Akbar’s Initial Years: “The Regency” – 1556-1560

Bairam Khan Khān-i Khānān
Akbar sits on the throne at Kalanore as Bairam directs the arrest of Shāh Abul Ma’āli

In this discussion we shall be mainly concerned with the political history of the Timurid Empire in India from Feb 1556 to March 1560: in other words, this would be the political history of the period after Akbar’s accession for about four years when the Mughal empire was run and administered on behalf of the king by one of the senior nobles, namely Bairam Khan Khan-i Khanan. Hence, the term ‘Period of Regency,’ is used to identify this phase. Bairam Khan during this period acted as a regent.

The important developments of this period were two-fold. Firstly it was during this period of four years that the Mughals under the overall leadership of Bairam Khan were able to crush the Afghan resistance which was tending to become quite formidable from Dec 1555 onwards (due to the Battle of Chhaparghat in which Muhammad Khan Sur was defeated).

The second development of this period was that Bairam Khan, of course with the co-operation of the bulk of the nobility, was able to maintain the internal cohesion of the Mughal State in a time of very great strain partly caused by the external pressures, and partly also caused by the internal situations – developments within the Mughal Camp: minority of Akbar and the jealousies and series of rivalries amongst the senior nobles.

The Achievements of Regency

The real extent of these achievements of the period of regency would become evident to us fully only if we keep in mind that in January 1556 the Mughal sway in Northern India was limited to the regions immediately around Lahore in Punjab; and Delhi and Agra in the Gangetic plain. Towards further east, Sambhal and Badaun were the only two points up to which Mughals had extended their authority. The remaining part of the country eastwards was still in the hands of the Afghans.

Further, only two months prior to Akbar’s accession, the Afghans had succeeded in improving their position by eliminating from the scene two contenders against Adil Shah, viz.  Muhammad Khan Sur and Ibrahim Shah Sur, and also thereby reconciling of many of the Afghan chiefs like Rukn Khan Nauhani or Haji Khan Sultani who had till the end of 1555 opposed Adil Shah. Thus the position of Afghan chiefs had considerably improved.

Let us also remember that even within the territory already over run by the Mughals, there still existed pockets of Afghan resistance which posed a serious threat to the stability of the Mughal hold even in this region. These pockets were in the Punjab centred round Mankot where Sikandar Sur had entrenched himself with the help of the local zamindars after his defeat at the Battle of Sirhind.

The other pocket of resistance was in the Badaun and Sambhal region where Rukn Khan Nauhani and Shaadi khan were confronting the Mughal local authority and had made it impossible for them to pacify the area.

The third pocket was located to the south-east of Mewar territory where Haji Khan Sultani was still entrenched and he was quite formidable because he had the support of some of the influential local chiefs including the Kachhwahas who later on joined Akbar’s service.

From this position, by the end of the period of regency, Mughal Empire had succeeded in totally stemming out all these pockets of resistance extending up to Jaunpur.

We know that the expansion towards Jaunpur resulted first from the Mughal victory in the Battle of Panipat fought in Nov 1556 and then resulted from the relentless pressure from the Mughal forces in the east under the command of Ali Quli Khan Uzbek and his brother Bahadur Khan Uzbek. As a result of this relentless pressure, by 1559 they succeeded in reaching up to Jaunpur.

The eradication of Afghan pockets of resistance in the Punjab rea was achieved in 1558 as a result of Sikandar Sur’s surrender to Akbar after a siege of Mankot which prolonged for several months.

So the extent of military achievement can be seen from this.

Again, the real extent of the achievement of Bairam Khan in keeping the Mughal nobility united and maintain the cohesion of the empire would become evident to us only if we remember that at the time of Humayun’s death, the Mughal nobility when called upon to control the situation during the minority of Akbar, who was 12 or 13 years of age in 1556, was sharply divided. It was really a difficult task to arrive at a broad consensus over the choice of the person who should assume the responsibility of running the state in his capacity as a wakil-us saltanat and as Akbar’s ataliq.

This problem tended to become more difficult owing to the presence in the Royal Camp of a number of senior nobles, each one of whom could put his claim for the coveted position on one or the other basis. For example, persons like Tardi Beg and Bairam Khan who could claim the offices of wakil and ataliq of the minor king on the basis of seniority. Both were continuing in service since a long time. In fact the position of Tardi Beg was much more stronger as he was already a noble of high rank even during early years of Humayun’s reign. Bairam Khan rose to prominence a few years later, but compared to other nobles he was also very senior. While Tardi Beg was very strong at the time of Humayun’s death by virtue of his being the commander of Delhi which was the headquarters of the empire, and also by virtue of the fact that many of his personal followers, mainly Chaghtais, for example Haider Muhammad Khan Akhtabegi and Tulaq Khan Quchin were controlling territory around Delhi and Agra. In addition to this Tardi Beg was the senior-most Chaghtai noble belonging to the Quchin clan of the Chaghtais, and in this capacity he was recognized widely as the undisputed leader of the most numerous racial group of the nobles.

