the way. Salim born from the rAjapUtAnI wife is now five, whereas Murad and Daniyal born from two concubines are toddlers of four and two.

Having found some respite from politics and being relatively trouble-free, he now has the opportunity of turning to other priorities.

Year 1574 therefore, the thirty-third year of his life, marks the inauguration of the study of Islam by the Great turuShka.

badAyUnI’s take for 1574: “In the course of the last few years, pAdishAh has gained many great and remarkable victories, and his domain has grown in extent from day to day, so that not an enemy is left in the world; he now takes a liking for the society of ascetics and the disciple of the celebrated Mu’iniyyah (i.e. the cult of chisht), and spends time in discussing the Word of God (i.e. Qoran) and the sayings of the Prophet.” [4.2]

To make his enterprise of studying his religion as grand as any other, Akbar commissioned building of a complex dedicated to this sole purpose and named it ibAdat-khAnAh, the ‘House of Prayer’, along with a large lake in its annex which he named as anUpa tAlAba the ‘Lake without a Simile’. This construction would be ready for inauguration by fall in next year.

Let us note in the passing that while all other monuments mentioned in the histories of Akbar can be seen to this day at sIkarI, there is not one sign of ibAdat-khAnAh nor of anUpa-tAlAba, which are otherwise so well described not only in several independent chronicles but also depicted on portraits by contemporary painters. The entire complex has simply vanished, as if evaporated from the surface without leaving any trace. While there is no record of what happened to it, we have very little difficulty in suggesting that its disappearance has to do with the revenge of the believers, and it is more than likely that jehAngIr himself might have ordered its demolition to erase out the physical memorabilia of where his father shed from himself the religion of the Prophet. Little else explains the complete disappearance of ibAdat-khAnAh from sIkarI.

We may call it an act of fate or just a coincidence, but at the same time when ibAdat-khAnAH is under construction, an important agent makes its entry in the process. Sheikh abul-fazl allAmI, the author of A’in-i-akbarI joins in 1574 the clerical staff of Akbar’s secretariat, and little does Akbar know that abul-fazl is to eventually become a guide and a fellow traveler of the journey that has begun, and finally its martyr. abul-fazl’s efficiency would soon see him rise from being a technical-writer to first head the federal secretariat and finally as vizIr of the empire. Being a son of a renowned philosopher-scholar of the age, sheikh mubArak nAgaurI, condemned by orthodox moslems as a heretic but pardoned by Akbar due to some recommendations, abul fazl has thoroughly studied not only the doctrines of different sects within Islam, is trained in critical thought, but has also gained some knowledge about religions and philosophies that Islam has wiped out and is sympathetic towards those. Although only a youth in his early twenties, he would soon be discovered by Akbar as a budding scholar of Islam whom seasoned mawlAnA-s find hard to match both in eloquence as well as in knowledge.

What could be a more bizarre stroke of good fate than this that this year also coincides the beginning of our chief informant getting deployed at the scene, mullAh abdul qAdir badAyUnI. badAyUni, a pious young mullAh, is appointed in the summer of 1574 at the post of assistant shAhI imam of the royal mosque, and he does this crucial assistance to us by recording the events we are interested in, through this hobby of his of maintaining a private diary-like journal. This would eventually become the copious muntakhabut-tawArIkh, which is a very rich repository of data for us to learn about this process, especially because to a fundamentalist musalmAn like badAyUnI it would come intuitively to focus closely on the process of pAdishAh turning an apostate. Not only did badAyUnI have considerable access to Akbar’s religious life during this phase, and was privy to his words & deeds from up close, but what is even more important is that he wrote this chronicle as a private work not intended for others eyes in his lifetime. This way, we can take him to be free from considerations of flattery and other influences. Indeed he does not hesitate in openly cursing, condemning, even using expletives for what his moslem heart can not approve of. tawArIkh reaches us because Akbar remained unaware that under his nose badAyUnI was secretly writing it, and it came to light only during jehAngIr’s reign, who then attempted to purge its very existence by confiscating and destroying its every copy. Thankfully, tawArIkh had been copied and circulated more widely and unlike ibAdat-khAnAh it survives today to bear witness to Akbar’s U-turn.

In addition to tawArIkh, also of assistance to us are the reports and dispatches left behind by the Portuguese Jesuits, who had gleefully arrived for converting the ‘Great Mogor’, from Goa where right at the moment their co-religionists were busy in one of the bloodiest heathen-wipeouts outside of kraunchadvIpa.

