Book Review of Akbar of Hindustan by Parvati Sharma
Published by Juggernaut Books
Genre: Historical Biography
MRP: RS. 799/-
Thank you @juggernaut.in for a media copy.
Akbar was the third mughal emperor. Probably doesn't need an introduction to anyone reading this. We’ve read about him in our school textbooks, watched various versions of him in popular culture, which begs the question, why another biography on Akbar? Arent’t their enough already? This book offers the unique perspective of the author which takes the views of several historians, and writes down what she believes might have actually happened. Abul Fazl, the author of the infamous Akbar Nama (which was the official biography of the emperor which he commissioned himself and can also be considered the primary source material for various books on the emperor) used to write as if the emperor had no flaw , was born of light, and was none other than the reincarnation of Niru’un. One who could do no wrong and was basically a superhero. Badauni on the other hand was one of the harshest critics of the emperor. The author compares the events written by both of these historians (among others like Nizammudin but majorly these two). The book flows in form of a story and it is excellently written. One that you cannot put down.
There’s a big cast of characters at the beginning of the book with all the people who impacted Akbar’s life, good or bad. Trust me you’re gonna need that list for keeping track of people.The book starts YEARS before Akbar was born.In fact the first two chapters are primarily not even about him. Its about the last few years of the life of Humayun, Akbar’s father.Having lost a large chunk of his kingdom to different rulers he goes back to invade Kabul, which was inherited by Kamran, his step-brother. These chapters majorly focus on Humayun and Kamran’s relationships and the events that take place, along with Humayun marring Hamida and the birth of Akbar.Humayun dies after basically slipping and falling of the stairs after hearing the call for the azaan.(Not to sound too much like a conspiracy theorist, but i call bullshit, but thats for another day.)
Akbar was barely a teenager when he became the emperor . Still under the metaphorical “Veil”, it was basically Bairam Khan (Humayun’s and later Akbar’s loyal employee) and then later Maham Anaka who ran the show, until he became capable enough to run (and expand) the empire. Akbar himself wasnt shy about his hunger for territory. “A monarch should be ever intent on conquest, otherwise his neighnours rise in arms against him”, he would say, passing lightly over the fact that the aggressive neighbour was quite often him. The author does point out several of Akbar’s flaws. Like Homophobia, he gave Ali Quli Shaibani,an Uzbek who was a Humayun Loyalist, a very hard time for being in love with a man, when the fact is his own Grandfather, Babur did infact, love a man(also mentioned in the book with proper citations) and other issues at the period of time like the case of Pir Muhammad , who was Bairam Khan right hand man who beheaded Hemu’s (Hemu was one of the rival kings of Akbar at the time) father for refusing to convert to Islam. Then thier was the merciless phase of Akbar, he ordered massacres like the one in Chittorgarh recorded by James Tod, when Akbar issued an aggressive Fathnama , a proclamation of victory, afterwards,’full of intolerant professions and sentiments’,declaring the ‘fall of Chittor…as the victory of Islam over infidels’. Abul Fazl does not breathe a word of this fathinama. Instead he removes the sting of sectarian slaughter from the tale by turning Chittorgarh’s civilian population into a battle force. From Abul Fazl and Badauni onwards, Akbar's biographers have tended to be of two broad types: those who write with breathless awe, and those who
wite with scorn.
*Abul Fazl finds in Akbar a perfection of human attributes, a colonial
historian called GB. Malleson admires the unifying imperative that guided
Akbar's policies. If Badauni railed against Akbar's religious experiments,
Vincent A. Smith is provoked by his appetite for conquest. *
Badauni’s works were not entirely credible either. He was appointed by Akbar to translate Arabic and Sanskrit works such as Mahabharata into Persian. But he grew to be a hostile critic of Akbar, envious Fazl and dissatisfied with Akbar for his free thinking and eclectic religious views, administrative reforms and for his patronage of non Muslims.Being an orthodox man, Badauni did not endorse many of Akbar’s liberal policies and was severely critical of many of his actions.
The author comments of various other issues at large not just pertaining to Akbar, such as the sort of “casteism” between Timurids and others and Shia’s and sunnis. Its like reading a book on Akbar’s times rather than just being a biography on Akbar. Which in my opinion is not a bad thing.
It is fairly known that Akbar was quite liberal with his religious thoughts when compared to the other Mughal emperors especially Aurangazeb. He had abolished the jizya introduced in the fifteenth century. (It is a more complicated issue, i encourage you do more research on the subject), He encouraged translations of religious works of non-Islamic religions for him and for Muslims to read Appointed Hindus’s at higher positions in his administration. Had strog alliances with the Rajput’s and many other things.
Overall i can confidently say that Parvati Sharma is a MASTER Storyteller and i enjoyed reading the book very much even though i disagree with quite a lot of the things and politics that have been written.
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