A Date with Mujaddid Alf-i Sāni, Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi

The first view across the green fields
The complex
The Tomb of Shaikh Ahmad & his sons

I never ever thought of ever having a date with Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi Mujaddid-i Alf-i Sāni, the Redeemer of the second Millennium who lies buried at Sirhind in Punjab. But destiny willed otherwise and the Shaikh beckoned me to his tomb at Sirhind!

Shaikh Ahmad of Sirhind was an uncompromising orthodox with whom I can never see eye to eye. Like Jahangir, I also believe that he had “opened a shop of sedition” and strife between communities.

I had heard of the Shaikh from my childhood when we used to go to Agra to visit the tomb of Qazi Nurullah Shustari who had been allegedly done to death due to Shaikh Ahmad’s insinuations. Again I heard of him when I read one of Professor Khaliq Ahmad Nizami’s piece where he alleged that Nur Jahāñ caused the incarceration of the Shaikh as she was a Shia and held him responsible for the execution of the Shia Qazi!

My real exposure to the Shaikh was however when I was doing my MA in history and Professor M Athar Ali taught us about him and his movement. It was a much more moderate view of Sirhindi which I had heard so far! And then I read Yohanne Friedman’s detailed article on him. And then ultimately I went through the pathbreaking article written by Irfan Habib where he analysed the thought and writings of Shaikh Ahmad threadbare.

Belonging to the Naqshbandi Silsila (Order), Shaikh Ahmad was a disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billah, buried in Delhi. He believed that Islam had been severely contaminated with heterodoxy. Shi’ism and Hindus had both so polluted the true faith, that the true piety had disappeared and that as a new millennium was starting, there was the need of a Redeemer. He believed that he himself was that great Redeemer who was destined to save the religion of Islam: he was the Mujaddid of the Second Millennium.

He wrote letter after letter to various nobles (and interestingly none apparently replied or even acknowledged these letters) that to sit with Shias and Hindus was similar to eating food with dogs!

Sirhindi also wrote a treatise under the title “Radd-e-Rawafiz” to justify the slaughter of shias by Abdullah Khan Uzbek in Mashhad. In this he argues:

“Since the Shia permit cursing Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and one of the chaste wives (of the Prophet), which in itself constitutes infedality, it is incumbent upon the Muslim ruler, nay upon all people, in compliance with the command of the Omniscient King (Allah), to kill them and to oppress them in order to elevate the true religion. It is permissible to destroy their buildings and to seize their property and belongings.”

In one dream included in his Maktūbāt, he narrated how he while being taken to heavens to meet God, passed the stages of the Four Pious Caliphs and with the exception to the Prophet (thankfully) he reached closest to the God!

He wrote that in this dream when an angel led him towards heaven, he reached a stage where there was a beautiful mansion which he was told was of the fourth Caliph, Imām Ali. He proceeded further and reached a second mansion which was that of Uthman. He was urged to go further and thus he reached the mansion of second Caliph. He then went further where he found the mansion of Abu Bakr the first Pious Caliph. However, his journey didn’t end there, as he was beckoned to go beyond these limits and go closer to God than any of them!

Jahangir was left with no option but to throw him in jail in 1610-11 where he remained for around a year. In the Tuzuk Jahangir says that Shaikh Ahmad had opened a dukan of sedition and strife which had to be quelled. Subsequent to his release the nature of his letters changes. The second volume of his Maktubat are now devoid of rabidly communal claims as contained in volume one. All the rhetoric against the Hindus and Shias is now gone! He is ultimately said to have died by 1624. He however remained popular even after his death.

Later day Mujaddidi sources also allege that he played an active role in the execution of the Shia divine, judge and scholar Qazi Nurullah Shushtari. The contemporary sources of the period however are absolutely silent on this issue.

The Mujaddidi sources, especially those like Rūd i Kausar and Āb i Kausar stress his political role. The compilations of his letters in three volumes, Maktūbāt i Imām Rabbāni, have letters which he allegedly wrote to many high nobles of Akbar and Jahangir where he is found critical of Akbar’s and Jahangir’s religious views. He is also found exhorting the nobles to act against such moves. The Mujaddidi sources also claim that it was due to Shaikh Ahmad that Jahangir got the throne: Jahangir’s accession was a triumph of Islam!

Unfortunately these claims are belied by history! No historical source of the period mention him or his alleged role! Even Jahangir on coming to the throne took measures, and openly declared that he was following the footsteps of his father and that his religious views were the same as that of his father! And this finds support from the newly discovered Jahangiri source, the Majālis i Jahangiri compiled by Abdul Sattar Lahori!

Further, Irfan Habib has perceptively pointed out: yes the letters written to various nobles by Shaikh Ahmad are there in his own collection. But did any of the alleged nobles ever reply back to him? We have no evidence that any grand noble was ever in his influence or ever took any notice of him. It was just self claim and posturing!

While on a visit to Patiala for a conference, I had the chance to visit the “shrine” of this orthodox saint at Sirhind, now called Fatehgarh Sahib.

At Fatehgarh Sahib, I skipped the Jahangiri Bāgh and Palace complex, but decided to visit the tomb of the controversial saint. It was as if he was beckoning me! So after visiting a few early Mughal period tombs and the Gurudwara, we headed straight to where the Shaikh lies buried: in fact the only “Muslim” shrine or structure in the whole region which is “living” and “thriving” with visitors and curious travellers like us!

In spite of his own teachings to not revere the dead, a big shrine has been built over his grave, an annual Urs is also held despite his teachings and chadors (grave covering cloth) are offered.

His dargah appears like any other dargah of a Sufi who’s rituals he was critical about: the same type of reverence being showered to the grave, the rituals of chadorposhi and the mujawirs eyeing your pocket for nazrana! However the whole layout of the complex as well as the main shrine, reminds one more of the Gurudwara architecture of the nearby area.

The complex spans over several courtyards, individuals tomb structures as well as simple graves of the devotees of the Shaikh. One of the prominent tomb is that of an Afghan king, Shāh Zaman and his wife.

The portal
The entry gate
The large passage which leads to the shrine
A subsidiary structure in the complex
Grave of Sirhindi
Tomb of Shāh Zaman

I had no wish to meet him at a spiritual level, but as a historian I had a date with him on 19th March 2017: it provided me neither with spiritual solace or satisfaction as a historian: as the place is nothing but a modern structure- a whim of some modern disciple of the Naqshbandi Silsila, the only chain of Sufis who have nothing to do with Imam Ali!

Emergence of Mughal School of Architecture under Akbar

It was the period of Akbar which laid the foundation of the Mughal Architecture as it developed in India. Traditionally speaking, there are a number of architectural features which are associated with the reign of Akbar. According to Percy Brown these salient features were:

The structures were chiefly executed in red sandstone with insertions of white marble introduced for purposes of emphasis.

The construction, in principle, was of the trabeate order, and the use of arcuate and trabeate was in almost equal proportions.

The technique of building construction was not far removed from a wooden archetype, a method of construction that was still practised in the more northern parts of the country, like Punjab and Kashmir.

 The dome was of the “Lodi” type, sometimes built hollow but never technically of the true double order.

 The pillar shafts were usually many-sided and the capitals were almost invariably in the form of bracket supports.

As to the ornamentation, carved or boldly inlaid patterns were common while painted designs were often introduced on the interior walls and ceilings.

As the Mughals considered themselves to be the heirs of the Timurid tradition, they borrowed heavily from the Iranian style which had developed under the Ilkhanids, Timurids, and Muzaffarids. When Babur came, he brought along with him two Iranian architects, Ustad Mir Mirak Ghiyas of Herat and Ustad Shah Muhammad of Khurasan. Recent researches have also shown that the Indo-Muslim architecture, as it developed in Medieval India, heavily borrowed stylistic, idiomatic (characteristic forms, architectonic and decorative), axiomorphic (form appropriate to the purpose of the structure) and aesthetic traditions from Iranian, Trans-Oxonian and regional Indian styles. Mughal architecture borrowed extensively from Delhi Sultanate, Sharqi, Gujarat, Malwa, Bengal,and Rajasthani styles as well as from styles abroad, so much so that it has itself been defined as a synthesis of this foreign and indigenous styles.

It should be borne in mind that much of this borrowing and the synthesis of the Iranian and Central Asian style with the Indo-Muslim style of architecture in India took place especially during the reign of Akbar. It was a period when a large borrowing of ‘Indian’ traditions in the field of art, literature, painting, music and architecture takes place. These were seamlessly diffused in the newly emerging Iranian and Timurid idiomatics, axiomorphics and aesthetics.

During this reign structures were generally constructed on Central Asian and Iranian plans while the surface decorations, more or less, were as per the traditions more closer at hand.

The Iranian / Timurid Influences:

1. The Iranian four- centred (as well as the two centred) pointed arch which came to be identified as the typical Mughal arch during the reign of Akbar.

2. A plan which has been labelled hasht bihisht or nonipartite plan. [Humayun T – chamfered, square etc]

3. the ‘arch-and-panel’ articulation

4. The stellate vaults (the Chahar taq) based on cruciform domed-chambers [a square vaulted chamber spanned by four large intersecting arches, resting on massive wide piers, form a cruciform with an open square in the centre. This square is then turned into a polygon or circle with the help of smaller arches, supplemented by the decorative ribs rising from the main arches. In this chahartaq plan, the Iranian architects improvised a new type of a vaulting system, now generally known as the Khurasanian vault. The Khurasanian (multi-partite) vault was invoked by the Timurid architects by reviving the Ilkhanid and Seljuq stelliform vault on the system of intersecting arches

The Indegenous Influences:

1. As far as the residential structures are concerned, it appears that the Akbari architects preferred the indigenous plan known in India since the Mauryan times, the well known catuhśālā plan. [Jodhbai Palace, Jahangiri Mahal]

2. The surface decoration: carvings, ‘Lodi domes’, the use of trabeate roofs etc

3. Templar Mosques: the triplication of the sanctuary, Secondly we find the placement of the mosque on a high plinth or platform, Thirdly greater sacrality is given to the western liwan through a gradual hierarchy starting from the portals.

