The Natural HR Theory by Dr IVNS Raju

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VII

THUS it was that Akbar emerged from ‘behind the veil’ (in Anul Fazl’s phrase), and now openly and in person undertook the supervision of his government. The corruption and embezzlement which had flourished under Maham Anaga and her faction were stopped, though the chiefs who had shared in her intrigues and connived at the treachery of her son were treated with singular generosity. It was now that the old practice of Muslim invaders of enslaving Indian prisoners of war was abolished by edict.

Already, earlier in the year 1562, Akbar had married a Rajput princess of Jaipur, who was to become the mother of his successor Jahangir. Such a marriage was a symbol of his irrevocable union with India and her destinies. He was no more the foreign invader, but India’s adopted son. The subtle influences of this Hindu marriage were fruitful of consequences.

About this time, too, the most famous of Indian singers and musicians, Tansen of Gwalior, was summoned to court. He was received with great honour and with lavish gifts. Akbar loved music, and studied it to some purpose; Tansen became a special favourite.

Birbal

Another Hindu singer and musician, Birbal, was to become one of Akbar’s intimates and dearest friends, and he loved to listen to his jokes and stories.

Yet Akbar’s inner nature had undergone a shock. He had always been devoted to his nurse, Maham Anaga; he had overlooked the faults of her worthless son, and given him far more chances than he deserved : yet this man had treacherously tried to murder him, and who could tell how far his own mother was innocent? He had trusted one man after another who had betrayed his trust. He realized that he must rely on himself alone : but what a vast burden he was called upon to shoulder! Where was the truth? How would God reveal it to him? He mixed in disguise with the commonest of his subjects. He broke off from hunting to consort with any dust-stained hermit or fakir, who might prove a physician of the soul. He questioned the learned, and, though he forbore to deride them, he found their answers profitless and empty. Now on completing his twentieth year, in spite of all his achievements and his intense zest in life, ‘experienced an internal bitterness.’ From the lack of spiritual provision for my last journey my sould was seized with exceeding sorrow.’

The mystical illumination which had come to the boy of fourteen, when he rode away from men to be in utter solitude, had been an experience isolated from the rest of his ardent and manifold activities. Yet it showed what was in the depths of his nature. He had an unquenchable thirst for truth, for spiritual reality. Hypocrisy and pretension imposed on him not at all. He desired an anchor for his soul. He desired to know the Divine Will, and to act in accordance with it. But how was the Divine Will to be known? This was Akbar’s restless search for all the days that he lived. What wonder if, bearing alone the burden of an empire and answerable for the welfare of millions, he experienced fits of deep dejection?

Even his reckless feats of daring which filled his courtiers with consternation – as when, mounted on the fiercest and wickedest of elephants, he made him fight with another elephant till his own victoriously chased the other across the Jumna, half-submerging the bridge of boats in their wild rush – even these, if we may believe his own explanation, were inspired not merely by physical exultation in his own strength and skill, but by a deeper prompting. Was it the Divine Will that he should die? Had he offended God and gone contrary to His commands? Then it were better not to go on living. He would put it to the proof. For if God intended he should die, by taking such fearful odds he offered himself for death. But if by a wonder he should be preserved it was a sign that he should live.

These spiritual wrestlings with himself were hidden from the world. Men saw that their young king was indeed a man. More than his extraordinary physical prowess, his bold resolution and swift action impressed all those around him; and far and wide his manifest determination to treat Hindu and Muslim with equal justice won him loyal adherents where he might have had obstinate enemies.

Further measures of wise generosity still more conciliated the Hindus. In 1563 Akbar was in camp at Mathura, hunting tigers. Mathura is a holy place, the resort of pilgrims. And now he learnt that the government had made a practice of levying a tax on all pilgrims to the holy places of India, bringing in a revenue of some millions of rupees. He was indignant. The Hindus might be wrong in their modes of worship, but the pilgrims assembled to worship God; it was surely not God’s pleasure that they should be taxed. Forthwith the tax was remitted throughout the empire. Exhilarated by this merciful act, the young emperor started to walk the thirty-six miles from Mathura to Agra in a day. Of all his followers, only an exhausted three arrived with him at Agra. He outstripped his court in body : how much more in mind!

Early in the next year, still in the same mood of generous impulse, he resolved to remit the poll-tax levied on all adult males who were not Muslims. Here again was a heavy sacrifice of revenue. It was an assertion of Akbar’s will and conscience against a tradition of all the Muslim conquerors of India, sanctioned by centuries of custom, against all his advisers, against the desire of his mother and his family. In a young man of twenty-two these acts astonish.

The power of custom to control and limit our actions is immense : more incalculable still is its power to blind us. Every age is astonished at the iniquities and cruelties that its predecessors, with no consciousness of wrong, authorized or acquiesced in. As it was with our grandfathers, so it will be with us, because of the things we have permitted in our world.

We have seen the young Akbar tormented inwardly by doubts about himself, seized with sudden and overwhelming sorrow, seeking to know the Divine Will. We have seen him penetrated with a sense of the universal in humanity, and rising up against armed custom and overthrowing it, in defiance of all his elders and their counsel.

But now we are to see him under a different light, showing another facet of his many-sided nature. The restless blood, the fierce vitality of his ancestry, were a power within him that could not be quelled. In so far as he was a thinking being, he was wise, tolerant, generous, capable of seeing far beyond his own time and carrying his thoughts into bold execution; but he was a born man of action; and immersed in action, heated with his own furious energy, he was capable of savage things. Firm on his throne and dependent on no counselor, he now began the career of conquest and annexation which was only to end with his death. It would never, I imagine, have entered into his head that such a career was inconsistent with his spiritual aspirations. He knew that he was a ruler of men; he believed, and with reason, that his rule was beneficent; doubtless he believed that God had destined him to bring India, with whose destiny he had resoled to identify himself more and more, under his beneficent swa. After all, it was by right of conquest only that he held his throne; and it was not for nothing that the blood of Timur flowed in his veins. Without scruple, therefore, he attacked neighbouring states without provocation and annexed them to his dominions. Here ancestral custom was unquestioned.

