Akbar - George Malleson - ebook

Akbar ebook

George Malleson



I crave the indulgence of the reader whilst I explain as briefly as possible the plan upon which I have written this short life of the great sovereign who firmly established the Mughal dynasty in India.

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George Malleson


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I CRAVE THE INDULGENCE OF the reader whilst I explain as briefly as possible the plan upon which I have written this short life of the great sovereign who firmly established the Mughal dynasty in India.1

1 For the purposes of this sketch I have referred to the following authorities: Memoirs of Bábar, written by himself, and translated by Leyden and Erskine; Erskine’s Bábar and Humáyún;The Ain-í-Akbarí (Blochmann’s translation); The History of India, as told by its own Historians, edited from the posthumous papers of Sir H. M. Elliot, K.C.B., by Professor Dowson; Dow’s Ferishta; Elphinstone’s History of India; Tod’s Annals of Rajast’han, and various other works.

The original conception of such an empire was not Akbar’s own. His grandfather, Bábar, had conquered a great portion of India, but during the five years which elapsed between the conquest and his death, Bábar enjoyed but few opportunities of donning the robe of the administrator. By the rivals whom he had overthrown and by the children of the soil, Bábar was alike regarded as a conqueror, and as nothing more. A man of remarkable ability, who had spent all his life in arms, he was really an adventurer, though a brilliant adventurer, who, soaring above his contemporaries in genius, taught in the rough school of adversity, had beheld from his eyrie at Kábul the distracted condition of fertile Hindustán, and had dashed down upon her plains with a force that was irresistible. Such was Bábar, a man greatly in advance of his age, generous, affectionate, lofty in his views, yet, in his connection with Hindustán, but little more than a conqueror. He had no time to think of any other system of administration than the system with which he had been familiar all his life, and which had been the system introduced by his Afghán predecessors into India, the system of governing by means of large camps, each commanded by a general devoted to himself, and each occupying a central position in a province. It is a question whether the central idea of Bábar’s policy was not the creation of an empire in Central Asia rather than of an empire in India.

Into this system the welfare of the children of the soil did not enter. Possibly, if Bábar had lived, and had lived in the enjoyment of his great abilities, he might have come to see, as his grandson saw, that such a system was practically unsound; that it was wanting in the great principle of cohesion, of uniting the interests of the conquering and the conquered; that it secured no attachment, and conciliated no prejudices; that it remained, without roots, exposed to all the storms of fortune. We, who know Bábar by his memoirs, in which he unfolds the secrets of his heart, confesses all his faults, and details all his ambitions, may think that he might have done this if he had had the opportunity. But the opportunity was denied to him. The time between the first battle of Pánípat, which gave him the north-western provinces of India, and his death, was too short to allow him to think of much more than the securing of his conquests, and the adding to them of additional provinces. He entered India a conqueror. He remained a conqueror, and nothing more, during the five years he ruled at Agra.

His son, Humáyún, was not qualified by nature to perform the task which Bábar had been obliged to neglect. His character, flighty and unstable, and his abilities, wanting in the constructive faculty, alike unfitted him for the duty. He ruled eight years in India without contributing a single stone to the foundation of an empire that was to remain. When, at the end of that period, his empire fell, as had fallen the kingdoms of his Afghán predecessors, and from the same cause, the absence of any roots in the soil, the result of a single defeat in the field, he lost at one blow all that Bábar had gained south of the Indus. India disappeared, apparently for ever, from the grasp of the Mughal.

The son of Bábar had succumbed to an abler general, and that abler general had at once completely supplanted him. Fortunately for the Mughal, more fortunately still for the people of India, that abler general, though a man of great ability, had inherited views not differing in any one degree from those of the Afghán chiefs who had preceded him in the art of establishing a dynasty. The conciliation of the millions of Hindustán did not enter into his system. He, too, was content to govern by camps located in the districts he had conquered. The consequence was that when he died other men rose to compete for the empire. The confusion rose in the course of a few years to such a height, that in 1554, just fourteen years after he had fled from the field of Kanauj, Humáyún recrossed the Indus, and recovered Northern India. He was still young, but still as incapable of founding a stable empire as when he succeeded his father.

He left behind him writings which prove that, had his life been spared, he would still have tried to govern on the old plan which had broken in the hands of so many conquerors who had gone before him, and in his own. Just before his death he drew up a system for the administration of India. It was the old system of separate camps in a fixed centre, each independent of the other, but all supervised by the Emperor. It was an excellent plan, doubtless, for securing conquered provinces, but it was absolutely deficient in any scheme for welding the several provinces and their people into one harmonious whole.