4. This process, however, a two way process: if the temple architecture had its influence on the mosque construction, the Akbari temples were not left far behind in this process of shared heritage and feature exchange. The Govind Dev Temple at Vrindavan, Mathura has a typical cruciform plan covered with a well developed Timurud chahartaq Khurasanian vault. This temple along with Madan Mohan Temple and Jagat Kishore temple resemble the elevations and surface decorations of Akbari red sand stone structures at Fathpur Sikri and else where.

5. The most distinguishing feature of the Akbari architecture was the use and combination of the post-and-beam trabeate technique of construction with the arcuate. From the ‘Akbari Mahal’ and ‘Jahangiri Mahal’ at Agra Fort to almost all the structures at Fathpur Sikri to the Vrindavan temples, this blending of the two very diverse techniques is encountered. So much so that even when a building is domed or vaulted, the dome or the vault is deliberately hidden below a flat platform giving the structure a classic trabeate shape. The trabeate style is further accentuated by providing heavy brackets to the drooping eaves. It seems that the Akbari architects were trying to hide the arcuate elements of the structures.

6. Secondly the Akbari architect dispersed these visually hidden vaulted and domed chambers around vast open spaces which were linked to each other through elaborate post-and-beam colonnades. Some of these colonnaded structures were super-imposed to form two or more stories. Two examples of such constructions are the Khilwatkada structure in the daulatkhana-i Anuptalao and the chaharsuffa (Panch Mahal) in the buffer-zone between the Shabistan-i Iqbal and the daulatkhana.

7. The Khilwatkada structure is a double-platformed post-and-beam construction on top of which is constructed the khwabgah with a covered (hidden) circular vault. This structure appears to have been loosely based on the palace of Mahmud Begra at Sarkhej.

8. However the most distinguishing feature which can be discerned from the study of the development of architecture under Akbar is that though the post-and-beam tradition might have been derived from the local indigenous trabeated examples, the Akbari architects, known as muhandis (geometricians), tempered it with their recently acquired geometrical knowledge of weights and measures. The trabeate structures of Akbar are lighter and slimmer as compared to their cousins in Rajasthan-Gujarat-Malwa tradition. Secondly, as Koch puts it, the use of red sand stone, apart from its symbolic connotation of being the colour of the sovereign, ‘glossed over stylistic clashes resulting from the amalgamation’ of heterogenous architectural traditions of the Timurid, Central Asian and the more indigenous styles of the Delhi Sultanate, Bengal, Rajputana, malwa and Gujarat. The symbiotic result was the secular architecture of Akbar which was ultimately to result in the Taj, the most indigenous and famous of the Mughal monuments.

Akbar’s strive at religious and cultural reconciliation, in particular between his Hindu and Muslim subjects, has been used to explain the arts created for him, especially his architecture. Akbar built more and on a larger scale than any Indian ruler before him, we owe to his patronage the great Mughal fortress palaces of Agra (1564-1570s), and Lahore (completed 1580), the suburban residence Fathpur Sikri with its monumental mosque (1571-85), and Humayun’s tomb at Delhi (1562-71), to name just the most outstanding architectural achievements of his reign.  It is however not quite clear to which extend Akbar was personally interested in architecture; Abu’l Fazl has remarkable little to say about it, and the Jesuit observer Monserrate refers to it as an occasion for Akbar to demonstrate his physical prowess, when he mingled with his builders and carried blocks of stones.  The official Akbari view on architecture can be obtained from Qandahari, another historian, who claimed that Akbar designed parts of Fatehpur Sikri, and who represented the architecture of his emperor as a testimony to his rule:

“…a good name for kings is [achieved by means] of lofty buildings …That is to say the standard of the measure of men is assessed by the worth of [their] building (`imarat) and from their high-mindedness is estimated the state of their house.”


“Whosoever saw the spacious expanse of that place (makan) and the arrangement of ornament (nuzhat) of that edifice (bunyan) [ the Agra fort]  found the affairs of the kingdom and means of authority in full accord with this order and the high and low, in consonance with allegiance and obedience.”

           These statements of Qandahari justify the interpretation of Akbar’s architecture as a “lithic expression of his policies,” to borrow a phrase from Giles Tillotson who argues against it. However, art historians have too easily drawn an equation between the forms of Akbar’s architecture and his Weltanschauung (philosophy of life). A common practice, which goes back to British notions of the nineteenth century, is to describe arches and vaults as “Muslim”, and brackets and beams as “Hindu”, and their common use in one building as an expression of Akbar’s tolerance. 

         Abu’l Fazl saw the use of Indian forms rather in regional terms; he tells us that the buildings of the Red Fort of Agra “were built in the beautiful styles of Gujarat and Bengal.” Gujarat in particular had, as no other region of India,  absorbed older local  forms in its Muslim architecture, thus  the Gujarati  buildings types and  forms adopted in Akbari architecture could be read as “Hindu”, if one wanted to disregard their historical development. A particular telling example comes from the so called Astrologer’s Seat at Fathpur Sikri. Its prominent caterpillar (ilika-valana) or serpentine brackets are a characteristic element of the architecture of Gujarat and thus they have caused this pavilion frequently to be cited as evidence of the direct imitation of Gujarati Hindu or Jain religious architecture. But the structure has a much nearer forerunner in an Islamic building of Gujarat, in the mukabbar kiosk in the courtyard of the Jami` Masjid in Cambay, constructed in 1325.  This means that Akbar’s builders made with the Astrologer’s Seat a reference to what they considered a trans-culturally successful regional style of India.

Another Indian style which was highly influential for the architecture of Akbar was the ornamental sandstone tradition of the early Delhi sultanate. It had gone out of fashion during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Delhi but continued   uninterrupted in provincial centers like Bayana or Kannauj, creating an architectural heritage from which early Mughal architecture could draw its inspiration.

When we want to regard Akbari architecture as a testimony of his rule, it seems more likely that its intention was to bring “the regional” on to a supra regional imperial level. Selected styles and forms of Hindustan were merged with building principles and forms of Timurid Central Asia, and these components were given new emphasis by magnified proportions, by a new approach to structural logic, reflected in décor and detail, and, at least in the heartland of Mughal building activities at Delhi, Agra and Fathpur Sikri, by the unifying medium of the red sandstone which had a high symbolic value. Red had been since ancient times the color of kings and was also used exclusively for imperial Mughal tents. In India, the old Shastric texts, such as the Vishnudharmottara (probably eight century), recommended red stones for the buildings of the kshatriyas, the warrior and kingly caste, and white for Brahmins, the priestly caste. By adopting red sandstone as their preferred building material and by highlighting it with white marble, the Mughals revived a practice of the early sultans of Delhi and associated themselves architecturally with what they considered their counter parts, the uppermost ranks in the Indian social hierarchy. Since the red sandstone had royal properties linked to both the Muslim and Hindu tradition, it worked, if we are allowed to make this cross disciplinary comparison, even better than the Persian language as an unifying appropriating element.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Revenue Administration of Sher Shāh Sūr

The Zabt System: Statistical Table of Akbar based on Sher Shāh’s rai (tabulation)

The mode of assessment and realization of the revenue as the rate of payment by the cultivators was sought to be built by Sher Shah.

About the revenue administration of this period, our information or evidences, which we can use for ascertaining the nature of Sur Revenue administration, is rather limited. However we have three kinds of informations and evidences which we can use to ascertain its nature:

First we have the evidences furnished by Abul Fazl in the Ain: These consist of a number of statements and some specific information regarding the revenue system inherited by Akbar from the Surs. This is the only evidence for the mode of assessment and realization.

Secondly, there are evidences which we get from Abbas Khan Sarwani’s account of Farid Khan’s administration of his father’s jagir at Sahsaram. Some experiments made at Sahsaram by Farid were perhaps carried further by him after coming to the throne.

This impression is endorsed by the information we have of the working of revenue system of Sher Shah in Ain as well as Abbas Khan’s evidence regarding Sher Shah’s revenue administration after his establishment as the supreme ruler over Hindustan.

The third set of evidences is furnished, again by Abbas Khan Sarwani. But this evidence of Abbas Khan is that which he furnishes in the concluding chapter of his narrative and which pertains to the Sur administration in general. This is rather meagre information. It is only in the light of the other two sets of information that it becomes useful and significant.

Let us start with the first set of evidences and see what picture emerges from them.

All the three sets of evidences, that is Ain-i Akbari, and Abbas Khan Sarwani in both his sections, that is in his account of the early career at Sahsaram, and in the section dealing with the general administration, testify, that under Sher Shah and Islam Shah, the entire imperial territory was brought under a new kind of system which i referred to by Abbas Khan as base on jareeb [i.e., jareebana]; Abul Fazl calls it as zabti system. According to him:

ﺪﺮﺰﻤﺎﻧﻪﺷﻴﺮﺧﺎﻦﻮﺴﻠﻳﻢﺧﺎﻦﻜﻪﻫﻧﺪﻮﺴﺗﺎﻦﺍﺯﻏﻠﻪﺒﺨﺷﻰﻮﻤﻘﻄﻌﻰﺒﻀﺑﻄﺁﻤﺪ ﺒﻬﻤﻳﻦﮔﺰﭙﻳﻤﻭﺪند

[dar zamana-i Sher Khan wa Salim Khan ke Hindustan az ghalla bakhshi wa muqta’i ba zabt amad, ba hamin gaz paimudand]

He mentions this under the rubric “Ain-i gazi-i ilahi”. This is the new system which was other than the “gaz-i sikandari”.

This aside by Abul Fazl is made while discussing the reigns of Sher Khan and Salim Khan when Hindustan was brought from ghalla bakhshi and muqtai to zabt, the measurement was made with the same old gaz known as gaz-i sikandari.

