In the entire Mughal history if there has to one ruler who is remembered by all, it is Akbar. He’s considered to be the greatest Mughal king most notably for his mass conquests and favorable administrative policies. He is responsible for truly establishing the empire in India and expanding it to greater territories, something that only his great grandson- Aurangzeb would manage to do after 100 odd years.
Akbar came into power at a very young age of 12 yrs after Humayun, his father, died in a sudden accident pretty soon after conquering Delhi back from the Afghans. Being the only heir to the empire he was the obvious successor however owing to his tender age there were some apprehension on usurpation of power. During this time 3 key people were really responsible to secure the throne for him- Hamida his mother, Bairam Khan his future general and Maham Anga his milk mother.
Akbar was a precocious child with keen interest in variety of subjects, although he never knew how to read or write his own name ( he was dyslexic) he was adept in picking things up really quickly just by observation and listening. He was also the most liberal ruler of them all, he understood the diverse religions of his subjects and ensured religious freedom and equality amongst all. His syncrentic policies are in fact considered to be the highlight of his 60yr long reign and were responsible for fostering a flourishing and peaceful empire.
Being a teenager and an emperor was certainly an overwhelming role for him especially when Mughal empire was yet again at a nascent stage reclaiming land after a gap of more than 3 decades. He was fortunate to have an able and smart general in Bairam Khan who really guided him in warfare and strategy. Immediately coming into power Akbar had lost Delhi briefly to the interim ruler Hemu who was the general of the previous Sur rulers. After the death of Islam Shah the Sur dynasty was in a disarray, Hemu here emerged as a perfect opportunist to stake his claim on throne. Hemu was an able general himself known for his supreme tactics and its because of this he was able to defeat Akbar the first time. However luck was on Akbars side during the second battle of Panipat Akbar was able to defeat Hemu as he was shot in the eye by a stray arrow. He was captured and then executed.
From here on there was no looking back for Akbar. He was successful in every campaign he ever undertook expanding the empire all the way to Kandahar in the north covering all of Kashmir, the whole of Bengal, Bihar in the east and till Rajasthan and part of Madhya Pradesh in south. Under his reign the real Mughal power was established.
As a person Akbar was extremely guarded even amongst his closest ones. He believed in maintaining a larger than life, an almost God like persona which was admired and feared at the same time. In his early days he was greatly influenced by 3 people- his mother, his general Bairam Khan, his milk mother Maham Anga and her son Adham Khan who was like a brother to him. However due palace intrigues and personal agendas Akbar had severed ties with all of them save his mother. Bairam Khan was increasingly becoming over bearing in political affairs while Maham Anga and her son were misappropriating funds from the treasury. Akbar being fed up of all this disposed them and took complete hold of his palace and the state.
Akbar was extremely successful at the battle field, however when it came to his personal relationships he always suffered a setback. It was because of being repeatedly disappointed by those who were close to him time and again that he became more closed off and guarded. He could never foster a close relationship with any of his wives, something he regretted esp seeing his father and mother share a beautiful relationship together. Even with his four sons he could not build the comfort and closeness. So formal and distant were his relations with his son especially Salim (who would go on to become the future king) that he would later go on to rebel against him to seize power.
Out of all of his sons Salim was the only smarter one, the others Daniyal and Murad were both heavy drunkards and stupid. Although Salim himself was an alcoholic and an opium addict but largely he was able to control himself and was a capable successor. But despite this Salim and Akbar always shared an uncomfortable relationship , Salim always felt that he could not live up to his fathers expectations or his illustrious name. Akbar felt that Salim was always too impatient and petulant and also irresponsible for power. Their relationship further severed because of incidences like his affair with Akbars courtesan Anarkali, his rebellion and thereby killing of Akbars closest confidante Abul Fazl to name a few. Salims mother and Akbars very much Hindu Rajput wife-Man Bai also did nothing to bring them together mostly cause she herself detested Akbar and her marriage to him.
Throughout his life Akbar would chase after companionship which he never got. He immersed himself in spirituality and religion to find answers and peace but even that was an unfinished affair. We will come to this in the following section.
If I have to summarize the reasons why he’s called Akbar the Great I would most certainly cite 3 things-
First he was a remarkable leader not only at the battlefield- fearless and undaunted- he also understood administration and how economy would work perfectly. He did away with unnecessary taxes that was stunting growth, gave enough leeway to the farmers to raise credit, he even abolished the unnecessary jiziya or the religious tax imposed on Hindus to make pilgrimages to further boost positive support from his subjects. He centralized his economy by creating Mansabdars ( military bureaucracy) who were directly responsible for maintaining independent armies, improving their land holdings, and remitting the taxes to the imperial treasury. He smartly sub divided his empire into disciplined units and the most remarkable part is these positions were not hereditary. Only the king could assign these posts, this ensured that these units did not become too powerful than the central empire.
Second, Akbar realized that if he wants to settle and expand his empire to greater heights he needs to embrace the diverse religions that existed in India. The Hindus were clearly in the majority, however there also existed significant communities such as the Jews, Parsees, Buddhists, Jains etc. Allowing freedom to practice ones religion was one of his most favored policies. Even to strengthen the empire he made key alliances with the Rajputs (Hindus) who held large parts of western India. He took Hindus wives and bestowed several Hindu kings with key military and administrative positions to show his support. This was not just a smart political move, Akbar himself was a very liberal man. He believed strongly in holding open and free religious discussions which enrich ones mind and understanding. His approach was more towards spiritual enlightenment than religion per se. He in fact used to regularly hold such meets inviting people from all faiths to debate and discuss issues. He even sought to create his own religion called Din-i-llahi which was a combination of all the good things from all faiths, this new religion however did not stick for long. But like mentioned before his liberal approach resulted in the intermingling and peaceful co-existence of various religions together.
Third, Akbar was a great admirer and patron of arts. He not only commissioned the construction of the beautiful city- Fathepur Sikri, the palace which is made of beautiful red sandstone in Persian style is a true and first work of architecture by any Mughal emperor. He is also known for patronizing the famous Nav Ratan ( Nine jewels) at his court. There was Birbal his witty and able minister, Raja Todar Mal the excellent administrator, Tansen the musician to name just a few. During his reign many artists flourished and arts and culture went on a whole New level.
All in all Akbar was truly one of India’s remarkable rulers. He’s credited for fostering religious tolerance and creativity, his support for learning by reason and logic was really responsible for this. He was far ahead in his thinking amongst even his contemporaries across the world like Elizabeth I of England and its because of this hes remembered as Akbar the Great.