By Pushkal Shivam:
A companion of one Mullah Tarson of Badakhshan had the temerity to abuse the ‘Representative of God’, Akbar. He even refused to enter his mausoleum at Sikandrah. At his apparent blasphemy, his companions said, “If Akbar possesses hidden knowledge, that man will certainly come to grief.” Just then a piece of broken stone fell on his toe and crushed it. (1)
Akbar’s subjects had a perception of royalty different from our own. The supernatural character of the emperor was a part of that perception, and served to establish his authority in the mind of his subjects. It is worth mentioning here that Akbar was a Muslim ruler who ruled the non-Muslims. And one thing that sets him apart from his predecessors is his success in establishing himself as “the spiritual guide of the people” (2) who were fragmented and swore fealty only to their immediate rulers and chieftains. His appeal cut across religions. If he remained a true Muslim till the end, despite his ‘innovations’, for Muslims of his reign (including the orthodox Sunnis)(3), he was “King Rama” fighting “demons” for Hindus. He used to mutter spells taught to him by the Hindus to be able to subdue the sun to his wishes.(4)
As a prince interested more in outdoor sports like hunting, a courtier sent by his father Humayun to motivate him to study found him lying on the grass, looking serene, as if he were asleep, but in fact “contemplating his plans for world conquest”. In words of Abu-l-Fazl, this episode demonstrated that “the lofty comprehension of this Lord of the Age was not learned or acquired, but was the gift of god in which human effort had no part.”(5) Akbar also claimed to impeccably recall everything that happened during his infancy. (6) He was believed to be a king with cosmic powers. “The heavens revolve at his wish” and he was a “rainmaker” and “rain-stopper”.(7)
To what extent did the supernatural and divine character of Akbar serve in endearing him to the masses? Did they also have a bearing on his policies? In the introduction of his classic book, “The Royal Touch”, Marc Bloch has noted that “historians have written massive tomes on the idea of royalty without ever mentioning” the supernatural character attributed to the monarch. The ‘mystique’ behind the veneration commanded by the ruler could be studied in the context of marvelous abilities of the ruler. It would be interesting to study the imprint that such phenomena possibly had upon the human spirit.
Bloch writes, “…in the eyes of his faithful subject a king was, after all, something very different from a mere high official. He was surrounded by a ‘veneration’ which did not simply originate in the services he performed. How can we understand this feeling of loyalty which was so strong and so specific at certain periods in our history if, from the outset, we refuse to see the supernatural aura which surrounded these crowned heads?” Although Bloch’s work focuses only on medieval France and England, it is true that many countries during that period had rulers who were believed to have miraculous powers of healing and more. Abu-l-Fath Jalad-ad-din Mohammad Akbar Padshah-i- Ghazi is one of them.
According to Abu-l-Fazl, Akbar’s “superhuman knowledge proves that the light of god dwells in him” and “the surest way of pleasing God is to obey the king.”(Â 8 ) Fazl extricates Akbar from Islam and projects him as a ruler of humanity. Akbar was seen as the possessor of “Divine Wisdom” and owing to his high position people expected him to be their spiritual leader.
Akbar’s touch and breath had miraculous powers. A “simple-minded recluse” chopped off his tongue and threw it at the threshold of the palace. He thought that Akbar will, using his supernatural wisdom, find out about his self-inflicted injury and cure it. He said, “If that certain blissful thought, which I just now have, has been put into my heart by God, my tongue will get well.” His wish came true, the chopped off tongue was cured.(9)
Crowds of men and women used to flock to the emperor and made obeisance, offering vows in order to purge their lives of miseries. Be it those who had renounced the world or those who followed worldly pursuits, all saw emperor as someone who could enhance their knowledge and provide bliss. People also sought “enlightenment, birth of a son, reunion of friends, a long life, increase of wealth, elevation in rank” and many other things.
