Following my trips to those splendid places, I have been reading a bit of Indian history and about the Mughals in general, and Akbar in particular, with special interest pertaining to his liberal approach to religion.
As I was browsing, I came across an intriguing post dated February 13, 2008 in which Manish has detailed his experience at the Fatehpur Sikri and his views on the Mughals, and Akbar in particular here:
Manish and I have shared a few comments. One of my comments on Part II of his post dated February 13, 2008 reads as follows:
This is an interesting read and thank you for the details. The sleeping place of Akbar was something new that I learned about for the first time on this post.
With some of your initial description, I do not know if you are trying to portray an image of Akbar as one who led a hedonistic lifestyle. From what I read, Jehangir is more of a thoroughbred pleasure seeker than Akbar. You have pointed out Acharya Chatursen’s philosophy of the Rajput kings lifestyle and their harems, so overindulgence of the royalty was common in those days.
Akbar may have been illiterate but he was not certainly uneducated. In fact, Akbar was constantly keeping himself well informed, and was one of the greatest promoters of music, architecture, art and anything related thereto. The best about him, in my opinion, was his tolerance for other religions but sadly, that trend changed since Jehangir’s reign.
You write about a room “perfectly dark, with no provision for any light” to “emphasize the kind of accommodations women in harem used to live in.” As far as I am aware, the royal women of the Mughals spent a considerable time pursuing art, poetry, literature etc. For example, Noor Jehan, as you pointed out, unofficially ruled the Empire while Jehangir was ruled over by alcohol.
If you have been to the Agra Fort, inside the Fort premises you might have seen the Jehangir P[a]lace which was the zenana for the women of the palace. Inside it is a beautifully adorned white marble structures (my pictures shot there turned out hazy for some reason) and the Shish Mahal whose walls were inlaid with tiny mirrors. This was meant as a dressing room for the women in the harem. No dark rooms there at all. After Jodhabai, Noor Jehan continued to live there. A picture of the Jehangir’s Palace is among the set of pictures here:
Subsequently more comments have been exchanged. My dear reader, if this subject interests you and if you happen to have some time to spare, I would like to direct you to Manish's two posts, and any contribution from you for a further discussion on the interesting topic would be useful to get a better idea on it.
Despite putting up a long comment there, I feel the need to speak out a little bit more of my impressions on the matter, with particular reference to Akbar's tolerance to other religions and hence this post.
Who was Akbar and what kind of a person was he? So much has been documented about him being a great ruler who demonstrated his own capacity for good judgment and excellent leadership. He is personally known to have successfully managed the implementation of his brilliant administrative policies.
Is there a real basis for challenging that?
Akbar was born in the Rajput fortress of Umarkot in Sind where Humayun and his newly wedded wife, Hamida Banu Begum were taking refuge during the interregnum of Mughal rule. At one point, having lost his territories to Sher Shah Suri, Humayun had to flee to Persia leaving his son, Akbar behind. Akbar was then raised in Afghanistan by his uncle, Askari, in the rugged country where he did learn to hunt and fight, but not to read and write.
Later they moved to the State of Rewa (in present day Madhya Pradesh) where Akbar grew up in a village along with Prince Ram Singh, a Rajput, who later became Maharaja of Rewa. Akbar and Ram Singh spent time together in their childhood and they remained good friends forever.
Again, Akbar may have been illiterate but he was certainly not uneducated, as he ensured that he was constantly well informed. There was so much about him to be admired. He was one of the greatest promoter of arts and anything related thereto, with fine taste in music, architecture, had great love for literature and a vision that tolerates other opinions.
There are also references to holding religious debates and discourses in his court where Muslim scholars would debate on religious matters with scholars of other religions including, Sikhs, Hindu, Christians and also atheists. Most of us are aware of Akbar's concept of Din-i-Ilahi, which was created choosing what the best of other religions had to offer, including Islam, Christianity, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Sadly and mainly for lack of cooperation from the religious ulema of his own court, it was not a success and dissolved after his death.
Akbar is known to have not only abolished payment of taxes by poor people, but also tried to eradicate the practice of sati by issuing general orders prohibiting the practice. He repealed the jizya tax on non-Muslims, discouraged child marriages and encouraged widow remarriage.
Majority of his subjects during those times were Hindus and Akbar was known to have appointed Hindus to high posts during his time. In the polarized society of such times, Akbar tried to create a medium for tolerance for all religions. He preserved Hindu temples, and is one ruler who is known to have tried to remove all distinctions between the Muslims and non-Muslims.
There are references that the organisational development of Sikhism had mostly taken place during the tolerant days of Akbar. It is said that he even helped the Sikh Gurus in various ways and sat with the ordinary and poor people of Punjab to have langar.
Akbar's integration of the Rajput principalities into his Mughal Kingdom may be considered by many to be a shrewd move, but there are the others who view it as an action that was necessary in order to strengthen his relations with the Rajputs so as to avoid wars and bloodshed.
Jehangir Mahal for Akbar's Rajput wives
Akbar's Rajput queen, mother of Jehangir, has been recorded in the Akbarnama of the Mughal period as Mariam Zamami and is popularly known as Jodhabai. According to historians, his distaste for orthodox Islam and his dabbling in other Indian faiths provoked a backlash among insecure Muslim elite of those days. So, Jodhabai's name was kept out of the Mughal records intentionally because the Islamic clergy and the Mughal people could not come to terms with the future Mughal emperor being the son of a Hindu woman.
Akbar is a good example of someone who was tolerant of other religions, Tolerance, according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is "a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing or conflicting with one's own." Of course, when we say one is tolerant, it does not mean that he holds his own beliefs less strongly. It means that he does not condemn people who have different ideas from his own.
Under Akbar’s rule, Jodhabai as well as the other Rajput wives of the Mughals were free to practice their own religion. It is also documented that Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan's mother was also a Rajput princess.
Jodhabai and the other Rajput women of Akbar’s time lived in the Jehangir Mahal while in Agra. According to architectural experts, the main feature of this majestic palace is the interior painting work, which is a direct expression of the Rajput style of painting. This is another example where the Hindu art and architecture was incorporated together with Persian (Islamic) to form the Mughal architecture. I would say it's a classic example of cultural synthesis.
What is your opinion of Akbar?
Do you think Akbar is:
(a) a selfish emperor with a hedonistic lifestyle to his credit; or
(b) an able statesman and leader, tolerant of other religions, and a brilliant Emperor as he is widely claimed to be; or
(c) no comments.
To make it simple, kindly choose (a), (b) or (c) with or without any explanation. Thanks for your response.
PS: Now that Jhodaa Akbar is due for release, can’t wait to watch if the alliance between Jhodabai and Akbar blossomed into a relationship of true love between them. Of course, I am aware it is not accurate history, it is a movie to be enjoyed nonetheless. ;)