Annexation of Kashmir

After many failed attempts during the reigns of Bābur and Humāyūn, the Mughals under Akbar succeeded in wholly subjugating Kashmir as a province of the Mughal Empire.

Summary of Event

Emperor Humāyūn’s general Mirza Haidar recognized that a country entrenched in sectarian conflicts could offer little resistance to invasion. Despite Humāyūn’s relative incompetence, which nearly put down the invasion, Mirza Haidar continued with plans to seize Kashmir using a very small force. He ruled Kashmir for the next ten years as governor under Humāyūn. After Mirza Haidar’s death, however, the Mughals lost control of Kashmir because of other priorities. Kashmir again returned to its fighting factions. Kashmir;Mughal annexation of
Mughal Empire;annexation of Kashmir
Bhagwan Das
Yūsuf Shah Chak
Mirza Haidar
ՙAlī Shah (ruler of Kashmir)
Yūsuf Shah Chak
Lohar Chak
Mirza Shah Rukh
Bhagwan Das
Zain Khan
Raja Birbal
Hakim Abu’l Fath
Mirza Yūsuf Khan
Yadgar (Kashmiri leader)

In 1578, Akbar sent a message to ՙAlī Shah of Kashmir, demanding his allegiance, but the demand was not met. Not until January, 1580, did Akbar find a pretext for invading Kashmir. ՙAlī Shah’s son Yūsuf Shah Chak had succeeded his father’s tenuous existence as ruler of Kashmir. Lohar Chak, however, had usurped the throne, so Yūsuf went to Akbar, pleading for assistance to regain his throne. Akbar ordered his officers to support Yūsuf and sent him into the Punjab, but Kashmiri nobles promised Yūsuf their allegiance and support only if he returned to Kashmir alone. They knew that an invasion by Akbar’s army would mean that Kashmir would become a possession of the Mughal Empire. On November 8, 1580, Yūsuf regained the throne without Akbar’s assistance, removing Akbar’s “right” to invade Kashmir under the premise of assisting a rightful ruler against a usurper.

In 1585, shortly after the arrival of the first Englishmen at Akbar’s court, conflict occurred between Kashmir and the Mughal Empire. Yūsuf politely had refused to perform homage to Akbar and sent a message to him saying as much through his envoys. This impudence, combined with Akbar’s increased arrogance from recent contact with Europeans and recollections of his offers to aid Yūsuf five years before, sparked Akbar’s interest in Kashmir. He decided to enforce obedience and sent an army on the last day of 1585 to Kashmir, officially headed by Mirza Shah Rukh but in reality led by Bhagwan Das.

The force marched from Attock into Kashmir, while another marched into Swat and Bajaur under the leadership of Zain Khan to ensure submission of the Yusufzai tribe. This second force, however, was made up of amateur soldiers and was led by two individuals without military experience (Raja Birbal, a jester, and Hakim Abu’l Fath, a physician). Since they were both favored by Akbar, though, Zain Khan was intimidated and allowed them to override his judgment. Because of Birbal’s and Fath’s inexperience, the army took a difficult route through the passes of Swat and fell victim to the Yusufzai in the Malandarai Pass. Eight thousand men, about half of the forces involved, perished, including Birbal. Zain Khan and Fath survived and led the forces back to camp on February 24, 1586. Akbar blamed Fath for insubordination to Zain Khan, but it is more likely that the responsibility truly lay with Akbar for appointing a jester and a doctor to lead an army. An experienced general was sent to attempt to regain some Mughal dignity and to successfully establish posts throughout Yusufzai territory.