On the other hand, we find Bairam Khan’s position also tended to become very strong from late 1555 when he was appointed by Humayun as Akbar’s ataliq and sent him with Akbar to Punjab just a few weeks before Humayun’s death. As it is well known, from Agra Bairam Khan went to Hisar Firuza which was Akbar’s jagir, then moved in a north-westerly direction, and at the time of Humayun’s death, he was at Kalanaur, proceeding towards Mankot where Sikandar Sur was entrenched.

So at the time of Humayun’s death, the heir-apparent was with Bairam |Khan. Secondly he had already been recognized as the ataliq of the prince by the late emperor himself. So Bairam Khan could put his claim and be taken seriously. He could become wakil without even asking other nobles.

The Contenders to the Office of Regent

But then in addition, there were several others also to put claim to this high position on the basis of their relationship with the royal family. As example one may name two persons, Khizr Khwaja and Khwaja Mu’azzam.

Khizr Khwaja Khan actually belonged to the ruling chaghtai dynasty of Kashgar, the dynasty created by Timur at Samarqand. He had also married Gulbadan Bano Begum, Babur’s daughter and step sister of Humayun and sister of Mirza Hindal. So he was a direct descendant of Chingiz, as well as the member of Timur’s family. He was stationed in Punjab with a large army. On account of family background and connected to the royal family as well as commanding a large contingent, he could emerge as a viable candidate.

Khwaja Mu’azzam, on the other hand was Hamida Bano Begum’s elder brother. Thus he was Akbar’s maternal uncle. Hamida Bano Begum, we know, was a direct descendant of Shaikh Ahmad Jam Zindapir, a well-known Sufi of Persia. So Khwaja Mu’azzam too had a distinguished family background.

Or for that matter, there were several others who could put forward their claim on the basis of their closeness to the person of the new king. Mention may be made of two persons. One of them was Shamsuddin Muhammad Atka. Although he belonged to a very ordinary Turkish family from Ghaznin and did not have any distinguished background, but he happened to be the husband of one of Akbar’s famous wet-nurse, Jiji Anaga. Akbar felt particularly close to Jiji Anaga and Shamsuddin as during the first four years of his life, he was entirely looked after by these two at Kabul while his parents were away in Persia. While fleeing to Persia Humayun had left Akbar with them, and he had remained with them till 1546. Thus Akbar considered Shamsuddin atka as his father and was attached to Jiji Anaga as her son.

The other person enjoying similar position was Khwaja Jalauddin Bujuq. [Bujuq means a person with a deformed nose]. He was one of the Khurasani officers who had joined Humayun’s service while in Persia. In Kabul in 1547 Bujuq was appointed by Humayun as his Mir-i Buyutat that is, a minister responsible for stores etc. He was also appointed a Akbar’s ataliq. He appears to have been much abler than Bairam Khan. It seems that during the period that he was an ataliq, he had influenced Akbar to a great extent and Akbar felt greatly attached to this person. So Khwaja Jalaluddin Bujuq could also put forward his claim by virtue of his proximity to the new king.

The task of selection of ataliq and wakil was not an easy job. There was every likelihood of a number of nobles to put forward their claim to this high position.

Mutual Tensions & Frictions

This task was rendered still more difficult owing to the fact that many of these high nobles holding high positions at the time of Humayun’s death, had hostile attitude towards each other. For example, we know that Bairam Khan and Tardi Beg had quarrelled with each other during the march of Humayun from Lahore to Sirhind. It was a very serious quarrel because Abul Fazl tells us that in fact one of the persons who carried a message from Tardi Beg to Bairam was beaten up by an enraged Bairam who was provoked by the message sent by his adversary. Serious quarrel was in the background of these two.

Abul Fazl has the following remark to make about Bairam and Tardi Beg’s relations:

Bairam Khan recognized Tardi Beg Khan as his rival and was always apprehensive of him. Tardi Beg too regarded himself as leader of the army and was lying in wait for an opportunity to overthrow Bairam Khan. Each two regarded points of bigotry as the essence of religion and made them additional reasons for watching for opportunities to ruin one another.

