Political History of Mughal Empire

  • Mughal dynasty was founded by Babur who was invited by Aalam Khan Lodi, a discontented uncle of Ibrahim Lodi, to invade India.
  • He was a descendent of Timur through his father and Changez Khan through his mother, thus had blood of Mongols and Turks in his veins.

Babur (1526-1530)

  • The first attack of Babur in India was on Bajaur in 1519 in which he used Gun Powder for the first time in a war in India.
  • Gun powder was invented in China and was introduced from there to many parts of the world.
  • The Ottomans had built one of the greatest empires mainly by harnessing the power of the gunpowder weapons.
  • In India, use of Gun powder was already in vogue to blow the walls of forts etc. but it was used in Canons for the first time by Babur in Bajaur. The forces of Babur and Ibrahim Lodi met in first battle of Panipat in November 1525.
  • Ibrahim Lodi was killed in battlefield on 21 April 1526, which marked the commencement of Mughal rule in India.
  • After winning Delhi, he moved to Agra but his forces wanted to move back. His moral suasion held them back. He fought the battle of Khanwa in 1527 and won it solely because of use of Mughal artillery. Ruthless massacre of Rajputs followed this battle.
  • In 1529, Babur defeated Muhammad Lodi, the last Lodi claimant of Delhi throne in battle of Ghaghra.
  • Babur died in 1530 of an unknown disease.
  • His autobiography Baburnama or Tuzk-e Babri has vividly discussed the contemporary life in India, his use of gun powder and canons in Indian battles, his anger with Rana Sanga and other details. It was written in Chagatai Turkic, Babur’s mother tongue.

Humayun (1530-1540 and 1555-1556)

  • Babur was succeeded by Humayun (1530-1540 and 1555-1556), a man of polished and charming manners. But his easy going nature brought him difficulties. As soon as Babur died, Gujarat’s Bahadur Shah raised the banner of revolt and campaigned to win Chittor and Delhi.
  • During seize of Chittor, Rani Karnavati had sent a Rakhi to Humayun for help but Humayun lost the opportunity to win Rajput friendship. Karnavati burnt herself in Jauhar and Chittor fell.
  • But as soon as this happened, the forces of Humayun cut the supply of the soldiers of Bahadur Shah. The soldiers started starving. In dead of a night, Bahadur Shah fled the battlefield and his army dispersed in all sides. Thus, both Chittor and Gujarat fell into the hands of Humayun like ripe mango. Bahadur shah was chased but was neither arrested nor killed.
  • Meanwhile, his other adversary Shershah Suri was able to drive him off India and crown himself as the emperor. After this, Humayun wandered for about 15 years. He was able to recover back only when Shershah died in an accident and was succeeded by his son Sikandar Suri. However, he could not enjoy the empire and died soon at young age of 48 in 1556.

Akbar (1556-1605)

  • At the time of death of Humayun, Akbar, along with his tutor and guardian Bairam Khan, was at Kalanaur in Punjab. There itself, he was coroneted in a simple ceremony by Bairam Khan, who became his regent.
  • Meanwhile, in the turmoil of Humayun’s death, Hemu, the Hindu general of Muhammad Adil Shah captured Delhi and Agra and ascended to throne as Vikramaditya.
  • He was challenged and defeated by Akbar in Second battle of Panipat in 1556 and was killed while unconscious in battlefield. Akbar proved to be a capable administrator and a cultured and refined leader with political foresight. His goodwill towards all and tolerant religious policy won him most faithful race of Rajputs in crucial time. His abolition of Jajiya, his new religion Din-i-Ilahi, his land revenue policy, administrative policy etc. were such that his half century rule proved to be one of the brightest chapters in Indian History.

Jahangir 1605-1627

  • Jahangir aka Salim was an indolent, self indulgent and indifferent personality. When he ascended the throne, he was a man of 37 years and had become “mature”.
  • Regulations such as forbidding sale of wine and even tobacco. Restoration of Mohammaden Faith.
  • He used Hijra Chronology on coins, something his father had abandoned. But he was equally tolerant towards the Christians and Hindus. He was active in redressing the grievance of the people and had a Justice chain and bell attached to the gate of his palace in Agra, so that all who wished to appeal to him could ring him up. However, it is not clear, who was eligible to ring the emperor up.
  • Jahangir is known for his pompous display of the Justice. He enacted 12 regulations that show his liberalism and judiciousness. He is known for prohibition of some extortion type of cesses such as Tamga and controlling the merchants by an enactment which forbade them not to open bales without permission from the government.

Shah Jahan 1627-1658

  • Shahjahan aka Khurram became the most “celebrated” among the Mughal emperors but not popular among the Hindus. He was a perfect orthodox Muslim who was more intolerant than his father.
  • With Arjumand Bano Beghum, Khurram married at the age of 15 years and gave her the title Mumtaj Mahal.
  • Mumtaj Mahal was a mother of his 14 children and died on the death of their 14th child.
  • The exquisite monument Taj Mahal is a witness to her husband’s devotion.
  • Throughout his tenure, Shah Jahan kept struggling with revolts. The first big revolt was in Bundelkhand in 1636 under Jujhar Singh. The revolt was suppressed and Jujhar Singh was eliminated. Another was under the Lodi remnant Khan Jahan Lodi. This revolt was also suppressed.
  • During Shahjahan’s times, the Portuguese had established a factory at Hugli in Bengal.
  • Portuguese had a very constringe religious policy. It was learnt that the Portuguese often lifted the orphaned children and converted them to Christianity. This was something objectionable under the rule of a Mughal, who was a devout Muslim.
  • During the reign of Jahangir the Portuguese lifted two slave girls that belong to Mumtaj Mahal and they were not released even after it was known to the Portuguese.
  • In 1631, Qasim Khan was appointed as Governor of Bengal and was given authority to teach a lesson to the Portuguese. The Portuguese were attacked, massacred and Hugli was in siege for 3 months. The Portuguese surrendered only after a huge loss of ten thousand lives. Four thousand were made prisoners, who were given an option to either convert to Islam or face lifelong imprisonment. Thus, Shah Jahan gave the Portuguese a death blow in Bengal.
  • Later life of Shah Jahan was marred by the war of succession. He was imprisoned by Aurangzeb and later died in obscurity.