This incidental statement is very vital to understanding the nature of the Sur administration. From the context in which the word zabt is used, it is clear that zabt is a system which is based on measurement.

Abul Fazl in other writings also makes this point clear.

This passage is a good explanation of the term jareeb used by Abbas Khan. Jareeb is the same system which Abul Fazl refers as zabt, the new system of assignment, introduced by Sher Shah, which was based on the measurement of land.

Let us first try to understand what was ghalla bakhshi. Prof. Irfan Habib has established that ghalla bakhshi system had three forms:

First, Khet batai: the division of standing crop in the field. The muhasil would come to the village, and whatever cultivated, he would take the share of the standing crop. It would be taken directly from the field – say 1/3rd of the standing crop.

Second, the Batai: is a division on the threshing ground, just after the threshing. Here one has just to take 1/3rd or whatever share of the government from the ground.

Measurement of the area was not necessary in both these systems.

Lastly is lang batai. This is when the division is made after harvest but before threshing, when the crop is stacked on the ground for threshing.

The muqtai on the other hand meant the group assessment of the whole village. The state agents would negotiate the state’s share from the village with the head man of the village by getting a visual survey – a vague assessment to be made. Officials would not go to each field to assess the produce. Agreement would be made with the village headman. Whatever assessment made, was not based on the measurement of the land.

Jareeb or Zabti System, as against these systems, was the one which was based on the measurement of the land.

Abbas Khan gives the impression that a system based on measurement of land was enforced in the whole of the Empire without giving any option to the cultivators whether they would prefer the old or the new system. This impression is created by Abbas Khan while describing Sher Shah’s revenue administration in the concluding part of his book which comes in conflict with the impression given by him in his discussion of Farid’s administrative policy at Sahsaram. For that period, Abbas Khan states that Farid had given an option to the cultivators to choose between the two – the old and the new systems:

“When he had finished his admonition to the troopers, he turned to the raiyat and said, ‘I this day give you the choice in your hands.’ Some of the raiyat stood for jarib, whereas others accepted ghalladadan. Farid accepted this and took written and signed acceptance (patta-i qubuliyat) from the raiyat. He also fixed the rate for jaribana, mahasilana, as well as the charges for the food of the revenue collectors.”

Now this is one of the most important points of difference given by Abbas Khan himself. He later says that no option was given to the cultivators.

Thus it appears that this system was introduced by Sher Shah first at Sahsaram and later in the whole of Hindustan was a binding system on the entire peasantry and cultivating class.

How did this system work?

Some answer can be found to this on the basis of information furnished by Abul Fazl in his Ain-i Akbari under the ain-i zamin (the ain of the land) and andaza (estimate) of paranji-i farman-i farman dahi (i.e., of sovereignty).

Revenue demand is actually a remuneration of the holding and safeguarding this land to the king of the Empire. Moreland calls this chapter as the ‘Ain of land and assessment of Revenue’.

In this chapter, first, the categories of lands are described – polaj, parauti, chachchar, and banjar.

Abu’l Fazl defines that polaj is land which is cultivated “every year and every season” [   ﻓﺻﻝﺑﻪﻓﺻﻝ ﺳﺎﻝﺑﻪﺳﺎﻝ ]

To regain fertility, land is occasionally left fallow. This is parauti.

Chachchar is that which has not been brought under cultivation from 3-4 years, but cultivated in the 5th year.

Banjar is that land which is not under cultivation for more than five years.

Now this information of Abul Fazl can be connected with Sher Shah’s administration indirectly by a close scrutiny of Sher Shah’s rai [ﺭﻳﻊ ] as described by Abul Fazl.

This ﺭﻳﻊ is provided by Abu’l Fazl in a tabulated form regarding the per bigha rate at which revenue was assessed on different kinds of crops during Sher Shah’s reign.

Abu’l Fazl first writes:

Rabi’i rai polaj” [ ﭘﻭﻟﺞ ﺭﻳﻊ ﺭﺑﻳﻌﻲ ], sometimes known as “asārhi crop”.

Under this, information is provided in a peculiar form and manner. This information is provided under different crops of the season – gandum (wheat), nakhud (gram), adas (sarson) etc.

Each of this is under the following pattern:

Gandum: dar yak bigha āla hizhdah man [ āla (good) – 18 man per bigha ] miyana duazdeh [ middle – 12 man per bigha] zubun [i.e. poor] hasht wa si wa panj ser [ 8 man, 35 ser], jumla si wa hasht man wa si wa panj ser [ total – 38 man, 35 ser] wa sulus-i u duazdeh man wa si wa hasht ser wa yak pa [one third of that being 12 man, 38 ser, 1 pao] mahsul giraft chahar man duazdeh ser wa sih pa…[ the mahsul (state demand) at this on polaj land would be one third of this 12 m, 38 ser, i.e., 4m, 12s & 3p!

This is the calculation of wheat on the best quality of the land, polaj. For other categories of land it would be different.

This is one piece of information. In fact other information are also given. For example what was the per bigha production of crop on good, middling and bad quality of land is also given. This ﺭﻳﻊ gives the average per bigha produce on particular category and the revenue demand fixed at 1/3rd of the average per bigha produce of a per bigha crop on a particular category of land. This information is available for all the crops for different harvests & crops raised on different categories of land.

But then certain questions arise: one question which is raised by Moreland is as to whether it (i.e the ﺭﻳﻊ) applied to the whole of the empire or is it one of the many rais that existed during the Sur period and which related to the different parts of the empire. What was the exact situation is difficult to say.

Productivity would vary from Punjab to Malwa to Agra. During Akbar’s period when cash rates were worked out, different rais were worked out for different sarkars. It was hoped that these rais would furnish rates of realization which would approximate the actual produce.

So if this was the only rai applied to the whole empire, then we would view efficiency of Sur administration from a different angle. This rai would not be approximate, and would not be conforming with the reality of the situation as the production varied from region to region. If it was the only rai then this fact was not kept in mind. We may also assume that the jama’ would not be faithful but inflated as is borne out by figures given for ten years of Akbar’s reign as given in ain-i nuazdeh sala, as calculated on the basis of one rai for the whole empire.

But there is a possibility that like Akbar, the Surs also prepared different rais for different regions. But we can’t give any conclusive answer as we have no evidence apart from the one quoted above.

Then another question is raised by Moreland which relates to the criteria used to determine the produce of the different parts of the same field having good, middling or poor productivity. What were the criteria of deciding which particular bigha was good, middling or poor? The answer which Moreland gives for this is that most probably, the rule of thumb was used, i.e., a vague assessment by an expert.

As was the case under the Mughals, men of practical knowledge would visit a particular field and would select, using their own understanding, three patches within a field and the damples would be taken. In many cases these samples would work out. No scientific criteria existed.

Then of course, another question which arises is regarding the weights and measures: The rate is shown as per bigha produce; and the produce is mentioned in mans and sers. Are these measures the same as they were under the Mughals, or were they different?

So far as the bigha referred to is concerned, it is clear that the bigha referred is the Sikandari bigha. Abu’l Fazl distinguishes gaz-i ilahi and gaz-i sikandari. Now what was the length of this gaz-i sikandari? If Abu’l Fazl’s testimony is followed, it probably stood at 411/2 Sikandaris in length. Sikandari was the tanka of a mixed nature (tanka-i siyah during Akbar’s reign). The length of the gaz-i sikandari thus was equal to 411/2  tankas put in a straight line. Then he also says that this sikandari gaz was also modified by Humayun and then measured 42 sikandari tankas exactly. If we accept these informations, then according to Wright, who made the calculations, it was approximately 30.336 inches in length. Thus one bigha was 60 sq yards. This bigha was 10.5 % less than the bigha introduced by Akbar which was known as ilahi bigha.

So far as the man and ser are concerned, they also were different from those of the Akbari period. The ilahi weights were introduced in the second half of Akbar’s reign. In the first half, the earlier weights and measures were being used. Abul Fazl says that befor Akbar, a ser was equal in weight to 18-22 dams. Here the measure of weight is determined with the help of the copper coin, which was prevalent in the Mughal period and even earlier. Then he also says, Akbar fixed the ilahi ser equal to 28 dams and subsequently raised it to 30 dams. So towards the end of Akbar’s period it was 30 dams. But this ser mentioned is not the same as the ilahi one.

The weights referred here are weights continuing from the Lodi period. Thus here 1 ser was equal to 18-22 dams

So far as the actual working of the system is concerned, the procedure laid down at Sasaram remained by and large un-altered, if there were any modifications introduced in this system, they are explicitly and clearly pointed out by Abbas Khan. Thus if we reconstruct the picture it would be as follows: that at the time of cultivation, the cultivator was asked to furnish qubuliyat to the state and then the patta was given to them by the state regarding the assessed revenue due on them. Then it seems that Sher Shah made it a rule that at the time of collection of revenue, no concession was to be shown to the raiyat. He would be asked to pay the entire amount that was assessed for him and for which he had furnished the qubuliyat. To quote Abbas Khan:

“At the time of sowing, the agreement for revenue with the raiyat will be executed; but at the time of collection no departure will be made from what has been agreed upon; that whatever promise has been made with the raiyat will not be breached and that the soldiers (troopers) & muhasils (tax gatherers) will be ordered to refrain from oppression”.

 This is not contradicted in Sher Shah’s account. So we may gather that this was also followed by Sher Shah when he became the king.

How was this agreement reached between the state and the cultivators?

Some amils would go and measure the land of the individual cultivator and then apply the rate of the ﺭﻳﻊ quoted above. They would then give this in writing to the cultivator. In return the cultivator would give his qubuliyat that is he agreed to pay the revenue now calculated before harvest through the measurement and the schedule of rates available with the state.

This agreement would be reached before the harvest. At the time of harvest, the collector would actually know how much he had to collect. Once the patta and qubuliyat was entered into, there was no leniency to be shown at the time of harvest.

