AKBAR-NĀMA, the official history of the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (964-1015/1556-1605), including a statistical gazetteer of sixteenth century North India, compiled by Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmī. One of the fundamental source materials for the history of Mughal India, the Akbar-nāma is divided into three books. The first book presents Akbar’s horoscope and the Indian and Greek astrological theories upon which it is based, followed by a list of eminent personalities of world history beginning with Adam and proceeding through the Timurid line to Akbar himself. After a detailed history of Akbar’s father Homāyūn, the Akbar-nāma gives a year-by-year chronicle of Akbar’s reign from his accession in 964/1556 to the 17th year of his reign, 981/1572. The second book continues the chronicle from 981/1572 to the 46th regnal year, 1010/1602.
The third book of the Akbar-nāma, called the Āʾīn-e Akbarī, is virtually a separate work, as it departs from the narrative style of the earlier books and presents a detailed description of Akbar’s India. The Āʾīn-e Akbarī is, in turn, divided into five sections: the first treats the divine source of the Emperor’s royalty, the management of the imperial household, the treasury, and minting procedures; the second gives regulations for the Empire’s military (manṣabdārī) system; the third sets forth guidelines for the Empire’s civil administration, especially the local, provincial, and central revenue systems, and the revenue settlements according to various crops and regions of North India; the fourth gives a geographic and ethnographic description of Mughal India, including a discussion of Hindu philosophy and social organization; and the fifth book contains various sayings of Akbar as collected by the compiler. The style of the Akbar-nāma, self-consciously ornate and often bombastic, was considered the acme of historical prose writing in Abu’l-Fażl’s own day, and was imitated for generations after him.
Commissioned to write the Akbar-nāma in 998/1590 and continuing to work on it till his death in 1011/1602, Abu’l-Fażl utilized a broad variety of sources. By far the most important of these was the vast archival data of the imperial records that were placed at his disposal. Information from such records provides the Akbar-nāma with a measure of detail, especially in matters pertaining to the revenue system, that is lacking in works by other Indo-Persian historians who did not enjoy the same degree of archival access. The Akbar-nāma also pioneered the use of Rajput chronicles and oral traditions collected from resident Hindus.
Abu’l-Fażl had at least three major aims in writing the Akbar-nāma. On one level, he sought to provide a thorough and objective description of Akbar’s reign, not only in the traditional diachronic sense of recording politically significant events across time (as done in books one and two), but also in the more novel sense of giving a synchronic picture of all aspects of Akbar’s Empire—geographic, social, administrative and cultural—without reference to chronology (as done in book three, the Āʾīn-e Akbarī). As such the concluding section of the work, the Āʾīn-e Akbarī, contains a mine of statistical information on the sixteenth century that is without parallel in the historiography of India before Abu’l-Fażl’s time, or even after Abu’l-Fażl’s time until the appearance of gazetteers in the nineteenth century.
The second—and perhaps the most deliberate—aim of the Akbar-nāma was to present Akbar, Abu’l-Fażl’s master and patron, as the pivot on whom the Empire’s peace, stability and splendor depended. To this end Abu’l-Fażl made use of a number of ideological buttresses. One was the traditional Iranian political theory postulating a semi-divine, absolute monarch resplendent in glory and possessing supreme sovereignty over his people. To this political theory Abu’l-Fażl added potent mystical and moral support in the Sufi doctrine of the Perfect Man (ensān-e kāmel). Formulated by the 13th-century Hispano-Arab mystic Moḥyī-al-dīn b. ʿArabī and systematized by his followers such as Ṣadr-al-dīn Qūnavī and ʿAbd-al-Karīm Jīlī, the doctrine of ensān-e kāmel postulated that certain privileged individuals can embody all the attributes of God. By identifying Akbar as the Perfect Man and thus endowing him with the force of this mystical doctrine, Abu’l-Fażl effectively countered the claims of the ʿolamāʾ to ultimate authority in Mughal India.
The third—and probably the most significant—aim of the Akbar-nāma was to define Mughal ideology in imperial rather than in communal terms. Whereas most Indo-Persian chronicles of the early Mughal period had interpreted Indian history in terms of the fate of the Muslim community against a static background of Hindu society and culture, the Akbar-nāma stressed the imperial interests of a multi-racial and multi-communal state and saw Mughal history in the context of the court’s political destiny. The primary theme of the Akbar-nāma, therefore, was not the conflict of Muslims versus non-Muslims, but rather that of the imperial state versus tenacious pockets of anti-Mughal power, viz., the hereditary local gentry or zamīndārs.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries the imperial aspect of its ideology remained the Akbar-nāma’s most influential legacy, for the British, seeing themselves in many respects as successors to Mughal rule, tended to stress this aspect of Mughal ideology. In modern, independent India, however, it is the seemingly secular aspect of the Akbar-nāma which has received more attention. In his preface to a 1965 Delhi reprint of the Āʾīn-e Akbarī, for example, S. L. Goomer refers to “Akbar’s cult of secularism” and describes it as “well worth emulation in the present context of communal predilections and fissiparous tendencies.” Whether or not this secular ideology is properly identifiable with the Emperor Akbar or with his spokesman and chief ideologue Abu’l-Fażl, it is through the Akbar-nāma that the precursor to such an ideology achieved forceful expression and lasting influence.
See Āʾīn-e Akbarī and Akbar-nāma in the list of short references.
See also Marshal, Mughals in India, pp. 17, 32-34.
Storey, I/2, pp. 541-51.
Mošār, Fehrest, cols. 77-78.
Āʾīn-e Akbarī I, ed. S. L. Goomer, Delhi, 1965.
(R. M. Eaton)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, pp. 714-715