Aurangzeb 1658-1707

  • Aurangzeb was a bigot who created a lot of troubles for himself and lost both energy and resources in dealing with the rebellions of Jats, Satnamis, Bundelas, Sikhs and finally the formidable Marathas.
  • He stopped engraving Kalma on coins.
  • Forbade the Parsis to celebrate their festival Navaroz. Released an order to ban the music everywhere and arrest those who listen to the music.
  • His drink was plain water and he used to sleep on ground, something that made him a Zinda Fakir.
  • Aurangzeb had claimed the throne as the Champion of the Orthodox Islam against the heretical practices of his brother Dara. When he was told that in Banaras, the Brahmins have got habitual of teaching their “wicked science” to the Muslims, he ordered to demolish all the temples. The orders were carried out and the temple of Vishnu at Banaras and a splendid shrine at Mathura were broken to make room for a mosque. The idols were brought to Agra and buried under the steps of the Mosque.
  • His Rajput policy was also filled with the religious fanaticism, when he asked Raja Jaswant Singh to send his sons to Delhi so that they can be taught under his “supervision”, leading their conversion.
  • All the Rajputs except Raja of Amber were in a state of rebellion. He ended the Mughal pomp of Jharokha Darshan, use of almanacs, the Mughal custom of weighing the emperor in gems -distributing the wealth to the poors, on coronation anniversaries. He reintroduced Jazia.
  • In summary he did all that was never done by his great grandfather, grandfather and father. This was enough to shake the foundation of the Mughal Empire which was based upon religious tolerance.
  • Aurangzeb was the last important Mughal ruler and after him the Mughal empire rapidly decayed and was finally put to an end by the British. This King reigned for half a century and died in 1707 leaving behind a war of succession.

Bahadur Shah I ( 1707-1712)

  • Aurangzeb was succeeded by his son Muazzam, who ascended the throne as Bahadur Shah I in 1707. His reign was just 5 years till 1712, and during this time he tried to get rid of the strict edicts of his father.
  • He was not able to eliminate Jazia but supported music, now people could hear the songs again. He tried to establish peace with the Sikhs and Marathas. He died in 1712, when he was overseeing the repair works at Shalimar Gardens at Lahore.
  • He was followed by his son Jahandar Shah.

Jahandar Shah 1712-1713

  • After his father Bahadur Shah I died, he ascended the throne after eliminating his brother Azim-us- Shan. He had married to a dancing girl who became the queen consort. His nephew Farrukhsiyar attacked him and defeated him.
  • He was arrested and Jailed by Farrukhsiyar, who later executed him.

Farrukhsiyar 1713-1719

  • Farrukhsiyar was a despicable poltroon who suffered similar fate six years later in 1719. He sat the throne with the help of two Vazirs of the Mughals Syed Hassan Ali Khan Barha and Syed Hussain Ali Khan Barha known as Sayyid Brothers.
  • In 1717, the British East India Company purchased duty free trade rights in all of Bengal for peanuts worth Rupees 3000 per year from this so called emperor. He lolled the throne as a puppet in the hands of the Sayyid Brothers, and when there was an enmity with these two King makers, they deposed him, imprisoned him, starved him, blinded him and finally finished him.
  • The Sayyid brothers placed his cousin Rafi ud-Darajat on the throne in 1719.

Rafi ud-Darajat 1719

  • Rafi ud-Darajat, the 11th Mughal emperor was proclaimed by the Sayyid Brothers in 1719, and he could survive only for four months and died of some mysterious disease. He was succeeded by Muhammad Shah Rangile or Rangila.

Muhammad Shah Rangile 1719-1748

  • Mohammad Shah Rangila was able to keep the throne for around 29 years partially because the first thing he did was to eliminate the Sayyid Brothers. During his time Nadir Shah attacked and looted Delhi and took the Peacock Throne. The invasion of Nadir Shah fastened the disintegration of the Mughal Empire.
  • During his time, the states of Hyderabad, Bengal, Awadh were established as independent Kingdoms. In due course of time, Mughal empire was confined to only Red Fort of Delhi.
  • The last Mughal remnant Bahadurshah Zafar was not lucky enough to die in the land which his forefathers had ruled for centuries.