Similarly Bairam Khan’s relations with Khwaja Jalauddin Bujuq were far from cordial. Mutual dislike and hostilities existed between the two. This can be surmised from observations which Bayazid Bayat (Tazkira-i Humayun wa Akbar) and Abul Fazl have made on Jalaluddin Bujuq’s execution by Munim Khan, governor of Kabul, at the instigation of Bairam Khan. Both authorities tell us that Bujuq had the dangerous habit of coining cruel jokes on his opponents. And Bairam Khan had nursed a grievance against him for such jokes about him.

Then again, relations between Bairam Khan and Munim Khan were also not at all friendly from the time when Humayun had planned in 1553 to replace Bairam in Qandhar by Munim Khan because Humayun had come to suspect Bairam of having secret links with the Safavids. At that occasion Bairam had got the impression that these suspicions were created in the mind of the king as a result of Munim Khan’s misreporting and advice.

Munim Khan was the senior-most Chaghtai noble after Tardi Beg. He represented one of the most influential groups. He was controlling Kabul at this time, which was still serving as the base of military operations conducted by Mughals in Hindustan. The entire royal haram and the families of most of the officers were quartered in Kabul which gave a particular leverage to Munim Khan in this new situation. Anyone coming to helm of affairs could not afford to have strained relations with the governor of Kabul.

Then there was a serious rift between Bairam Khan and a certain noble, Shah Abul Ma’ali. Shah Abul Ma’ali was a Saiyyid hailing from Tabriz, who joined Humayun’s service sometime between 1545-53 and somehow Humayun developed very great affection for him. So much so that he was to be treated at par with members of the Royal family. Some say he was in love with Ma’ali: if a qasida was written on Humayun, a quartrain would be about Ma’ali also. But Abul Ma’ali was a short-tempered person who found it difficult to get along with the other nobles. He enjoyed extra-ordinary privileges. This man was leading a large army in Lahore region at the time of Humayun’s death. He was leading one of the contingents deputed for suppression of Sikandar Sur in Mankot territory.

According to Abul Fazl, when Akbar was sent to Punjab with Bairam Khan, Shah Abul Ma’ali came to visit him near Sultanpur on the eastern bank of river Sutlaj. But before coming to meet Akbar, Ma’ali sent a message to Bairam Khan that it should be ensured by Bairam that he be received by Akbar in the same manner as he was received and entertained by Humayun. He wanted Akbar to come out and welcome him and take him to the royal audience and ask him to sit on a raised platform – a privilege extended to him by Humayun.

Bairam sent a reply on behalf of of Akbar and it was conveyed that all these privileges are not advisable. And so far as Humayun was concerned, it was contended he showed favour due to personal affection – a rule not binding on other people. So Akbar was not bound to show same special favours.

Ma’ali was greatly enraged by this reply and refused to come.

So break had taken place already. At this time Shah Abul Ma’ali commanded a large contingent. So he enjoyed considerable leverage to manipulate the situation.

Thus Bairam Khan’a choice as a wakil was not a natural choice but a difficult choice made after considerable negotiations and mutual bickering amongst senior nobles. Once the choice was made it was possible for Bairam Khan to achieve the re-conquest of the country.

How Did Bairam Rise to Power?

Now the question is how could it be possible that Bairam was selected unanimously and then carried on as he did? How was it that Bairam achieved as much in so short a time and then his position was so greatly weakened that he was ousted?

As far as the standard interpretation is concerned – that is the interpretation included and put forward in the monographs of Smith and Tripathi (Rise & Fall of the Mughal Empire) – it seems to run on the following lines:

Smith suggests that Bairam Khan was able to become the wakil as he promptly seized the opportunity offered to him by the difficult situation faced by the Mughals in Hindustan. Once he succeeded in capturing power as a result of his prompt action, he then went on extending his power within the Timurid state by appointing his own favourites on important positions and giving important military command to his own men and promoting out of turn his personal followers in the nobility and also by eliminating from position of authority one by one most of his potential rivals. Then it is made out that this behaviour of Bairam Khan resulted in his total isolation not only from nobility but also from the young Akbar, who was, according to this interpretation, so provoked by Bairam’s over-bearing attitude that finally in March 1560, he decided to join hands with those opposed to Bairam in engineering his dismissal.