Bhagwan Das had advanced into Kashmir around the same time. Yūsuf Shah realized that it was possible that Bhagwan Das might reach the city of Srinagar in spite of obstacles such as cold weather and hunger. Out of fear, Yūsuf offered to do homage to Akbar. On February 22, 1586, Yūsuf surrendered on the well-understood terms that Akbar required personal submission and a promise of monetary tribute, and, having done so, Yūsuf would then be permitted to return to Kashmir as a vassal ruling under the emperor. Bhagwan Das was relieved because his army was suffering from cold and rain, and he welcomed Yūsuf’s submission. Akbar was less pleased, however, so he ratified the surrender treaty, made Yūsuf a state prisoner, and prepared another army to complete the subjugation of Kashmir. Since Akbar had overruled Bhagwan Das, thus destroying his honor as a commander, Bhagwan Das was sent to Kabul and attempted suicide along the way.

Despite the counsel of his advisers, stubborn Akbar persevered in his plans to ready another army, which, in July, 1586, invaded Kashmir, entering Srinagar on October 15. The khuṭba, an Islamic sermon read at Friday services and for special occassions, was recited in the name of Akbar, confirming his supremacy, and Kashmir was formally annexed. Resistance continued under Yūsuf’s son, who managed to evade capture. His son also surrendered to Akbar, however, in August, 1589.

In May, 1589, Akbar visited Kashmir, inquiring into sources of revenue, with the attention to economics characteristic of his reign. Akbar’s inquiries, however, caused trouble. Mirza Yūsuf Khan, the newest governor of Kashmir, reported to Akbar that the assessment that he had proposed was far too high, but Akbar maintained justification of his demand. Mughal officers in Kashmir were convinced that the higher rate would leave very little for them and for their troops, and so they rebelled with the governor’s cousin, Yadgar, as their leader. Yadgar caused the khuṭba to be read in his own name, assuming the royal title. Akbar sent out a force to put down the rebellion, and Yadgar was captured and killed.

Akbar entered Srinagar on October 14, 1592, and Mirza Yūsuf Khan resigned in protest, stating that he would be unable to govern Kashmir properly under the revenue administration. The province became imperial land and was assigned to the financial officer of the Punjab, but because it was something of a geographical confusion for the Mughals, it was assigned to the suba (province) of Kabul.


Akbar’s conquest of Kashmir completed the year in which his power reached its apex, adding its submission to the total subjection of Orissa, the Sind, Kathiawar, and Gujarat. Akbar’s long acquaintance with the factionalized, divided nature of Kashmir influenced his decision to pursue religious unification through his Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith), so as to strengthen the power of the Mughal Empire through greater religious tolerance and cultural unity.

Completing his conquest of northern India allowed him to turn his eye to the Deccan. The relative stability under subjugation enjoyed by Kashmir during Akbar’s reign was destroyed under Jahāngīr, Akbar’s son, who was more interested in preserving an idealized, unilateral paradise that privileged Sunni Islam than in facilitating a truly harmonious and tolerant province.

Further Reading

  • ՙAllāmī, Abu-l-Fazl. The Akbar Näma of Abu-l-Fazl. Translated by Henry Beveridge. 3 vols. Delhi, India: Ess Ess, 1977. A detailed eyewitness account by Akbar’s court historian, manifestly pro-Mughal yet valuable nevertheless. Best for readers with some familiarity with Mughal history.
  • Gommans, Jos. Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire, 1500-1700. New York: Routledge, 2003. This work provides an overview of the military expansion, including the technological and strategic advantages, that allowed the Mughals to enlarge their territory, as Akbar did by annexing Kashmir.
  • Habib, Irfan, ed. Akbar and His India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. A good collection of essays on topics relating to Akbar and his reign as emperor, particularly with respect to the beliefs and ideas that led him to his political, administrative, and military actions.
  • Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire: New Cambridge History of India. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A superb overview of India’s Mughal emperors, from Bābur to ՙĀlamgīr, with special attention to Akbar’s reign.
  • Streusand, Douglas E. The Formation of the Mughal Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A study of Mughal political, economic, and military institutions in the early years, with emphasis on Akbar’s political and administrative innovations. Examines the cultural and religious context as well, especially important for studies of Kashmir.

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