At the time of his father’s death Akbar was merely 14 years old and was under the guardianship of Bairam Khan who, on hearing of Humayun’s death, coronated Akbar at Kalanaur. Within a few months of Akbar’s accession, Hemu, the energetic wazir of Muhammad Adil Shah of Bihar, occupied the country from Bayana to Delhi, including Agra, and assumed the title of Vikramadity.
In November 1556 the Mughal army under Bairam Khan moved towards Delhi and defeated Hemu in the second battle of Panipat. After the victory, Akbar entered Agra which again became the Mughal capital. During the next four years, Bairam Khan crushed the Afghan power in different parts of Hindustan.
During these four years (1556-60) Bairam Khan enjoyed the supreme position in the state as the emperor’s guardian and prime minister. Concentration of power in his hands, his arrogance and arbitrary methods led to his fall in 1560. Akbar – now in the eighteenth year -was naturally inclined to assert his position and seek personal exercise of power.
After freeing himself from Bairam Khan’s regency, Akbar seriously launched a policy of conquests. From the expedition against Malwa (1561) to the fall of Asirgarh -during a period of four decades – he played the role of a great conqueror and an empire builder.
Malwa was conquered in 1561 from the musician Sultan Baz Bahadur. The emperor later honoured his skill as a musician and enrolled him as a mansabdar in the imperial court. The same year he conquered the strategic fort of Chunar.
The year 1562 was a turning point in the emperor’s life when on his first pilgrimage to the shrine of Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti at Ajmer, Raja Bharmal of Amber proposed his eldest daughter’s marriage with the emperor? This marriage was the first step to win the political and military support of the valiant Rajputs whom the Sultans of Delhi had failed either to subdue or convert into allies.
Thus the foundation was laid by Amber of the Mughal-Rajput alliance; other Rajput principalities, with the sole exception of Mewar, followed suit.
The strong fortress of Merta in Marwar was captured after a brief siege in 1562. Chandrasen, the ruler of Marwar, submitted to Akbar in 1563. Rulers of Bikaner and of Jaisalmer also made their submission to Akbar and entered into matrimonial alliances with the Mughals.
By the end of 1570 all prominent princes of Rajasthan, except the Rana of Mewar, submitted to Akbar and were enrolled as mansabdars in his service. These conquests without the use of arms were living examples of the triumph of Akbar’s conciliatory diplomacy, his readiness to recognize tie full autonomy of the Rajput princes in their internal affairs and his catholicity in religious matters, The Rajput princes had full control of internal administration and dealt directly with the imperial government.
The chief obligations of the Rajput states were the regular payment of tribute, the maintenance of contingents for the imperial army and the circulation of Mughal coins in their territories.
Rana Udai Singh of Mewar refused to accepl the Mughal-Rajput alliance and further offended Akbar by giving shelter to Baz Bahadur of Malwa Mewar lay on the route to the rich province o Gujarat which could not be conquered without securing the submission of at least the fort of Chittor.
Moreover Akbar’s supremacy over the Rajput states would have remained incomplete without the acceptance of the Mughal-Rajput alliance by Mewar. Consequently, he planned careful onslaught against Mewar.
In 1567 Akbar himself conducted the siege of the fort of Chittor which fell next year (1568) after a desperate resistance. The conquest of Chittor placed the plains of Mewar under Mughal control, removed an obstacle to the conquest of Gujarat and hastened the fall of Ranthambhor (1569) as also the submission of Marwar and Bikaner (1570).
But the Mughal-Mewan struggle did not end with the fall of Chittor. After Rana Udai Singh’s death in 1572, his son Rana Pratap Singh continued it further, culminating in the famous battel of Haldighat (Khamnaur according to Abul Fazl and Golgunda according to Badauni) on June 18 1576.
The Mughal army which was led by Raja Man Singh of Amber won this battle, but Mewar was not subjugated. Rana Pratap, till his death in 1597, continued the struggle and except Chitor and Mandalgarh he was virtually the master of the whole of Mewar.
The Rajput policy of Akbar proved to be one of his greatest achievements. This not only ended the centuries-old animosity between the Muslim rulers and the Rajputs, but the Rajputs were also made equal partners in the Mughal government, which considerably affected the public policies of the Mughals and greatly helped in the growth of a composite culture.
After the conquest of Malwa and Mewar the way to Gujarat lay open. It was a rich province commanding a large share of India’s trade with Western Asia and Europe through its world- renowned port of Cambay. From the Gujarat ports the Haj pilgrims proceeded to Mecca and other holy places in Arabia.
It also intervened between the Portuguese territories and the Mughal dominions; and its political and military weaknesses could tempt the aggressive foreigners to advance from the coast to the heart of the country. In 1572, when Akbar invaded Gujarat, it was divided into “seven warring principalities” over which the nominal King Muzaffar Shah III exercised little authority.