The accident which deprived Humáyún of his life before the second battle of Pánípat had bestowed upon the young Akbar, then a boy of fourteen, the succession to the empire of Bábar, was, then, in every sense, fortunate for Hindustán. Humáyún, during his long absence, his many years of striving with fortune, had learnt nothing and had forgotten nothing. The boy who succeeded him, and who, although of tender years, had already had as many adventures, had seen as many vicissitudes of fortune, as would fill the life of an ordinary man, was untried. He had indeed by his side a man who was esteemed the greatest general of that period, but whose mode of governing had been formed in the rough school of the father of his pupil. This boy, however, possessed, amid other great talents, the genius of construction. During the few years that he allowed his famous general to govern in his name, he pondered deeply over the causes which had rendered evanescent all the preceding dynasties, which had prevented them from taking root in the soil. When he had matured his plans, he took the government into his own hands, and founded a dynasty which flourished so long as it adhered to his system, and which began to decay only when it departed from one of its main principles, the principle of toleration and conciliation.

I trust that in the preceding summary I have made it clear to the reader that whilst, in a certain sense, Bábar was the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, he transmitted to his successor only the idea of the mere conqueror. Certainly Humáyún inherited only that idea, and associating it with no other, lost what his father had won. It is true that he ultimately regained a portion of it, but still as a mere conqueror. It was the grandson who struck into the soil the roots which took a firm hold of it, sprung up, and bore rich and abundant fruit in the happiness and contentment of the conquered races.

This is the argument to the development of which I have devoted the following pages. The book seems to me naturally to divide itself into three parts. To Bábar, as the developer of the idea of the invasion and conquest of India, I have devoted the first part. He was a remarkable man, and he would have been remarkable in any age. When he died, at the early age of forty-eight, he left behind him a record which may be read with interest and profit even at the close of this nineteenth century. It has seemed to me the more necessary to devote a considerable space to him inasmuch as the reader will not fail to discern, in the actions of the grandson, the spirit and energy and innate nobility of character of the grandfather. Of Humáyún, whose life properly belongs to the first part, I have written as much only as seemed to me necessary to illustrate the cause of his fall, and to describe the early days of the hero of the book, who was born in Sind, during the father’s flight from India.

The remaining two-thirds of the book have been given to Akbar. But, here again, I have subdivided the subject. In the first of the two-thirds, I have narrated, from the pages and on the authority of contemporary Muhammadan historians, the political events of the reign. In the last chapter I have endeavoured to paint the man. From the basis of the records of the Ain-í-Akbarí and other works I have tried to show what he was as an administrator, as an organiser, as the promulgator of a system which we English have to a great extent inherited, as a conciliator of differences which had lasted through five hundred years, of prejudices which had lived for all time. I have described him as a husband, as a father, as a man, who, despite of a religious education abounding in the inculcation of hostility to all who differed from him, gave his intellect the freest course, and based his conduct on the teachings of his intellect. This chapter, I am free to confess, constitutes the most interesting portion of the book. For the sake of it, I must ask the reader to pardon me for inflicting upon him that which precedes it.




ON THE 9TH OF APRIL, 1336, there was born to the chief of the Birbás, a tribe of the purest Mughal origin, at Shehr-Sebz, thirty miles to the north of Samarkand, a son, the eldest of his family. This boy, who was called Taimur, and who was descended in the female line from Chengiz Khán, was gifted by nature with the qualities which enable a man to control his fellow men. Fortune gave him the chance to employ those qualities to the best advantage. The successors of Chengiz Khán in the male line had gradually sunk into feebleness and sloth, and, in 1370, the family in that line had died out. Taimur, then thirty-four, seized the vacated seat, gained, after many vicissitudes of fortune, the complete upper hand, and established himself at Samarkand the undisputed ruler of all the country between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. Then he entered upon that career of conquest which terminated only with his life. He established his authority in Mughalistán, or the country between the Tibet mountains, the Indus and Mekrán, to the north, and Siberia to the north; in Kipchak, the country lying north of the lower course of the Jaxartes, the sea of Aral, and the Caspian, including the rich lands on the Don and Wolga, and part of those on the Euxine; he conquered India, and forced the people of territories between the Dardanelles and Delhi to acknowledge his supremacy. When he died, on the 18th February, 1405, he left behind him one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.

After his death his empire rapidly broke up, and although it was partly reconstituted by his great-grandson, Abusáid, the death of this prince in 1469, when surprised in the defiles of the mountains near Ardebil, and the defeat of his army, precipitated a fresh division among his sons. To the third of these, Umershaikh Mirzá, was assigned the province of Fergháná, known also, from the name of its capital, as Khokand.