Abbas Khan informs us:

“The state dues for the kharif should be collected in the kharif and those of rabi’ in rabi’, for the arrears of dues in the diwani are the cause of the ruination of the pargana and lead to trouble between the raiyat and the ‘amils.”

Thus for each season, the collection was to be made at the time of harvest. The dues of arrears of one season were not to be carried to the next.

Abbas Khan also informs us about the staff of the revenue administration:

“There were posted in each pargana one shiqdar, one amin, one karkun to write in hindi and another to write in Persian.”

    It appears that during the period of Sher Shah and his successor, the annual measurement of land was a must.

“He issued orders that they should measure the land every year and should collect the revenue in accordance with the measurement, so that the muqaddams and amils might not be able to practice tyranny and oppression even on raiyat-i reza who constituted the pivot of prosperity.”

In the Sasaram part of the account this fact was not very clear. But now Abbas Khan is very explicit on the annual assessment.

All this indicates an elaborate collection of information at village level. It also indicates that the standard rate of of demand during the Sur period was 1/3rd. But then in the wilayat of Multan as well as that of Jodhpur, the rate of revenue demand mentioned is 1/4th of the total produce. This was due to an acceptance of a local custom in Rajputana.

Another significant point to be pondered upon, but missing in our sources is as to how the revenue demand or the rate of revenue demand was realized in cash?

There can be two explanations for this lacunae. In the table of rai, the rate per bigha is given in kind. Thus, most probably in the Sur period, the introduction of the zabti system did not necessarily mean realization of revenue in cash. Or else cash rates would also have been given, as in Akbar’s period. But then, it is also possible that the realization in cash was made and it is just a chance that Abul Fazl did not copy the standard cash and price lists which converted kind into cash rates.

Whether cash or kind, the attempt it seems was to enforce the zabti or jarib system throughout the empire, without giving an option of ghalla bakhshi or dadani as was done earlier in Sasaram.

For example, referring to the establishment of the firm control of Sher Shah’s officers in the Punjab foot hills, Abbas Khan makes the following statement:

“That no man dared to breathe opposition to him, and he collected the revenue by measurement of land from these people.”

Another such statement relates to the sarkar Sambhal:

“He so humbled and overcome by sword the contumacious zamindars of those parts that they did not rebel even when ordered to cut down their jungles and they reformed and repented of their thieving and highway robberies, and they paid in at the city headquarters, their revenue according to jarib.”

Lastly Abbas Khan indicates that Sher Shah was fully conscious of the corrupt practices of the amils and therefore during this period, it was his policy to frequently transfer them from one pargana to the other.

“After an year or two, he (Sher Shah) changed his amils and sent fresh ones for he used to say: ‘I have examined very closely and have come to the finding on the basis of my experience and observation that there is not so much of room for making money in other professions as in case of amils.

This was another feature of the Sur administration leading to the process of centralization of the empire. The revenue administration led to the control of the Sur central authority to the resources of the empire, which was not possible during the earlier Delhi Sultanate. 


Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Disintegration of the Sur Empire

Tomb of Sher Shāh Sur at Sasaram
Tomb of Islām Shāh Sur at Sasaram

On 30th October 1553, Islam Shah died and the battle of Panipat in which the Afghans were decisively defeated was fought on 5th November 1556. This period of three years from Islam Shah’s death to the defeat at the hands of the Mughals, is regarded as the period of disintegration of the Sur Empire which had been built with such great efforts by Sher Shah and Islam Shah.

Disintegration was brought about by two processes which were continuing simultaneously. One was the process of the growing Mughal pressure against the Surs. The Mughal military pressure started on the Surs from December 1554 onwards. In fact it was in November 1554 that Humayun set out from Kabul with the intention of re-occupying Northern India. He was encouraged to undertake this expedition by the news that he got at Kabul regarding the growing factional tussle within the Sur Empire after Islam Shah’s death. Humayun occupied Lahore on 24th February 1555. He defeated the Afghan forces led by Ibrahim Sur in the Battle of Sirhind on 22nd June 1555.

Side by side with this was the second process – the growing situation of the factional tussle within the Sur Empire which tended to get accentuated as the Mughal pressure against them mounted. In this discussion, we will be focussing on this second process.

Factional Fights & Rivalries

For having a proper understanding of the role that was played by different nobles and princes in this tussle, we should first of all have a broad view of the distribution of important military commanders in the Sur empire at the time of Islam Shah’s death. One knows that towards the last few years of Islam Shah’s reign he had almost totally displaced the senior nobles of Sher Shah’s time by his own favourites in high positions and important military commands. In fact when Islam Shah died, it was this group of the nobles who were called upon to manage the empire and serve under his successors. Some of their names occur in chronicles of the time. After the elimination of the Niazis in 1547-49, Islam Shah appointed to Punjab one of his relatives, Ahmad Khan Sur, who was the son-in law of Nizam and Adil Shah.

So Ahmad Shah Sur was at this time the muqta of Punjab after the elimination of Niazis in 1549.

Malwa was still controlled by Shuja’at Khan, who was one of those officers of Sher Shah who survived Islam Shah’s reign. He is often referred to as ‘Sur’ in some later histories like Niamatullah’s Tarikh-i Khan Jahani. But Abbas Khan never identifies him with Surs. On the other hand he gives the hint that he was related to the Niazi clan. He belonged to Sher Shah’s khasa khail. And when an attempt had been made to assassinate him by Islam Shah, he had fled to Malwa. Towards the end of Islam Shah’s reign, he was again under cloud and if Islam Shah would have survived, Shuja’at Khan would have been eliminated.

Mewat (that is the whole wilayat extending from Mewat located south-east of Delhi, upto Jodhpur, including Ajmer and Ranthambore, that is to say the whole of Rajputana) during the reign of Sher Shah was controlled by the khasa khails. After him the region was controlled by Haji Khan Sultani, a non-Afghan noble who belonged to Sher Shah’s khasa khail. He was again one of those who had survived Islam Shah.

The wilayat of Bengal, having 19 sarkars was controlled by Sur officers raised to high positions by Islam Shah, such as Muhammad Khan Sur or Muhammad Khan Gauria (the titled being so as he had lived a long time at Gaur). He was a powerful Sur officer who had risen after the elimination of other Sher Shah’s officers here.

The charge of sarkar Bayana was controlled by Ghazi Khan Sur. It was a geographically significant territory as being located west of Agra, anyone stationed there could put pressure on Agra. Ghazi Khan had become influential by this time due to his relationship with the Sur clan. He was the father of Ibrahim Khan Sur, who was married to Nizam’s daughter. He had made efforts to ascend the throne by the critical support of his father.

Then the Kararani Afghan tribe had risen to prominence under Sher Shah. They had come on the top in clash with Sher Shahi nobles under Islam Shah. Taj Khan Kararani, the senior-most Kararani noble had played an important role in the elimination of the khasa khails. Taj Khan was the muqta of Sambhal under Islam Shah. He was holding a number of parganas in Awadh as iqta. The rich parganas like Lucknow, Malihabad and Kakori were held by him at the time of Islam Shah’s death.

Another Kararani noble, Ahmad Khan Kararani was holding the charge of the wilayat of Jaunpur. Still further west, one of the brothers of Taj Khan, Sulaiman Khan Kararani had the charge of Bihar at this time.

The Kararanis, thus together were controlling a very large part of the Sur Empire. All of them were strong adherents of Islam Shah.

Then of course, there were a few other important sarkars, for example, the sarkar of Kannauj, controlled by Shah Muhammad Farmuli who was originally a noble of the Lodi Empire. Shah Muhammad Farmuli did not enjoy any high position under Sher Shah, who was averse to giving high position to the remnants of the Lodi nobility – exception being one or two. But when struggle arose between Sher Shahi and Islam Shahi nobles, Islam Shah used some remnants of the Lodi nobility in putting down his enemies. Thus the Farmulis under Shah Muhammad regained the high position they had held under the Lodis.

Another group of the same category were the Nauhanis who had been neglected by Sher Shah. Under Islam Shah they had improved their position. Thus the sarkar Bahraich situated to the north of Awadh, was controlled by Rukn Khan Nauhani.

So it is obvious that the people who were in control were those promoted by Islam Shah. Shuja’at Khan and Haji Khan Sultani were the only two exceptions, who had also held similar positions under Sher Shah. They were loyal to Sher Shah’s family.

The Successors

After the death of Islam Shah, Firoz who was 2-3 years old was put on the throne. Within a fortnight or so he was killed by his maternal uncle, Mubariz, the son of Nizam, who declared himself the king with the title of Adil Shah. He came to be known as ‘Adili’. With his accession a struggle arose. The nobility refused to co-operate with him.

One can put forward only two explanations for the manner in which the nobles refused to co-operate with Adili and came out in the open against him.

One explanation is the revulsion which was created against Adili over the assassination of Firoz, not only because it was a barbaric act but also because many of the nobles who were intensely loyal to Sher Shah’s dynasty, including those raised to high positions by Islam Shah, felt revolted that the last surviving member of Farid’s dynasty had been put top death and the kingship had passed to the hands of Sher Shah’s step brother (Nizam) who was also a rival of Sher Shah!

Secondly, it was also a result of the deliberate policy pursued by Adil Shah which was aimed at replacing Islam Shah’s nobles by two set of nobles of whose loyalty he was more certain. One set of noble brought to prominence were those Sher Shahi nobles who were in rebellion against Sher Shah for most part of the reign. They were people like Isa Khan Niazi, one of the surviving members of the Niazi clan. Then there were persons like Shamsher Khan, the younger brother of Khawas Khan, son of Sukha.

Then there was Sarmast Khan, a member of a minor Afghan tribe of Sarvini, which was put on a low ladder by the Afghan nobility. He had risen to power and status during the early part of Islam Shah’s reign, but then had fallen from his grace and an attempt had been made to eliminate him. He was now taken in by Adil Shah.