Akbar himself led an expedition to Gujarat in 1572 and completed it by the siege of Surat in 1573. In 1574-75 Bihar and Bengal were conquered from the Afghan Chief Daud. During the subsequent year the conquest of Bihar and Bengal was consolidated.
Raja Man Singh of Amber, who as Governor of Bihar conquered Orissa in 1592, was rewarded for his success by being appointed subalidar of Bengal as well. The conquest of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa goes largely to the credit of Raja Man Singh.
The year 1581 is regarded as the most critical year in the reign of Akbar, when his half-brother Muhammad Hakim, the ruler of Kabul, advanced to Lahore. The plan was to replace the heterodox Akbar by the orthodox Muhammad Hakim on the throne.
Thereupon Akbar proceeded to Kabul and forced his half-brother to submit, but reinstated him. After the death of Muhammad Hakim in 1586, Kabul was annexed to the Mughal Empire. This necessitated the establishment of effective control over the tribal areas lying between the Punjab and Afghanistan. While suppressing the Yusufzai and Mandar tribes, Raja
Birbal was killed. Akbar tried to win over the tribal leaders by granting those pensions. In 1586, Kashmir too was annexed to the empire, and in 1593, as a preclude to the conquest of Kandahar, the whole of Sindh was annexed. In 1594 Kandahar was conquered from Persia.
Akbar had his eye on the Deccan long before he sent regular expeditions for the expansion of the Mughal Empire to the South. His Deccan policy was governed by a number of factors-his ambition for supremacy over the whole Indian sub-continent, the growing influence of the Portuguese at the courts of the Deccani states, the prosperous economy of the South, etc.
The chronic jealousies and frequent wars between the Deccani states offered Akbar a favourable opportunity for the fulfilment of his imperial ambition. Of the five offshoots of the Bahmani Empire, Akbar was concerned about Ahmadnagar, Bijapur and Golcunda only.
Berar had been annexed by Ahmadnagar in 1574 and Bidar was too insignificant to attract his attention. Besides, there was the Faruqi kingdom of Khandesh which was the outpost of the Mughal invasion into the South and geographically the neighbour of the Mughal Empire.
In 1591, four Mughal embassies were sent to the Sultans of Khandesh, Bijapur, Golcunda and Ahmadnagar to accept Mughal suzerainty. Of these only Sultan Raja Ali Khan of Khandesh agreed to submit. Meanwhile, the course of events in Ahmadnagar offered Akbar the casus belli which he had long waited for.
After the death of Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah (1591-95) of Ahmadnagar there was a dispute about succession in which Chand Sultana, daughter of a former Sultan Husain Nizam Shah I of Ahmadnagar and widow of Ali Adil Shah I of Bijapur, championed the cause of the lawful heir, Bahadur, who was an infant; but a group of nobles imprisoned him and elevated another candidate to the throne.
These dissensions offered Akbar an excellent opportunity for the conquest of Ahmadnagar. Following an imperial expedition led by Akbar’s second son Murad against Ahmadnagar in 1595, Chand Sultana ceded Berar to the Mughals. But the peace thus concluded proved a mere truce and led to fresh Mughal expeditions against Ahmadnagar in 1597 and 1599, when Akbar himself supervised the siege of Ahmadnagar.
As a result of this campaign, the Mughals placed the capital city and the adjoining territories under their administrative control, but a large part of the kingdom remained in possession of influential Nizaimshahi nobles, particularly Malik Ambar. In 1601, the fort of Asirgarh was captured and Khandesh was annexed to the Mughal Empire.
Ultimately Khandesh, Berar and the annexed portion of Ahmadnagar were combined as the viceroyalty of the Deccan and placed under prince Daniyal. Asirgarh proved to be the last conquest of Akbar’s life. He intended to deal with the kingdoms of Bijapur, Golcunda and Bidar, but he had to leave the Deccan for the North where prince Salim had revolted.
Akbar’s Liberal Measures: Akbar took a number of liberal measures which reflect his marked individuality and emancipation from tradition. In 1562 he passed a decree that in course of war the Hindu non-combatants and the families of combatants were not to be made prisoners, reduced to slavery or converted to Islam.
The next year he abolished the pilgrim tax. In 1564 he abolished jeziyah. He opened a translation department for translation of Sanskrit and other works into Persian. Akbar threw open the doors of imperial offices to Hindus and Muslims alike. He also showed great regard for the Hindu sentiments. The use of beef was forbidden and later, in 1583, killing of certain animals on particular days was forbidden.
To conciliate the Hindus, Akbar took part in the festivals of the Hindus. He also tried to promote social reforms by discouraging child marriages and sati and by encouraging widow remarriages. He also forbade conversions for the sake of marriages and he emulated the practice by allowing his Rajput wives to practise their own faith.