Akhbar’s Tomb

14th February 2014 (Day 6).  Agra (Sikandra)

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We drove from Vrindavan to Agra and this is Akhbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra.

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What we are looking at though, is not the tomb but the walls around it and specifically the South Gate.  The minarets here inspired similar features on the Taj Mahal.

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Akhbar ruled from 1555 to 1605, contemporaneously with Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia, and was the greatest of the Mogul Emperors.  Earlier we saw the tomb of his father Humayan, which was completed by Akhbar.  When Humayan fell down the stairs and died, Akhbar was only thirteen and he was in the Punjab rather than in the capital Delhi.  He quickly had a rival.  A Hindu of lowly birth called Hemu, who was an undefeated general, declared himself supreme leader using the name Raja Vikramaditya and advanced on Akhbar with a huge army.

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Looking up at the South Gate.

Most of Akhbar’s advisors advised retreat to Kabul but his guardian and Regent, Bayram Khan, stood firm although outnumbered.  Initially they were fortunate and destroyed Hemu’s cavalry in a preliminary encounter but battle was joined and Hemu’s innumerable war elephants appeared to be winning the day.  Then Hemu, on his war elephant, was shot through the eye with an arrow, rather in the style of Harold Godwinson at Hastings, and died.  His army fled and Akhbar was triumphant.

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This is the building that houses the tomb.

Akhbar assumed complete command in 1561 at the age of nineteen and ended up executing Bayram Khan.  He was very successful militarily and extended his empire over much of Northern India and up to Afghanistan.  But what made him remarkable was his political success, which was due to his toleration.  He was born in Rajasthan under the protection of Hindu Rajas and unlike previous Moslem rulers he regarded Indians as his fellow countrymen rather than infidels to be suppressed.

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Blackbuck Antelopes on the grounds of the tomb, as enclosed by the outer walls.

Consequently he abolished laws discriminating against Hindus and encouraged discussion of spiritual matters between all religions.   He also encouraged art and literature and his reign is particularly well documented.  Ironically he was probably dyslexic and certainly illiterate.  Consequently he relied on conversation and on occasion would slip out of the palace in disguise to converse with ordinary people.  This gave him a much greater understanding of the lives of his subjects than other Mogul rulers.

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An Indian Palm Squirrel, being fed by passers-by.

Akhbar had the idea of generating a universal religion by taking the best out of each and then gravitated toward personal divinity, potentially rather like a Roman Emperor.  Because of Akhbar’s name, this meant that the standard Moslem invocation Allah Akhbar! could still mean God is great! or it could mean Akhbar is God.

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Ornate decorations and calligraphy inside the tomb.

This led to a revolt instigated by Moslem zealots in 1579-80, proclaiming his half-brother as Emperor.  However, he retained general support and the revolt was suppressed easily enough in the end.

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This support was partly due to his administrative and military reforms.  In particular, he expanded the small upper aristocracy by including many Hindu rajas who then supported him in order to defend their own positions.

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For most of his reign, his capital was at Agra but he built a new capital at Fatehpur Sikri and occupied that for a few years.  I will have a post on that soon and discuss it then.

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Many of his last years were consumed with a struggle with his son Salim, later the Emperor Jahangir, who attempted to seize Delhi in 1600 while Akhbar was away in the Deccan and even proclaimed himself Emperor in 1605.    Jahangir would also complete this tomb.

Akhbar’s latter years were also spent in fruitless campaigns in the Deccan.  His great grandson Aurangzeb would conquer most of the south a hundred years later but abandon Akhbar’s policies of toleration and thereby engender the subsequent disintegration of the Mogul Empire.

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This is Akhbar’s cenotaph and the real tomb is in a chamber underneath.

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Entering the tomb…

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This is a side chamber with the graves of two of Ahkbar’s daughters and a cenotaph for his Empress and main wife, Mariam uz Zamani.  Her mausoleum is one kilometre away.  She was the daughter of the Raja of Amber, so her father was the patrilineal ancestor of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  She was also Hindu and a continuing influence on Akhbar’s tolerance.  She was very influential as Empress and the mother of next emperor Jahangir.

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2 comments on “Akhbar’s Tomb

  1. leecleland says:

    Magnificent architecture and decoration. India continues to surprise and amaze me.

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