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The Nobility under Akbar and the Development of his Religious Policy, 1560–80

  • Iqtidar Alam Khan

The significant changes that were introduced in the organization of Mughal government and the accompanying shifts in Akbar's administrative and religious policies during the period 1560–80 have remained for long a favourite subject of study for a number of modern historians. The existing interpretation of these changes seems largely to run parallel to Abul Fazl's line of argument which seeks to explain the growth of institutions and policies in terms of the unfolding of Akbar' personality. Abul Fazl often tries to ignore, or brush aside as the outcome of “evil advice”, all those measures or decisions which appeared to him inconsistent with Akbar's policy during the last 25 years of his reign. The impression created by Abul Fazl is reinforced by a similar tendency in Badauni, who, from an opposite point of view, quite frequently mixes up his comments on some of Akbar's enlightened measures of the later period with the events of the earlier phase when there was hardly any ground for him to find fault with Akbar from a doctrinal angle. Under the influence of these interpretations modern historians also tend to disregard facts that are inconsistent with Abul Fazl's theory of Akbar's gradual “unveiling” of himself as “the superman”, through the introduction, one after another, of his policies based on the principles of Sulh-i Kul and universal kingship.

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1 A glaring example of such an attitude is Abul Fazl's attempt to create an impression as if the mahzar (1579) recognized Akbar as an arbitrator not only between the orthodox schools of Muslim jurisprudence but also between different religions and sects. It is significant that he fails to give the text of the document, which according to Badauni was drafted by Shaikh Mubarik, and is reproduced both in the Tabaqat-i Akbari and Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh. Cf. Akbar Nama, Bibliotheca Indica, III, 269–70.

2 See Appendix 1. For this analysis the list of nobles accompanying Humayun in 1555 as given by Abul Fazl is taken as the sample with the modification that the following six persons then known to be minor attendants or officials at Humayun's court have been excluded: Baqi Beg, yatish begi, Khwaja Abdus Samad, Mir Saiyed Ali, Khwaja Ataullah, diwan-i khak, Mir Shihab Nishapuri, Khwaja Aminuddin Mahmud. Cf. Akbar Nama, Bibliotheca Indica, I, 342.

3 cf. Appendix 1. Turanis were 52·9 per cent of the total. But if it is kept in mind that a number of Turani nobles including Mun‘im Beg were left behind in Afghanistan there is every reason to believe that the actual percentage was much higher.

4 I have noticed only four such persons: Haji Muhammad Khan Sistani, Wali Beg, Shihabuddin Ahmad Khan, and Khwaja Jahan.

5 cf. Appendix 1. The figure for the absolute number of nobles for the period 1565–75 is arrived at by putting together the names contained in Abul Fazl's lists for various campaigns and expeditions of these years. Although this figure cannot be treated as conclusive, still, for a tentative study of this kind, it can be accepted as a reasonably good sample.

6 Commenting on Mirza Sulaiman's arrival at the court in 1575, Badauni observes: “At this time (the Emperor) revived the old tora-i chaghatai. For some time, in order to exhibit it to Mirza Sulaiman, they spread royal tables in diwankhana and the tawachis entertained the soldiers. But when the Mirza departed, all these (revived customs) departed too.” (Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 216.) The English translation (II, 220) of this passage is inaccurate and misleading.

7 cf. Appendix 1. Although their strength in absolute numbers fell from 31·37 per cent in 1555 to 27·27 per cent in 1565–75, this does not necessarily prove a decline in their position. This fall in percentage was more the result of the sharp rise in the total number of the nobles with the expansion of the empire. There was a corresponding fall in the absolute strength of the Turanis as well. What is more important is the fact that in the higher grades the Iranis had come to equal the Turanis and their percentage was also considerably higher (38·54 per cent). This clearly suggests rapid promotion of the Persian nobles during the period.