Others were his personal adherents, some of whom were non-Afghans. For example Hemu, who from the time of Islam Shah was a noble of some status. He was a Brahmin of the Gaur caste who hailed from Rewari in the Mewat region. He had been a shahna-i bazarand had risen as a noble under Islam Shah on account of his competence. In 1551 he was important enough to be sent receive Mirza Kamran when the later came to visit Islam Shah for seeking help against Humayun. His position under Adil Shah was unprecedented: he was enjoying the same position as that of the wakil us saltanat under the Mughals – he exercised powers over the nobles in the name of Adil Shah. Although the office of the wakil and wazir were with Shamsher Khan, the real authority in civil and military affairs was in the hands of Hemu. He naturally inducted several persons of his clan to the Sur nobility. Example can be given of Mujahid Khan, originally a menial servant belonging to a non-Muslim caste, but converted and raised to the position of a trusted noble of Adil Shah who had affection for him. Then there was Daulat Khan, a neo-Muslim. There were a number of those nobles who had been neglected by Surs earlier, but had arisen now: e.g., Bahadur Khan Sarwani.

The New vs Old Group: Revolts

The rise of such nobles was naturally resisted by the older group of Sur nobility who started opposing the policies of Adil Shah. Stances of resistance by Islam Shahi nobles against the new sultan’s attempt to dislodge them from their iqtas became noticeable in the very first few months of Adil Shah’s reign.

One of the earliest incidents relate to Farmuli nobles, whose chief, Shah Muhammad Farmuli, was asked by Adil Shah to hand over the charge of sarkar Qannauj to Sarmast Khan Sarvini. This was naturally resented by the Farmulis. Badauni says that when these orders were conveyed to them, while in attendance to the King, Farmuli’s son, Sikandar Farmuli was provoked to protest against this order in a violent language. He even abused in a most aggressive manner Sarmast and his entire clan as well as the king, all of which resulted in a scuffle between the Farmulis and the supporters of Adil Shah which continued for 6 hours inside the royal diwankhana. In this scuffle several of Adil’s supporters including Sarmast Khan were killed. Sikandar and Shah Muhammad Farmuli were also killed: Adil himself escaped to his private quarters and looked himself. This incident indicates the great resentment which existed and the desperation of the Islam Shahi nobles.

Similarly the sons of Sher Khan Lodi and Muhammad Khan refused to hand over the charge of the parganas on their father’s death to a noble of Adil Shah’s choice.

Similar was the case of Taj Khan Kararani. He felt insecure in Adil Shah’s service when the later raised as wakil one of his enemies, i.e., Shamsher Khan. For some time, he held peace due to his large following and the large territory under his brothers. But after the episode of the Farmulis, Taj Khan became panicky, left the court without Adil Shah’s permission (Gwalior), and proceeded to his own jagir located in the Awadh region. As soon as the news of his escape came to the ears of Adil Shah, Hemu was despatched in his pursuit. The engagement between the two took place at Chhapramau near Farrukhabad. Taj Khan was defeated and escaped to Chunar where he tried to mobilize the Kararanis of Jaunpur and Bihar. But soon he was evicted from Chunar also. Adail Shah personally marched against him and pursued him to the Jaunpur region and then to Bihar. A number of conflicts took place between the two in which Adil Khan gained an upper hand and the Kararanis were driven out from most of their iqtas. But this operation took a very long time. For almost a whole year Adil Shah had to remain at Chunar.

These revolts started off yet another series of revolts which were much more serious. In these several Sur officers of the ruling clan declared themselves as rival kings.

The first revolt of this series took place while Adil Shah was still at Chunar. This was by Adil Shah’s brother-in-law, Ibrahim Khan Sur. Ibrahim was holding the charge of sarkar Gwalior and had been a party to Adil Shah’s capture of power. But then the revolts and the prolonged absence of Adil Shah from the capital encouraged him to march from Gwalior to capture Agra and Delhi on behalf of his father, Ghazi Khan Sur, who the muqta of Bayana. Haji Khan Sultani was crowned by him with the title of Islam Shah.

As the news of this rebellion spread, another brother-in-law of Adil Shah, Ahmad Khan Sur also rebelled. He was the son-in-law of Nizam, and the muqta of the wilayat of Punjab. He entitled himself as Sikandar Shah, and declared himself as the king of Punjab and marched upon Delhi with the support of Habib Khan Sultani, one of Sher Shah’s nobles.

The three centre of powers within the Sur Empire at this time were thus, Chunar, where Adil Shah was stationed; Agra & Gwalior, where Ibrahim Khan was holding sway; and Punjab and Delhi regions where Sikandar Shah was the third contender to the Sur throne.

Another revolt during this period was by Muhammad Khan Gauria of Bengal. He was certainly a Sur officer who had risen to prominence under Islam Shah as munsif of Bengal after Qazi Fazihat’s revolt. He took up the title of Sultan Jalaluddin Shah. His headquarters were at Gaur and was controlling Bengal and parts of North Bihar.

One other important revolt was by Rukn Khan Nauhani, the muqta of Bahraich, who just refused to accept the authority of Adil Shah.

Lastly was the rise of Shuja’at Khan in Malwa as an independent ruler. Till this time he didn’t claim the throne, but now he also declared his independence.

“Civil War”:

Thus the situation of a civil was quite unavoidable: a multi-cornered civil war was ensured – in the east between Adil Shah and the Kararanis; in the Doab between Adil and Ibrahim on the one hand and on the other, Ibrahim and Sikandar Shah.

Let us deal with some brief references to the important events of this struggle. One was the battle which took place between Adil’s forces under Isa Khan Niazi and those of Ibrahim Shah near Kalpi. Isa Khan was defeated. With this defeat, Adil Shah lost the Agra – Gwalior region which now passed on Ibrahim Shah (entitled Islam Shah).

The second important event was the battle of Farah – in the North-West of Agra, near Mathura. In this battle, Sikandar Khan and Islam Shah faced each other. Badauni gives a long account of this battle. A proposal kept before the battle was that the entire Sur Empire be divided between the two. When the negotiations failed, the battle was fought in which Sikandar Shah won. He occupied Agra, while Islam Shah escaped to Sambhal.

The Battle of Farah was fought at a time when Humayun was advancing towards Sirhind. The Battle of Sirhind took place soon after the Battle of Farah. Sikandar was not able to prepare himself sufficiently and thus Humayun was able to oversome him in June 1555. Thus now the equation shifted in favour of Adil Shah. Islam Shah was eliminated at the battle of Farah, and at Sirhind, Sikandar Shah was weakened. Islam Shah once again tried to retract his position by trying to encircle Sikandar in the Delhi Agra region by trying to occupy Agra. A fierce struggle between the two ensued and a number of battles took place. During the same period Humayun succeeded to inflict defeats on Ibrahim Shah who was forced to take shelter at Bayana. Humayun had already occupied Delhi by this time. According to Badauni around 13 battles were fought during a short period of 6-7 months. Eventually in December 1555 was fought the Battle of Chhaparghat

The Battle of Chhaparghat was fought on the banks of Jamuna, 18 Km north of Kalpi between Adil Shah’s forces under Hemu and the forces of the governor of Bengal, Muhammad Khan Sur, one of the contestants to the throne. It was fought at a time when Hemu had just succeeded in crushing Ibrahim Khan Sur at Bayana.

This battle may be regarded as a turning point in the sense that after this victory of Hemu over Muhammad Khan Gauria, Adil Shah’s authority was established in the whole region from Chunar and Jaunpur to Agra. Three formidable contenders were eliminated: one due to defeat at the hands of Mughals in June 1555 at Sirhind (i.e., Ahmad Khan Sur or Sikandar Shah); the other was Ibrahim Khan (as Islam Shah) who was crushed by Hemu; and the third was now Muhammad Khan Sur (Jalaluddin Shah).

Meanwhile Adil Shah had also succeeded in dislodging Rukn Khan Nauhani from Bahraich. He had established himself as an independent ruler. Thus now Adil became the undisputed authority from Chunar to Agra and Gwalior.

In this new situation, Adil had now to fight on the eastern front against Taj Khan Kararani and his relatives. He also had to contend with Muhammad Khan Gauria’s son, who made a joint cause with the Kararanis. On the western front Adil’s men had to contend with the Mughals who had established themselves at Delhi in July 1555.

From Adil Shah’s point of view, a further favourable development was the unexpected and sudden demise of Humayun at Delhi on 27th January 1557, within a month of the battle of Chhaparghat. Humayun’s son was only 12 years old and was not in a position to provide active leadership to the Mughals. There was also every likelihood of a serious rift taking place within the Mughal nobility over the person to be entrusted with the charge of acting as the young Akbar’s guardian and the acting head of the state.

In this situation of uncertainty, the Mughals were not expected to assert as visibly as before. Thus this was a golden time for Adil Shah. These hopeful signs helped him in regaining the support of some of the influential Afghan nobles who had opposed him tooth and nail till this time.

This is borne by the references that many of those nobles siding with Ibrahim Khan or Ahmad Khan Sur till the end of 1555, are reported in the first half of 1556 as fighting in the armies of Adil Shah which he sent in different directions. Mention may be made of the sons of Sher Khan Lodi, who had defied Adil’s authority earlier and had refused to hand over the parganas held by their father as iqta to the person nominated by Adil as the new muqta. Thus Muhammad Khan Lodi and his brother, who had rebelledin 1553, were now serving under Hemu during this time.

Similarly Rukn Khan Nauhani, the muqta of Bahraich, who had acted independent and had been suppressed in 1555, was in 1556 serving under Adil Shah. Similar is the case of Rau Hussain Jalwani, who had supported Ibrahim Shah Sur from the beginning, is now mentioned as serving under Hemu against the Mughals. Another important person of this category was Haji Khan Sultani, the Sher Shahi noble of Mewat who had originally sided with Ibrahim Khan Sur, is now mentioned as serving under Hemu during the campaigns conducted in 1556.

Thus information if put together, is a clear indication of some reconciliation between the disaffected nobles and Adil, after the battle of Chhaparghat.

