About this text

Introductory notes

The Akbarnama, written by Abu’l Fazl (1551-1602) upon the order of the emperor Akbar (r.1556- 1605), is a historical work composed between 1589 and 1596, with additions made till 1598. It records the events of Akbar’s reign, preceded by accounts of the reigns of Babur and Humayun, in its first two volumes. The third volume has, probably through the consensus of readers since the seventeenth century, been given a separate title A’in-i Akbari.It deals in particular with the A’inha-i Muqaddas-i Shahi (Sacred Imperial Regulations). An illustrated manuscript of the Akbarnama with 116 miniature paintings is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some of the paintings can be viewed on the museum’s database. Another illustrated manuscript is shared between the British Library (Or.12988) and the Chester Beatty Library (Ms.3), and two folios are held separately in the Walters Art Museum (W.684). The standard printed text of the Akbarnama is the Bibliotheca Indica edition of 1873-87 (see below). The following MSS in the British Library contain variants: Add.26207, Add.27247. The work was translated into English by H. Beveridge in 1897-1939. Our selected excerpts contain descriptions of famine and dearth during Akbar’s reign and references to food, feast, charity, poverty, agriculture and climate.

Primary Sources Abu’l Fazl, Akbarnama (Persian), 3 vols., ed. Agha Ahmad Ali and Abdu-r Rahim (Calcutta: Bib. Ind., 1873-87). Abu’l Fazl, Akbarnama (English), 3 vols., trans. H. Beveridge (Calcutta: Bib. Ind., 1897-1939).
Suggested Reading Irfan Habib, The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1596-1707, revised ed. (Delhi: OUP, 1999). Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire c.1595: A Statistical Study, revised ed. (Delhi: OUP, 2015). Milo Cleveland Beach, Early Mughal Painting (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1987).


Translated from the Persian by
Low Price Publications, 2013


[Page 33]

Among the great boons conferred by H.M. the Shāhinshāh in the beginning of this year was the remission of taxes*(bāj u tamghā) 5. [Page 34] How can the amount of these be estimated? Undoubtedly it was more than a clime's revenue. The Lord of the Earth prescribed those great blessings as a thank-offering for Divine favours, and thereby made glad the caravans of merchants' hearts, who bring abundance to the world of interdependence, and the minds of the crowds of men who are exponents of divinely fashioned arts. This excellent regulation drew after it bāj u tamghā blessings. Although the circumstance of the ruler of the age's being under a veil, and the cupidity of officials weakened for a while this excellent foundation, yet as the Shāhinshāh was determined on perpetuating the boon, though for some time it was not carried into effect, the blessings, that is, the good results thereof, were in a manner made manifest by the superintendents of fate. God be praised! At the present day, when the world-adorner of the Caliphate personally conducts everything, whether in whole or in detail, and when men are tested, and every¬one attains success proportionate to his aptitude, this best of gifts has obtained currency throughout the dominions, and although eloquent servants have in seducing language represented to H.M. the advantages and profits of the tax, yet as the right-choosing mind of H.M. the Shāhinshāh is strongly attached to the acquiring of the Divine favour, and had therefore issued the order for the great boon, they have not been listened to, and have not withdrawn the classes of mankind from the obligation of returning thanks for this one out of thousands of benefits. May Almighty God grant to H.M. the Shāhinshāh increase of years, and of gradations of dominion and joy, in proportion to the fruitful blessings of this gift and to the gladdening of so many souls and hearts which have attained rest owing to this favour!


[Page 56]

At this time there was great scarcity in the cities and villages [Page 57] of India, and there was a terrible famine*1 in many parts, and especially in the province of Delhi. Though they were finding signs of gold, they could see no trace of corn. Men took to eating one another; some would join together and carry off a solitary man, and make him their food. Though this recompense of men's acts lasted for two years, the intense distress was for one year. Apparently it was the pain of the past coming out in evidence so that by the bless-ings of the holy accession to the throne of the Caliphate, the inequal-ities of the time, and the crookedness of the world might all at once be removed.