8 There were six major rebellions between 1562 and 1567: (a) Revolt by Mirza Sharfuddin, 1562–63.

(b) Shah Abul Maali's revolt, 1564.

(c) Abdullah Khan's revolt, 1564.

(d) Ali Quli Khan's revolt, 1565–67.

(e) Asaf Khan's desertion, 1565–66.

(f) The revolt by the Mirzas, 1566.

9 Abdullah Khan was a close relative (perhaps a step-brother) of Babur's well known noble, Qasim Husain Khan Uzbek (maternal grandson of Sultan Husain Mirza of Herat), and an uncle of Ali Quli. He served under Humayun in 1536. Cf. Akbar Nama, I, 142; Gulbadan, Humayun Nama, 17.

Sikandar Khan, a former servant of Mirza Kamran, remained in the Mughal service from the early years of the reign of Humayun and was not one of those who joined Humayun's service in Persia. Cf. Doghlat, Mirza Haider, Tarikh-i Rashidi, tr. Ross, , 1895, 474.

Ibrahim Khan was the seniormost among the Uzbek officers. Ali Quli Khan treated him just like an uncle. For his biography see Maathir ul-Umara, Calcutta, I, 75–77. Cf. Tarikh-i Alfi, MS India Office Ethe 12, f. 620a.

10 For the attitudes of these officers see Akbar Nama, II, 261–262, 268–269; Tazkira-i Humayun w Akbar, 288, 290; Tabaqat-i Akbari, II, 187; Tarikh-i Alfi, f. 620a. From a reference in Bayazid's account it appears that at the time of Asaf Khan's selection as the commander of the royal army that was sent against Ali Quli Khan in 1565 there arose a controversy which had racial overtones. In the heat of argument Khwaja Jahan is reported to have remarked: “Even a single hair of Asaf Khan is more useful than the whole of the Chaghtai clan.”

11 Akbar Nama, II, 200.

12 Appendix 4. In 1580–81, while 32 Persians supported the imperial side, 12 actually joined the rebels and 3 remained neutral.

13 cf. Akbar Nama, II, 155, 180. The most important section of the Shaikhzadas taken into service was composed of the Saiyads of Barha. They were in service as far back as 1561. The list of Ain-i Akbari contains the following nine names from the Barhas: Saiyad Mahmud (No. 75), Saiyad Ahmad (No. 91), Saiyad Qasim (No. 105), Saiyad Hashim (No. 143), Saiyad Raju (No. 168), Saiyad Jamaluddin (No. 217), Saiyad Chaju (No. 221), Saiyad Bayazid (No. 295), Saiyad Lad (No. 409). Numbers within brackets are those given by Blochmann. With the exception of the last two, all belonged to the categories of mansabdars of 500 and above.

14 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 61–62.

15 Akbar Nama, II, 190, 203–4.

16 cf. Abul Qasim Namakin, Munshiat-i Namakin, Aligarh MS, ff. 26a–32a. “As directed by the word of God”, Akbar claims, “we, as far as it is within our power, remain busy in jihad and owing to the kindness of the supreme Lord, who is the promoter of our victories, we have succeeded in occupying a number of forts and towns belonging to the infidels and have established Islam there. With the help of our bloodthirsty sword we have erased the signs of infidelity from their minds and have destroyed temples in those places and also all over Hindustan.”

17 Sharaif-i Usmani, MS, Department of History, A. M. U. Aligarh (a local history of Bilgram compiled in the 18th century, containing a large number of documents), f. 144a. The date is illegible. From certain other documents reproduced in the same book (ff. 56a and 58a) it appears that Qazi ‘Abdul Smad was alive during the years 1571–92. Obviously, there is greater likelihood of its being issued in the 70's rather than in the 80's or 90's, when, according to the unanimous testimony of our authorities, Akbar was drifting away from orthodox Islam.

