The Mausoleum Of Akbar The Great

It is ironic that of the millions of visitors who flock to the grave of Mumtaz Mahal in Agra, few spare time to pay respects to her grand father-in-law, the third and greatest emperor of the Mughal empire in India: Jalaludin Mohammed Akbar (The Great). 

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The magnificent red sandstone South gate with marble minarets that outshines the monument itself!

Akbar’s story is as remarkable as the man.

Born in 1542 of Shia and Sunni parents in exile, in the home of the (Hindu) Rajput Rana of Umarkot, and bred in his paternal ancestral home in Kabul (while his father Humayun wrested the empire back from Pathan invader Sher Shah Suri in Delhi), he ascended the throne at thirteen under the guidance of his father’s skilled and trusted general Bairam Khan, put down an afghan revolt at seventeen, and took control of the empire from his able but cruel guardian by eighteen. He moved his capital to Agra and went on to extend and consolidate one of the most powerful empires of the subcontinent.

His early campaigns, possibly still under the influence of Bairam Khan’s vengeful legacy, were marked by brutality. The bloody siege of Chitor in particular and the massacre of thousands of civilians that followed, remains a blotch on his illustrious military accomplishments.

But he remarkably managed to evolve into a secular king, nearly two centuries before the term ‘secularism’ came into existence. His attempts to reconcile religious differences were daring for the time. He promoted fair trials, allowed the forcibly converted to reconvert, abolished the existing oppressive ‘pilgrim tax’ on non muslims, and elevated them – and his Hindu in-laws – to equal status in his court. His Rajput queen (princess of Amber) is said to have been the love of his life and had considerable influence on his religious outlook.

He built a hall of worship in his palace, Fatehpur Sikhri, where he met with representatives from all faiths without prejudice. He had the Bible translated to Persian. He ordered his son Murad to study the New Testament. He invited Jesuit priests to set up a church in Agra and is even said to have attended a Christian wedding where he translated wedding vows to the bride!

“……as the result of all the influences which were brought to bear on his Majesty, there grew gradually, as the outline on a stone, the conviction on his heart that there were sensible men in all religions, and abstemious thinkers and men endowed with miraculous powers among all nations. If some true knowledge were thus everywhere to be found, why should truth be confined to one religion, or to a creed like Islam, which was comparatively new, and scarcely a thousand years old; why should one sect assert what another denies, and why should one claim a preference without having superiority conferred upon itself?” ~ Mullah Abdul Qadar Badauni an Indo-Persian historian and critic of Akbar’s religious policies.

So he proceded to set up a new ‘divine faith’ named Din e Ilahi, that drew upon good elements from all religions. He dispensed with the clergy and cleverly appointed himself chief ‘interpreter’ of God’s will.  While Muslim theologians weren’t pleased, his subjects were. With the notion of equality at least, even if no one rushed to embrace the new and radical order.

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The five storied, pyramidal tomb structure.

The illiterate, dyslexic, astute statesman was buried in 1605 in a mausoleum in Sikandra (a suburb of Agra) that he designed himself and that seems as eclectic as his religious beliefs. It is set in a quadrilateral ‘char-bagh‘ garden that is home to herds of Indian antelope.

But it isn’t very clear whether his mortal remains are still in there.

Akbar’s legacy of harmonious co-existence was frittered away by increasingly hawkish descendants. The demolition of temples in Mathura – the birth place of Krishna – by his dogmatic great grandson Aurangazeb, incurred a fierce three decade long Jat uprising, in the course of which, and in retaliation for the horrific execution of a rebel leader, the mausoleum was desecrated.

It is believed that the remains of this most secular king of them all were dug up and thrown into a bonfire.

More From Agra:
The Simplicity Of Perfection
The Incredible Destiny of Mirza Ghiyas Beg

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

69 thoughts on “The Mausoleum Of Akbar The Great

  1. Thanks for all your posts, inputs, beautiful pix and generally for enhancing my knowledge, Madhu.
    Reading today’s post also ram parallel to the beautiful besieged Palmyra.
    Hope these artifacts, these heirlooms History has bequeathed to us, will never meet that fate.

