Reign of Akbar Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar marked one of the most renowned eras in India’s history, not only for its economic, political, and military accomplishments but also for its religious and artistic developments. Akbar’s imperial government became the model for subsequent rulers of India, including the colonial British, until the nineteenth century.

Summary of Event

Akbar, nicknamed Akbar the Great, was one of India’s most famous emperors, and his reign, from his accession in 1556 to his death in 1605, is considered to be a golden age in Indian civilization. He was born in 1542 in northwest India, when his father Humāyūn was fleeing India, driven from the Mughal throne by Shēr Shāh Sūr, an Afghan noble and future emperor of Delhi. Mughal Empire Akbar Bairam Khan Padmini Salim Humāyūn Shēr Shāh Sūr Hemu Bairam Khan Padmini Singh, Rana Udai Jahāngīr Akbar

Akbar’s childhood was largely spent in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Mughals were descended from the conqueror Genghis Khan (r. 1206-1227), a distant ancestor of Bābur, the first Mughal Indian emperor and Akbar’s grandfather. Akbar’s mother was Hamida, a Persian. As a young child he loved to hunt, and he mastered the military skills deemed necessary for someone of his noble birth. However, he was never was able to read or to write, possibly due to dyslexia, but whatever the cause of his illiteracy, it was not because he lacked intelligence.

When Humāyūn invaded India from Afghanistan in 1554 to regain his throne, Akbar accompanied his father. Within a year, Humāyūn had restored his Indian empire, but he died the following year. Akbar was thirteen years old when crowned as the new Mughal ruler in the Punjab, where he was serving as governor.

His accession was challenged, initially most seriously by Hemu, a Hindu who took the title of raja. After seizing the city of Delhi, Hemu headed for the Punjab. Many of Akbar’s advisers urged the young emperor to flee to Kabul in Afghanistan, but his regent, Bairam Khan, urged him to resist Hemu’s army. On November 5, 1556, the opposing forces met at Panipat, the earlier site of Bābur’s victory over the Lodī Delhi sultans in 1527, which had resulted in the establishment of Mughal rule in India. Although Hemu had fifteen hundred war elephants, Bairam Khan was victorious. Hemu was beheaded, and the Mughals were once again in control of Delhi. Bairam Kahn remained regent until 1560, when Akbar dismissed him at the instigation of one of Akbar’s nurses, Maham Anaga, who intended that her son would become the new power behind the throne. However, he soon abused his position, and was executed in 1562. Akbar’s personal rule began with the deaths of the two khans.

In that same year, Akbar married Padmini, daughter of the Rājput raja Bihari Mal of Amber. Padmini’s family were Hindus who had been allies of Humāyūn, and with the marriage, the family became the maharajas of Jaipur. The marriage was politically advantageous and gained support from many Hindu Rājputs. Hindu loyalty and the formidable Rājput military prowess strengthened the non-Indian Muslim Mughal Dynasty but, reciprocally, the Hindu Rājputs gained access to imperial power and prestige.

In 1564, Akbar abolished the jizya, or non-Muslim poll tax, gaining wide support throughout India’s majority Hindu community. Taxation;of non-Muslims Marriage alliances did not resolve all the challenges faced by Akbar. Rana Udai Singh, the ruler of the Sisodia Dynasty Sisodia Dynasty , proved a resourceful opponent of Akbar’s rule. In October, 1567, the emperor led the siege of Rana Udai Singh’s fortress of Chitar. When it finally succumbed in February of 1568, between twenty thousand and thirty thousand civilians were massacred. By 1570, as result of his bloody victory at Chitar, Akbar had successfully ended the major Rājput resistance.

Campaigns against other foes continued. Gujarat, south and west of Delhi, was invaded in 1572, and Amahabad and Surat were captured, giving Akbar control of the Arabian Sea. It was Bengal’s turn in the east in 1574. Within two years, the entire region was absorbed into the expanding Mughal Empire. In the northwest, Afghanistan’s Kabul fell to Akbar in 1581, Orissa was taken over in 1592, and Baluchistan in 1595. Akbar’s rule extended over all of northern and central India, and in territory was larger than the great Mauryan Empire of around 300 b.c.e.

The population of Akbar’s empire, divided into twelve provinces, is estimated to have been one hundred million. The government bureaucracy or administration was made up of thirty-three ranks, with administrators responsible for providing cavalry for the imperial army, the number depending on their rank. The higher ranks were made up of Muslim soldiers born outside India (generally in Persia and Afghanistan). Native-born Indians made up the rest. About 15 percent of the higher ranks were Hindus, mostly Rājputs. Most of the population was peasant farmers, who were required to pay one-third of their annual crop as taxes, which was not considered excessive in comparison to past and future practices.