Umershaikh was the father of Bábar. He was an ambitious man, bent on increasing his dominions. But the other members of his family were actuated by a like ambition, and when he died from the effects of an accident, in 1494, he was actually besieged in Akhsí, a fortress-castle which he had made his capital.

His eldest son, Bábar, then just twelve years old, was at the time at Andijan, thirty-six miles from Akhsí. The enemy was advancing on Andijan. Bábar, the day following his father’s death (June 9), seized the citadel, and opened negotiations with the invader. His efforts would have availed him little, if there had not existed jealousies and divisions in the hostile camp. These worked for him so as to secure to him all that remained of Fergháná. But he had lost the important towns of Khojend, Marghinan, and Uratiupé.

For two years after the retirement of the invader, the boy rested, consolidating his resources, and watching his opportunity. Then, troubles having arisen in Samarkand, he made a dash at that city, then the most important in Central Asia. He forced its surrender (November, 1497), but as he would not allow his troops to pillage, these deserted him by thousands. He held on, however, until the news that Fergháná was invaded compelled him to quit his hold. On the eve of his departure he was prostrated by a severe illness, and when at length he reached Fergháná it was to hear that his capital had surrendered to his enemies. He was, in fact, a king without a kingdom. ‘To save Andijan,’ he wrote, ‘I had given up Samarkand: and now I found that I had lost the one without preserving the other.’

He persevered, however, recovered Fergháná, though a Fergháná somewhat shorn of its proportions, and once more made a dash at Samarkand. The Uzbeks, however, forced him to raise the siege, and, his own dominions having in the interval been overrun and conquered, he fell back in the direction of Kesh, his birthplace. After many adventures and strivings with fortune, he resolved with the aid of the very few adherents who remained to him, to return and attempt the surprise of Samarkand. It was a very daring venture, for his entire following numbered but two hundred and forty men. He made the attempt, was foiled; renewed it, and succeeded. He was but just in time. For the last of the garrison had but just yielded, when the chief of the Uzbeks was seen riding hard for the place, at the head of the vanguard of his army. He had to retire, baffled.

But Bábar could not keep his conquest. The following spring the Uzbeks returned in force. To foil them Bábar took up a very strong position outside the city, on the Bokhára road, his right flank covered by the river Kohik. Had he been content to await his enemy in this position, he would probably have compelled him to retire, for it was too strong to be forced. But he was induced by the astrologers, against his own judgment, to advance beyond it to attack the Uzbek army. In the battle which followed, and which he almost won, he was eventually beaten, and retreated within the walls of the city. Here he maintained himself for five months, but had then to succumb to famine. He was allowed to quit the city with his following, and made his way, first to Uratiupé, ultimately to Dehkát, a village assigned to him by the reigning Khán of the former place. For three years that followed he lived the life of an adventurer: now an exile in the desert; now marching and gaining a throne; always joyous; always buoyed up by hope of ultimate success; always acting with energy and vigour. He attempted to win back, and had been forced to abandon, Fergháná; then he resolved, with a motley band of two to three hundred men, to march on Khorásán. It seemed madness, but the madness had a method. How he marched, and what was the result of his march, will be told in the next chapter.




AT THIS PERIOD THE KINGDOM of Kábul comprehended solely the provinces of Kábul and Ghazní, the territory which we should call eastern Afghánistán. Herát was the capital of an independent empire, at this time the greatest in Central Asia; and Kandahár, Bajáur, Swát, and Pesháwar, were ruled by chiefs who had no connection with Kábul. The tribes of the plains and outlying valleys alone acknowledged the authority of the King of that country. The clans of the mountains were as independent and refractory as their descendants were up to a recent period. Kábul at this time was in a state bordering upon anarchy. The late King, Abdul-rizák, a grandson of the Abusáid referred to in the preceding chapter, had been surprised in, and driven from, the city, by Muhammad Mokim, a son of the ruler of Kandahár, and that prince, taking no thought of the morrow, was reigning as though all the world were at peace, and he at least were free from danger.