This interpretation was re-inforced by RP Tripathi who thought that Bairam’s isolation from the nobility had something to do with the Irani and Turani rift within the nobility. He thinks that the majority of the nobles who were Turanis turned against Bairam because he was an Irani. In addition to this, Smith gives yet another reason for Bairam’s isolation in the nobility and his final decline and eclipse: the Shia – Sunni divide. He makes out a case that Bairam Khan used to show excessive favours to his Shi’ite followers which provoked the Turani nobles who were predominantly Sunnis. Smith cites the case of Shaikh Gadai, who according to Smith was a Shia and who had been appointed sadr us sudur by Bairam Khan and was empowered to supervise the working of the Central government in general. According to Abul Fazl, Bairam Khan even sent orders that none of the royal orders pertaining to revenue or military affairs were to be enforced unless they carried the seal of Shaikh Gadai. Smith cites this to substantiate his point that Bairam was in the habit of strengthening powers in the hands of the Shi’ites which provoked the Turani Sunni nobility.

If one carefully examines this standard interpretation of Smith and Tripathi, one finds that it fails to answer many of the questions that arise regarding the history of this period when it is viewed in the background of all the detailed information which we have.

This interpretation fails to fully explain as to how it would be possible for Bairam Khan to become wakil when his position was weak at this time of Humayun’s death. What is not explainable is that he became wakil with the agreement of the entire nobility. How this consensus could be arrived at? What were the terms of this consensus? These questions are left un-answered in this interpretation.

An important question which arises, but is left un-answered is that how if Bairam Khan’s position was not so strong, what were the measures adopted by him which subsequently enabled him to become so strong that within six months, he was in the position to eliminate the most powerful noble of the empire – Tardi Beg – from the scene? What are the actual measures which resulted in this development?

Thirdly, whether Bairam Khan’s overthrow in March 1560, as is suggested by Smith and others, was the result of his growing unpopularity and isolation amongst the nobles for various reasons or are there evidence / evidences to suggest that the situation was not that simple? There were many retrogressions and regressions in Bairam’s position. What are the distinct phases in Bairam’s progress? One has also to ascertain whether Bairam’s downfall was brought about by nobles opposing him or was it as a result of a move initiated by Akbar himself?

Abul Fazl has gone out of the way to suggest that the initiative came from Akbar himself. All that happened and the events which took place were a result of Akbar’s own initiative. The others played side roles.

All those who opposed Bairam were Akbar’s tools. Therefore, according to Abul Fazl, Bairam’s dismissal was actually the victory of the crown over the regent. The question remains, if it was a victory of Crown over the Regent, that is, the centralizing forces over the nobility against centralization, or the success of the centralizing forces over decentralizing elements?

A Fait Accompli or Consensus?

Let us start with the first question: How was it possible for Bairam to secure the office of wakil without facing any opposition inspite of the fact that there existed factions within the nobility putting claim to the office: and in spite of Bairam’s relations with senior-most Chaghtai nobles like Tardi Beg, being far from cordial? Question to be answered is whether the assumption of wakalat by Bairam was a fait accompli or a result of a consensus arrived at amongst the nobles including those who were otherwise not very friendly towards Bairam Khan.

It is not very correct to suggest that Bairam Khan’s rise was simply to the fact that he was with Akbar at Kalanaur at Humayun’s death, or due to the fact that he happened to be Akbar’s ataliq at that time, or that he had the initiative to stall Akbar on the throne as soon as he heard of Humayun’s death, thus depriving his rivals of the opportunity to come out in the open for opposing him, because we find that while the news of Humayun’s fall from the stairs of Sher Mandal on 24th Jan 1556 and his death on 27th Jan 1556 was conveyed to Bairam and Akbar in quick succession. The news about these occurrences had reached them within 3 days of the actual happenings, but still we find that Bairam Khan did not take any initiative for placing Akbar on the throne till 14th Feb 1556. So there is a time gap of 14 days between the announcement of the death at Kalanaur, and Bairam Khan’s appointment.

Another point to be remembered is that the accession of Akbar was announced first, not at Kalanaur, and not by Bairam Khan, but at Delhi and by Tardi Beg.

In fact, Akbar’s accession was formally proclaimed on 11th Feb at Delhi when under Tardi Beg’s guidance and supervision; the khutba was read in Akbar’s name at Delhi. It was only after the news of proclamation of Akbar’s accession had been conveyed to Bairam Khan that four days later Bairam took steps for holding Akbar’s coronation at Kalanaur.

Then it is also worth remembering that after Tardi Beg’s announcement of accession, and before Bairam Khan’s appointment and coronation at Kalanaur after four days, Tardi Beg had gone out of the way in transferring the custody of Kamran’s son, Mirza Abul Qasim to Bairam Khan.