18 cf. Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 210. “During the same period (983h) (the Emperor) directed Shaikh Abdun Nabi and Makhdum ul-Mulk to investigate and reimpose () jiziah on Hindus. Farmans to this effect were sent on all sides. But this order soon disappeared like a painting on water.” Lowe's translation of the passage (II, 213) is misleading. He has dropped the word jiziah.

19 This point is amply borne out by the following chronology of Akbar's relations with the Rajput chiefs:

Cf. Akbar Nama, II, 155, 182–83, 197–98, 335–40, 340–41, 358; Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 49, 50, 63, 161–62, 179–80.

20 Appendix 1.

21 Appendix 4.

22 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 71; tr., II, 70.

23 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 205.

24 Akbar Nama, III, 240; Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 254. The original farman is preserved in the U.P. Record Office, Allahabad (No. 24). Cf. Irfan Habib, The agrarian system of Mughal India, 302 n. 21.

25 Tabaqat-i Akbari, II, 345–46; Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 272. Cf. Hasan, Nurul, “The ‘Mahzar’ of Akbar's Reign”, Journal of U.P. Historical Society, Vol. XVI, Pt. I, 126, where it is maintained that although the titles used are Sultan-i Adil and Amir ul-Muminin, the “intention of the signatories was clearly to call Akbar a Khalifa”. It may well be that the use of the word khalifa was avoided because the intention was to proclaim Akbar as the head of the Muslims of India and not of the whole world. The very opening lines of the mahzar make it quite clear that it was exclusively concerned with conditions in India.

26 Abul Fazl, Ain-i Akbari, I, ed. Sayed Ahmad Khan, 3; tr. Blockmann, I, 3.

27 Akbar Nama, III, 269–70.

28 Apparently Akbar's interest in Ajmer was very great between 1568 and 1579. During this period he visited Ajmer almost every year. But his veneration for Khwaja Moin Chishti seems to have disappeared rather abruptly after his last visit in September 1579. Next year in July he avoided going there on the occasion of annual urs and deputed his son, Daniyal, to officiate for him. While mentioning this fact Abul Fazl specifically states that he no longer believed in visiting tombs. Cf. Nafais ul-Maathir, MS Br. Museum, f. 53 a & b; Shaikh Mustafa Gujarati, Majalis, (Haiderabad), 58; Akbar Nama, II, 276, 317; Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 49, 105, 108, 124, 132, 139, 170, 172, 185, 198, 226, 272.

29 It appears that relatives of Shaikh Salim Chishti were greatly benefited in terms of wealth and status by the Shaikh's close relations with Akbar. Cf. Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 109.

30 cf. Nafais ul-Maathir, MS, British Museum, ff. 62 a & b. Allauddaullah, the earliest authority on Akbar's reign, quotes a proclamation issued by Akbar before setting out from Ajmer to invade Gujarat in which it was stated that the Emperor considered it necessary to subjugate Gujarat in view of the fact that a number of the Afghans in that region deviating from true Islam () had accepted Mahadavism and were tyrannizing the orthodox people ().

According to Ghausi Shattari, Shaikh Muhammad of Nahrwala, a Bohra theologian of orthodox views, had taken a vow not to put on a turban as long as heresy was not eradicated from the Bohra community. When Akbar reached Nahrwala he promised to the Shaikh that he would do his best for the suppression of Mahadavis and he himself put the turban on the latter's head. A reference to this event is made by Abdul Haq Dehlvi and also in some of the Mahadavi sources. Cf. Gulzar-i Abrar, MS, John Rylands Library, f. 207b; Akhbar ul-Akhyar, Delhi, 1322h., 28; Mahmud Shirani, “Faiz-i ‘Am” (A summary of a mathnavi, written in 1141h.), Oriental College Magazine, 1940, 48.

31 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 268; Tabaqat-i Akbari, II, 344.

32 Appendix 4.

33 Akbar Nama, II, 278; Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 276. Cf. Tabaqat-i Akbari, II, 347.

34 Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh, II, 276.

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