Bábar, I have said, tired of his wandering life, had resolved to march on Khorásán. He crossed the Oxus, therefore, and joined by Bákí, the son of Sultán Khusrou, ruler of the country, marched on Ajer, remained there a few days; then, hearing that the Mughals in Khusrou’s service had revolted, he marched towards Talikán, so as to be able to take advantage of the situation. Between the two places he was joined by the Mughals in question, and learnt that Sultán Khusrou, with the remainder of his troops, was on his way to Kábul. The two armies were so close to one another, that an interview took place between the leaders, which resulted in the complete submission of Khusrou, whose troops came over in crowds to Bábar. Thus strengthened, Bábar marched upon Kábul, besieged it, and took it (October, 1504). By this sudden change of fortune, he found himself all at once King of Kábul and Ghazní, a kingdom far more powerful than the Fergháná which he had inherited and lost.

Bábar had but just began to feel his seat in his new kingdom when he received an invitation to invade a district called Bhera, south of the river Jehlam, and therefore within the borders of India. The invitation was too agreeable to his wishes to be refused, and he accordingly set out for Jalálábád. The time was January, 1505. The Sultán—for so he was styled—records in his journals the impression produced upon him by the first sight of that favoured part of Asia, an impression shared, doubtless, by his successors in the path of invasion, and which may well account for their determination to push on. ‘I had never before,’ he wrote, ‘seen warm countries nor the country of Hindustán. On reaching them, I all at once saw a new world; the vegetables, the plants, the trees, the wild animals, all were different. I was struck with astonishment, and indeed there was room for wonder.’ He then proceeded by the Khaibar Pass to Pesháwar, and, not crossing the Indus, marched by Kohát, Bangash, Banú, and Desht Daman, to Múltán. Thence he followed the course of the Indus for a few days, then turned westward, and returned to Kábul by way of Chotiálí and Ghazní. The expedition has been called Bábar’s first invasion of India, but as he only touched the fringes of the country, it took rather the character of a reconnoitring movement. Such as it was, it filled him with an earnest desire to take an early opportunity to see more.

But, like every other conqueror who has been attracted by India, he deemed it of vital importance to secure himself in the first place of Kandahár. Internal troubles for a time delayed the expedition. Then, when these had been appeased, external events came to demand his attention. His old enemy, Shaibání, was once more ruling at Samarkand, and, after some lesser conquests, had come to lay siege to Balkh. Sultán Husen Mirzá of Herát, alarmed at his progress, sent at once a messenger to Bábar to aid him in an attack on the invader. Bábar at once responded, and setting out from Kábul in June, 1506, reached Kahmerd, and halted there to collect and store supplies. He was engaged in this work when the information was brought him by a messenger that Sultán Husen Mirzá was dead. He at once pushed on, and after a march of eight hundred miles joined the sons of the late Sultán and their army on the river Murgháb.

Two of the sons of the Sultán had succeeded him as joint-rulers. Bábar found them elegant, accomplished, and intelligent, but effeminate, devoted to pleasure, and utterly incapable of making head against the hardy Shaibání. Whilst they were pleasuring in camp, the latter had taken Balkh. After some discussion, the two kings decided to break up their army and recommence in the spring. Winter was now coming on, and Bábar was persuaded, against his better judgment, to visit his two hosts at Herát. His description of that royal city takes up pages of his autobiography.1 For twenty days he visited every day fresh places; nor was it till the 24th of December that he decided to march homewards.

1Memoirs of Bábar, translated by Leyden and Erskine, pp. 203-208.

Our countrymen who served in Afghánistán during the war of 1879-81 can realise what that march must have been; how trying, how difficult, how all but impossible. The distance was twenty days’ journey in summer. The road across the mountains, though not very difficult in summer, was especially trying in the depth of winter, and it was at that season, the snow falling around him, that Bábar undertook it. He himself showed the way, and with incredible exertion led the army, exhausted and reckless, to the foot of the Zirín Pass. There the situation seemed hopeless. The storm was violent; the snow was deep; and the Pass was so narrow that but one person could pass at a time. Still Bábar pushed on, and at nightfall reached a cave large enough to admit a few persons. With the generosity which was a marked feature of his character he made his men enter it, whilst, shovel in hand, he dug for himself a hole in the snow, near its mouth. Meanwhile those within the cave had discovered that its proportions increased as they went further in, and that it could give shelter to fifty or sixty persons. On this Bábar entered, and shared with his men their scanty store of provisions. Next morning, the snow and tempest ceased, and the army pushed on. At length, towards the end of February, he approached Kábul, only, however, to learn that a revolt had taken place in the city, and that although his garrison was faithful, the situation was critical. Bábar was equal to the occasion. Opening communication with his partisans, by a well-executed surprise he regained the place. His treatment of the rebels was merciful in the extreme.