Lastly, on the occasion of Akbar’s ascending the throne on 14th Feb at Kalanaur, when Bairam Khan arrested Shah Abul Ma’ali in a surprise move, he was fully supported in this action by the nobles who were known to be very close to Tardi Beg, and also by the Chaghtai nobles in general.

This is borne out by the fact that Shaikh Abul Ma’ali on his arrival at Kalanaur on 14th Feb was actually over-powered by Tulak Beg Quchin, a close adherent and (also) a relation of Tardi Beg, who had just arrived at Kalanaur with Tardi’s message.

Then we also know that when news of Abul Ma’ali’s arrest and imprisonment reached Kabul, within a short time, according to Bayazid Bayat, Munim Khan, a Chaghtai, promptly acted by arresting Ma’ali’s younger brother Sh. Abul Hashim, who till then was still stationed in the sarkar of Kabul.

Both these evidences suggest that the harsh measures taken by Bairam Khan against Ma’ali had full support and endorsement of all the senior nobles including those Chaghtai nobles who otherwise were not very friendly to Bairam Khan.

What is the impression created by all this? One. That Bairam Khan became wakil after long deliberations. Delaying of accession meant delaying of who will be the wakil us sultanate? So if the announcement was delayed, it is obvious that there was a difference of opinion over the choice of the wakil. There was much debate for around 14 days. This rules out the theory of the fait accompli: Bairam was not in a position to take advantage of his position. Final decision arrived at after a consensus had been reached on the issue. This is borne out by the fact taht the accession was first announced at Delhi under Tardi Beg’s guidance.

Secondly, Tardi went out of his way of re-assuring Bairam of symbolic help by handing over a prince of the royal blood to Bairam. It is also borne out by Ma’ali’s case.

The Regency

It is obvious that the Regency which came about in Feb 1556 was by and large with the consensus of the nobles and represented their collected will. Bairam’s authority as the so-called Regent was greatly limited by the fact that he had come to power not by virtue of his position or strength, but with the support of the nobles, and depended on the co-operation and support he could secure from the nobles in general.

We can also imagine that the nobles accepted him because they thought that Bairam Khan was not very strong, having no large following, therefore, won’t be able to emerge as a very great authority who could try to discipline the aristocracy, which would be possible more in the case of Tardi Beg.

Bairam was a Turkoman from Iran, and his following was not very large. Perhaps the nobles thought that they could manipulate him. Thus he became the favourite choice.

But then the answer to the second question is important: How was it possible for him to strengthen his position so as to execute Tardi Beg without any repercursions? In the light of the first question, this gets important: We have seen it was the collective regime of the nobles. Now after 6 months, Bairam imposed discipline. Tardi Beg’s execution was one such measure.

We should take note of an isolated piece of evidence derived mainly from Akbarnama and Bayazid Bayat’s memoirs, which if put together go to suggest that immediately after assuming wakalat, while nobles in general, were still off-guard, Bairam started making surreptitious and cautious moves directed towards elimination of all those people in the Mughal camp in Hindustan whom he counted as his potential rivals.

Let us deal with these pieces of evidence:

Firstly, in the text of the Proclamation announcing Bairam Khan’s appointment as wakil us sultanat, it is mentioned that Bairam Khan in his capacity as the new wakil us sultanat would be controlling the working of the general administration, including that of the department of wizarat. In the light of what we know about the changes in the structure of the central government under Humayun, this seems to be a significant departure from the practice that had come to be established in the preceding decade that the department of diwani would be under the independent charge of the wazir, who would be responsible for it directly to the king and that the wakil would not be exercising any jurisdiction over wizarat.

This naturally meant drastic curtailment of Khwaja Sultan Ali, who was holding the office of wazir at the time of Humayun’s death. This curtailment was not liked by Sultan Ali. When Bairam Khan executed Tardi Beg, Sultan Ali was one of those who came out protesting against Bairam Khan’s arbitrary action. This is from Akbarnama.

We find within three days of Akbar’s accession, Bairam Khan, according to Sidi Ali Reis,(Mirat ul Mamalik, 1557) a Turkish admiral who came to Delhi just a few days before Humayun’s death and was present at the time of accession, and left Kalanaur for Kabul within three days of accession, tells us that while starting from Kalanaur, Bairam Khan sent a team of nobles for escorting him through the tribal regions. This party was strangely headed by no less a person than Bapus Beg, a senior Chaghtai noble who was holding the charge of the sarkar of Lahore till this time.

On the pretext of sending Bapus Beg from Hindustan, he is removed from the crucial administrative position holding in Punjab. It is significant that we know on Bayazid’s authority that Bapus Beg, from then on, lived in Kabul.

