The Mughals were originally Central Asians who migrated to northern India where they defeated the Delhi Sultanate in 1526. Once settled in India, they adopted Islam and Persian culture. The kingdom grew into a prosperous and powerful empire when Akbar the Great ascended the throne. India was an open society with inter-marriages occurring between the Rajput Indians, Mughals and Persians. The early Mughal emperors were so lenient that Indian brides were allowed to practise their Hindu rites on palace grounds.
Emperor Akbar or Akbar the Great (1542-1605) was indisputably the greatest Mughal ruler. He was the third Mughal emperor and succeeded his father when he was just a teenager. To preserve peace and order in a religiously and culturally diverse empire, Akbar adopted open and inclusive policies that won him the support of his non-Muslim subjects. With great charisma and a cult status, Akbar was able to unite diverse cultures and kingdoms throughout India by eschewing rigid Islamic laws. Most of the Hindu kingdoms he controlled were won through marriage and diplomacy.
As Muslims, the Mughals built many splendid mosques and fortresses. The Chinese were fond of building extravagant tombs for their emperors too, but their locations were often kept secret to guard against looters, vandals or other folks with axes to grind. Tombs of some of the Mughal emperors can also be quite extravagant (and arguably more tasteful), but not only were they not meant to be hidden from view, they actually advertise their presence.
Interestingly, Islam prohibits the construction of grand mausoleums, but the Mughal emperors kept breaking this rule, recognising the fact that the symbolic presence of a legendary great leader bestows credence upon his lesser successors. Akbar’s biographer Abul Fazil postulated that such monuments provide reassurance for the insecure, please the obedient and intimidate the rebels. All this may have happened 500 years ago, but many of the concepts, tactics and strategies have remained unchanged.
Sadly but inevitably, the Mughal empire began its gradual decline after the death of Akbar the Great in 1605. Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan had his throne usurped, virtually imprisoned in Agra while his son Aurangzeb consolidated power in Delhi. Rebellions from lesser kingdoms, the rise of “orthodox” Islam and sibling rivalry within the imperial court did what opium and alcohol (Mughals drank and smoked) couldn’t do – they brought the kingdom to its knees with Delhi being repeatedly occupied and reoccupied by rebel forces. Some “emperors” had held on to the throne for only a matter of months. After two centuries of glory, the Mughal empire was torn to shreds. The last Mughal “emperor” was Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862). The “empire” had been reduced to a mere precinct around Delhi since some 3 generations before him.
© Chan Joon Yee