Who was Akbar's second wife

Sehepunkte 11 (2011), No. 3

By far the most famous ruler of the Mughal Empire, Ǧalāl ad-Dīn Akbar (1542-1605), numerous research papers have been devoted to illuminating different aspects of his reign.

Admittedly, anyone who studies the history of the Indian Mughal Empire can hardly get past a description of Akbar's life and work. However, the fundamental studies that deal primarily with Akbar's biography were written at least a few decades ago. The first German-language biography of the famous ruler was written by the Schleswig-Holstein Count von Noer (1880-1885); later there were other European-language publications, such as, to name just a few, those by Smith (1919), Habib (1989) and Nizami (1989). [1]

Recent publications include the monograph by André Wink, a lecturer in history at Madison University in Wisconsin. His work with the title "Akbar" comprises 124 pages and was published in the series "Makers of the Muslim World", which primarily aims to offer laypeople and scholars an informative and concise access to famous personalities from the Islamic world.

Although Akbar was the third Timurid ruler of northern India, he is seen as the actual founder of the Mughal Empire. This view is partly due to the fact that he enjoyed a long reign of almost half a century (1556-1605), during which the empire prospered in all areas - militarily, politically and culturally. Akbar's predecessors, however, had it far less easy. His grandfather Bābur (1483-1530), the actual founder of the dynasty, only had four years as Indian ruler (1526-1530). Akbar's father Humāyūn (ruled 1530-1539; 1555-1556) was only able to exercise power for one year after his second conquest of northern India. Akbar's rule is characterized by the establishment of a centralized ruling apparatus and the consistent introduction of the most important administrative institutions.

Wink's study is divided into eight chapters. In the introduction the author illuminates the background of the dynasty and the first rulers. The favorable circumstance that contributed to Akbar's success, according to Wink, was the fact that Akbar, in contrast to his predecessors (and partly also to his successors), had hardly any rival relatives. He had only one half-brother, Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥakīm, who held the post of governor of Kabul. (3-4)

In the first section, despite the abundance of detailed and historical records from Akbar's reign, the author goes into the little-known childhood and development of the young prince. In addition to the military preparations (such as archery, fencing, riding and wrestling) and leisure activities such as hunting and sports, Wink grants an insight into the courtly training of the young Akbar. According to this, he had three teachers who all tried to teach him to read and write - however, due to a handicap, dyslexia, he ultimately remained illiterate.

The author deals with the first challenges of the ruler who came to the throne at the age of 14 in the second part of his study. In view of his youth, the affairs of government were first carried out by Bayram Ḫān (ruled 1556-1560) and then for a further three years by Māham Anaga, his wet nurse. Soon after, Akbar had to assert himself not only against the resistance of the Hindu Rajputs and Afghans under the command of the Hindu general Hēmū, but also against his regents and his milk brother Adham in order to consolidate his position.

In the next, extensive section, the author describes the campaigns and the organization of the Mughal army. Among the numerous military companies, the strength of the Mughals lay in the cavalry and especially in the mounted archers. Another advantage of their army, according to the author, was the availability of horses imported from the Central Asian steppes, which is why the control of the routes over the Hindu Kush and the city of Kabul was of particular importance. In addition, there were technical innovations such as the introduction of artillery and the use of firearms, which had made a significant contribution to Akbar's conquests and the status of one Gunpowder Empire brought in. Akbar also succeeded in integrating the Rajput warrior caste into the cavalry and adapting their war techniques. The author also describes the conquests to the strategically important Gujarat (fertile soil, access to the Arabian Sea) and to Bengal. A constant theme during Akbar's reign was the struggle for control of the Kabul area. Wink shows the context of the uprising of Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥakīm and describes Akbar's later campaigns against the Uzbeks.

In chapter four, the author gives impressive insights into the social activities of the ruler, especially the hunt for wild elephants, based on three examples he has chosen. The descriptive and sometimes detailed portrayal of Akbar's hunting expeditions, which were often combined with military campaigns against insurgents, gives the study narrative, almost novel-like features.