Akbar’s mind was restless as his body. He was intensely interested in discussion and speculation on religious matters : but in the region of thought he was tentative, hesitating, uncertain : it was a taste, a passionate pre-occupation, that he showed, but not an inborn genius. In action, on the other hand, it was genius that shone forth. As a born painter is absorbed in painting, as a musician in music, so Akbar became absorbed in the intoxicating delight of action. Here his touch was certain, his instinct swift. And for men born with the genius and zest for action strong and irrepressible within them, there are few outlets that do not bring them into conflict with their fellow-men; they can scarce escape the desire to subdue and conquer in one way or another.

What we are to note in Akbar in this : that having satisfied his instinctive will to conquer, he returns to his other self, he becomes humane and generous. The peoples whom he conquered accepted his rule and were reconciled to subjection. As with Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, ruthless in bloodshed as it was , the final consequence was beneficent for after-generations : though our sympathies may be more with Vercingetorix  than with Caesar, and more with Durgavati than with Akbar.

Durgavati was regent and virtual queen of the country of the Gonds. She was a woman of heroic mould : had fought many battles and won them all. She hunted tigers and was an unerring shot. But more than this, she was a just and capable administrator, beloved of all her people. Asaf Khan was the general sent by Akbar to subdue her kingdom. And he succeeded. Durgavati was driven back : her soldiers began to desert her : and in the last of her brave fights, wounded with two arrows, she chose to die by her own hand rather than become a captive. Immense treasure was taken, most of which Asaf Khan kept for himself.

It is one of the recorded ‘Happy Sayings’ of Akbar, that ‘a monarch should be ever intent on conquest, otherwise his enemies rise in arms against him.’ Excuses for war and conquest are easily invented by their promoters; but though in this case Akbar’s aim was merely to extend his dominions, his contention had more justification than most such pretexts. For it is certain that had he sa still at Agra, content with what he had won already, he would have been continually embroiled in wars of defence. He was always having to deal with rebellions in one direction or another : there were always other claimants to his throne. Even as late as 1581 it was only by swift measures that he saved his kingdom.

Whether he was led on, step by step – ‘appetite growing with eating’ – or whether from the first he had determined on a grand, far-reaching scheme of annexation, to include, if possible, all India, we cannot tell. But in the result it was the same thing.

Like a thorn in the consciousness of Akbar was the great Rajput stronghold of Chitor. He meant to have all Upper India under his sway : but the Rajput chieftains, with very few exceptions, proudly held aloof from him, or defied him from their mountains and their fortified castles.

In 1567 Akbar decided to attack, and in October began the siege of Chitor. A great mass of rock, eight miles in circumference, rises abruptly from the plain. All round the heights ran fortifications enclosing the town, with many fine buildings and monuments. There was an abundant supply of water. The Rajputs of Mewar were famous for their chivalry and martial virtues. Fate was truly unkind when, just at the moment of greatest menance to their independence, the reigning rana, Udai Singh, happened to be a man not only quite unequal in ability to resist the Mogul arms and Akbar’s generalship, but a coward unworthy of the Rajput name. At the rumour of Akbar’s approach he fled from Chitor and hid himself in a distant refuge. A chief called Jaimall Rathor assumed command of the defence. Methodically and carefully Akbar invested the hill-fortress. Long trains of oxen strugged up steep paths dragging the siege-guns into position. Direct assaults were made, but were driven back again and again. In December two mines were exploded, but were badly timed, so that the storming party which rushed into the breach made by the first were blown to pieces by the second. The breach was mended : the fort held out. A covered way had been begun to protect the besiegers as they advanced; this was gradually complete.

On 23rd February Akbar, from a loophole in the covered way, noticed a conspicuous figure on the breach giving orders and directing the defenders. He took a good aim with his musket, fired, and the man fell. Soon afterwards the besiegers could see great flames arising from certain places in the city, and looked at each other, not knowing what this might mean. Then Bhagwan Das, the Rajput prince now allied to Akbar by marriage and serving with the Mogul army, said, ‘It is the jawhar,’ that is, the terrible ceremony of burning the women of a rajah slain in the battle, that the honour of his household might be protected. By this they knew that Akbar’s shot had killed Jailmall Rathor, the commander of the fortress. This was the end : for the death of the commander in Indian battles means defeat for his soldiers. In vain the Rajput warriors rushed to die for Chitor, and Rajput women, old and of tender years, joined their ranks and fought by their sides. At dawn on the morning after, Akbar, mounted on an elephant, entered the fallen fortress; but even then there was desperate resistance. Eight thousand Rajputs, it is said, fighting to the last for the honour of their race, perished in the final storming of the city. Akbar was angered by the obstinate defence and showed none of the generosity he usually exhibited to the conquered. Thousands were massacred in the city by his order.

Heretofore, no invader had succeeded in subduing the proud Rajputs in their fastnesses. The fall of Chitor, the renowned and sacred fortress, and the slaughter that followed it, were never to be forgotten by the Rajput race. But on the Mogul side a profound impression was made by the heroic resistance : and Akbar caused two statues to be made of Jaimall and of the young price Patta, a boy of sixteen, who, with his mother, and his bride, all fighting, perished in the defence of Chitor. They were set up at Delhi.

 

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