Mughal Land Revenue System

  • There was no Mughal land revenue system before Akbar. His father Humayun and grandfather Babur did not introduce any changes because they were the first conquerors of their dynasty and remained pre-occupied with subduing rebellions, consolidating empires and maintaining order.
  • A proper land revenue system was founded by Akbar.
  • However, the system of Akbar was itself based on what Shershah Suri implemented during his short tenure. Thus, the land revenue system of Akbar was neither an innovation nor an invention. His indebtedness to the earlier rulers is immense but this has not diminished his fame as far as land revenue system is concerned.
  • He followed the policy of Shershah with greater precision and correctness and then extended it to various subah or provinces of his empire. But this correction or precision did not came overnight. Initially was tortuous enough to turn peasants into beggars, and forcing them to sell their wives and children. But it was revised several times.
  • The corrections done by Akbar in land revenue system can be mainly divided into three heads as follows:
    • Standardization of measurement of land
    • Ascertaining the produce per Bigha of Land Fixation of state’s share in that produce
    • Standardization of measurement of the land In Akbar’s administration, we find so many territorial divisions and sub-divisions for the first time in medieval history.
  • For political as well as fiscal purposes Akbar had divided his empire into 15 Subahs (originally there were 12 Subahs, but by the time Akbar died, the number stood at 15), 187 Sarkars and 3367 Mahals. He ordered a standardization of measurement unit and the so called Ilahi Gaj was made the definite unit of land measurement.
  • This Ilahi Gaj was equivalent to some 41 fingers (29-32 inches), and was shorter than the Sikandari Gaj (approx 39 inches) used by Shershah. The Gaj as measurement of land finds its origin during Sikandar Lodi’s times.
  • Standardization of land measurement was adopted to brush aside all kinds of vagueness in defining extent of land and to reduce extortion / corruption by officials.
  • For land measurement (Paimaish), a rope called Tenab was used in those days. Since, this rope was subject to variation in its length due to seasonal dryness or humidity, Akbar made reforms in Tenab also. Instead of an ordinary rope, Akbar ordered the Tenab to be made of pieces of Bamboo joined together with iron rings. This made sure that the length of Tenab varies little during different seasons of a year. A further change done by Akbar was to fix definite measurement to Bigha of land. A Bigha was made of 3600 Ilahi Gaj, which is roughly half of modern acre. Several Bighas made a Mahal. Several Mahals were grouped into Dasturs.
  • Ascertainment of produce per Bigha: After the standardization of land measurement, Akbar turned towards ascertainment of the amount of produce per Bigha and the state’s share in it. Shershah Suri had already divided land into four different categories.
  • Akbar followed the system and to make a comparative estimate of the produce of lands and fixed different revenues for each of them. These four types were as follows:
    • Polaj: Polaj was the ideal and best type of land throughout the empire. This land was cultivated always and was never allowed to lie fallow.
    • Parati or Parauti: This was the land kept out of cultivation temporarily in order to recoup its lost fertility.
    • Chachar: Chachar was a kind of land allowed to lie fallow for three or four years and then resumed under cultivation.
    • Banjar: Banjar was the worst kind of land that was left out of cultivation for five years or upwards.
  • Fixation of state’s share in produce: The best lands viz. Polaj and Parauti were subdivided into three categories viz. good, middle and bad. Average produce of these three categories, called Mahsul was taken as a normal produce per Bigha. One third of this Mahsul (average produce) was fixed as state’s share. The Parauti land also was liable to pay the Polaj rate (one third of Mahsul) when cultivated. Chachar land was allowed to pay a concessional rate until it was cultivated again to be liable to pay the Polaj rate. Banjar lands were also not totally neglected.
  • Further, the peasants were given option to pay either in cash or kind, whichever was convenient to them. It’s worth note here that during British Era, the land was divided on the basis of natural or artificial qualities of soil in clay, loam, irrigated, unirrigated and so on. However, the basis of land classification by Akbar was on the continuity or discontinuity of the cultivation. Akbar’s vazirs had not taken account the soil qualities for ascertaining the produce.
  • Fixing Rate of Assessment: Once the land was measured and state’s share in produce was fixed per Bigha of land, Akbar next proceeded to fix the rate of assessment. This was the most contentious part and in fact several changes were done in the system till 1585. Firstly, Akbar adopted Shershah’s Rai system in which cultivated area was measured, and a central schedule was created fixing the dues of peasants crop wise on the basis of the productivity of the land.
  • The state’s share was fixed one-third of the produce under the schedule (Dastur-i-amal) to be paid in cash. The peasant’s tax was based on annual system of collecting prices and settlements of revenues for the previous years.
  • But there were several problems with this arrangement.
  • Firstly, the prices of crops could not reasonably be applied to the whole empire. Prices were lower in rural areas which were far away from the urban centres.
  • Secondly, the cultivators found it difficult to pay in cash at the official rate.
  • Thirdly, this system was affected by corruption of the revenue collectors, particularly the Karoris appointed in 1573-74.
  • Fourthly, fixing prices every year and doing settlements of revenues of previous years was a cumbersome practice. Akbar ordered that the settlement should be concluded for past 10 years. An aggregate of the rate of revenues from 1570 to 1579 was made and a decennial average was fixed as demand of the revenue. This brought certainty to collections and alleviated the problem of peasants to great extent. This was the so called Dahsala system or Zabti System, that was implemented by Raja Todarmal. This remained a standard system of revenue assessment during the greater part of the Mughal empire.
  • During Shahjahan’s era, it was introduced in the Deccan by Murshid Quli khan. The assessment of Akbar’s land revenue system must be done on two accounts viz. annual system and Dahsala system.
  • Annual System: The annual system was another name of uncertainty in assessment and appointment of Karoris was disastrous for the peasants. The Karoris turned rapacious and system of paying previous years taxes in current years led the peasants to sell their wives and children. Badauni writes that by the time Karoris were made accountable to Raja Todarmal, lots of damage to life of people had been already done. The uncertainty and confusion regarding taxation rendered cultivation without any incentives.
  • Dahsala System: Under the Dahsala system, the peasants were relieved from the uncertainty of the taxes they would be paying. Since amount due from the peasant to government treasury was fixed, the farmers had hope to enjoy some greater profits if they improve or extend their cultivation.
  • Apart from this, we can also examine Akbar’s land revenue system vis-a-vis ancient system. In ancient India, the share of the government was 1/6th, however, by the time of Akbar, this share had gone up to 1/3rd. This was an excessive demand because even in Akbar’s times, the other Hindu sovereigns were taking 1/6th of the produce. Various historians justify this 1/3rd share arguing that Akbar reduced or abolished as many as 29 taxes including Jehat (Manufacturing tax). Other Systems of Mughal Era During the reign of Akbar and his successors three more systems of revenue assessment were prevalent viz. Batai or Gallabakshi System, Kankut System and Nasaq System.
  • Batai or Galla-bakhshi Batai or Galla-bakhshi was a very old system which continued during the Mughal period. This was a simple method of crop-sharing in which the produce was arranged into heaps and divided into three shares, one of which was taken by the state. Under this system the peasant had the choice to pay in cash or kind.
  • Kankut System: Kankut system was also an old prevalent method in which, instead of actually dividing the grain (kan), an estimate (kut) was made on the basis of an actual inspection on the spotand one-third of the estimated produce was fixed as the state demand. So, it was a rough estimate of produce on the basis of actual inspection and past experience.
  • Nasaq System: Nasaq System was widely prevalent in the Mughal Empire, particularly in Bengal. In this system a rough calculation was made on the basis of the past revenue receipts of the peasants. It required no actual measurement, but the area was ascertained from the records.

