Featuring James Talboys Wheeler
Wheeler lived in India during Victoria’s Reign and wrote a number of histories of India. Akbar was one of the greatest rulers of India. His grandfather conquered India and started the Mogul Empire. Akbar established it. What’s the difference? Wheeler explains.
And now, James Talboys Wheeler.
Place: Lahore, India
The reign of Akbar bears a strange resemblance to that of Asoka. Indeed, the likeness between Akbar and Asoka is one of the most remarkable phenomena in history. They were separated from each other by an interval of eighteen centuries; the main features of their respective lives were practically the same. Asoka was putting down revolt in the Punjab when his father died; so was Akbar. Asoka was occupied for years in conquering and consolidating his empire; so was Akbar. Asoka conquered India to the north of the Nerbudda; so did Akbar. Asoka was tolerant of other religions; so was Akbar. Asoka went against the priests; so did Akbar. Asoka taught a religion of his own; so did Akbar. Asoka abstained from flesh meat; so did Akbar. In the end Asoka took refuge in Buddha, the law, and the assembly. In the end Akbar recited the formula of Islam: "There is but one God, and Mohammad is his prophet."
Some of these coincidents are mere accidents. Others reveal a similarity in the current of religious thought, a similarity in the stages of religious development; consequently they add a new chapter to the history of mankind.
The wars of Akbar are only interesting so far as they bring out types of character. When the news reached the Punjab that Humayun was dead, other news arrived. Hemu had recovered Agra and Delhi; he was advancing with a large army into the Punjab. The Mogul force was very small. The Mogul officers were in a panic; they advised a retreat into Kabul. Akbar and Bairam Khan resolved on a battle. The Afghans were routed. The Hindu general was wounded in the eye and taken prisoner. Bairam Khan bade Akbar slay the Hindu, and win the title of "champion of the faith." Akbar drew his sword, but shrunk back. He was as brave as a lion; he would not hack a wounded prisoner. Bairam Khan had no such sentiment. He beheaded Hemu with his own sword.
This story marks the contrast between the prince and his guardian. Akbar was brave and skilful in the field; he was outwardly gracious and forgiving when the fight was over. Bairam Khan was loyal to the throne; he slaughtered enemies in cold blood without mercy. It was impossible that the two should agree. Akbar grew more and more impatient of his guardian; for years he was self-constrained at Rama. He thought a great deal, but did nothing; he bided his time.
Within four years Bairam Khan had laid the foundations of the Mogul empire. Its limits were as yet restricted. The Mogul pale only covered the Punjab, the northwest provinces, and Oude; it is only extended from the Indus to the junction of the Jumna and Ganges. On the south it was bounded by Rajputana. It included the three capitals of Lahore, Delhi, and Agra. So far it coincided with the kingdom of Ala-ud-din, who conquered the Deccan and Peninsula.
At the end of the four years Akbar was a young man of eighteen. He resolved to throw off the authority of his guardian. He carried out his designs with the artifice of an Asiatic. He pretended that his mother was sick. He left the camp where Bairam Khan commanded, in order to pay her a visit. He proclaimed that he had assumed the authority of Padishah; that no orders were to be obeyed save his own. Bairam Khan was taken by surprise. Possibly, had he known what was coming, he would have put Akbar out of the way; but his power was gone. He tried to work upon the feelings of Abkar; he found that the Padishah was inflexible. He revolted, but was defeated and forgiven. Akbar offered him any post save that of minister; he would be minister or nothing. In the end he elected to go to Mecca, the last refuge for Muslem statesmen. Everything was ready for his embarkation; suddenly he was assassinated by an Afghan. It was the old story of Afghan revenge. He had killed the father of the assassin in some battle: in revenge the son had stabbed him to death.
Akbar was now free to act. The political situation was one of extreme peril. The Afghans were fighting one another in Kabul in the northwest; they were also fighting one another in Behar and Bengal in the southeast. When he marched against one, his territories were exposed to the raids of the other. Meantime his Mogul officers often set his sovereignty at defiance; when brought to task they broke out in mutiny and rebellion. Two events at this period will show the actual state of affairs.
Far away in the south of Rajputana lies the remote territory of Malwa. It was originally conquered by Ala-ud-din. During the decline of the Tughlaks the governor Malwa became an independent ruler. At the beginning of the reign of Akbar, Baz Bahadur was ruler of Malwa. He was a type of the Muslem princes of the time; no doubt he went to mosque; he surrounded himself with Hindu singing and dancing girls; he became more or less Hinduized. Akbar sent an officer named Adham Khan to conquer Malwa. Adham Khan had no difficulty. Baz Bahadur abandoned his treasures and harem and fled. Adham Khan distributed part of the spoil to the Padishah. Akbar could not brook such disobedience. Notwithstanding the distance he hurried to Malwa. He received his rightful share of the plunder; he professed to accept the excuses of the defaulter. When he returned to Agra he recalled Adham Khan to court; he sent another governor to Malwa. Adham Khan obeyed; he went to Agra; he found that he had lost favor. Commands were given to others. He could get nothing. He was driven mad by delay and disappointment. He did not suspect Akbar; he threw the blame upon the minister. One day he went to the palace; he stabbed the minister to death in the hall of audience; he ran up to an outer terrace. Akbar heard the uproar; he rushed in and beheld the bleeding corpse. He saw the stupefied murderer on the terrace; he half drew his sword, but remembered himself. Adham Khan seized his hands and begged for mercy. Akbar shook him off and ordered the servants to throw him from the terrace. The order was obeyed; Adham Khan was killed on the spot.
Continued on May 18, 2014