But the most useful source for the proceedings of ibAdat-khAnAh, including a bit dramatized transcripts of some debates, comes to us preserved by the pArasIka refugees who being persecuted at the hands of Moslems in their homeland had fled from Persia to settle down in gujarAta province which has just joined the list of Akbar’s conquests. We know that a learned pArasIka scholar and community leader dastUr meherjI rANA had arrived at Akbar’s court from gujarAta a little later from now, and had left Akbar bedazzled both with his wisdom and arguments as well as by the history he had narrated of how Islam had subjugated the glorious Persia and persecuted his ancestors.

A younger contemporary of learned dastUr rANA was kai-khusaru esfandiyAr, who was the son of dastUr’s master the jaruthastrian high priest of Fars, named Azar-kayvAn. esfandiyAr later undertook to study all the sects prevailing in India, with help of his brAhmaNa friends and by visiting monasteries from kashmIra to Andhra. The output was a significant Persian work on comparative study of religions, titled dabistAn-i-mazahab, compiled between 1630 and 1657 that is roughly during shAhjahAn’s time. This work is significant to our subject, because it not only dedicates a complete chapter to the cult of Akbar, but under it also provides a separate section to record the transcripts of ibAdat-khAnAH sessions, from the oral traditions of some ilAhIans, pArsIka-s and Shiites.

Generally our historians shrug this data aside as hearsay or hagiography since it was compiled at least four decades after the event. But we are of the opinion that even if allowing that some dramatizations or exaggerations have been utilized by the author in presenting the transcripts, what stands absolutely certain is that the chronologically relative flow of themes of debates as well as the main points under them, are extremely close to actual happenings. This is because there is near-absolute conformity of it with other independent chronicles: that of badAyUnI and of the Christists. Indeed it is comforting to observe that the descriptions of some of the debates are so close with the accounts by Christists – and dabistAn’s author had no access to the Jesuit reports dispatched to Goa and thence to Europe – that we can safely consider the data in dabistAn being closer to reality and can use it here with some care and due diligence.

The most disappointing to us is the response of the Hindus to this event.

Having commented that Hindus produce great philosophers but horrible historians, Max Muller remains a hated figure among large sections of Hindus of our time. But how do we escape from agreeing with Muller’s observation in context of our subject when we are faced with complete silence from Hindus on the subject of Akbar’s U-Turn? There is no records kept by Hindus who watched the event from close, aside from some glorifications in jaina chronicles like vijaya-prashasti or in the vulgar poetries of the bhATs of rAjasthAn.

We do know that brAhmaNa-s had not only participated in the debates but had the foresight of collaborating well among like-minded, the shvetAmbara-s and the nAtha-yogI-s, and had indeed fared very well in the debates. Their performance evokes much disappointment from badAyUnI who is forced to admit that Hindus are superior philosophers and disputers than his own co-religionists: “Hindu ascetics and Barhmans… suppress all other learned men in their treatises on morals and on physical and religious sciences, and since they attain a high degree of knowledge of the future and of spiritual power and human perfection, they managed to bring proofs based on reason and testimony for the truth of their own religion and falsity of other faiths, and inculcated their doctrines so firmly that no man, by expressing his doubts, could raise a doubt in pAdishAh, even though the mountains should crumble to dust or the heavens be torn asunder.”[4.3]

Why did then Hindus not take care to record any of these happenings? Why did they fail to recognize and record the watershed event taking place before their eyes which had the potential of changing the course of history, indeed as it actually might have? What stopped the Hindu scholars from making critical assessment of the doctrines of invading religions, until dayAnand saraswatI did so in the nineteenth century?

But we digress, and must return to 1574-5 where stage is set and Akbar has now accumulated the best known sunnI scholars of his time. He is now spending with them at least a couple of evenings in each week to hear them discuss among themselves and with him the tenets of Islam, discussions moderated by none other than himself.

continues… part 5

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2 Responses to “A Ghazi turned Kafir: the Case of Akbar’s U-Turn – 4”

  1. “Why did then Hindus not take care to record any of these happenings? Why did they fail to recognize and record the watershed event taking place before their eyes which had the potential of changing the course of history, indeed as it actually might have? ”

    You are being a little harsh here….maybe the hindus were busy preparing for the argument the next day!!
    Also, they could not have know that they were right in the middle of such a momentous point in history as you make. You of course have an advantage of hindsight that they obviously could not match.
    And to be fair to them, it was just ‘potential’ possibility which never materialized anyway.

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