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Remembering the Great Emperor


THE DEATH anniversary of Emperor Akbar on October 26, like his birthday on October 14, passed off without anybody being the wiser for it. Yet the greatness of the man cannot be denied. Born to Hamida Bano Begum at Umarkot in 1542, while Humayun was under the protection of the Rana there, he died at Agra in 1605 after an epileptic fit though he had been suffering from dysentery. But some of these facts are still disputed like the year of his birth which some believe was 1541.

Akbar's association with Delhi was not as close as that of Humayun, and like Babar he preferred Agra. But it must be remembered that the emperor had to come to Delhi from time to time, especially during his frequent visits to Lahore and the occasional ones to Kashmir and Kabul. The Khutba was read in his name in Delhi, after the death of Humayun, on February 4, 1556.

Akbar was crowned at Kalanur, near Gurdaspur, but came to Delhi after the defeat of Hemu. When Adil Shah's general was brought before him for execution, the emperor just tapped his seriously injured enemy's head with his sword, allowing Bairam to carry out the task of beheading him. Thereafter he stayed at the Purana Quila for some time, the Dinpanah of Humayun. Later he moved to Agra to build his own fort there and also a new capital.

Among the chief monuments in Delhi, with the construction of which Akbar was associated, were Humayun's Tomb, for, though his father's first wife, Haji Begum or Bega Begum, did the actual supervision it was he who provided the funds and resources. The tomb of Atgha Khan, the husband of his wet nurse, Ji Ji Anga was built in 1567 at Nizamuddin under his directions, as was the one of Adham Khan (the man who had murdered Atgha Khan and had to pay for it with his own life in 1562) at Mehrauli which was constructed on the pattern of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. He also made repairs at the Purana Quila as also the upkeep of Arab-ki-Sarai. And when Haji begum died he came all the way from Agra with her body for burial at Humayun's Tomb. He did the same when his mother, Hamida Begum died (a few years before his own death).

Earlier, when Bairam Khan became too big for his shoes the emperor came quietly from Agra to Delhi on March 19, 1590 and issued a farman suspending the Regent "and asked the nobles to come to Delhi and pay their respects to him". So "those who were unhappy with Bairam rallied at Delhi". Later in August 1560 the emperor marched to Punjab to help Shamsuddin Mohammad Atka to subdue him, though the wily ex-Wazir fled to the Siwaliks, but later surrendered. Delhi was under a Governor during the latter part of Akbar's reign but he kept a close eye on him and the happenings here both from Agra and Lahore.

Some erroneously claim that the rhyme, "Raja gaye Dilli sath laye Billi" was coined by a cynic to commemorate one of Birbal's visits to Delhi in the company of the emperor. But that is stretching the imagination a bit too far.

For those travelling by the Taj Express from Delhi the sight of the magnificent gateway to Akbar's tomb at Sikandra revives memories of the illustrious emperor who enjoyed the friendship of learned men. Philosophical discourses, military strategy, enlightened statecraft, animal fights and the good things of life filled the day for him. . Among those women he married were: Sultan Ruqayyah Begum, Sultan Salima Begum (widow of Bairam Khan), the daughter of Raja Beharimal of Amber, better known as Mariam Zamani, whose tomb is also situated in Sikandra and who was the mother of Jehangir, the divorced begum of Abul Wasi, Bibi Daulat Shad and the daughter of Mubarak Shah of Khandesh.

Many of these marriages were solemnised to forge alliances with powerful princes and nobles, though it cannot be denied that he had an eye for beauty. Since he did not follow the tenets of Islam strictly, he did not confine the number of his wives to four. According to Dr. R. Nath, "he passed benevolent laws regulating marriage of even the commoners. Marriage before the age of puberty was prohibited, consent of both the bride and bridegroom and the permission of parents were made mandatory. Marriage between near relations was restricted. Huge dowries were disapproved. These reformatory measures show how far ahead of his times was Akbar".

The emperor's court historian, Abul Fazl, observed that in arranging marriages the Moghuls were particularly careful about race, so that there were good offspring. The Hindu wives were cremated and only one mausoleum that of Mariam Zamani, exists. However some claim that it was so because Mariam was Christian. A proposal to erect a statue of Akbar in 1966 to mark the 400th anniversary of his accession had to be dropped because of opposition by the orthodox, as Islam doesn't allow statues. But then Akbar is too famous to need such a memorial.

R.V. SMITH

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