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Was Akbar really “great”?


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Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar Moghal is often credited by history textbooks as a “great” and “tolerant” figure;

in an attempt to show a non-existent “bright side” of the Mughal rule, which ruthlessly slaughtered Hindus and demolished some of the strongest pillars of Indian culture- our temples!

Jalaluddin Akbar was the third generation monarch of the Mughal dynasty, son of Humayun and Hamida Banu Begum (who was 14 years old when she got impregnated by Humayun). His parents met each other for the first time when Humayun was taking refuge in the fort of Amarkot, belonging to a Rajput Kingdom when he was exiled from his kingdom by Sher Shah Suri. On 15th October, 1541 Akbar was born to the couple while they were still in exile.

(Artistic depiction of Mughal Emperor Akbar)

Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar took over the reins of the Mughal empire after his father, Humayun Moghal, accidently fell while climbing down the stairs of his royal library and died of severe brain trauma. At the age of 13, young Akbar took over the throne of his father in the garden of his palace in Kalanaur on 14th February, 1556. Due to his young age, the empire’s chief minister Bairam Khan was made the chief executive of Akbar till he could take over the affairs of the Mughal Sultanate.

Akbar is often credited for his vast understanding of military tactics, economic policies and politics. He was single handedly responsible for capturing half of the Indian subcontinent by the end of his rule, and had abolished the policy of Jaziya multiple times (though he later reintroduced it).

By the time of Akbar’s death in 1605, the Mughal empire had captured vast amounts of territory- from Kabul in the North West to Odisha in the East of India. Infact, Akbar is often referred to as one of the most successful Mughal ruler when it came to military expansions.

However, most History books and movies have only mentioned those incidents which are mentioned in Akbarnama, the autobiography of Akbar written by his court minister, Abul Faizl. Though it talks about the positive aspects during Akbar’s reign, it doesn’t show us the negative aspects of his rule which were gruesome in some cases; since it was written to glorify the Mughal Empire in historical records.

History shouldn’t be one sided, and showing the other side of this emperor is equally important to achieve a balance of opinions, to determine whether he truly was the utopian saint History textbooks describe him as.

Several instances of Akbar’s barbarism would be mentioned in the article, and will be discussed at length to provide a balanced view of his rule to the youth of this country.


Eyeing over the throne of Delhi, several Afghan rulers began plotting against the Mughal emperor, since a 13 year old boy like Akbar was placed as the emperor of the vast empire. One of these conspirators was Adil Shah, an Afghan prince who wanted to take over the throne of the Mughal empire. The Chief Minister of Adil Shah, Hemu, was tasked to overthrow the Mughal Sultanate and capture the territory surrounding Delhi.

In the October of 1556, Hemu led a surprise attack on the Mughal Empire’s North-Eastern front, which he decisively won after the Mughal generals escaped from the veteran war strategist’s wrath. After the sweeping victory, Hemu proclaimed himself as an independent ruler of Delhi and was crowned as Raja Vikramaditya ‘Hemu’ Chandra.

Thirsty for revenge, Bairam Khan and Akbar rounded up their troops and battled the forces of Raja Vikramaditya in November 1556 at Panipat. During the battle, an arrow pierced into the eyes of Raja Vikramaditya, making him fall unconscious on top of his elephant, Hawai. Bairam Khan’s soldiers got hold of the unconscious Raja Vikramaditya and presented him to the emperor. On the persistence of Bairam Khan, Akbar slayed the Raja in front of all his troops by a swift slash of his sword.

Ideally, this should have been the end of the battle, since Vedic practises mandate that the battle should cease once the commander is dead. Wrongly thinking that Akbar would respect their religion, the soldiers of Raja Vikramaditya began returning to their bases. Akbar then ordered his troops to chase each soldier of the opponent camp and behead them, bringing back their skulls as trophies. After this gory incident, Akbar dispatched the head of the slayed Raja to Humayun’s harem in Kabul; and paraded the torso in Delhi as a sign of victory. After returning to Delhi, Akbar ordered his soldiers to build a tower of skulls belonging to Vikramaditya’s soldiers in the centre of the Mughal capital- giving him the title of Ghazi (slayer of non-believers).