Mansabdari System

  • Mansabdari System was a system introduced by Akbar for military administration and territorial commands (grant and revenue) to sustain parts of army. His experiences led him to conclude that rather than relying in the Irani and Turkish nobles, he should also include the Indian Muslims (Sheikhzadas), Afghans and Rajputs in the Mughal army. The Mansabdari system was borrowed from the system followed in Mongolia.
  • The Mughal officers whether Hindus or Muslims were granted territorial commands in return for the military service. They had to bring in some fixed number of men-at-arms, horses and elephants to the field and were rated as per the numbers which was known as Zats.
  • So they were called Mansabdars of 10, 20, 100, and 1000 and so on. Mansingh was the first Mansabdar of 7000 zats and Bhagwan Das with 5000 zats enjoyed the privileged position in the Mansabdari system of Akbar. But again this system was not perfect.
  • The greed of the Mansabdars ate all the grant or revenue and no money was left for the soldiers. There was a general corruption that the Mansabdars dressed their kith and kins, servants, dhobis and Malis as soldiers and registered them and send them back to do what they were doing earlier. The weavers and carpenters were hired to obtain a Mansab and become a Crori, and later not a trace of the horse brought by them would be found.

Mughal Bureaucracy

Office of Diwan

  • The office of the Diwan was the office of today’s minister. It got strengthened in Akbar’s reign. The Chief Diwan was called Diwan-i-kul and was responsible for revenue and finance. He oversaw the imperial treasury and accounts. The Diwan had to submit a daily report to the emperor.

Mir Bakshi

  • The office of Mir Bakshi was in existence since Sultanate Era. He was to give appointments and salary letters to the Mansabs. The branding of the horses named Dagh was under his supervision. He was assisted by other subordinate Bakshis.

Mir Saman

  • Mir Saman was the in charge of Royal workshops (Karkhanas).

Sadr-us Sudur

  • Sadr-us Sudur was to protect the laws of the Shariat.
  • Qazi-ul-quvvat was the chief judiciary.


  • The governor of a province (Suba) was a subedar who was directly appointed by the emperor. The usual tenure of Subedar was 3 years.

Introduction of Persian in official works

  • There was one more feature of Raja Todarmal’s system that virtually unified the country. It was enactment that all the government accounts should be kept in Persian, rather than Hindi.
  • The study of Persian became necessary and it helped Hindus to learn the Persian language and the Muslims to go hand-in-hand with the “talented” Hindus.

Religious Policy

  • Akbar could not see the validity in the custom that the Hindus should pay more taxes than the Muslims. He also had an insatiable quest in the matters of religion and faith. He was deeply moved by the mystical doctrines of the Persian Sufis which was revealed to him by Faizi and his younger brother Abul Fazal.
  • Abul Fazal encouraged Akbar for debates on doctrinal and philosophical enquiries. Akbar displayed a curiosity in these discussions. The debate took place in the Ibadat Khana or Hall of Worship. The Ibadat Khana is now recognized to be the Diwan-i-Khas, which was founded in 1574 at the City of Fatehpur Sikri. It was opened for Sunni Muslims initially and was opened to all religions viz. Sufis, Shias, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus and Jains. In the Ibadat Khana, initially there were disgusting arguments, some of which included a question over character of Hazarat Muhammad. These discussions, rather than clearing Akbar’s doubts only increased the insatiable religious quest of the emperor. These heated arguments, Akbar found that were only to defend the creeds of their own doctrines. In the emperor’s eyes, there was a truth in all the faiths but none of the creed had the master key of the Supreme Being.
  • In 1579, Mahzar Namawas declared by which Akbar pounced upon the dominance of the intolerant orthodox and allowed free development of a genuine religious spirit.
  • Mazhar Nama , which was actually an idea of the father of Abul Fazal and Faizi , set that the authority of the King was higher than that of a Mujtahid (doctor of the faith) and if there is a variance, the emperor’s decision should be binding on the Muslims of India. With this edict, Akbar’s judgment was set above every legal and religious authority, so it was the promulgation of the doctrine of Imperial infallibility.
  • In 1581 the discussions at the Ibadat Khana were discontinued. But quest of Akbar culminated in the Tauhid-i-ialhi (the divine monotheism) or Din-i-Illahi, the word Din was applied decades later.
  • In 1582, this religious doctrine which combined mysticism, philosophy and nature worship was propounded by Akbar which recognized no prophets. Akbar declared himself the spiritual guide of his subjects. His religion Tauhid-i-illahi favored peace and tolerance. Tauhid-i-illahi prohibits lust, sensuality, slander and pride, considering them sins. Piety, prudence, abstinence and kindness are the core virtues of this religion. The soul is encouraged to purify itself through yearning of God. It respects celibacy and forbade slaughter of animals.

