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

Akbar, Emperor of India »


By Richard von Garbe

As has been already suggested, submission to Christianity would also have been opposed to Akbar’s inmost conviction. He had climbed far enough up the stony path toward truth to recognize all religions as historically developed and as the products of their time and the land of their origin. All the nobler religions seemed to him to be radiations from the one eternal truth. That he thought he had found the truth with regard to the fate of the soul in the Sufi—Vedantic doctrine of its migration through countless existences and its final ascension to deity has been previously mentioned. With such views Akbar could not become a Catholic Christian.

The conviction of the final reabsorption into deity, conditions also the belief in the emanation of the ego from deity. But Akbar’s relation to God is not sufficiently identified with this belief. Akbar was convinced that he stood nearer to God than other people. This is already apparent in the title “The Shadow of God” which he had assumed. The reversed, or rather the double, meaning of the sentence Allahu akbar, “Akbar is God,” was not displeasing to the Emperor as we know. And when the Hindus declared him to be an incarnation of a divinity he did not disclaim this homage. Such a conception was nothing unusual with the Hindus and did not signify a complete apotheosis. Although Akbar took great pains he was not able to permanently prevent the people from considering him a healer and a worker of miracles. But Akbar had too clear a head not to know that he was a man,–a man subject to mistakes and frailties; for when he permitted himself to be led into a deed of violence he had always experienced the bitterest remorse. Not the slightest symptom of Caesaromania can be discovered in Akbar.

Akbar felt that he was a mediator between God and man and believed “that the deity revealed itself to him in the mystical illumination of his soul.”[41] This conviction Akbar held in common with many rulers of the Occident who were much smaller than he. Idolatrous marks of veneration he permitted only to a very limited degree. He was not always quite consistent in this respect however, and we must realize how infinitely hard it was to be consistent in this matter at an Oriental court when the customary servility, combined with sincere admiration and reverence, longed to actively manifest itself.

[Footnote 41: Noer, II, 314, 355.]

Akbar, as we have already seen, suffered the Hindu custom of prostration, but on the other hand we have the express testimony to the contrary from the author Faizi, the trusted friend of the Emperor, who on the occasion of an exaggerated homage literally says: “The commands of His Majesty expressly forbid such devout reverence and as often as the courtiers offer homage of this kind because of their loyal sentiments His Majesty forbids them, for such manifestations of worship belong to God alone,”[42] Finally however Akbar felt himself moved to forbid prostration publicly, yet to permit it in a private manner, as appears in the following words of Abul Fazl[43]:

[Footnote 42: In Noer, II, 409.]

[Footnote 43: In Noer, II, 347, 348.]

“But since obscurantists consider prostration to be a blasphemous adoration of man, His Majesty in his practical wisdom has commanded that it be put an end to with ignorant people of all stations and also that it shall not be practiced even by his trusted servants on public court days. Nevertheless if people upon whom the star of good fortune has shone are in attendance at private assemblies and receive permission to be seated, they may perform the prostration of gratitude by bowing their foreheads to the earth and so share in the rays of good fortune. So forbidding prostration to the people at large and granting it to the select the Emperor fulfils the wishes of both and gives the world an example of practical wisdom.”

The desire to unite his subjects as much as possible finally impelled Akbar to the attempt to equalize religious differences as well. Convinced that religions did not differ from each other in their innermost essence, he combined what in his opinion were the essential elements and about the year 1580 founded a new religion, the famous Din i Ilahi, the “religion of God.” This religion recognizes only one God, a purely spiritual universally efficient being from whom the human soul is derived and towards which it tends. The ethics of this religion comprises the high moral requirements of Sufism and Parsism: complete toleration, equality of rights among all men, purity in thought, word and deed. The demand of monogamy, too, was added later. Priests, images and temples,–Akbar would have none of these in his new religion, but from the Parsees he took the worship of the fire and of the sun as to him light and its heat seemed the most beautiful symbol of the divine spirit.[44] He also adopted the holy cord of the Hindus and wore upon his forehead the colored token customary among them. In this eclectic manner he accommodated himself in a few externalities to the different religious communities existing in his kingdom.

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