Akbar: The Great Mughal By Ira Mukhoty is a refreshing read.
Akbar: The Great Mughal By Ira Mukhoty is a refreshing read, here’s the highlight of the author’s interview.
About The Author:
IRA MUKHOTY is the author of Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens, and Begums of the Mughal Empire and Heroines: Powerful Indian Women in Myth and History. Living in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, she developed an interest in the evolution of mythology and history, the erasure of women from these histories, and the continuing relevance this has on the status of women in India. She writes rigorously researched narrative histories that are accessible to the lay reader. She lives in Gurgaon with her husband and two daughters.
How did you come to write this book?
While working on Daughters of the Sun, my previous book, I came across some fascinating aspects of Akbar’s character as I was exploring the role of Mughal women in empire building. I learned how Akbar was influenced as a very young man by Rajput culture through the marriage alliances he made and how respectful he was of these relationships. Akbar’s reverence for the senior matriarchs of his family was also remarkable. This led me to believe that there was a lot that remained to be explored about one of the greatest monarchs of India, one who seemed at once so familiar and so unknowable. And that this exploration was especially relevant in an age in which history is being misconstrued and weaponized.
To what do you attribute this increase in the interest in Mughal India?
The Mughals are very close to us in time, a paltry 300-350 years separates us from their greatest achievements; therefore there is a very physical and visceral sense of their influence—in our food, our etiquette, our clothes and, of course, the magnificent monuments and ruins that stud the landscape of India. The Mughals were also compulsive and extensive chroniclers and so we have a vast quantity of primary sources to explore which makes the work of narrative history a great deal easier than writing about empires lost in the mists of time. And readers, too, can connect with the physical reality of the influence of this empire.
Why is Akbar frequently called ‘Great’?
Akbar’s name itself means ‘great’, in Arabic, so he was perhaps predestined to be called Akbar the Great! But his achievements remain unsurpassed, in the expanse of the empire he founded, the wealth he generated, the ambition of his vision, and the variety of peoples he brought under his sway. Perhaps only the Buddhist emperor Ashoka came close to some of Akbar’s achievements, which is why we only ever associate the moniker ‘Great’ with these two monarchs.
What was the most surprising fact that you came across while writing this book?
I was astonished every time I discovered tenacious and beloved ‘facts’ about Akbar that were, in fact, quite incorrect. From the idea that he founded a new ‘religion’, the Din-E-Ilahi, to the enormously popular Akbar–Birbal anecdotes, to the idea of the group of Navaratna courtiers. These ideas were the result of improper translation, oral traditions, and later assumptions. Discovering each new confabulation and understanding the meaning behind the myth was a fascinating exercise.
What are the challenges you face while writing popular history?
The challenge for me when writing narrative history is suspending twenty-first-century prejudices, judgments, and assumptions, and transporting the reader into the century I am writing about, so that events can be assessed more viscerally, within the context in which they occurred. I want readers to be able to believe in the worlds they are reading about and to want to know ‘what happened next’. History, after all, is the art of storytelling and there can be no more exciting, bloody, and extravagant landscape than that of Indian history.
Which of Padshah Akbar’s relationships do you find extraordinary?
Akbar had many deep and intense relationships with a wide variety of people. He was very close to some of the Jesuits, like Rudolf Acquaviva, whom he considered his close friend. He enjoyed the company of poets, musicians, and thinkers, men like Tansen, Abu’l Fazl and Faizi, but one of his most enduring friendships was with Raja Birbal. We are used to thinking of this relationship in a somewhat farcical light but I was surprised to discover the emotional attachment that Akbar had for the raja and the fact that the death of Birbal would even influence the course of the Mughal empire.
Is there any truth to the story of Salim and Anarkali as we see in Mughal-e-Azam? What about Jodha–Akbar?
While popular culture deals almost exclusively with the romantic relationships of these Mughal emperors, paradoxically, there is the least amount of authentic primary material in Persian recordings of this aspect of their lives. However, there are certain slivers of information available, which were then twisted and distorted over time, and I hope readers will be interested in discovering the unraveling of these convoluted ‘truths’.
What would you say are Akbar’s enduring contributions to Indian culture?
With his boundless energy, Akbar influenced so much of the Hindustani culture of his time, the architecture, music, language, clothes, etc., but perhaps his most significant contribution was in Mughal miniature painting. Mughal painting, begun under Humayun, was given an enormous boost by Akbar’s intense interest in the art form, continued under Jahangir and Shah Jahan, and spread out to the sub-imperial courts. Akbar invited Europeans to his court and their art was closely studied and fused to existing Persian and Hindustani traditions to form a glorious, and unique new identity.
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About The Book:
Abu’l Fath Jalal-Ud-din Muhammad Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, is widely regarded as one of the greatest rulers in India’s history. During his reign, the Mughal Empire was one of the wealthiest in the world and covered much of the Indian subcontinent. Although there are dozens of books on the empire, there are surprisingly few full-length accounts of its most remarkable emperor, with the last major study having been published over two decades ago. In Akbar: The Great Mughal, this outstanding sovereign finally gets his due, and the reader gets the full measure of his extraordinary life.
Akbar was born on 15 October 1542 and after a harrowing childhood and a tumultuous struggle for succession following the death of his father, Humayun, became emperor at the age of thirteen. He then ruled for nearly fifty years, and over the course of his reign established an empire that would be hailed as singular, both in its own time and for posterity.
In this book, acclaimed writer Ira Mukhoty covers Akbar’s life and times in lavish, illuminating detail. The product of years of reading, research, and study, the biography looks in great detail at every aspect of this exceptional ruler—his ambitions, mistakes, bravery, military genius, empathy for his subjects, and path-breaking efforts to reform the governance of his empire. It delves deep into his open-mindedness, his reverence towards all religions, his efforts towards the emancipation of women, his abolishing of slavery and the religious tax—jizya—and other acts that showed his statesmanship and humanity. The biography uses recent ground-breaking work by art historians to examine Akbar’s unending curiosity about the world around him, and the role the ateliers played in the succession struggle between him and his heir, Prince Salim (who became Emperor Jahangir).
Beautifully written, hugely well-informed, and thoroughly grounded in scholarship, this monumental biography captures the grandeur, vitality, and genius of the Great Mughal.
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