    1. I know expecting madmen to value world heritage is naive, but I do hope good sense will prevail. Happy to see you here Ashu. Thank you for reading.

  2. I love the historical aspect of your post, it was very fun and interesting to read. To have accomplished and been through so much at such a minor age seems something out of legend, blemishes on his career or not. Great read, thank you!

    1. I think so too. Although I doubt the descendants of those massacred will agree! It is all relative, but on balance he was one of our best kings. Thank you for reading through and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

  3. I can understand why Akbar’s forward thinking views on religion were threatening to many. He seemed to understand a bigger picture perhaps. I enjoyed reading about him and touring the remains of his Mausoleum. There always seems to be such beauty left amongst the chaos!

    1. Yes. And lessons among the ruins, if we are willing to learn from them. Thank you Elisa. Have a great day 🙂

  4. India has the most incredible rich culture and history Madhu and you are brilliant at sharing it. So is the princess the same one as in Jaipur?

    1. Yes Gilly. That was a marriage of convenience that is even today fodder for many romantic novels and Bollywood flicks 🙂 The Jaipur kings allied with the Mughals. The Ranas of Mewar – Chitor, Udaipur and Jodhpur – held out fiercely till the very end.

  5. I have been there. .and as you have decribed it is a beautiful place..

    Sad to hear that the remains were thrown in the b9nfire what does it make the people who did it.. Does their religion tach that. . Something to think about

    Beautiful pictures though

    1. ‘Our’ religion Bikramjit! And does it really matter? Religion just lends or appears to lend a notion of legitimacy to these crimes. Today as then the real underlying reasons are entirely unrelated.

        1. The concluding lines of Nasadiya Sukta, the Creation Hymn, from the Rig Veda quoted by Kushwant Singh in The Freethinker’s Prayer Book:

          Who knows, then, where everything arose?
          Who can say how creation happened?
          The gods themselves came after Creation.
          Then He, whether He created all that is or whether He did not;
          He, who looks upon everything from the highest heaven –
          He alone knows. Or maybe He too does not.

    1. Shockingly so Jo. I am surprised our text books gloss over the facts! Wish they would narrate history truthfully and dispassionately and let us arrive at our own conclusions. You could still ‘Like’ my dispassionate narration without endorsing the rebel Jat’s actions 😀

  6. I do so love your posts. The one thing that struck me when I read the Mughal history was that the Mughal emperors were basically nomadic warriors who spent their entire life capturing kingdoms and then either dying within a few years or then losing the kingdoms. The futility of war and conquest is never more evident than in history.

    1. Absolutely. Although Akbar lived to the grand old age of 63 (a decent age for the time!). His security detail must have been efficient considering the number of people he displeased 😀 Thank you very much for taking the time to comment Aruna. Much appreciated.

    1. Thanks. The history is purposely kept blurred in our textbooks due to some crazy notion of preventing religious friction!! Outrageous statements by politicians don’t seem to matter for some reason 🙂

    1. Thank you Cornelia. I hope you are allowing yourself more time in Agra. At least one night. Two if possible.

    1. Seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it? Can’t quite figure out why it isn’t apparent to everyone. Thank you Meg.

  7. Thank you for this fascinating slice of the complex history of India. I didn’t get to his Mausoleum, but did visit Fatehpur Sikhri which is extraordinary.
    Alison

    1. Most welcome Alison. There is so much to do in Agra. Itimad ud Daulah’s tomb is exquisite. Mariam – Akbar’s Hindu wife – is also buried nearby, and the Anglican cemetery is supposed to be very interesting. They all lose out to the glory of the Taj Mahal sadly.

    1. Ah, thank you! Hope you return for a longer visit. And don’t forget Itimad ud Daulah’s tomb when you do 🙂

    1. That’s a beautiful photo Swamiupendra! I didn’t get much of the inside. Got distracted by the blackbuck! 🙂

  8. A worth-reading post indeed. I am very impressed by your use of (less controversial) ‘Rajput Princess’ instead of naming Jodha as his queen. Good job.

