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

Akbar, Emperor of India »


By Richard von Garbe

[Footnote 44: M. Elphinstone, 524.]

Doubtless in the foundation of his Din i Ilahi Akbar was not pursuing merely ideal ends but probably political ones as well, for the adoption of the new religion signified an increased loyalty to the Emperor. The novice had to declare himself ready to yield to the Emperor his property, his life, his honor, and his former faith, and in reality the adherents of the Din i Ilahi formed a clan of the truest and most devoted servitors of the Emperor. It may not be without significance that soon after the establishment of the Din i Ilahi a new computation of time was introduced which dated from the accession of Akbar to the throne in 1556.

After the new religion had been in existence perhaps five years the number of converts began to grow by the thousands but we can say with certainty that the greater portion of these changed sides not from conviction but on account of worldly advantage, since they saw that membership in the new religion was very advantageous to a career in the service of the state.[45] By far the greatest number of those who professed the Din i Ilahi observed only the external forms, privately remaining alien to it.

[Footnote 45: Noer, I, 503.]

In reality the new religion did not extend outside of Akbar’s court and died out at his death. Hence if failure here can be charged to the account of the great Emperor, yet this very failure redounds to his honor. Must it not be counted as a great honor to Akbar that he considered it possible to win over his people to a spiritual imageless worship of God? Had he known that the religious requirements of the masses can only be satisfied by concrete objects of worship and by miracles (the more startling the better), that a spiritualized faith can never be the possession of any but a few chosen souls, he would not have proceeded with the founding of the Din i Ilahi. And still we cannot call its establishment an absolute failure, for the spirit of tolerance which flowed out from Akbar’s religion accomplished infinite good and certainly contributed just as much to lessening the antagonisms in India as did Akbar’s social and industrial reforms.

A man who accomplished such great things and desired to accomplish greater, deserves a better fortune than was Akbar’s towards the end of life. He had provided for his sons the most careful education, giving them at the same time Christian and orthodox Mohammedan instructors in order to lead them in their early years to the attainment of independent views by means of a comparison between contrasts; but he was never to have pleasure in his sons. It seems that he lacked the necessary severity. The two younger boys of this exceedingly temperate Emperor, Murad and Danial, died of delirium tremens in their youth even before their father. The oldest son, Selim, later the Emperor Jehangir, was also a drunkard and was saved from destruction through this inherited vice of the Timur dynasty only by the wisdom and determination of his wife. But he remained a wild uncontrolled cruel man (as different as possible from his father and apparently so by intention) who took sides with the party of the vanquished Ulemas and stepped forth as the restorer of Islam. In frequent open rebellion against his magnanimous father who was only too ready to pardon him, he brought upon this father the bitterest sorrow; and especially by having the trustworthy minister and friend of his father, Abul Fazl, murdered while on a journey. Very close to Akbar also was the loss of his old mother to whom he had clung his whole life long with a touching love and whom he outlived only a short time.

Akbar lost his best friends and his most faithful servants before he finally succumbed to a very painful abdominal illness, which at the last changed him also mentally to a very sad extent, and finally carried him off on the night of the fifteenth of October, 1605. He was buried at Sikandra near Agra in a splendid mausoleum of enormous proportions which he himself had caused to be built and which even to—day stands almost uninjured.

This in short is a picture of the life and activities of the greatest ruler which the Orient has ever produced. In order to rightly appreciate Akbar’s greatness we must bear in mind that in his empire he placed all men on an equality without regard to race or religion, and granted universal freedom of worship at a time when the Jews were still outlaws in the Occident and many bloody persecutions occurred from time to time; when in the Occident men were imprisoned, executed or burnt at the stake for the sake of their faith or their doubts; at a time when Europe was polluted by the horrors of witch—persecution and the massacre of St. Bartholemew.[46] Under Akbar’s rule India stood upon a much higher plane of civilization in the sixteenth century than Europe at the same time.

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