The Phases

From Feb 1556 to Nov 1556, Bairam Khan tried to consolidate his position. Shamsuddin Atka, Khwaja Jalaluddin Bujuq and several other senior Chaghtai nobles were asked to proceed to Kabul to help and accompany the Royal Ladies from Kabul to Delhi. All important nobles who could challenge Bairam’s position and authority were removed.

In addition to this, we find that Bairam Khan handled the situation at Kabul that developed in May 1556 as a result of Mirza Sulaiman’s invasion, in a manner which indicated that he wanted the governor of Kabul, Munim Khan and other nobles present there to remain pre-occupied indefinitely so that they may not be in a position to intervene in the Mughal Empire in Hindustan.

This appears in the manner in which he replied to Munim Khan’s appeals in May and October 1556 asking for re-enforcements as the total number of troops available in Kabul was very small and Munim Khan found it difficult to defend it from Mirza Sulaiman. In response to these appeals, Bairam Khan’s only reply was that the officers sent earlier for escorting the royal ladies to Hindustan would suffice for the purpose. Even when, as Abul Fazl says, Akbar readied to give financial help, Bairam refused it on the ground that it was not advisable to give substantial amounts for the rescue of Kabul when Hindustan itself was unstable.

The attack of Mirza Sulaiman came as a god sent to Bairam as it led to a situation in which Munim Khan and other nobles at Kabul were rendered helpless and were not in a position to interfere at the centre. This gave a chance to Bairam to consolidate his position.

A similar picture appears from the position at Delhi at the time of Hemu’s advance towards the Mughal capital. Bairam sent instructions to Tardi Beg that till the arrival of the main army no engagement should take place. When Tardi did engage Hemu in Tughluqabad, then Bairam’s personal envoy, Pir Muhammad Sherwani left the battlefield at a crucial juncture contributing greatly to the Mughal defeat.

So Bairam’s attitude was again of keeping Tardi Beg pinned down against the Afghan and not letting him achieve victory on his own initiative. He suspected that if Tardi succeeded, then he would become too strong to be tackled. So Tardi’s defeat, again, came as god sent to Bairam. This defeat weakened Tardi Beg to the extent that Bairam found it possible to seize him and execute him. Reaction was not wide spread enough to endanger his position.

Now once Bairam established his supremacy, for a subsequent period of seven months, i.e., from Nov 1556 down to April 1557, he got a free hand to build support for his authority within the Mughal nobility in a very flagrant manner without facing any worthwhile opposition.

After the Battle of Panipat, he singled out his personal followers and adherents for promotions and appointments to different military commands and high positions.

We find that all important military commands were given in post-Panipat period to nobles who belonged to the Uzbek clan, like Sikandar Khan and Abdullah Khan Uzbek, or persons like Ali Quli and Bahadur Khan Uzbek, who were under Humayun from 1545, or to some of Bairam’s personal staff, like Pir Muhammad Khan Sherwani, Qiya Khan Gang and Shaikh Gadai, who were installed on high positions in Central government.

With the help of his team of these military commanders and central ministers, Bairam Khan was able to administer with a very firm hand for the next seven months.

But then, there came about a visible shift from April 1557 onwards. From April 1557 to April 1558 it was apparently a period of sharp struggle between Bairam Khan and his followers on the one hand and the sections of the nobility who were becoming jealous on the other. They were prominently Chaghtai nobles who were jealous of Bairam’s growing power.

They were encouraged to come out in the open by the support they started receiving from April 1557 onwards from some of the ladies of the royal haram, particularly Hamida Bano Begum and Maham Anaga.

Hamida Bano arrived at Lahore while the Mughal camp was at Mankot in Punjab where Bairam Khan was bedieging Sikandar Sur. Hamida Bano’s presence in Hindustan and her interest in politics encouraged many nobles jealous of Bairam Khan to start opposing him in different ways.

Some incidents of this period were as follows:

As soon as Hamida Bano arrived at Lahore, a proposal was mooted for Akbar’s marriage with the daughter of a Chaghtai noble, Mirza Abdullah Mughal. The lady whose name was proposed, also happened to be a grand-daughter of Munim Khan.

This was an attempt to wean away Akbar from Bairam Khan’s influence by a marriage to a Chaghtai family. This proposal was opposed tooth and nail by Bairam Khan, but the marriage did take place soon after Hamida’s arrival at Lahore. This was the first serious set-back to Bairam Khan.