The successful transition to the next section is based on this Akbar-nāma from Abū l-Fażl 'Allāmī. The change of the "uncivilized Turko-Mongols" to the ruling elite - here is a graphic comparison with the Mongol Beasts cited - is equated with taming wild elephants. Wink is primarily concerned with the image change from barbaric, predatory and brutal "Tartar Mongols" to civilized Mughals, as the dynasty in the Indian subcontinent was called by others. The Persian name "Mughals" stood for the Mongols. The rulers themselves referred to themselves as the "Gūrkānī dynasty", which comes from the Mongolian guregen, "the son-in-law", and refers to Tīmūr's (1336-1405) marriage alliance with a princess from the tribe of Čingīz Ḫān (d. 1227). Akbar's policy of transforming a relaxed, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and heterogeneous following of post-nomadic military members into a disciplined leadership and creating a "separate identity" led to strict court etiquette. The author explains the new structures on an institutional, fiscal and private level: from strict discipline and time management to the moderate use of luxury foods. Wink points out the exemplary role of the ruler.

To what extent was the Mughal Empire centralized? What were the reasons for its decline? Wink asked these questions at the beginning of Chapter 6, although he was reluctant to give an unequivocal answer; he points out the complex source situation. For example, the original tax registers from Akbar's reign, which are so important for an interpretation, are missing - the existing sources provide little information and even contradicting figures.

Furthermore, Wink takes a position on the current state of research, according to which Akbar is often seen by historians as the real architect of the Mughal Empire and as an ingenious organizational talent, and explains such evaluations as at least partially misleading. Rather, Akbar's merit was that he systematized, rethought and then modified existing ideas and put them into practice. The ideas and conceptions in relation to the geographical and administrative infrastructure as well as the currency system could not be traced back to Bābur and Humāyūn alone, but represented an amalgam whose forerunners were rooted in Indo-Islamic and also Turkic-Mongolian rule traditions and institutions. The rank and salary system (manṣabdār) was also based on previous rulers of the Afghan Lōdī dynasty. Wink is thus on a line of argument that is also drawn by other Mughal researchers. [2]

In the penultimate section of the study, the author discusses Akbar's religious and intellectual views and shows his endeavors to introduce a recognized, comprehensive religious policy between heterogeneous religions and religious communities on the Indian subcontinent. [3] Akbar initially showed himself to be a loyal follower of Sunni Islam, although he had a clear inclination towards the mystics of the Čištiyya, which was widespread in India. Wink reports on the basis of traditions, above all those of the Jesuit missionaries and Badā'ūnīs Muntaḫab ut-tawārīḫ, of Akbar's apparent turning away from Islam. The assumption that the influence of the ruler by the Hindus at court played a decisive role here and the Dīn-i ilāhī (Divine religion) was brought into being out of purely political calculation, the author issues a strict rejection.

Finally, in the last chapter, Wink analyzes Akbar's personality: his appearance, his character and his dealings with relatives and subjects. The author devotes more attention to the countless wives of the ruler and closes the chapter with explanations about the circumstances of his death.

Overall, the work of André Wink is a concise and informative account of Akbar's career and the history of the Mughal Empire in the second half of the 16th century. Despite the wealth of information, he has succeeded in writing in simple and understandable language both for a broad readership and for academic circles. In his monograph, Wink takes into account the current state of research and cleverly embeds his argumentation in the scientific discourse of Mughal research. André Wink's monograph is highly recommended as an informative introduction to the history of the Mughal Empire and an interesting portrayal of Akbar's life.


[1] Friedrich August Graf von Noer: Emperor Akbar: an attempt on the history of India in the sixteenth century, 2 vols., Leiden 1880-1885; Vincent A. Smith: Akbar the Great Mogul, 1542-1605, Oxford 1919; Irfan Habib: Akbar and his India, Delhi 1989; Khaliq Ahmad Nizami: Akbar & Religion, 2nd ed., Delhi 2009.

[2] For example: Stephan Conermann: The Mughal Empire: History and Culture of Muslim India, Munich 2006, 47-48.

[3] The term "Akbar's religion" Dīn-i ilāhī (or Tauḥīd-i ilāhī) can only be found in Badā'ūnī. Grobbel's definition of "[...] a form of religion growing out of Islam [...] similar to Druze" follows the designation as an independent religion, an order, see Gerald Grobbel: The poet Faiḍī and religion Akbars, Berlin 2001, 71. See also his examination of this term, ibid., 45-46. Heike Franke also deals with this topic in her monograph Akbar and Čahāngīr: Investigations into political and religious legitimation in text and image, Schenefeld 2005, 13-14; 185-250.

André Wink: Akbar, Oxford: Oneworld Publications 2009, 124 pages, ISBN 9781851686056, USD 40.00

Rosa Hartung: Review by: André Wink: Akbar, Oxford: Oneworld Publications 2009, in: sehepunkte 11 (2011), No. 3 [03/15/2011], URL: http://www.sehepunkte.de/2011/03/ 19730.html

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