Accession & Reign
Soon after Humayun’s death in 1556, he ascended the Mughal throne and became the ‘Shahanshah’ (King of Kings) at the age of 13, in Kalanaur, Punjab, with Bairam Khan as his regent and childhood guardian.
Before his death, Akbar’s father Humayun had succeeded in regaining control of some prominent areas such as Delhi, Punjab and Agra but the Mughal rule in these areas looked precarious. The Surs reconquered Agra and Delhi following the death of Humayun.
While the Mughal army was marching against Sikandar Shah Suri in the Punjab, Hemu, the Hindu general in the Sur Dynasty, proclaimed himself Hindu emperor and drove away the Mughals from some important places in the India-Gangetic plains.
After dealing with Sikandar Shah Suri, the Mughal army marched on Delhi. The Mughal army under Bairam Khan defeated Hemu and the Sur army on November 5, 1556 at the Second Battle of Panipat. Thereafter Akbar captured Agra and Delhi, where he stayed for a month before traveling to Punjab to deal with resurgent Sikandar Shah Suri, who, when pursued, fled to Bengal, leaving Lahore and Multan for the Mughals.
His other conquests in North India included Ajmer and Gwalior Fort, after defeating the Sur forces.
In 1560, Akbar dismissed Bairam Khan as he wanted to assert his power and position. Bairam was forced to head to Mecca for Hajj but was assassinated on the way.
Although he succeeded in invading Malwa under his foster-brother Adham Khan and Mughal commander, Pir Muhammad Khan, he had to wait for one year to conquer the province by doing away with Khan for his betrayal and misuse of the treasures.
After the conquest of Ajmer and Nagor in northern Rajputana, he established his control over the entire Rajputana by forcing the states to accept his suzerainty, leaving aside the Mewar ruler, Udai Singh.
In 1567, he attacked Chittorgarh Fort and captured it after four months, following which he raided Ranthambore Fort in 1568 which surrendered in the next couple months.
Continue Reading Below
In order to trade with Asia, Africa and Europe through the Arabian Sea, he raided Ahmedabad, Surat and other cities in 1573, thus marking his decisive victory over Gujarat and celebrated it by erecting Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri.
In 1573, he signed a treaty with the Portuguese, under which the latter retained their power on the western coast in the Indian Ocean while the Mughals were allowed to send pilgrim ships for Hajj to Mecca and Medina.
He created the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) at Fatehpur Sikri in 1575, following which he introduced a new sect ‘Din-i-Ilahi’ in 1582, which combined the practices of Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism.
He defeated Pratap Singh, Udai Singh’s son and successor, at the Battle of Haldighati in 1576, thereby gaining control over Mewar.
He adopted a decentralized system to lessen the burden on peasants for paying annual taxes, which was discontinued in 1580 and replaced by dahsala, under which one-third of the average produce of the last ten years was to be paid.
In 1581, he captured Kabul and defeated his brother and Kabul ruler, Mirza Muhammad Hakim, who invaded Punjab. However, upon Hakim’s death in 1585, Kabul came under the Mughal Empire.
Thereafter, he conquered Kashmir in 1589, Sindh in 1591 and Kandahar and Baluchistan in 1595.
He appointed mansabdars, or military commanders, in different regions to manage his vast empire. These mansabdars were divided into 33 classes, based on the number of troops assigned to them.
He employed a group of nine intelligent people in his court, known as nine jewels or Navaratnas – Faizi, Mian Tansen, Birbal, Raja Man Singh, Todar Mal, Abdul Rahim, Abul Fazl, Mulla Do-Piyaza and Fakir Aziao-Din.
Continue Reading Below
In November 1556, his forces defeated Hemu and the Sur army at the Second Battle of Panipat, where Hemu was shot in his eye and later captured and executed.
Asaf Khan led the Mughal forces and raided the Gondwana kingdom in 1564, defeating its ruler, Rani Durgavati, at the Battle of Damoh, who killed her minor son Raja Vir Narayan and committed suicide to save her honor.
Akbar defeated Daud Khan, the ruler of the only Afghan haven in India – Bengal, at the Battle of Tukaroi in 1575, who was captured and killed by the Mughal forces in another battle, thereby annexing Bengal and parts of Bihar.
During his reign, the Mughal Empire extended to most of the Indian subcontinent, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Vindhyas in the south and Hindukush in the north-west to Brahmaputra River in the east.
He annulled the special tax payable by Hindus for making pilgrimages in 1563 and completely abolished the jizya, or the annual tax, paid by non-Muslims in 1564, thus earning respect from his subjects.
In 1569, he established a new capital west of Agra to celebrate his victory over Chittorgarh and Ranthambore, which was named Fatehpur Sikri (‘City of Victory’) in 1573 after he conquered Gujarat.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his first cousin, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum, in 1551. He is said to have had 12 more wives from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
A political alliance with the Rajputs culminated in his marriage to Heer Kunwari (also called Harka Bai or Jodha Bai) in 1562, who became one of his main queens. She gave birth to a son, Salim, later known as Jahangir, in 1569.
In October 1605, he fell seriously ill with dysentery and died three weeks later. He was buried in a mausoleum at Sikandra, Agra. He was succeeded by his son.
Several international novels, such as ‘The Years of Rice and Salt’ (2002), ‘The Solitude of Emperors’ (2007), and ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ (2008) are based on his life.
A number of television series - ‘Akbar-Birbal’ (late 1990s) and ‘Jodha Akbar’ (since 2013) and movies - ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ (1960) and ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ (2008) have chronicled this powerful character.