Elements of Din-i-Illahi

  • Din-i-Illahi was an eclectic doctrine that contained elements from very diverse fields. It overthrew almost every ceremonial rule whether Islam or Muslim, but took the good ideas from the Brahmins as well as from the missionaries and adopted “Sun” as a symbol of the worship of the creator. He started a new Illahi era.
  • The new religion proposed: Forbade cow eating Indifference among all Indians Instituted worship of Sun as creator
  • Incorporated the sacred fire adored by the Parsis
  • Encouraged the Havana (hom sacrifice) of the Hindus.
  • A small band of the courtiers of Akbar including Faizi, Abul Fazal, Birbal and a few others immediately professed the new cult. But the rest remained indifferent if not hostile. This hotchpotch of philosophy, mysticism and nature worship of Akbar’s divine faith practically died with him, but left footprints which partially contributed in creation of a nation that was never a united nation before.

Fatehpur Sikri

  • Akbar was a devout visitor to the holy places and tombs of Muslim saints. One of his prime objects was to secure an heir to the throne. Up to the 14th year of reign, none of his children could survive and he was told to visit a holy man dwelling at Sikri village near Agra. This holy man Salim Chisti, who was one of the descendents of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer promised & blessed Akbar a son. Akbar placed his wife Hura Kunwari or Jodha under the care of this saint. The Sikri, due to frequent visits of the emperor became a cradle of development activities and numerous palaces were erected.
  • Salim Chisti set up a new noble Mosque in Sikri and the emperor’s people built their palaces near this place. The Sikri village became the town of Fatehpur Sikri. It was blessing of this holy saint Salim Chisti, that Akbar’s first son was safely ushered in this world. Akbar named this child as Salim, with due respect to the holy man. This offspring of the Great Mughal and a Rajput Princess later became Emperor Jahangir. The result of this auspicious event in Fatehpur Sikri was that Akbar showered all the taste and art of the age upon the adornment of this blessed town. Thus, Fatehpur Sikri became the first planned city of the Mughals. It is also the place demonstrating the first heritage of the Mughal architecture, an amalgamation of the Persian, Hindu and Islamic architecture. It was virtually the capital of Akbar from 1571 to 1585.
  • However, later it was abandoned mostly because of the problem of drinking water supply. Today, this beautiful city, though a great tourist destination, is a deserted. It was abandoned and ever since has remained the desolate and abandoned city.
  • A few years back, some Jain & Hindu idols were found which were dated 1010 AD near the Birbal ka Tila site which have rise to a hot debate that this beautiful city was actually a great Hindu site, that was vandalized by the great Mughal. Whatever may be the truth, but palaces, tombs, mosques, baths, lake and everything at Fatehpur Sikri is a great Indian Heritage through which we recognize the grandeur and pomp of Akbar, greatest of Indian emperors.

Navratnas of Akbar

  • Akbar was an ardent admirer of art and learning. His court was full of many scholars and talented artists. The Nine most learned men in his court were known as Navratnas.
  • Abul Fazal: Abul Fazl was the chronicler of Akbarnama in three volumes over seven years, the third volume is known as the Ain-i-Akbari.
  • Faizi: Faizi was Abul Fazl’s brother, the poet laureat of Akbar. The name of father of Abul Fazal and Faizi was Mubarak Nagori, a scholar in the philosophy and literature of Greece as well as in Islamic theology.
  • Miyan Tansen: Miyan Tansen was born as Tanna Mishra, in 1520. He was a disciple of Swami Haridas and later became disciple of Hazrat Muhammad Ghaus (Gwalior ). He was a court musician with the prince of Mewar and later was recruited by Akbar as his court musician.
  • Raja Birbal: Raja Birbal, a poor Hindu Brahmin Maheshdas was appointed to the court of Akbar for his intelligence, and became the court jester. The name Raja Birbal was given by the Emperor. Birbal’s duties in Akbar’s court were mostly military and administrative. He was also a poet and his collections under the pen name “Brahma” are preserved in Bharatpur Museum. Raja Birbal died in battle, in an attempt to subdue unrest amongst Afghani tribes in Northwest India.
  • Raja Todar Mal: Raja Todar Mal, a Hindu Khatri was Akbar’s finance minister, who from 1560 onwards overhauled the revenue system in the kingdom.
  • Raja Man Singh: Raja Man Singh, the prince of Amber was a trusted general in Akbar’s army and was the grandson of Akbar’s father-in-law Bharmal. Raja Man Singh was the foremost (7000 Mansabdari) and ablest among Akbar’s military commanders and assisted Akbar in many fronts including holding off advancing Hakim (Akbar’s half-brother) in Lahore. He was also the Mughal viceroy of Afghanistan, led campaigns in Bihar, Orissa, Deccan and was also the viceroy of Bengal.
  • Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana: Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, son of Akbar’s trusted general and tutor. Best known for his Hindi couplets Fakir Aziao-Din Fakir Aziao-Din was a sufi mystic, and an advisor.
  • Mirza Aziz Koka: Mirza Aziz Koka aka. Khan-i-Azam or Kotaltash was one of the leading nobles and also foster brother of Akbar. He also served as Subedar of Gujarat.
  • About Mullah Do Piaza: We note here that most sources also mention the name of Mullah Do Piaza, an intelligence advisor to Akbar, as one of his nine gems. However, Mullah Do Piaza seems to be a fictional character.

