The Real Akbar, The (not) So Great


Akbar is considered as the great Mughal emperor who put the Mughal empire on a firm and stable footing, with a reliable revenue system and with expansion of its borders deeper into Indian heartland. There is a belief prevalent in the present day India that Akbar's rule was secular and tolerant of the native Hindu faith. This belief is fostered by the Indian history texts, Hindi movies like Mughal-e-Azam, a TV serial on Doordarshan and the fictional tales of Akbar and his Hindu court jester Birbal. Although Akbar did abolish two obnoxious taxes on Hindus namely the pilgrimage tax in 1563 CE and Jizya (A tax stipulated in the Koran to be paid by Zimmis or unbelievers) in 1564 CE, his rule was better compared ONLY to the other Mughal and Turko-Afgani rules. This article illustrates this with two specific historical events. First, Akbar like all Mughal rulers had the holy Muslim title of GHAZI (SLAYER OF KAFFIR - infidel). Like Timur Lane and Nader Shah, AKBAR HAD A VICTORY TOWER ERECTED WITH THE HEADS OF THE CAPTURED/ SURRENDERED ARMY OF HEMU after the second battle of Panipat. Later, AKBAR AGAIN SLAUGHTERED MORE THAN 30,000 UNARMED CAPTIVE HINDU PEASANTS AFTER THE FALL OF CHITOD ON FEBRUARY 24, 1568.

This article also relates another historical event which shows the true dubious nature of Akbar's religious beliefs which he used merely to suit his convenience.

10 REFERENCES, The Cambridge History of India, Encyclopedia Britannica and other works based on Akbar-nama by Abul Fazl.


Akbar's grandfather Babar founded the Mughal dynasty. Babar was a direct descendent of Timur Lane from his father's Barlas Turk side and of Chengiz Khan the Mongol from his mother's side. The name Mongol had become synonymous with barbarian by the 16 th century CE, hence Babar was proud of his ancestry from Timur, whose descendents were regarded as 'cultured Turks'. In a twist of poetic justice, the dynasty founded by Babar became known through out the world as Mughal - an adaptation of Mughul, the Persian word for 'Mongol'(1). In Marathi also Mughals are referred to as 'Mongal' which is close to Mongol.

Babar's son Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah Sur, an Afgan at the battle of Chausa on 26 June 1539. But Humayun later defeated Sikandar Shah Sur in 1555 to regain Delhi.


On 24 th January 1556 CE Mughal ruler Humayun slipped while climbing down the steps of his library and fell to his death. The heir to the Mughal throne, 13 year old Akbar was then campaigning in Punjab with his chief minister Bairam Khan. On February 14, 1556, in a garden at Kalanaur, Akbar was enthroned as emperor. The other rivals for the throne of Delhi were the three Afgan princes of Sher Shah. However the main threat to Akbar's future came not from the Afgan princes but from a Hindu. Hemu, the Hindu chief minister of Afgan prince Adil Shah led a surprise attack on Delhi in October 1556 . The Mughal forces under its governor Tardi Beg Khan panicked and went into a sudden ignominious flight. This was Hemu's twenty second consecutive victory in successive battles. After the capture of Delhi, Hemu set up himself as an independent ruler under the Hindu title of 'Raja Vikramaditya'. At this juncture against the advice of most nobles, Akbar and Bairam Khan took a courageous decision, to press forward against Hemu's undoubtedly superior forces. On November 5, 1556 the Mughul forces met the army of Hemu at Panipat.

In this second battle of Panipat, the Mughals were saved by a lucky accident after a hard fight which looked more than likely to go against them. An arrow hit Hemu in the eye and although it did not kill him it had pierced the cerebral cavity enough to make him unconscious. In any battle of this period the death of the leader meant an end of the fight, and the sight of Hemu slumped in the howdah of his famous elephant Hawai was enough to make his army turn tail. Shah Quli Khan captured the Hawai elephant with its prize occupant, and took it directly to Akbar. Hemu was brought unconscious before Akbar and Bairam. Bairam pleaded Akbar to perform the holy duty of slaying the infidel and earn the Islamic holy title of 'Ghazi'. Among much self-congratulation AKBAR THEN SEVERED THE HEAD OF UNCONSCIOUS HEMU WITH HIS SABER (2,3,4). Some historians claim that Akbar did not kill Hemu himself, but just touched the infidel's head with his sword and his associates finished the gory 'holy' work. However the latter version seems inconsistent with the events that followed. After the battle Hemu's head was sent to kabul as a sign of victory to the ladies of Humayun's harem, and Hemu's torso was sent to Delhi for exposure on a gibbet. Iskandar Khan chased the Hemu's fleeing army and captured 1500 elephants and a large contingent. THERE WAS A GREAT SLAUGHTER OF THOSE WHO WERE CAPTURED and IN KEEPING WITH THE CUSTOM OF HIS ANCESTORS TIMUR LANE AND CHENGIZ KHAN, AKBAR HAD A VICTORY PILLAR BUILT WITH THEIR HEADS. Peter Mundy, an Englishman travelling Mughal empire some 75 years later (during Jahangir and Shah Jahan's rein), found such towers were still being built. (Reference 2 gives pictures of a sketch by Peter Mundy, and Mughal painting of the tower of heads during Akbar's reign). Hemu's wife escaped from Delhi with the treasure and Pir Mohammad Khan's troops chased her caravan without success. HEMU'S AGED FATHER WAS CAPTURED AND ON REFUSING TO ACCEPT ISLAM, WAS EXECUTED (3). This is the 'glorious' history of Akbar's victory at the battle of Panipat.