    1. Thank you Sohail. However much I enjoyed the movie, I was aware that she was never called Jodha, except perhaps by a misinformed English officer centuries after her death! 🙂

      Incidentally I found a video online that refers to Mariam uz Zamani as Akbar’s Christian wife!!! Talk of getting your facts mixed up 🙂

  9. A very interesting read, Although many in Pakistan consider Aurangzeb as one of the greatest, I can see why Akbar is regarded highly in India.
    Nevertheless, beautiful place and pictures. 🙂

    1. And I can see why Aurangazeb is regarded highly in Pakistan 😀
      Jokes apart, historians do consider him the most able and astute of all Mughal rulers. But his cruelty towards his subjects as well as his father and siblings cannot be brushed aside. He was after all the one who presented his older brother’s head to his ailing father on a platter!! That surely falls short of greatness, whichever side of the fence one sits on.

      It is also believed by many, that had Darah Shikoh rightfuly inherited the kingdom, the history of the subcontinent might have taken a turn for the better. Before colonial intervention at least. But that might be an Indian perception as well 🙂 Happy to see you here Ibrahim. I hope I get to visit some of the Mughal sites in Pakistan someday. Inshallah!

      1. Yeah, they were basically cruel warriors who didn’t care for anything except their lust for absolute power. What I meant was the general perception of the people.
        Would love to visit india one day. 🙂

    1. Glad the historical background made sense Lynne. It would be impossible to fit everything into an India itinerary. We found the custodians at Fatehpur Sikhri very aggressive. Their hassle diminished our enjoyment somewhat.

  10. I am so grateful both for the beautiful pictures and the wonderful history you always provide. This one was especially enlightening. What a terrible waste of a wonderful legacy.

    1. We could stil go back and learn from that legacy, but we stubbornly resist. Always grateful for your company Valentine.

  11. Hi Madhu, you’re right, many of us flock to Taj Mahal & Agra Fort…I have never been to Akhbar Mausoleum. What a wonderful post, a history lesson for me 🙂

  12. You are absolutely right, Madhu – text books tend to gloss the facts, that’s anice way of putting it. Thanks for putting it right and opening our eyes!
    I enjoyed reading about Akbar and touring the remains of his Mausoleum with you. Great photos.

  13. History has significant role to play in our life and it shapes our future, but we keep forgetting our history and we get lost in the glitz and glamour of the present. History matters and we keep realizing it’s value when we start visiting places with such historical importance and that questions our ancestors ability and vision to create wonders.
    As usual a very insightful and informative post.
    😀

    1. Thanks Nihar. History’s lessons are forgotten more often than not, by those who most need to remember them.

  14. What an intriguing history lesson – thank you for sharing, Madhu. Sad it is that some of us are almost certainly never exposed to such rich and formative history.
    I hope to visit many of these forgotten/less-visited-by-tourists venues when I eventually make it to India. Thank you for the pointers 🙂

    1. The question is why? Not sure where we are headed with increasing interference from the state in school and university administration. Thank you for reading 🙂

  15. I have been to Agra a number of times but I have visited this one. Thanks for retelling the history around Akbar again.

  16. Beautiful post madhu… We couldn’t visit sikandra due to time constraints…I so wanted to…and now after reading your post …i so want to go back. It truly is amazing… It just leaves you speechless …. The architecture and the history is mind blowing.

  17. Madhu, reading this post makes me wonder why Bama and I didn’t leave any time on our month in India for Agra! All those exquisite marble and slate inlays, the pavilions and soaring minarets… and of course Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj are nearby! A fabulous narration; can’t say I knew anything about Akbar the Great before this. If only other monarchs the world over had been more open and tolerant!

  18. I’ve gone to mausoleums twice now while on vacation. It’s kind of an odd thing to do when you’re visiting a place, but I feel like it gives you a glimpse into the people and culture of the place.

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