Bhakti and Sufi Movements

Bhakti Movement

  • Bhakti movement was a spontaneous movement and there are two views on its origin. First view is that it originated in Tamil Nadu during the seventh century and then spread through Karnataka, Maharashtra and spread in almost all parts of Northern / Eastern India by 15th century.
  • In Tamil Nadu, the movement was started by Vaishnava saints {Alvars} and Shaiva saints {Nayanars}. The Alvars sang praises of Vishnu as the moved from place to place.
  • They established shrines such as Srirangam and spread the ideas of Vaishnavism.
  • The compilation of their poems called Divya Prabandham developed into a powerful literature of Vaishnavas.
  • The Alvars emphasized on Bhakti and gave reference to Bhagvata Puranas often, they were called the pioneers of Bhakti Movement.
  • The same is applicable to the Saiva Nayanar poets. They travelled from places to places and sang songs in praise of Lord Shiva. The compilation of their songs called Tirumurai, developed into the scripture on Shaivism. Both the Vishnu and Shiva bhakti saints influenced north India and this Bhakti Movement spread from South to North.
  • The other view is that Bhakti Movement in South and North India developed in parallel. While the movement in South was centered on devotion to respective deity (Shiva or Vishnu); in North India, it came as a response to the arrival of Islam and subsequent Islamic rule. This view can be supported by argument that at the time of advent of Islam, Hinduism had degraded due to superstitions, Brahamanic dominance and complex rituals. Islam came with simple doctrine of brotherhood, equality and oneness of God. Its simple doctrine challenged the social pattern of society and most important result of this was emergence of Bhakti movement and Sufi Movement. Both of these emphasized that God was supreme, all men were equal and Bhakti or devotion to God was the way to achieve salvation.
  • However, Bhakti was not new to India. Bhakti was propounded in Upanishads and epics. However, the Jnana and Karma were on forefront of Hinduism back then. With the advent of Bhakti, Jnana and Karma went into background and devotion to God to achieve salvation became a pillar of religious practices of the people.
  • The cardinal principle of Bhakti Cult was influencing devotion to a personal God, whose grace was the only means of attaining salvation or Mukti. It stressed the idea of a personal God and pointed out the absurdity of the caste system in the presence of God and the futility of external rites and ceremonies. It allowed both men and women to achieve salvation by Bhakti. The chief principles of the Bhakti Cult were the following: Oneness of God and Indispensable Role of Guru God is one, He alone should be worshipped. By following the path of true devotion (Bhakti) one can find salvation or (nijat, mukti). A true guru is indispensable for realizing God or attaining salvation.

Nirguna and Saguna God

  • The Bhakti saints emphasized on two ways of imaging the nature of the God viz. Nirguna and Saguna. Nirguna is the concept of a formless God, which has no attributes or quality. Saguna has form, attributes and quality. Both of these can be traced to the famous Vedic Hymn “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” – Truth is one; sages call it many names.
  • It is the same God, but is viewed from two perspectives. One is Nirguni, which is knowledge focussed and other is Saguni which is love-focused. Thus, the Nirguna poetry is Gyanshrayi (has roots in knowledge) while Saguna poetry is Premashrayi (has roots in love).
  • Those belonging to Saguna School worshiped the anthropomorphic manifestations of the divine being, particularly Rama and Krishna. Both Rama and Krishna were regarded as incarnation of God on earth. This school remained committed to the scriptural authority of the Vedasand emphasised the need of a human guru as religious mediator between God and man. The conformist saints like Ramananda and Chaitanya, espoused the doctrine of incarnation and worshipped the saguna Ram and Krishna respectively.
  • Those who followed Nirguna school conceived as Ishvara, the personal and purely spiritual aspect of godhead, beyond all names and forms (nama-rupa), and is to be apprehended only by inner (mystical) experience. This was radical non-conformist group, headed by Kabir, Nanak and Dadu. Kabir was the most radical of them. They created a religious school which rejected the scriptural authority and every form of idol worship and institutionalized rites and rituals. They fought against social discrimination and strove for Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. Focus on Equality All men are equal and there is no question of superiority or inferiority among men. There is brotherhood of mankind. The image worship and caste distinctions and class hatred were the worst enemies of man. They strongly denounced useless ceremonies and rituals and rites must be given up. They are unnecessary and do not help persons to attain salvation. Only the good actions of man can help him to attain salvation. Hence, much emphasis was laid on right actions in place of rituals. It is not necessary to leave this world and go to jungles to reach God. There should be religious toleration. There is only one God only the paths to reach there are different. Both men and women can get salvation by Bhakti and good deeds.