Despite nearly five centuries of Muslim occupation of India, Rajasthan in 1567 CE was still almost entirely Hindu. Akbar infiltrated the area by marrying into Rajasthan's ruling houses and by steadily capturing various forts on the eastern fringe of Rajputana. But the senior house of Rajasthan, Rana of Mewar proudly refused any alliance with Mughals. Akbar's army started a campaign for Chitod in 1567. Rana of Mewar, Uday Singh left his capital, the great fort of Chitod to be defended by 8,000 Rajputs under an excellent commander, Jai Mal, and took himself and his family to the safety of the hills. Akbar arrived on October 24, 1567 and laid a siege of Chitod. Akbar's huge army's camp stretched for almost ten miles . Akbar planned two methods of assault -mining and building a 'sabat', a structure which provides the invading army a cover of a high wall as it progresses 'infinitely slowly' towards the fort wall and tightens the noose around the fort. The mining proved disastrous since an explosion of a mistimed second mine claimed Akbar's nearly 200 men including some leading nobles. As the noose of 'sabat' tightened, Akbar forces lost nearly 200 men a day to musket fire from the fort. Almost four months after the siege, on February 23, 1567, a musket shot fired from the Mughal army killed Jai Mal. Some chroniclers claim that this shot was fired by Akbar himself. With the death of their leader Jai Mal, the Rajputs for a while lost heart. That night flames leapt to the sky as THOUSANDS OF RAJPUT WOMEN PERFORMED JAUHAR (act of self-immolation, the term is a corruption of Jay Har - meaning Hail Shiva). They preferred jumping into a roaring fire, to being captured by Mughal Akbar. Later events do lend credit to their astute judgement. This was the THIRD JAUHAR IN THE HISTORY OF CHITOD.

Next day the Rajputs under a new young leader Patta Singh donned on the saffron robes - Kesariya, in preparation for a fight to death, flung open the gates of the fort and charged on to the Mughal army. Patta Singh, his mother and his wife duly died in the ensuing battle as did many Rajput warriors. Later, the victorious Mughal army entered the fort of Chitod. At the time there were 40,000 Hindu peasants and artisans residing on the fort besides the Rajput army. AKBAR THEN ORDERED A MASSACRE OF ALL THE CAPTURED UNARMED 40,000 HINDUS, some artisans indeed were spared and taken away but THE SLAIN AMOUNTED TO AT LEAST 30,000 (5,6,7,8,9) Akbar was particularly keen to avenge himself on the thousand musketeers who had done much damage to his troops, but they escaped by the boldest of the tricks. Binding their own women and children, and shoving them roughly along like new captives, the Rajput musketeers successfully passed themselves off as a detachment of the victorious Mughals and so made their way out of the fort (5,6,7,8,9).

The MASSACRE OF 30,000 CAPTIVE HINDUS AT CHITOD BY AKBAR has left an indelible blot on his name. No such horrors were perpetrated by even the brutal Ala-ud-din Khilji who had captured the fort in 1303 CE. Abul Fazl, Akbar's court chronicler is at pains in trying to justify this slaughter. In the later period of his rule, Akbar later had statues of Patta and Jai Mal, riding on elephants, installed at the gate of his imperial palace at Agra. Although probably intended as a compliment for their heroism, it was open to misconstruction since in the earlier history Jai Chand had placed a similar statue of Prithvi Raj Chauhan at the gate of his palace (as a Dwarpal) at the Swayamvar of his daughter Sanyogita.

Sir Thomas Roe, an Englishman who visited Chitod some fifty years later, found the fort deserted. In fact, it remained a firm tenet of Mughal policy throughout the next century that fortifications of Chitod, which till then was the capital of the then strongest Hindu Rana, should remain unrepaired, perhaps as a lesson to Hindus who dared to take on the Mughals (5).

Rana Pratap Singh of Mewar, son of Rana Uday Singh, kept the Rajput resistance to Akbar alive and tried to reclaim the glory of Chitod.