According to Historians, this action was done to imitate what his ancestor, Taimur, had done when he won against local Hindu kingdoms; and built a tower of 70,000 skulls belonging to innocent Hindu men, women and children. The Mughals adored their ancestor Taimur, and frequently imitated his actions to establish their credentials of being descendants of Taimur.

Interestingly, similar towers of skulls were built during the Delhi sultanate under the Khilji dynasty- belonging to Hindus who refused to pay Jaziya and the soldiers of enemy kingdoms. If we dig further, incidents of rulers building towers of skulls weren’t uncommon under the Islamic rule of India. These were frequently used as “power tools” to flex the emperor’s muscles and establish their superiority.

Hemu’s family was later captured near Alwar by Pir Mohammed, a Mughal officer under Akbar, who offered to release them on the condition that they convert to Islam. The elderly father of Raja Hemu refused to convert and was subsequently slaughtered, while his wife managed to escape. Today, a bust of Raja Hemu Vikramaditya is installed on the historic battleground of Panipat by his followers.


In 1567, Akbar had adopted a policy of “marry-or-die”, where he started a process of marrying the women of the Rajput royal families. The Rana of Mewar, Uday Singh refused to give his daughter’s hand to marry Akbar. Outraged, Akbar waged a war against the kingdom of Mewar and attacked the fort of Chitod (Chitorgad) where 8,000 brave Rajputs were posted to guard the fortress. The Mughals used musket shots to attack the fort, which killed the commander of the Rajputs, Jai Mal.

When the news of Jai Mal’s death spread amongst the inhabitants of the fort, utter panic and chaos ensued. Akbar was infamously known for taking the women of captured forts as sex slaves in his harems, but the brave Rajput women were not ready to lose their honour to a Mughal ruler. On the morning of 24th February 1567, the Rajput women of Chitod jumped onto pyres to avoid being taken away as “pleasure women” in the harems of the Mughal ruler.

Patta Singh was made the leader of the remaining Rajput troops; the soldiers donned the colour saffron and were prepared for their last battle. A fight till death ensued, and every Rajput soldier who participated in the battle was martyred. The fort of Chitor was home to 30,000 Hindu peasants who got massacred on the orders of the Mughal Emperor.

This battle proved to be a turning point in the life of Maharana Pratap Singh, who later tried to bring back the glory of Chitorgad.


Mughal Emperor Akbar started the faith “Din-e-Illahi” which placed himself as a “prophet”, who should be worshipped by the adherents of his new “faith”. Neither was this faith adopted by those outside of his court, nor did his own children adopt his new religion. Infact, his son Jahangir slaughtered a Hindu “infidel” in public and received the title of “Ghazi”.

Akbar had over 5,000 wives in his harems, and was regularly asked by his Sunni court officials to limit the number of his wives to 4, due to the number being prescribed by the Quran.

Miffed with the regular criticism of him violating the Quran, he founded the religion Din-e-illahi to justify him having thousands of wives, which included teenage girls from Russia and other countries who were brought as sex slaves.

This also served as a propaganda tool for the Mughal emperor to fool the public and make him gain a “tolerant” image amongst his people.

Note: This article has also been published at https://thejaihind.com/post/the-dark-side-of-akbar-was-he-really-great


1. The Great Moghuls, By B.Gascoigne, Harper Row Publishers, New York, 1972, p.15

2. Same as ref. 1, pp. 68-75

3. The Cambridge History of India, Vol. IV, Mughal India, ed. Lt. Col. Sir W.Haig, Sir R.Burn, S,Chand & Co., Delhi, 1963, pp. 71-73

4. The Builders of The Mogul Empire, By M.Prawdin, Barnes & Noble Inc, New York, 1965, pp. 127-28

 5. Same as ref. 1, pp. 88-93

6. Same as ref. 3. pp. 97-99

 7. Same as ref. 4, pp. 137-38

8. An Advanced History of India, by R.C.Majumdar, H.C.Raychoudhury, K.Datta, MacMillen & Co., London, 2nd Ed, 1965, pp. 448-450

9. Encyclopedia Britannica, 15 th Ed, Vol.21, 1967, p.65 10. Same as ref. 1, p. 85

11.  The Cambridge History of India, Encyclopedia Britannica and other works based on Akbar-nama by Abul Fazl.

12. Hindunet.org

13. Tripathi 1960, pg.170


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