Major Impacts of Bhakti Movement

  • Surge in vernacular Literature: Bhakti Movement resulted in a surge in Hindu literature in regional / vernacular languages mainly in the form of devotional poems and music.
  • Development of Philosphies: The Bhakti Movement led to development of different philosophies within the Vedanta school, ranging from dvaita to advaita.
  • Devotional transformation of society and Inclusiveness: It led to devotional transformation of medieval Hindu society and pushed the early means to achieve salvation {Vedic rituals and ascetic lifestyles} to background and brought individualistic relationship with personally defined God on forefront. Thus, Salvation which was hitherto considered achievable only for Brahmins, Kshatriya and Vaishya castes, was not available to everyone. Thus, this movement provided inclusive path to spiritual salvation to women and members of Shudra and untouchable community. In many ways, the impact was similar to that of Protestant Reformation of Christianity in Europe. It was able to evoke shared religiosity, direct emotional attachment to divine and pursuit of spiritual satisfaction without overhead of institutional super structures.
  • New forms of Worship: Bhakti Movement led to emergence of new forms of spiritual leadership and social cohesion such as community singing, chanting together of deity names, festivals, pilgrimages, rituals etc. many of which are in vogue even today. It also led to new forms of voluntary social giving such as Seva {service}, Dana (Charity) and Community Kitchens {Bhandra / Langar etc.}. Some of the temples and Gurudwaras adopted social functions such as helping poor, providing education by establishing charity schools, charity hospitals, relief in the aftermath of natural disasters etc.

Bhakti Movement and India’s Freedom Struggle

  • Gandhiji’s favorite Bhajan “Vaishnava Jana To” which inspired his ideals of non- violence and social cause was written by Narsi Mehta, who was a Bhakti poet of 15th century
  • Sardar Patel, in the Bardoli Satyagraha had associated the landless Mali and Dubla communities with him in the freedom struggle by the imaginative use of their religious activities expressed through their bhakti movement, bhajan mandlis and symbols of their gods.
  • Various reform movements in British India were directly influenced by Bhakti movement ideals.
  • In summary, Bhakti movement was essentially the phenomenal revolt of the marginalized segment at decentralizing the hierarchy imposed by the Brahminic domination. It rebelled against the caste ridden system of the south and fought against Vedic fanatics in north.

Notes on Bhakti Saints and Poets

Alvar Saints

  • The twelve Alvars were Tamil poet-saints, who lived between 6th and 9th centuries AD and espoused ‘emotional devotion’ or bhakti to Visnu-Krishnain their songs. The devotional songs of the Alvars were created during the Early medieval period of Tamil history and they helped can be called the pioneers of the Bhakti Movement in India. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabandha. All the saints were male except one named Andal.

Nayanar Saints

  • The 63 Nayanars saints were the Shiva devotional poets, who lived between 5th and 10th centuries. One saint “Appar” is said to have converted Pallava King Mahendravarman to Saivism. The compilation of their poetry / literature Tirumurai is also called “Tamil Veda”.
  • These 63 Nayanar saints, along with the 12 Alvars are known as South India’s 75 Apostles of Bhakti movement.


  • Ramanuja was from the South and he taught in the language of the common people. His disciple was Ramananda who took his Guru’s message to the northern parts of India.
  • Ramananda was first Bhakti saint and founder of Bhakti Movement of northern India. He preached in Hindi, the language of the masses. He was a disciple of Ramanuja and a conformist saint. Ramananda was born at Allahabad and educated at Varanasi. He preached at both these places. His 12 disciples included Anantananda, Sursurananda, Sukhanand, Naraharidāsa, Bhavanand, Bhagat Pipa, Kabir, Sen, Dhanna, Ravidas and two women disciples viz. Sursuri and Padyawati.
  • Among them, Kabir was most radical and adopted non-conformist stand later on.


  • He was a disciple of Ramananda. He is seen as one who balanced the life of a householder, a mystic and a tradesman. Bijak, Sakhi Granth, Kabir Granthawali and Anurag Sagar are compositions of Kabir. The hallmark of Kabir’s works consists of his two line couplets (Doha), which reflect his deep philosophical thinking. We note here that Kabir was born in 1398 and had died in circa 1448 {not confirmed}. India was attacked by Timur in 1398 and after that Sayyids and Lodis ruled Delhi. He had died many years before arrival of Mughal.


  • Guru Nanak Dev (October 20, 1469 – September 7, 1539) was the founder of Sikhism, and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. Because of his close connection with Hazrat Sheikh Farid-ud-din Ganj Shakar, the Punjabi Sufi saint, Nanak Dev is also considered by many Muslims to be a Sufi, or adherent of Sufic tenets. He was born in Nankana Sahib in Punjab and died in Kartarpur. Nanak, like Kabir, was also a radical saint who had strong faith Nirguna Brahma.