In the later part of his rule Akbar founded a new religion Din-e-Ilahi in which he vaguely tried to combine practices of Islam and Hinduism. He observed Muslim, Hindu and Parsee festivals. He had Jesuit priests in his courts. However, this founder of Din-e-Ilahi was practically illiterate. Till the end of his rule only seventeen nobles yielded to Akbar's wishes (and pressure) and converted to his new religion, among whom Raja Birbal was one. None of Akbar's children adopted his religion. To top it all, Jahangir, Akbar's son from his Hindu wife Jodhabai, later killed a Kaffir (Hindu infidel) and gained the holy Islamic title of Ghazi. It is indeed true that Akbar drifted from orthodox Islamic practices and became more tolerant of other religions. However, more often Akbar used and twisted religious principles to his own advantage. Let us look at one such example.

Akbar used marriage alliances with various royal houses as a way of expanding his empire. The political advantages of this steady stream of presentation of princesses were incalculable. In the end Akbar had more than 300 wives. The actual number of women in the harem was nearer to 5,000. Many of these were older women, but there were also young servant girls, or Amazons of Russia or Abyssinia as armed guards, all with the status only of slaves. It was these who, if so required, were the emperor's concubines. The three hundred were technically wives, even though the Koran limits the number to four. Akbar wanted religious sanction of all these 300 wives. Now as per the Persian Shia interpretation of Muslim scriptures (and also by the present day 'Mohammedan Act of India'! ) a Muslim can have a 'Mutta' marriage with a free women of OTHER religion. A 'Mutta' marraige involves no ceremony , but is a private pact between a man and a woman for, officially, 'a limited period time (as short as one night)' agreed between them. As per Shia interpretation, 'Mutta' constituted a legal Muslim marriage. Akbar used 'Mutta' principle to justify his300 wives. But the Sunni Ulemma (Islamic scholars) from his courtdisagreed. The The arguments between Akbar and Ulemma raged back andforth, until -completing the parallel with Henry VIII- Akbar dismissed the Kazi, the highest religious officer from his court, aSunni, and replaced him with a Shia who did agree with him! (10)

Later, Akbar had effrontery to decree that 'it was best for ordinary men to to have only one wife'! (10)


Akbar killed an unconscious Hemu (a Hindu) to become a 'Ghazi' at the second battle of Panipat, he later ordered slaughter of all the captives from Hemu's army and had a victory tower built with their heads. Similarly, Akbar later on ordered a massacre of 30,000 plus unarmed captive Hindu peasants after the fall of Chitod on February 24, 1568. Are these the characteristics of a truly 'secular' and 'tolerant' emperor ? These events reveal Akbar's true nature during early part of his reign. Should Akbar be called 'Great' and 'Secular' only because he was a lesser despot than the rest of the Mughal emperors ? In the entire Indian history of thousands of years NOT A SINGLE HINDU KING EVER SLAUGHTERED THOUSANDS OF PRISONERS OF WAR. In fact the Hindu virtue of generosity to the surrendered (SharaNaagat Vatsal Bhav), came to haunt them later. Prithvi Raj Chauhan defeated Mohammed Ghori several times and generously let the loser free each time. This generosity of Pritviraj was paid back by Mohammed Ghori who after having finally defeated Prithvi Raj in 1193 CE, blinded him and carried him to Afganistan in chains where Prithvi Raj died an ignominious death. The Mughals were the descendents of brutal Mongol Chengiz Khan and the Turk Timur Lane. The above incidences clearly show that MUGHAL EMPERORS WERE FOREIGN AND NOT INDIAN, AND AKBAR BY HIS ACTIONS WAS NO EXCEPTION. Thus to call Akbar as 'The Great' is nothing but an insult to all civilized societies. This article also has shown Akbar's dubious use of religious principles.

If we are to take example from the 20 th century, then even the Nazis did not kill 30,000 prisoners of war in cold blood during the second World War. However scores of Nazis were sentenced to death during the Nuremburg trials for their War Crimes against POWs.

Readers are encouraged to read more about the true brutality of Mughal empire.

The readers should ponder upon following questions:


  1. The Great Moghuls, By B.Gascoigne, Harper Row Publishers, New York, 1972, p.15
  2. Same as ref. 1, pp. 68-75
  3. The Cambridge History of India, Vol. IV, Mughal India, ed. Lt. Col. Sir W.Haig, Sir R.Burn, S,Chand & Co., Delhi, 1963, pp. 71-73
  4. The Builders of The Mogul Empire, By M.Prawdin, Barnes & Noble Inc, New York, 1965, pp. 127-28
  5. Same as ref. 1, pp. 88-93
  6. Same as ref. 3. pp. 97-99
  7. Same as ref. 4, pp. 137-38
  8. An Advanced History of India, by R.C.Majumdar, H.C.Raychoudhury, K.Datta, MacMillen & Co., London, 2nd Ed, 1965, pp. 448-450
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 th Ed, Vol.21, 1967, p.65
  10. Same as ref. 1, p. 85

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