Aolib.comFragment of Photochrom print of the front of Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany (ca. 1897)

Akbar, Emperor of India »


By Richard von Garbe

[Footnote 28: A. Mueller, II, 386.]

Among other ways Akbar betrayed the scientific trend of his mind by sending out an expedition in search of the sources of the Ganges.[29] That a man of such a wonderful degree of versatility should have recognized the value of general education and have devoted himself to its improvement, we would simply take for granted. Akbar caused schools to be erected throughout his whole kingdom for the children of Hindus and Mohammedans, whereas he himself did not know how to read or write.[30] This remarkable fact would seem incredible to us after considering all the above mentioned facts if it was not confirmed by the express testimony of his son, the Emperor Jehangir. At any rate for an illiterate man Akbar certainly accomplished an astonishing amount. The universal character of the endowments of this man could not have been increased by the learning of the schools.

[Footnote 29: J.T. Wheeler, IV, I, 174]

[Footnote 30: J.T. Wheeler, loc. cit., 141; Noer, I, 193; II, 324, 326]

I have now come to the point which arouses most strongly the universal human interest in Akbar, namely, to his religious development and his relation to the religions, or better to religion. But first I must protest against the position maintained by a competent scholar[31] that Akbar himself was just as indifferent to religious matters as was the house of Timur as a whole. Against this view we have the testimony of the conscientiousness with which he daily performed his morning and evening devotions, the value which he placed upon fasting and prayer as a means of self—discipline, and the regularity with which he made yearly pilgrimages to the graves of Mohammedan saints. A better insight into Akbar’s heart than these regular observances of worship which might easily be explained by the force of custom is given by the extraordinary manifestations of a devout disposition. When we learn that Akbar invariably prayed at the grave of his father in Delhi[32] before starting upon any important undertaking, or that during the siege of Chitor he made a vow to make a pilgrimage to a shrine in Ajmir after the fall of the fortress, and that after Chitor was in his power he performed this journey in the simplest pilgrim garb, tramping barefooted over the glowing sand,[33] it is impossible for us to look upon Akbar as irreligious. On the contrary nothing moved the Emperor so strongly and insistently as the striving after religious truth. This effort led to a struggle against the most destructive power in his kingdom, against the Mohammedan priesthood. That Akbar, the conqueror in all domains, should also have been victorious in the struggle against the encroachments of the Church (the bitterest struggle which a ruler can undertake), this alone should insure him a place among the greatest of humanity.

[Footnote 31: A. Mueller, II, 418]

[Footnote 32: Noer, I, 262]

[Footnote 33: Noer, I, 259.]

The Mohammedan priesthood, the community of the Ulemas in whose hands lay also the execution of justice according to the dictates of Islam, had attained great prosperity in India by countless large bequests. Its distinguished membership formed an influential party at court. This party naturally represented the Islam of the stricter observance, the so—called Sunnitic Islam, and displayed the greatest severity and intolerance towards the representatives of every more liberal interpretation and towards unbelievers. The chief judge of Agra sentenced men to death because they were Shiites, that is to say they belonged to the other branch of Islam, and the Ulemas urged Akbar to proceed likewise against the heretics.[34] That arrogance and vanity, selfishness and avarice, also belonged to the character of the Ulemas is so plainly to be taken for granted according to all analogies that it need hardly be mentioned. The judicature was everywhere utilized by the Ulemas as a means for illegitimate enrichment.

[Footnote 34: J.T. Wheeler, IV, I, 156.]

This ecclesiastical party which in its narrow—minded folly considered itself in possession of the whole truth, stands opposed to the noble skeptic Akbar, whose doubt of the divine origin of the Koran and of the truth of its dogmas began so to torment him that he would pass entire nights sitting out of doors on a stone lost in contemplation. The above mentioned brothers Faizi and Abul Fazl introduced to his impressionable spirit the exalted teaching of Sufism, the Mohammedan mysticism whose spiritual pantheism had its origin in, or at least was strongly influenced by, the doctrine of the All—One, held by the Brahman Vedanta system. The Sufi doctrine teaches religious tolerance and has apparently strengthened Akbar in his repugnance towards the intolerant exclusiveness of Sunnitic Islam.

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