Bairam was greatly provoked – but was powerful enough not to be provoked! So attempts were made to placate him. So Bairam’s marriage with Salima Sultan Begum, (the d/o Gulrukh Khanum d/o Babur) was arranged. As a result of this, matrimonial ties between the royal family and Bairam Khan were established.

Then we find that in April 1558, according to Abul Fazl, it was decided that Bairam Khan would exercise his powers as the regent only in consultation with other leading nobles present at the court. This decision must have been a result and culmination of much give and take, a long tussle between Bairam Khan and his opponents – and it was necessarily a very great curb on Bairam Khan’s powers.

So this decision can be regarded as a turning point in the history of court-politics during the regency. This is borne out by a passage from the Akbarnama:

“At this time (April 1558) the Khan-i Khanan and all the officers and the pillars of the Empire, held a great assembly in the Shahanshah’s diwankhana twice a week. Whatever was fixed upon there with regard to political and financial matters, was humbly presented to the Shahinshah; and whatever his word obeying command directed, received the Royal signature.”

In this tussle the king was being alienated from Bairam. This was due to the influence of Hamida Bano Begum and Maham Anaga on Akbar.

The third phase (of Bairam’s regency) was from April 1558 to June 1559.

The Decline

The significance of the developments of this period was that during this period, it seems, Bairam Khan, was increasingly becoming helpless and was not in a position to execute even his ordinary powers and thus the administration was paralysed. Throughout this period of one year and after the fall of Mankot (where Sikandar Lodi was finally defeated by Bairam and Akbar), for no reason the Imperial camp remained at Lahore and many of Bairam’s personal servants and adherents started opposing him actively.

One of the persons of this category was Pir Muhammad Khan Shervani, who was the personal wakil of Bairam Khan who had been entrusted key responsibilities in the central administration.

By the end of 1558, the situation arrived a point that this man was actively opposing his own master. The famous episode which indicates the rift between Pir Muhammad and Bairam Khan relates to the treatment meted out to Ali Quli Khan Uzbek, the governor of Jaunpur. The envoy of Ali Quli was put to death by Pir Muhammad without referring to Bairam Khan.

So there was a persecution of those who were still loyal to Bairam. Ali Quli was humiliated primarily because he was still very friendly to Bairam Khan. And Bairam had almost become helpless to rectify the situation. By the middle of 1559, Bairam had been pushed to a point where he had no chance to act in a drastic manner to re-assert himself or even to abandon his post.

At this time, he made a last ditch attempt. Thus from mid-1559 to March 1560, is considered the last phase of his career, which is marked by determined efforts to regain his authority and retrieve his powers. This created a backlash and the tussle became very sharp and came to the forefront.

Bairam Khan dismissed Pir Muhammad and replaced him with Haji Muhammad Khan Sistani. Badauni says this appointment to a key position was greatly resented by the nobles and emerged as a point of agitation by the nobles and ordinary troopers. Badauni tells us that people composed sarcastic couplets about Bairam, Haji Muhammad and Shaikh Gadai, which they scribed on the walls of the houses of these people.

Bairam also executed a Chaghtai noble, Musahib Beg, on suspicion of planning to take his life. Two mahaots of royal elephants were also executed on same charges. This greatly provoked Akbar against him and in March 1560, as a result, he was sacked and dismissed.

Bairam Khan submits to Akbar after his defeat

The Religious / Sectarian Element:

Bairam Khan is alleged to have extended favour to adherents of Shi’i faith. Some modern scholars like Vincent Smith, SR Sharma, Ashibadilal Srivastave and others refer to the fact that to a certain extent religious factors did play a part in Bairam Khan getting isolated.

What is the evidence on which this premise is based? This premise appears to be based on two ‘sets’ of evidences:

1. An assumption, on the part of Blochmann and then subsequently Smith, that Shaikh Gadai and his appointment by Bairam Khan as sadr-us sudur in November 1556 was on the basis that he was a Shi’i. Some of the other nobles who were staunch supporters of Bairam too were Shias.

2. Evidences derived from one statement in the Akbarnama suggesting that the conflict between Tardi Beg and Bairam Khan arose out of religious differences between the two.

This assumption is also based on some evidences derived from later sources like Ma’asir-i Rahimi of Abdul Baqi Nahawandi, compiled in 1614 on the orders of Abdur Rahim Khan-i Khanan, the son of Bairam Khan; and the Muntakhab ul Lubab of Khafi Khan, an 18th Century authority.

These sources go to suggest that not only the differences between Tardi Beg and Bairam Khan, but the differences between Bairam and many other persons in the nobility, basically arose out of religious differences.

