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

Akbar, Emperor of India »

By Richard von Garbe

[Footnote 15: Noer, I, 439.]

Of decided significance for Akbar’s success was his patronage of the native population. He did not limit his efforts to lightening the lot of the subjugated Hindus and relieving them of oppressive burdens; his efforts went deeper. He wished to educate the Mohammedans and Hindus to a feeling of mutual good—will and confidence, and in doing so he was obliged to contend in the one case against haughtiness and inordinate ambition, and in the other against hate and distrustful reserve. If with this end in view he actually favored the Hindus by keeping certain ones close to him and advancing them to the most influential positions in the state, he did it because he found characteristics in the Hindus (especially in their noblest race, the Rajputs) which seemed to him most valuable for the stability of the empire and for the promotion of the general welfare. He had seen enough faithlessness in the Mohammedan nobles and in his own relatives. Besides, Akbar was born in the house of a small Rajput prince who had shown hospitality to Akbar’s parents on their flight and had given them his protection.

The Rajputs are the descendants of the ancient Indian warrior race and are a brave, chivalrous, trustworthy people who possess a love of freedom and pride of race quite different in character from the rest of the Hindus. Even to—day every traveler in India thinks he has been set down in another world when he treads the ground of Rajputana and sees around him in place of the weak effeminate servile inhabitants of other parts of the country powerful upright men, splendid warlike figures with blazing defiant eyes and long waving beards.

While Akbar valued the Rajputs very highly his own personality was entirely fitted to please these proud manly warriors. An incident which took place before the end of the first year of Akbar’s reign is characteristic of the relations which existed on the basis of this intrinsic relationship.[16]

[Footnote 16: Noer, I, 224—226]

Bihari Mal was a prince of the small Rajput state Ambir, and possessed sufficient political comprehension to understand after Akbar’s first great successes that his own insignificant power and the nearness of Delhi made it advisable to voluntarily recognize the Emperor as his liege lord. Therefore he came with son, grandson and retainers to swear allegiance to Akbar. Upon his arrival at the imperial camp before Delhi, a most surprising sight met his eyes. Men were running in every direction, fleeing wildly before a raging elephant who wrought destruction to everything that came within his reach. Upon the neck of this enraged brute sat a young man in perfect calmness belaboring the animal’s head with the iron prong which is used universally in India for guiding elephants. The Rajputs sprang from their horses and came up perfectly unconcerned to observe the interesting spectacle, and broke out in loud applause when the conquered elephant knelt down in exhaustion. The young man sprang from its back and cordially greeted the Rajput princes (who now for the first time recognized Akbar in the elephant—tamer) bidding them welcome to his red imperial tent. From this occurrence dates the friendship of the two men. In later years Bihari Mai’s son and grandson occupied high places in the imperial service, and Akbar married a daughter of the Rajput chief who became the mother of his son and successor Selim, afterwards the Emperor Jehangir. Later on Akbar received a number of other Rajput women in his harem.

Not all of Akbar’s relations to the Rajputs however were of such a friendly kind. As his grandfather Baber before him, he had many bitter battles with them, for no other Indian people had opposed him so vigorously as they. Their domain blocked the way to the south, and from their rugged mountains and strongly fortified cities the Rajputs harassed the surrounding country by many invasions and destroyed order, commerce and communication quite after the manner of the German robber barons of the Middle Ages. Their overthrow was accordingly a public necessity.

The most powerful of these Rajput chiefs was the Prince of Mewar who had particularly attracted the attention of the Emperor by his support of the rebels. The control of Mewar rested upon the possession of the fortress Chitor which was built on a monstrous cliff one hundred and twenty meters high, rising abruptly from the plain and was equipped with every means of defence that could be contrived by the military skill of that time for an incomparably strong bulwark. On the plain at its summit which measured over twelve kilometers in circumference a city well supplied with water lay within the fortification walls. There an experienced general, Jaymal, “the Lion of Chitor,” was in command. I have not time to relate the particulars of the siege, the laying of ditches and mines and the uninterrupted battles which preceded the fall of Chitor in February, 1568. According to Akbar’s usual custom he exposed himself to showers of bullets without once being hit (the superstition of his soldiers considered him invulnerable) and finally the critical shot was one in which Akbar with his own hand laid low the brave commander of Chitor. Then the defenders considered their cause lost, and the next night saw a barbarous sight, peculiarly Indian in character: the so—called Jauhar demanded his offering according to an old Rajput custom. Many great fires gleamed weirdly in the fortress. To escape imprisonment and to save their honor from the horrors of captivity, the women mounted the solemnly arranged funeral pyres, while all the men, clad in saffron hued garments, consecrated themselves to death. When the victors entered the city on the next morning a battle began which raged until the third evening, when there was no one left to kill. Eight thousand warriors had fallen, besides thirty thousand inhabitants of Chitor who had participated in the fight.

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