Government officials received grants of land. Because the land grants would revert to the emperor upon the death or removal of any official, there was little incentive to invest in long-range improvements; thus immediate conspicuous consumption was the rule. Palaces, slaves, dancing girls, and jewels were the “rewards” for the elite.

Like all the Mughal emperors, Akbar was a Muslim, but his own religious practices and beliefs were tolerant and eclectic. Religion;Mughal Empire Although he was Sunni Muslim, Akbar found solace from a Sufi, Sheikh Salim, after his twin sons died shortly after birth and while he and his wife were still childless. Orthodox Muslims considered Sufism a heresy. Akbar’s policy of toleration was not just political: He was sincerely interested in the various religions of his subjects, and he presided over debates between Muslims and Hindus, Sunnis and Sufis, Jains, Sikhs, and Parsis, and even Christians (the Portuguese, led by explorer Vasco da Gama, first arrived in India in 1498). All undoubtedly hoped to convert Akbar to their faith, but his beliefs combined what he believed was best for his subjects and what salved his own conscience.

Akbar came to see himself as God’s earthly representative, and he claimed to have taken on divine qualities, establishing a religion called the Divine Faith (Din-i-Ilahi). Allahu Akbar! (God is Great!) was the traditional Muslim invocation, but for many at court it could also be interpreted as “Akbar is God.” Orthodox Muslims thus saw Akbar as a heretic or worse, and there were Muslim rebellions against his rule, notably in 1581 by his half brother, Mirza Muhammad Hakim, all of which failed, in part because of Akbar’s military and administrative reforms but also because he had support from the non-Muslim community.

Persian culture was a major influence at Akbar’s court, and Persian was the court’s official language. Akbar was also attracted to Hindu culture. The blended aspects of the various Indian cultures became known as “Mughlai,” a combination of Mughal and Rājput, or Perso-Islamic and Rājput-Hindu cultural styles. Akbar encouraged the development and translation of Hindu literary texts, and the painting of the era, both portraits and miniatures, exhibits a marvelous synthesis of Hindu and Islamic cultures. Art patronage;Mughal Empire

The Mughal capital had been the city ofĀgra, but after the birth of Akbar’s son and heir Salim in Sikri in 1569, the emperor chose Sikri as the site of his new capital, which was renamed Fatehpur Sikri (city of victory), an extravagant mélange of various Indian styles, both Persian and Hindu, notable for its red sandstone palace. Pollution and a shortage of water, though, forced the abandonment of the city in 1585.


Generational rivalry was customary among the Mughals. Toward the end of Akbar’s life his son and heir Salim challenged his rule. In 1601, Salim declared himself emperor, or padishah. Akbar resisted Salim’s ambitions, but on October 17, 1605, Akbar died, probably poisoned by Salim, who as the new emperor took the name Jahāngīr (world seizer).

Akbar perhaps was the greatest of the Mughal emperors and his reign the most glorious. His diplomacy and military victories gave the Mughals control of most of India. His administrative reforms formed the basis for future Mughal rule and were adopted later by the British when they ruled India. The artistic achievements of the era rank among the greatest in Indian history, and Akbar’s tolerant religious policies stand as a beacon of enlightenment in a frequently intolerant world.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burn, Richard, ed. The Mughal Period. Vol. 4 in The Cambridge History of India. London: Cambridge University Press, 1922. The standard multivolume history of India; this volume includes a comprehensive discussion of Akbar and his reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eraly, Abraham. The Last Spring: The Lives of the Great Mughals. New Delhi, India: Viking, 1997. A readable account of the Mughal emperors, including Akbar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Habib, Irfan, ed. Akbar and His India. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Articles on the history of India during the time of Akbar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Khan, Iqtidar Alam. Akbar and His Age. New Delhi, India: Northern Book Centre, 1999. A collection of articles that were presented at an international seminar on Akbar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Streusand, Douglas E. The Formation of the Mughal Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. An excellent study of the early Mughal Empire, with an emphasis upon Akbar.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. This easily available and widely used text includes an entire chapter about Akbar.

1451-1526: Lodī Kings Dominate Northern India

Early 16th cent.: Devotional Bhakti Traditions Emerge

Apr. 21, 1526: First Battle of Panipat

Mar. 17, 1527: Battle of KhĀnua

Dec. 30, 1530: Humāyūn Inherits the Throne in India

Feb. 23, 1568: Fall of Chitor

Mar. 3, 1575: Mughal Conquest of Bengal

1578: First Dalai Lama Becomes Buddhist Spiritual Leader

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