But then at the same time Badauni and Rizqullah Mushtaqi tend to suggest that with the enhanced prestige and authority during the post-Chhaparghat period, a new rift started between the nobles loyal to Hemu and those Afghan chiefs who were loyal to Adil Shah. Those with Adil resented the overbearing attitude of Hemu.

There is an interesting passage in Rizqullah Mushtaqi’s account which brings out this resentment:

“Hemu became all powerful; he did not allow anything except food to Adil Shah. He seized royal treasures and elephants and also brought the whole of the kingdom under his own control. He appointed his own men everywhere and thus the reins of government slipped from Adil Shah’s hands. He (Hemu) did not pay even a single penny while his own men got liberal payments.”

 Hemu couldn’t have possibly behaved like this as his troops consisted of Afghan chiefs and troops. It is an exaggeration. It is a record of discontent of displeasure being expressed by them. Rizqullah was close to the Afghan chiefs of this period. This is significant as it points to the fact that a rift was developing. This is confirmed by Badauni’s account, whose account of the history of the later Surs in the vol. I is the only detailed account of the period that we have. He says that after the success over Ibrahim and Bahadur shah, Hemu used to hold feasts at Agra and ask Sur nobles to eat more and more; and if they expressed refusal, he would rebuke how they would fight the Mughal? His behaviour was rude with the Afghan nobles.

We are informed that between December 1555 and October 1556, one noble (Shadi Khan) sent by Adil Shah, inflicted a serious defeat on Humayun, whose troops fought under Ali Quli Khan on the west banks of Ganges at Sambhal. This significant victory of the Surs is not mentioned in the textbooks.

Before the Battle of Tughluqabad, the Afghans had won at Sambhal, and this gave them a great leverage against Delhi.

The Rise of Hemu and the Second Battle of Panipat

In October 1556, according to Abul Fazl, Hemu advanced on Delhi with 50,000 horses, 50 canons and 50 warboats. He also had with him a number of nobles who were in rebellion against Adil Shah in 1555.

On the Mughal side, a silent tussle was going on for supremacy in Mughal camp. Though the Mughal officers had agreed on Bairam Khan as Akbar’s ataliq in 14 February 1556, still they were not reconciled to the fact that Bairam Khan exercised supreme authority: one person who resented Bairam was Tardi Beg, the commandant of Delhi, whose jagirs were in the Mewat region and had supporters around Delhi.

In October 1556, thus there was a situation where the Mughal officers were divided and there was no unity of command in the Mughal camp. This is borne out by the Battle of Tughluqabad. When news reached Bairam Khan, he wrote to Tardi not to engage till his arrival at Delhi. He also wrote to Ali Quli Khan to come to Delhi. Tardi was anxious to engage the Afghans before the arrival of Bairam Khan so that the credit should go to him. On the other hand, Bairam Khan had instructed his envoy, Pir Muhammad Khan Sherwani, who had come to Delhi, that if the battle was given in spite of his advice by Tardi , Pir Muhammad should see to it that Tardi’s plan was frustrated. We thus find that Pir Muhammad withdrew at a critical time, resulting in the defeat of the Mughals. Pir Muhammad was used to prove charge of treachery against Tardi later on. So it was in these circumstances that Hemu gave a crushing defeat to the Mughals and occupied Delhi.

Within one month of this development, the Mughal army under Bairam advanced from Punjab and succeeded in defeating the Afghans. This was a final defeat for the Surs. Before the Battle of Panipat, he put Tardi Beg to death and succeeded to unite the command in the Mughal camp. One of the significant military factors to the advantage of the Mughals was the capture of the Afghan artillery by the Mughal advance guard 24 hours prior to the battle. These 51 canons were those monstrous Islam Shahi canons built at enormous expense. Thus at the Battle of Panipat, only the Mughals used their artillery. The Mughals also learnt the lesson of the unviability of heavy canons in battles and thus thereafter they emphasised on zarb w zan. With this second battle of Panipat, the Sur Empire was no more.

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Central And Provincial Administrative Departments Under Akbar And Their Evolution

Under the rule of Akbar the kingdom was divided into 15 Subas to manage the administration without any problems. These Subas were allotted to officials who kept a close account of all the activities that took place.

Previous Indian governments had been weakened by two disintegrating tendencies characteristic of premodern states—one of armies being split up into the private forces of individual commanders and the other of provincial governors becoming hereditary local rulers. Akbar combated those trends by instituting comprehensive reforms that involved two fundamental changes. First, every officer was, at least in principle, appointed and promoted by the emperor instead of by his immediate superior. Second, the traditional distinction between the nobility of the sword and that of the pen was abolished: civil administrators were assigned military ranks, thus becoming as dependent on the emperor as army officers.

Those ranks were systematically graded from commanders of 10 persons to commanders of 5,000 persons, higher ranks being allotted to Mughal princes. Officers were paid either in cash from the emperor’s treasury or, more frequently, by the assignment of lands from which they had to collect the revenue, retaining the amount of their salary and remitting the balance to the treasury. Such lands seem to have been transferred frequently from one officer to another; that increased the officers’ dependence on the emperor, but it may also have encouraged them to squeeze as much as they could from the peasants with whom their connection might be transitory. Politically, the greatest merit of the system was that it enabled the emperor to offer attractive careers to the able, ambitious, and influential. In that way, Akbar was able to enlist the loyal services of many Rajput princes.

Akbar’s reforms required a centralized financial system, and, thus, by the side of each provincial governor (subadar, later called nawab) was placed a civil administrator (diwān, or divan) who supervised revenue collection, prepared accounts, and reported directly to the emperor. As a further safeguard against abuses, Akbar reorganized the existing network of newswriters, whose duty it was to send regular reports of important events to the emperor. Akbar also seems to have instituted more-efficient revenue assessment and collection in an effort to safeguard the peasants from excessive demands and the state from loss of money. But such efficiency could only have been enforced in the areas directly administered by the central government. That excluded the lands under tributary rulers such as the Rajputs and also the lands assigned for the maintenance of Mughal officers.

Yet, notwithstanding Akbar’s reforms, travelers’ accounts indicate that the Indian peasants remained impoverished. The official elite, on the other hand, enjoyed great wealth; liberal patronage was given to painters, poets, musicians, and scholars, and luxury industries flourished. Akbar also supported state workshops for the production of high-quality textiles and ornaments.

Central Administration:

As compared to the earlier period, there appears to have been depreciation in the position of the office of the wakil. Wakil was a link between the team of ministers and the king. He was responsible for the civil and military administration: as under Bairam Khan. During the period of tussle between the king and the nobility, the full controversy revolved around this office.

During Munim Khan’s wikalat, Akbar tried to crush his power by using Maham Anaga for the purpose. Abul Fazl says after Bairam Khan’s dismissal, Munim Khan was the wakil only in name: the defacto wikalat rested with Maham Anaga. But this is an exaggeration: what actually was meant to be asserted was that his posers had been curtailed.

Then in 1564 another significant development took place: the office of diwan-i āla (wizarat-i āli) was created, to which Muzaffar Khan Turbati was appointed. This was a turning point. His powers go to describe that for all practical purposes, the wazir or the diwan-i ala would have the charge of the Department of Diwani, for which he would be responsible to the king. And the wakil would have no jurisdiction over it. Subsequently the office of wikalat did not remain as important for the nobles as before as it was till that time. At this time Munim Khan was re-appointed. In 1566 Khwaja Jahan Muzaffar Khan was elevated to this office.

However it seems that sometime after 1575, the wakil lost all powers and tended to become a figurehead. This happened with the introduction of the zawabit (ordinances) relating to the introduction of dagh-w chehra; and also the introduction of the mansabdari system. Ibn Hasan, the author of the Central Structure of the Mughal Empire, argues that the post was primarily for show and honor, with the wakil as the head of the nobility but not of the administration. To a large extent this is true, and normally the wakil was less effective than the wazir, who controlled the purse, but theoretically the wakil was the king’s deputy and even the wazir referred to him whatever was “beyond his own ability.” Abul Fazl calls him “the emperor’s lieutenant in all matters connected with the realm and the household,” adding that “although the financial offices are not under his immediate superintendence, yet he receives the returns from heads of all financial offices and wisely keeps abstracts of their return.”

Under this new system, the entire military organization was controlled and regulated by the Mir Bakhshi. The real power of patronage – imposing discipline on nobles, regulating promotions – now passed on to the Mir Bakhshi, making him a very powerful officer. The wakil us Sultanat thus lost the remaining powers and functions. He had lost financial role in 1567. Now in 1574 with the position of mir bakhshi was significantly enhanced, the wakil lost much jurisdiction and effective control on military department as well: He virtually was reduced to the position of a figurehead. For a long duration no appointment was made to the office of the wakil us Sultanat and the Central government was dominated by two key functionaries: the diwan-i ala and the mir bakhshi. Soon the office of mir bakhshi also became independent of the wakil’s office.

The office of the diwan-i ala or diwan-i kul was entrusted with the revenue and financial powers. His primary duty was to supervise the imperial treasury and check all accounts.

The central revenue ministry was divided into many departments to look after the specific needs of the entire viz., the diwan-i khalisa, diwan-i tan (for cash salary), diwan-i jagir, diwan-i buyutat etc.

Mir Bakhshi placed all matters pertaining to the military department before the emperor. New entrants, seeking service were presented before the king by him. He also dealt directly with the provincial bakhshis and the waqia nawis, accompanied the emperor on his tours, trips, hunting expeditions and battles. He would also perform the darbar duties and would check whether proper places were allotted to the mansabdars according to their ranks. In his duties he was assisted by other bakhshis: the Ist, IInd & IIIrd bakhshi, besides the other bakhshis like bakhsi-i ahadi and bakhshi-i shagird pasha (servants of the household).

The second important development in the context of the Central administration was first the rise of the sadrus sudur as a very important officer down to 1575 and then a gradual erosion of his powers, finally leading to the abolition of the Central sadarat in 1582. This important development too is not fully noticed in the work of Ibn Hasan.

