Akbar (1543-1605), the greatest of all Mughal Emperors, who ascended the throne at an early age of 13 was the contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I. It was the sudden death of his father Humayun, that forced him to take up the reins of the country. Soon after succession, Akbar had to recapture his capital Delhi from Hemu who had taken advantage of the situation. Defeating Hemu in the second battle of Panipat began Akbar’s illustrious career of conquest. With the tactical use of force and diplomacy, Akbar was able to expand his empire that reached the Narmada delta from Himalayas and stretched from Hindukush mountains to the region of Brahmaputra by 1595. He was insightful enough to ensure the support of all his subjects by appointing people, irrespective of their faith, in key administrative and military positions, unlike other rulers of his times. Marriage was part of his diplomacy and he had a harem of over thirty wives, many of them from Hindu Rajput families. His favorite and the mother of Jahangir, his heir, was Jodhabai, the Rajput princess of Amber. Towards the end of his reign, Akbar faced opposition, mainly within his own household, on the question of succession.
Born during Humayun’s flight from Delhi defeated by Sher Shah, Akbar was denied proper education. But illiteracy did not prevent him from becoming a connoisseur and patron of arts, culture and architecture. He had experts from several fields adorn his court. Tansen, the legendary musician, and Birbal, his superbly resourceful minister were among them.
Deeply pained by the conflicts among people of different faiths, Akbar initiated a new religion Din-i-Ilahi (Divine Faith) incorporating the elements of various religions to the sermons of which he frequently lent ear. The magnanimity of this great ruler is evident from the fact that only a handful joined the new faith.
Abul Fazl has recorded the reign of Akbar in his book,Akbar-nama. Another valuable source is Ain-i-Akbari that includes data on the concerns and conditions of the populace in the 16th century.
Akbar built an elaborate city at Sikri named Fatehpur Sikri with numerous magnificent palaces. Akbar moved his capital to Sikri but was later abandoned. The impressive city of Sikri still stands testimony to the grandiose plans of Akbar.