During the spring of that year, 1507, Shaibání Khán, the Uzbek chief, who had formerly driven Bábar from Samarkand, had attacked and taken Balkh; then invaded Khorásán and occupied Herát. Kandahár, which had been to a certain extent a dependency of the rulers of Herát, had been seized by the sons of Mír Zulnun Beg, who had been its Governor under Sultán Husen Mirzá, and these had invoked the assistance of Bábar against Shaibání. Bábar, accordingly, marched for Kandahár. On his way thither, he was joined by many of the flying adherents of the expelled House of Sultán Husen. But, before he could reach Kandahár, Shaibání Khán had put pressure on the sons of Zulnun, and these had accepted his sovereignty. They notified this act to Bábar in a manner not to be mistaken. The latter, therefore, prepared to make good his claims by force of arms.

His army was not numerous, but he had confidence in it and in himself. From Kilát-í-Ghilzaí, where he first scented the change of front at Kandahár, he had marched to the ford across the Tarnak. Thence, confirmed in his ideas, he moved in order of battle, along the course of the stream, to Bábá Walí, five or six miles to the north of Kandahár, and had occupied the hill of Kálíshad. Here he intended to rest, and sent out his foragers to collect supplies. But, soon after these had quitted the camp, he beheld the enemy’s army, to the number of five thousand, move from the city towards him. He had but a thousand men under arms, the remainder being engaged in foraging, but he saw it was not a time to hesitate. Ranging his men in defensive order, he awaited the attack. That attack was led in person by the sons of Zulnun with great gallantry; but Bábar not only repulsed it, and forced the assailants to flee, but, in his pursuit, he cut them off from the city, which surrendered to him with all its treasures. The spoils of the place were magnificently rich. Bábar did not, however, remain in Kandahár. Leaving his brother, Nasír Mirzá, to defend it, he returned to Kábul, and arrived there at the end of July (1507), as he writes, ‘with much plunder and great reputation.’

Hardly had he arrived when he learned that Shaibání Khán had arrived before Kandahár and was besieging his brother there. He was puzzled how to act, for he was not strong enough to meet Shaibání in the field. A strategist by nature, he recognised at the moment that the most effective mode open to him would be to make an offensive demonstration. He doubted only whether such a demonstration should be directed against Badakshán, whence he could threaten Samarkand, or against India. Finally he decided in favour of the latter course, and, as prompt in action as he was quick in decision, he set out for the Indus, marching down the Kábul river. When, however, he had been a few days at Jalálábád, he heard that Kandahár had surrendered to Shaibání. Upon this, the object of the expedition having vanished, he returned to Kábul.

I must pass lightly over the proceedings of the next seven years, eventful though they were. In those years, from 1507 to 1514, Bábar marching northwards, recovered Fergháná, defeated the Uzbeks, and took Bokhára and Samarkand. But the Uzbeks, returning, defeated Bábar at Kulmalik, and forced him to abandon those two cities. Attempting to recover them, he was defeated again at Ghajdewan and driven back to Hisár.2 Finding, after a time, his chances there desperate, he returned to Kábul. This happened in the early months of 1514.

2 There are two other Hisárs famous in Eastern history: the one in India about a hundred miles north of Delhi: the other in the province of Azarbijan, in Persia, thirty-two miles from the Takht-i-Sulaimán. The Hisár referred to in the text is a city on an affluent of the Oxus, a hundred and thirty miles north-east of Balkh.

Again there was an interval of eight years, also to be passed lightly over. During that period Bábar chastised the Afgháns of the mountains, took Swát, and finally acquired Kandahár by right of treaty (1522). He took possession of, and incorporated in his dominions, that city and its dependencies, including parts of the lowlands lying chiefly along the lower course of the Helmand.

Meanwhile Sháh Beg, the eldest son of the Zulnun, who had formerly ruled in Kandahár, had marched upon and had conquered Sind, and had made Bukkur the capital. He died in June, 1524. As soon as this intelligence reached the Governor of Narsápur, Sháh Hásán, that nobleman, a devoted adherent of the family of Taimur, proclaimed Bábar ruler of the country, and caused the Khatbá, or prayer for the sovereign, to be read in his name throughout Sind. There was considerable opposition, but Sháh Hásán conquered the whole province, and governed it, acknowledging Bábar as his suzerain. At length, in 1525, was invited to Múltán. He marched against the fortress, and, after a protracted siege, took it by storm (August or September, 1526). Meanwhile, great events had happened in India. On the 29th of April, of the same year, the battle of Pánípat had delivered India into the hands of Bábar. Before proceeding to narrate his invasion of that country it is necessary that I should describe, very briefly, the condition of its actual rulers at the time.