So far as the assumption that Shaikh Gadai was a Shi’ite, and that he was favoured as such due to these leanings, there does not exist any evidence whatsoever to suggest that Shaikh Gadai was a Shia. No source, contemporary or later, hint towards his Shi’i leanings. It is a puzzle as to where from Smith and H. Blochmann gathered this information.

In fact on the other hand, there does exist ample evidence which go to suggest very strongly that probably Sh Gadai was a Sunni!

This evidence is derived, for example, from Akhbar ul Akhyar, a collection of biographical notes on mashaikh and ulema of the 16th C compiled by Shaikh Abdul Haq Muhadis Dehlavi sometime towards the close of Akbar’s reign.

In the biographical notice on Sh. Gadai, Abdul Haq informs us that he was a son of the famous mystic of Delhi, Shaikh Jamali of Gangoh of the Suhrawardi silsila (order), who had also written a collection of biographical notices of Indian mystics. In this silsila, particular stress was on following the orthodox shariat. Gadai belonged to a family of this background. Abdul Haq never mentions that he was a Sunni, but family is indicative of his being a Sunni.

Further, in this connection, an assessment of Sh. Gadai’s character and status as a theologian made by Badauni is also to be mentioned: Badauni was quite intolerant, having a particular dislike for the Shi’ites. He praises his employer, Tukriya, for his prejudice against the Shi’ites. We find that he assesses Shaikh Gadai in his volume II, passing harsh observations about him – he calls him a very conceited person, humiliating ulema who would go to him; liking flattery, etc – but Badauni never accuses him of being a heretic.

This is quite significant. He reproduces a cruel and mean chronogram on Sh Gadai’s death: murd khūq-i kalā [You are dead! You great hog!]

But in this disapproval, we find Badauni never hints of his being a Shia. So an indirect evidence, which should be kept in mind.

Then there is the statement of Abul Fazl, according to which, difference of religious views contributed to difference between Tardi Beg and Bairam Khan. and when this passage was reproduced by Abdul Baqi Nahawandi in his Ma’asir-i Rahimi, a slight twist was given to make a lot of difference.

“Some (un-named persons) who regarded the bigoted adherence to the faith of this betrayer of faith as one of the requisites of their religion, were a party to attempt to overthrow Bairam Khan”

The term betrayer of faith is used for Tardi Beg. Bairam’s actions are justified. There were many who, like Tardi Beg, regarded bigotry as their religion, and turned against Bairam Khan.

Mention should also be made to a letter which is reproduced by Khafi Khan. this letter is allegedly written by Bairam Khan sometime after his dismissal in 1560. In this letter, Bairam Khan justifies his decision to advance upon Delhi with an army. Bairam Khan says that he had come to know about a fatwa issued by some of the ulema justifying action against him on religious grounds. He was condemned as a rafizi and therefore, his execution was recommended. Thus he had to protect his life.

If this letter is taken to be authentic, then religious controversy did play an important role. But this is very curious that such a letter surfaces only in a source compiled in the first half of the 18th C and there is no reference to this letter in any contemporary sources.

Abul Fazl does give a summary of one of Bairam’s letters sent on this occasion to Akbar. But its approach and language is at variance with this one reproduced by Khafi Khan. so the likely hood is that this letter is of doubtful provenance.

On the other hand, we do know that throughout the period of Regency, and after 6 months of dismissal, some of the Turani nobles who were quite well known for their staunch anti-Shi’ite sentiments, decided to side with Bairam Khan in his struggle to regain power.

Most conspicuous name amongst such was that of Husain Khan Tukriya – a Turani noble who was Abdul Qadi Badauni’s patron. He was a person who was very intolerant towards the non-Muslims and the Shi’ites. Tukriya had once issued an order in Lahore that all non-Muslims living within Lahore should wear a small piece of cloth on their person so that they could be distinguished from the Muslims. This would prevent the Muslims from inadvertently sending God’s grace and blessing towards them!

A man of this temperament sided with Bairam Khan down to the last moment and fought in the famous battle of Machhiwara in October 1560 where he was defeated by the Royalists.

So if religious differences did play an important role in the struggle, then it cannot be explained how Tukriya sided with Bairam.

It is obvious that so far as the contemporary situation is concerned, the contemporaries regarded religion as a minor factor. It was only in the late 17th or 18th C that it was attempted to show the struggle of Bairam Khan and the others in religious hues. It was in the background of heightened Shia-Sunni tensions from the reign of Jahangir onwards that some strength was given to such views.