Akbar not only remedied religious perplexities but also healed physical afflictions. “Not a day passes but people bring cups of water to him beseeching him to breathe upon it”(10) The cup of water, under the illumination of sun, fulfilled the desire of its possessor. It even reinvigorated the lives of the sick whose diseases had been pronounced incurable. Every morning Akbar appeared at a window in front of which many came and prostrated themselves. “Women brought sick infants for his benediction, and offered presents on their recovery”.(11)
The Ganga was once in flood due to heavy rain. Akbar plunged his elephant into it and “impossible as it was to cross that murderous river, due to the miraculous personality of His Majesty the swelling ocean gave a passage to that mine of his holiness.” According to a European traveler, Jerome Xavier, he worked miracles through healing of the sick by means of water in which he washed his feet. Another European traveler, Coryat, didn’t buy into Akbar’s supernatural abilities: “Eckbar Shaugh had learned all kinds of sorcery”.(12)
About the accounts of Akbar’s ‘Royal Touch’, Abu-l-Fazl writes, “Should my occupation allow sufficient leisure, and should another term of life be granted me, it is my intention to lay before the world a separate volume on this subject.” However, Harbans Mukhia has dismissed “these attributes of thaumaturgy, ‘the royal touch’, and the performance of miracles” as derivatives of folklore. He notes: “They (miracles) had also been assimilated into Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, even as all these religious systems expressed strong disapproval of the association of miraculous energies with any human being other than Christ, Muhammad or the Buddha.” It is only interesting that Abu-l-Fazl, in his description, does not associate with any religious system.
The intermingling of the spiritual and the temporal is unmistakably evident here. Although the entire idea might be repugnant to our modern sensibility, in those times the supernatural character of the ruler elevated his position to a “spiritual guide”, thereby adding a whole new dimension to the idea of “royalty”.
When those who sought to become his disciple approached him, Akbar would say, “Why should I claim to guide men, before I myself am guided?” However, “when a novice bears on his forehead the sign of earnestness of purpose, and he be daily enquiring more and more His majesty accepts him, and admits him.” (13) The reference here is to conversion the “New Faith” engendered by Akbar, Din-i-Illahi.
As a symbolic gesture, the entrant to the new religion would, with his turban in his hands, put his head on Akbar’s feet. The emperor would then extend his hands to raise him up and replace his turban which had a symbol of the newly formed “brotherhood”, the Shast. The symbol resembled a ring and had “Allahu Akbar”, the symbolic motto, inscribed in it. This ritual metaphorically signified casting aside of conceit and selfishness. It also taught the disciple: “The pure Shast and the pure sight never err”.(14) The disciples had to adhere to certain rules of conduct. For example, when a disciple met another he had to greet him with “Allahu Akbar” and the other was to respond “Jalle Jalalahu”. The motive of Akbar in laying down this form of salutation was to remind the disciple of the origin of their existence and “to keep the Deity in fresh, lively and grateful remembrance.”
Although Akbar was extremely tolerant towards other religions he would never accept any encroachment on His Divinity. He even held himself forth as an object of worship.(15)Â As Harbans Mukhia has pointed out, “the metaphor of light dominates his (Akbar’s) conceptualization of divinity, and the Sun in turn dominates the metaphor for light. Divine light permeates Akbar’s very being.” Akbar expressed his veneration for the sun by worshipping it four times a day. In 1579 A.D., during a festival, he even prostrated himself before the sun and the fire in public. In the same year, with jewel strings tied on his wrists by Brahmins as a blessing and his forehead marked like a Hindu, he went forth to the public-audience chamber.(16)
1 P. 414, Muntakhab-al-Tawarikh, Badauni
2 P. 162, Ain-i-Akbari, trans. H. Blochmann
3 Iqtidar Alam, Akbar’s Personality Traits and World Outlook: A Critical Reappraisal
4 Excerpt from Muntakhab-al-Tawarikh published in History of India, Vol V
5 P. 12, Akbar, Andre Wink, the author quotes from the Akbarnama
6 P.10, Akbar, Andre Wink
7 Wink quoting from the Akbarnama
8 P. 162, Ain-i-Akbari, Trans. H. Blochmann
9 P. 165, Ain-i-Akbari, Trans. H. Blochmann
10 P. 164, Ain-i-Akbari Trans. H. Blochmann
11 P. 165, Ain-i-Akbari Trans. H. Blochmann
12 P.49, Mughals of India, Harbans Mukhia
13 P.165, Ain-i-Akbari, H. Blochmann
14 P. 166, Ain, Blochmann
15 Footnote 3, p. 165, Ain, Blochmann
16 Excerpt from Muntakhab-al-Tawarikh published in History of India, Vol V