According to Abul Fazl, in the beginning it was Shaikh Gadai who was holding the office. During the period of Bairam Khan no imperial order could become operational unless it carried the seal of the sadr. So Shaikh Gadai, as the sadr, would have the say in finalisation of the matters and general administration as well.

After Bairam Khan was overthrown, the person who occupied this office of sadarat due to his closeness to the person of the king again tended to make this office very influential in the working of the central government. Abdun Nabi from 1564 onwards was given powers to distribute state patronage to needy persons – ulema, mashaikh etc – without any type of constraints. According to Badauni the total resources put in his hands were more than the total resources of all the kings preceding Akbar.

From Badauni’s account, it becomes clear that between 1564-65 Abdun Nabi had some say in the appointment of important functionaries in the Central Administration. For example when reference is made to any important appointment, there would be reference to consultations with the sadrus sudur.

As is well known, this rise in powers of the sadrus sudur and its decline coincides with the rupture of Akbar from the orthodox ulema finally resulting in the abolition of this office in 1581. Later the office was revived but was held by people who were not representatives of the orthodox group.

Beside these four ministers (wakil, diwan-i ala, mir bakhshi and the sadus sudur), there were other ministers of lower rank- Khan-i-Saman, or Mir-i Saman who was in-charge of the royal household and karkhanas as well as supervision of manufacture of different articles from weapons of war to articles of luxury; Muhtasib, who saw that the people (Muslims) led a highly moral life according to the Muslim law; and Daroga-i-Dak Chowki, an officer who was in-charge of the postal and intelligence department.

Provincial Administration:

The non-central level administration is a problem which can be discussed under (a) subah (provincial) level administration, and (b) the Local level administration, that is (i) the sarkar level, and (ii) the pargana level.

In 1580 Akbar divided the Empire into 12 subas – later on three more were added. Each suba was divided into a number of sarkars and these were further divided into parganas and mahals.  The suba level administration was a replica of the Central administration, especially so the position held by the diwan.

From 1580 onwards each subah was administered by an officer called sipahsalar, popularly known as the subahdar. He was generally a high mansabdar. He was directly appointed by the emperor and usually his tenure was for around three years. Among the duties, the most important one was to look after the welfare of the people and the army. He was responsible for the general law and order in the province. To encourage agriculture, trade and commerce and to take up welfare activities like construction of sarais, gardens, wells and reservoirs were some of his functions.

Next to him in official rank, but not in any way under his control, was the provincial diwan, who was in independent charge of the revenues of the province. Then there were the bakhshi, sadr and the mir-i māl. The change taking place in relative positions of some of the functionaries of Central government was reflecting in the effective positions of these officers of the provincial level: a case in point would be the increasingly enhanced and strengthened position of the provincial diwan. He received appointment direct from the central authority (Central Diwan) so basically he was subordinate to the central diwan and not to the provincial head of the administration. But then he was expected to work in collaboration with the subahdar or sipahsalar who in hierarchy was higher than the diwan – creating confusion in the administration. In the central government was the wakil between the King and the ministers, but in the Provinces no such functionary existed between the governor and his ministers.

The Provincial Bakhshi did not become very important and remained full fledged dependent of the governor. He was appointed at the recommendation of the mir bakhshi and performed exactly the same military functions as ere performed by his counterpart at the centre. He not only checked and inspected horses and soldiers maintained by mansabdars, but issued paybills of both.

Then we have darogha-i dak at every subah headquarters whose duty was to pass on letters through the mewras (postal runners). For this purpose a number of dakchaukis were established throughout the empire. The waqi’a navis and waqi’a nigars were also appointed at provincial level to supply reports directly to the emperor. Besides, there were sawanih nigars to provide confidential reports to the king.

Then there was a twofold power sharing at the sarkar and the pargana level. There was actually a military jurisdiction (faujdar, qiladar, thanedar) which existed in each province side by side with the fiscal jurisdiction from 1580 onwards. In rare cases we find a faujdar controlled the whole sarkar. Faujdar was technically the executive head of the sarkar. Sometimes within a sarkar a number of faujdars existed. But more generally one faujdar would cover several sarkars or parts of different sarkars – say, half of sarkar Kol and half of sarkar Agra. Sometimes two full or more sarkars constituted one single faujdari. We hear of different faujdars appointed to chaklas as well.

Thus there were a variety of sizes of these military units, which would be independent of civil and revenue administration. At the faujdari level would exist a garrison commanded by a noble who could go to the assistance of civil officers in the parganas and sarkars within the territory in his jurisdiction. This was a new system and is not clearly visualized by Abul Fazl in the Ain-i Akbar: they came to exist due to the expediency of the situation. In the Akbarnama  Abul Fazl mentions how as need arose, the king created faujdaris and thanedaris directly from the centre and the troops would be centrally maintained – for example the tufungchis  would not be part of the contingent of nobles but represented the corps maintained by the centre. The nature of this problem becomes clear from the article of Noman Ahmad Siddiqi, Faujdari Under the Mughals”.

At the pargana level, below the sarkar was the shiqdar who was the executive officer and assisted the amil in revenue collection. The amil looked after the revenue collection. His duties were similar to the duties of amalguzar at the sarkar level. The qanungo kept all records pertaining to the land in his area. He was also to take note of the different crops in the pargana. The muqaddam was the village headman, while patwari took care of the village revenue records.

Sovereignty Under Akbar: Inspirations and Innovative Ideas Dictating the concept of Mughal Kingship

Abul Fazl presenting Akbarnāma to the Emperor

We know that the dual influences of the Turkish and Mongol concepts of sovereignty were inscribed on the polity of the early Mughals, Babur and Humayun. Though contradictory to each other, the Turkish and Mongol theories had certain commonalities as well: both were universal and both were divine. And both the pre-Islamic concepts had been tempered by the new concepts of Islam! But the major difference between the two was marked by the fact that the Mongol sovereignty was divisive, while Turkish sovereignty was not: in the Turkish tradition even the sons of the king had no share. In the Chingizid tradition, as per the Yasa or Tura, all the divine sons enjoyed equal rights and had a legitimate share. Secondly in Turkish concept, the king as compared to the nobles was quite powerful: in fact the nobles were bandagān i Dargah, slave of the threshold, with no powers. Their property could be escheated. In Turā i Chaghtai, the nobles were at par with the khaqan, the king!

In pre-Mughal India the best example of prevalence of Turkish concept of Kingship was represented by Balban’s Theory of Kingship: he was the divine king, given the position by God, and next only to the Prophet. The nobles were the slaves who could not sit before him and had to perform prostration.

Babur being a Timurid, a Turk, was influenced by all this. Plus, he was also under the influence of the Mongol concept. Not only a large number of nobles were of Mongol origin, his mother too was a woman tracing ancestry from Chingiz.

But by the period of Akbar, if we believe Badauni, these concepts were generally fading, especially the Mongol traditions as far as court practices were concerned: they were like “nakhsha bar āb”, tracings over water! However Mongol influences like division of Empire, the primacy of various princes, continued: each son had equal right to the throne! Though noble were treated theoretically as bandagān. Now new concepts started exerting their influences, some of which were quite unique. We will see that now the king was not a “shadow of God”, zillallāh, but he was “light emanating from God”, farr i izadi. Shadow is darkness, thus negative; Light after all is opposite of darkness, thus positive.

On Akbar there were many influences: secular, religious, mystic, indigenous as well as foreign. Akbar’s theory had something or the other to attract and engulf all! It also had elements based on rationalism and scientific reasoning: thus appealing to all irrespective of their religious affiliation!

He was not a Khalifa, but some non-Muslims considered him avatar of Vishnu!

Let us see what concepts went into the making of the theory of Sovereignty under Akbar.

Social Contract

Abul Fazl in the Rawai-i Rozi in Ain-i Akbari put forward the well known theory of Social Contract to justify the sovereign’s Absolute claims over the individual subjects. The social contract was put forward as a justification for sovereignty. The way Abul Fazl puts it, one is reminded of Hobbes. He describes the contradiction of society before the emergence of the sovereign: there was complete instability and anarchy – no man was safe from another. Property, life, honour – nothing was safe. Indeed, property could not emerge, life was short and honour non-existent. In desperation men went to someone, who was able and strong and solicited him to protect them. For this the protector employed soldiers, for whose pay he needed resources. These were provided by the protected people. Out of this arrangement arose the sovereign, taxes and subjects.

Thus in his introduction, Abul Fazl pointed out that no dignity was higher in the eyes of God than royalty. Why? Because: ‘royalty is a remedy for the spirit of rebellion, and reason why people obey’.

Even the term pād in the pādshāh signifies stability and possession. ‘Shah’ on the other hand means origin, lord. A king is therefore, Abul Fazl argues, the origin of stability and possession. He goes on to argue:

“If royalty did not exist, the storm of strife would never subside, nor selfish ambitions disappear. Mankind, being under the burden of lawlessness and lust, would sink into the pit of destruction; the world, this great market place, would lose its prosperity, and the whole earth become a barren waste. But by the light of imperial justice, some follow with cheerfulness the road of obedience, whilst others abstain from violence through fear of punishment; and out of necessity make choice of th path of rectitude.”

Did this ‘contract’ place some limitations on sovereignty? No, says Abul Fazl. It is the moral duty of the subject to submit to the will of the sovereign in respect of his property as well as life. The Sovereign in fact protects the greatest thing of all – the subject’s honour! If in practice there are limitations on the share of subject’s property (i.e. taxes), it is the discretion of the King on grounds of compassion.

This whole theory was something unique: it simply meant that Akbar, as sovereign, theoretically would enjoy absolute powers till he ‘performs’ his part of the contract: the welfare of the people. The strength of this theory lay in its secular character: Akbar was the king, not because it was divinely ordained, or that he belonged to an illustrious lineage. He was no khalifa but a person ‘chosen’ to perform certain duties. If he did not, he could then, as per this theory have no claim to rule. This was but an attempt towards rationalism.

