By: Kate Carvalho
Akbar the Great Moghul emperor ruled Northern India from 1556 to 1605. He was a great leader, warrior, hunter, a lover of nature and the arts, expert sportsman and philosopher. Akbar was a multifaceted man – a master of all arts, yet one of his most revered qualities and greatest legacies was his great love for and practice of religious tolerance. Viewed in the context of the era in which Akbar lived this is all the more astonishing and impressive. In a time where wars constantly waged in the name of religion, prejudice was rife in many parts of the world and would remain so for hundreds of years, Akbar practiced an unprecedented kindness, compassion and reverence for many religious other than his own Muslim faith.
Akbar ruled Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Jains, members of which were all treated equally under his philosophy of sulahkul or "universal tolerance. With Akbar as their ruler, for the first time in their history India had a Muslim leader who not only tolerated the many other religions, but actively sought out their guidance and wisdom.
One of the first of Akbar’s actions that endeared him to the Hindu population was his abolition of two fiercely resented taxes. The first tax was on all Hindu pilgrims when they visited their shrines, the second tax was the jizya – a severe tax on all non muslims. The abolition of these two taxes were greatly appreciated by Akbars Hindu subjects and lent strength to his rule.
Akbar unified India as no other ruler had done before. He secured allegiance from the Rajput emperor of Amber by marrying his daughter thus making him a powerful ally. His new wife who was given the revered title Maryam az-Zamani was allowed to practice her own religion, this was a first time a Hindu woman was allowed to worship freely in a Muslim harem and it set a precedent. From that day forward all Hindu women within the harem were free to follow their own faith.
In 1575 Akbar created the Ibadatkhana, the House of Worship, as a place of religious debate and dialogue. Wise men of all religions were invited to come to the Ibadatkhana on Friday nights to discuss religion and philosophy. After presiding over many of these discussions Akbar became more and more convinced of the value and righteousness of all religions, he felt confined by the narrow limits of one religion and sought more spiritual answers from Hinduism. He adopted many of their customs, he fasted regularly, abstained from meat, visited the holy places that Hindu’s worshipped, he drank the holy water from the river Ganges and sought advice from Hindu sages and holy men.
Akbar also invited Catholic priests from Goa to his palace to enlighten him on Christianity and the words of the Christ. When they presented him with their gift – Europe’s newest and most lavish printed edition of the Bible, a seven-volume set with many illustrations. Akbar prayerfully kissed each volume, and then touched each one to his head.
Akbar sought to unite all his subjects no matter their creed or faith. He accomplished this enormous feat and as a result his kingdom flourished. Akbar was revered and loved by his subjects and is remembered as India’s greatest ruler.
Article By: Kate Carvalho, Sri Chinmoy Centre
Stories about Akbar the Great by Sri Chinmoy