Chaitanya Maha Prabhu

  • Shri Krishna Chaitanya or Gauranga was born in Nabadwip in West Bengal. His original name was Vishvambhara Mishra. His mode of worshipping Krishna with ecstatic song and dance had a profound effect on Vaishnavism in Bengal. At 22, he made a pilgrimage to Gaya to perform his father’s Shraddh. There he underwent a profound religious experience that transformed his outlook and personality. He returned to Nabadwip entirely indifferent to all worldly concerns.
  • A group of devotees soon gathered around Chaitanya and joined him in the congregational worship called Kirtan, which involves choral singing of the name and deeds of God, often accompanied by dance movements and culminating in states of trance. For Chaitanya, the legends of Krishna and his beloved, Radha, symbolized the highest expression of mutual love between God and the human soul. Bhakti (devotion) superseded all other forms of religious practice and was conceived as complete self-surrender to the divine will.
  • Although Chaitanya himself wrote no works on theology or religious practices, his selection of and charges to core disciples gave birth to a major Vaishnava sect in his own lifetime, called familiarly the Chaitanya Sampradaya or Gaudiya Sampradaya
  • Chaitanya’s own frequent and prolonged experiences of religious rapture took their toll on his health; he himself diagnosed some of his seizures as epileptic. Thus, the Gaudiya Sampradaya is an intensely emotional form of Hinduism which flourished from the sixteenth century, mainly in Bengal and eastern Orissa. It started from Nabadwip and spread. A theology for the movement was worked out by a group of Chaitanya’s disciples who came to be known as the six gosvamins (religious teachers; literally lords of cows). At Chaitanya’s request, this group of scholars remained in Vrindavan, near Mathura, the scene of the Krishna-Radha legends. The six gosvamins turned out a voluminous religious and devotional literature in Sanskrit, defining the tenets of the movement and its ritual practices.  Their reestablishment of the pilgrimage sites of Vrindavan and Mathura was an achievement of importance for all Vaishnavas (devotees of Lord Vishnu).  Although Chaitanya appears to have been worshipped as an incarnation of Krishna even during his lifetime, the theory of his dual incarnation, as Krishna and Radha in one body, was systematically developed only by the later Bengali religious writers. The present leaders of the sect, called gosvamins, are (with some exceptions) the lineal descendants of Chaitanya’s early disciples and companions. The ascetics are known as vairagins (the dispassionate).
  • Among this group was the late A. C. Bhaktivedanta, known as Swami Prabhupada, who believed that Chaitanya’s faith would benefit people throughout the world. He is the founder of the international Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON, commonly called the “Hare Krishnas”, which has attempted to establish the beliefs and practices of the Chaitanya Movement around the world.


  • Another offshoot of the Bhakti Movement was the Krishna cult of Vallabhacharya. He belonged to a Telugu Brahmin family and was born in 1479 Banaras, when the family was on pilgrimage to the place. He was looked upon as prodigy. After finishing his education he went on his travels.
  • At the court of Krishna Deva Raya of Vijyanagar, he scored a triumph over the Saivas in public debate. After visiting Mathura, Brindavan and other places he finally settled in Banaras. He composed many works including Bhagvata Tika, Subodhami. He taught the doctrine of Suddha Advaita which denied any distinction between God and individual soul and regarded Bhakti as the means for the soul to escape its bandage due to delusion.
  • In spite of Vallabha’s stress on self-control and renunciation, his doctrine came to be known as “Pushti Marga” for his successors laid stress on the physical side of Krishna’s sports so that the creed came to be called as the “Epicureanism of the East“. He laid emphasis on the worship of Krishna as an incarnation of the Almighty God. He preached that there was no difference between the Atma and Parmatma (God). “It is by means of Bhakti alone that one can get salvation and merge with him.”
  • Astachhap: Eight Disciples of Vallabhacharya are called the Ashta-chhaap, meaning, eight reprints (of the Master).
    • Surdas is considered to be the foremost among them. In the 16th century devotional renaissance in India, poems were sung when recited, and the great mystic poets of those times were often great musicians. Therefore, the poetry composed by the eight Ashta Chhap poets is meant to be sung to music. Its essence is rhythmic invocation, and its real meaning is best expressed when performed as part of devotional service.
    • Mirabai: She was the great worshipper of Krishna, who preached in the common language of he people. Her songs are very popular all over India. It is Bhakti or devotion to Lord Krishna that can alone ensure salvation from the endless circle of births and deaths.
    • Raidas: Raidas or Ravidas was another Nirguna Bhakta disciple of Ramananda. He belonged to a family of leather workers.


  • Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non- Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam.
  • The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be called “Ahle Suffe”, the People of Suffe, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the mosque of the Prophet in Medina. There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of ‘Being’, and in search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. These individuals were the founders of Sufism.
  • Sufis represented the inner side of the Islamic creed, which stresses on self-realisation, beautification of the soul through piety, righteousness and universal love for all. The Sufis consider that there is a particular Divine Attribute that dominates the being of every prophet and saint, such that they can be said to be the incarnation of that attribute. The aim of Sufism is the cultivation of Perfect Beings who are mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes.
  • Sufism and Communal Harmony In India, Sufism helped in maintaining communal harmony and social stability by advocating religious tolerance and by borrowing spiritual techniques and practices from other religions. Sufism has adapted extensively from the Vedanta school of the Hindu philosophy.
  • In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali(saint), a word that literally means ‘sincere friend’. The superstructure of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, pir or murshid.
  • The cardinal doctrines of the Sufism included
    • Complete surrender to the will of God
    • Annihilation of the self
    • Becoming a perfect person
  • These three cardinal principles altogether make the Doctrine of Fana which means annihilation of human attributes through Union with God. Sufism had succeeded in inculcating the sentiments of fraternity, equality and equity, coupled with sense of service to humanity, in the followers, irrespective of race, community, caste, creed and colour.
  • Sama The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called Sama. This is a particular kind of devotional dance akin to Kirtana and was introduced by Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufi, while being spiritually enraptured, gives the attention of his or her heart to the Beloved. With particular movements and often special and rhythmical music, he engages in the selfless remembrance of God.
  • Sufis identify two types of Sama poetry: First praising God (this is called Hamd), Prophet (this is called Naat) and the Sufi saints
  • The second focussing on spiritual emotion or mystical love, ecstatic states and on separation and union.
  • The Sama poetry is mostly sung in the form of Qawwali.
  • Music of Sama is set within metric framework, accompanied by Dholak, Tabla, Sarangi, Harmonium and Sitar.


January 10, 2018

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