Religious & Mystical Ideas

But then this was not all. After exaltation of blue blood and resorting to rationalism, religious and  mystic philosophical elements were also resorted to. Certain mystical ideas and traditions were invoked to take forward Akbar’s theory of sovereignty.

We know that both the other two contemporary empires had based their sovereignty on religious authority. The Safavids had successfully utilized their past as religious leaders to base their authority on spiritualism: they declared themselves as the leaders of the Shi’ites and the successors of the Twelve Imams. The Ottomans on the other hand took up the mantle from the Abbasids and declared themselves as the Caliphs of the Sunni world.

Akbar’s position on the other hand was quite peculiar: He could not declare himself as the Caliph as that post was not vacant – it lay with the Ottomons. Even otherwise, he presided over an empire which did not comprise a population which would be effected or affected by this idea.

He thus on the one hand resorted to rationalism and the concept of social contract, on the other; he resorted to certain mystical ideas and traditions.

In Ain-i Rahnamuni (The Regulations on Guidance), Abul Fazl lauds Akbar as the insane-i kamil (Perfect Man). According to Badauni, this idea was derived from the pantheistic traditions of Ibn-i Arabi. According to Irfan Habib, however, this doctrine of Perfect Man was derived from Mahmud Pasikhwani, the early 15th Century originator of Wahidiya or Nuqtawiya sect. According to the Nuqtawis, great spiritual souls are born at particular periods of time.

Thus as a Perfect Man, born at a particular point of time in history, Akbar would enjoy absolute powers to shape the lives and destiny of men under him.

Now with this theory, the Sovereign, i.e., Akbar, enjoyed three distinct powers: powers derived as the legitimate successor of Timur and Chingiz, the power derived from the Social Contract between the ruler and the ruled; and now, thirdly, as an obvious ‘Perfect Man’ who was born once in a while to shape society.

The Millennium

Akbar was living at a time when the first millennium was ending and there were speculations that there was no prophecy for the period after that. The change of the millennium meant a change in everything. The Islamic history as known was coming to an end. There was thus much speculation what would come to pass in the new millennium. It was during this period that people talked about a new law and a new leader as per the new needs. There was a rise of new movements like that of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi who came up with the title of mujaddid-alf sani the redeemer of the second millennium. There was also a growth of Mahdavi movement (eg Shaikh Mubarak). Akbar too minted new coin and started a new calendar and asked for a history of the millennium (Tarikh-i Alfi) to be compiled.

As a ‘protector’ of the society and as the Perfect Man, the Mughal Emperor (read Akbar) tried to regulate not only the marriages of his nobility but also their educational curriculum. Thus the syllabus was formulated by Akbar: he tried to include rational sciences like arithmetic, agriculture, household management, rules of governance, medicine etc in the educational curriculum. Along with it there was stress on reason (aql) which was to be given precedence over traditionalism (taqlid). This stress on rationalism and reason was something quite unique.

Irfan Habib points out that among the two most important functions which Abul Fazl assigns to a just king (kar giya), one is that such a sovereign “shall not seek popular acclaim through opposing reason (aql)”. If there was an attempt in the ain-i rahnamuni to define the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, the subjects, the ain-i rawai-i rozi (Regulations for the Provision of Livelihood) justified the necessity of political authority in the light of the theory of social contract.

In 1579 was added a new dimension: the position of imam-i adil and mujtahid, the arbiter and interpreter of Islamic law. This was something with which the theory of social contract cannot be fully reconciled. Shaikh Mubarak had often pleaded for a special position for th king within the juridical world of Islam. Thus in 1579 the mahzar was drafted by Shaikh Mubarak and a number of other ulema. Through this Akbar was tried to be elevated to the position from where he could interpret law and even legislate – a position enjoyed by great Muslim jurists like Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafi’i Imam Malik and Imam Hanbal. The door of ijtihad had since then been closed in the Sunni world by Ghazali. It was now sought to be opened for Akbar. With this position under his belt, there was no need for Akbar to be declared a Caliph. It was a sort of religious justification for his kingship.

Abul Fazl thus claimed that Sovereignty was in the nature of divine light (farr-i izadi) : it was not enough to be just the zill allah or zill-i ilahi (shadow of God). Faizi, in one of his rubaiyat (quatrains) says:

He (Akbar is a king whom on account of his wisdom, we call zu funūn (possessor of the sciences) and our guide on the path of religion. Although kings are the shadow of God (zil allah) on Earth, he is the emanation of God’s light (farr-i īzadi). How then can we call him a shadow?

This stress on Light (nūr) was derived from the Illuminationist (Ishrāqi) philosophy of Shihabuddin Suhrawardi Maqtul (d.1191). Shihabuddin is regarded, besides Ibn Arabi, as one of the most significant exponents of the movement which attempted to explain the Quran and the doctrine of Islam largely in esoteric and allegorical way. His philosophy is traced to Plato’s Republic, where God is presented under the symbol of the Sun without which nothing would exist. He held that ‘the source of all being and thought is…beyond essence, beyond the ideas themselves. To it, man should turn…with his entire soul’. To the Ishraqis the Sun is the symbol of God-derived spiritual light or the Light of Lights (nūr ul anwār), i.e., God, from which, by irradiation emanate the Anwār ul Qahira, the Great Lights.

Shihabuddin’s concluding words in the Partau Nama were to creat a great impression on Akbar’s court:

‘Whoever knows wisdom and is assiduous in praising and revering the Light of Lights (nūr ul anwār), they give him the khurra-i kiyani (Kingly Light) and bestow upon him the farr-i nurani ‘luminous ray’ and the barq-i Ilahi (the lightening-flashing (cloud) of God), clothing him in the robe of authority and status’.

 The ishrāqi (Eastern) School was an Iranian school of philosophy which regarded ‘Being and Knowledge as irradiations of the Pure Light which rises in the East’. All life, all ‘reality’ in the world, according to Suhrawardi, is light given existence by the constant blinding illumination of ‘light of lights’ (nūr ul anwār), i.e., God.

From the disapproving Badauni we learn that his emperor lent an open ear to such associations:

“…Brahmins collected  another set of one thousand and one names of  His Majesty the Sun,’ and told the emperor that he was an incarnation, like Ram, Krishna, and other infidel kings.”

 At Akbar’s court Light (nur) was often regarded as the greatest Divine Blessing – indeed a symbol of God. That is why Raushaniyyas (of Bayazid Ansari) are called Tārkiyyah(followers of Darkness). Since Sovereignty was a Divine Ray of Light, the sovereign, though himself not divine, was called upon to work as an Agent of God, and thus partook of the authority and burdens that were fashioned, as it were, ‘in the image of God’. Just as God’s favours (sunlight, rain etc) fell on all irrespective of religious beliefs, so too the sovereign could not discriminate, in dispensing favours, between the votaries of the different faiths. This became the doctrine for justifying the tolerant religious policy initiated by Akbar.

The concept of divinely illumined kingship could be associated  to both the Indian and Persian tradition, and such multicultural concepts held a special attraction for the Mughals in their attempt to legitimate themselves as padshahs of a highly diverse empire. Akbar  elaborated on  his father Humayun’s  associations with the sun, he appeared at sunrise like a traditional Indian king or a Hindu deity for  public viewing (darshan)  and his subjects prostrated themselves before him.

Being derived directly from God, sovereignty need not be restricted by association with any particular sect, or faith. Thus this was a theory of sovereignty which suited a multi-religious country like India. It was not a totally ‘secular’ concept in the modern sense of the term. For being God’s agent, there were certain spiritual obligations: promote certain religious beliefs, eg of God, his Light as His Symbol as well as in promotion of inter-sectarian peace, the sulh-i kul. However it was a theory which rested on two contradictory positions: the rationalistic theory of Social Contract and the other a non-rationalistic theory of divine origin.

Thus the theory of sovereignty of Akbar was based on Heredity, Rationalism as well as mystical and religious traditions. He had the power to rule as he was the successor to the imperial authorities of Chingiz and Timur, then as per a social contract, he was there as he could formulate civil order. And then, he was the possessor of a mystical power. He had esoteric knowledge and authority greater than the recognized interpreters of the Shariat (i.e., the mujtahid of the age). His knowledge and authority were greater than the most saintly sufi masters (pir) or of that of the most renowned of the charismatic saviours: the Mahdi. He was the mujtahid, the pir-o murshid as well as the imam-i adil. According to Abul Fazl, he possessed refulgent (shining very brightly) power which was the gift of the ‘World-Adorning Creator’.

Not only that, but his tolerant policy, which in the first place was because of the reasons discussed above, also a tool to extend his universal theory of kingship. In a letter to Shah Abbas, written in 1549, Akbar expresses that his own tolerant stance towards different religions and cultures gave him the right to rule on them:

‘As it has been our disposition from the beginning of our attaining discretion to this day not to pay attention to differences in religion and variety of manners and to regard the tribes of mankind as the servants of God, we have endeavoured to regulate mankind in general’.

Thus tolerance could also serve as an instrument of rulership.

Akbar associated himself not only with historical, mythical and spiritual kingship to strengthen his own authority as a ruler; he widened this frame of references and sought access to the contemporary family of rulers of the world. He states this explicitly in his letter of 1582 to Philip II whom he tried to win for an alliance against the Ottomans:

“..we are, with the whole power of our mind, earnestly striving to establish and strengthen the bonds of love, harmony and union among the population, but above all with the exalted tribe [ ta`ifa, here better “family”] of princes [sultans], who enjoy the noblest of distinctions in consequence of a greater (share of the) divine favour, and especially with that illustrious representative of dominion, recipient of divine illumination and propagator of the Christian religion…”

Akbar implied that he was superior to other rulers, like Philip II or Shah `Abbas, because they accepted only one religion and acted merely within one culture while he his tolerance gave him the moral authority to take care of all mankind and thus he was a true universal king.