[Page 152]

As the vigilance and caution of the Shahinshāh were unwavering, he was not contented with giving such excellent admonitions as have been already described, but on the first stage out from that place he sent Mir Abdu-l-latīf of Qazwīn [Page 153] who was distinguished for knowledge and fidelity, that he might guide Bairām Khān by righteous exhortations. The gist of his words was as follows: “Your services and your fidelity to this great family are known to mankind. As owing to our tender age, we gave our attention to promenading and hunting, we did not cast our glance on political and financial affairs, and all the business of sovereignty was entrusted by us to your excellent capacity and knowledge. Now that we have applied our own mind to the affairs of government, and the adminstration of justice, it is right that this sage well-wisher (Bairām), who ever boasted of his sincerity and devotion, should recognise a Dīvine gift in this truth, and offer up endless thanks for it. He should for a time gather up his skirts from business and turn his attention to the bliss of pilgrimage of which he was always desirous, and with regard to which he was constantly, in public and in private, expressing his great longing to obtain such a boon. We shall grant him whatever place and whatever extent of land he may wish for in India, so that his servants may remit him the proceeds, harvest by harvest and year by year.” On 13 Ardībihisht, Divine month of the above-mentioned year (22nd April) corresponding to Tuesday 26 Rajab, the standards of glory were planted at the town of Jhajhar.*1


[Page 231]

One of the ennobling events in the Shāhinshāh's fortune which in this year applied collyrium to the eyes of the simple-minded aspirants after auspiciousness was that Cunār, which is an impregnable fortress, came into the possession of the imperial servants. Certainly it has seldom come into the hands of princes by force of arms or by abundance of stratagem. For on account of its height and strength the hand of the external foe cannot reach it, and owing to plenty of food and water those inside are not dependent on the outer world.


[Page 294]

It was brought to his notice that for a long [Page 295] time it was the custom in India for the rulers to take sums from the people who came to sacred spots to worship, proportionate to their rank and wealth. This (worship) was called Karma.*1 The Shāhin¬shāh in his wisdom and tolerance remitted all these taxes which amounted to crores. He looked upon such grasping of property as blameable and issued orders forbidding the levy thereof throughout his dominions. In former times, from the unworthiness of some, and from cupidity and bigotry, men showed such an evil desire towards the worshippers of God. H.M. often said that although the folly of a sect might be clear, yet as they had no conviction that they were on the wrong path, to demand money from them,and to put a stumbling-block in the way of what they had made a means of approach to the sublime threshold of Unity and considered as the worship of the Creator, was disapproved by the discriminating intellect and was a mark of not doing the will of God.


[Page 300]

Among the occurrences was the coming from Kāshghar of Khwāja M'uīn,3 son of Khwāja Khāwind Mahmūd, and his kissing the Shāhinshāh's carpet. God be praised! Owing to the daily-increasing fortune of the Shāhinshāh, just as the conquest of countries, the cultivation of lands, the safety of the roads, the lowering of prices were manifested year by year, month by month, week by week, and day by day, so did crowds of people—Turks, Tājiks, soldiers, merchants, mullās, dervishes and others come from the seven climes and rub the forehead of supplication on the world's threshold, and obtain success spiritual and temporal.


[Page 315]

One of the great gifts which H.M. the Shāhinshāh made at the beginning of this year was the remission of the Jizya throughout India. Who can estimate the amount thereof? As the far-seeing glance of the Shāhinshāh looked to the administration of the world, he paid great attention to the issuing of this edict, which might be regarded as the foundation of the arrangement of mankind. In spite of the disapproval of statesmen, and of the great revenue, and of much chatter on the part of the ignorant, this sublime decree was issued. By this grand gift, thousands of leading-reins and lassoes were made for the stiff-necked ones of the age. When this tax was imposed in former times by those who held outward sway, the reason for it was that they on account of heart-rooted enmity were girded up for the contempt and destruction of opposite factions, but for political purposes and for their own advantage, they fixed a sum of money as an equivalent therefor, and gave it the name of jiziya.* Thus they both gained their object and also derived a profit. At the present day, when owing to the blessing of the abundant good-will and graciousness of the lord of the age, those who belong to other religions have, like those of one mind and one religion, bound up the waist of devotion and service, and exert themselves for the advance¬ment of the dominion, how should those dissenters, whose separation is founded merely on habit and imitation, and whose zeal and devo¬tion are the real things, be classed with that old faction which cher¬ished mortal enmity, and be the subjects of contempt and slaughter? Moreover the prime cause of levying the tax in old times was the neediness of the rulers and their assistants. At this day, when there are thousands of treasures in the store-chambers of the world-wide administration, and when every one of the servants of the threshold of fortune is rich and prosperous, why should a just and discriminating mind apply itself to collecting this tax? And why should it from imaginary advantage advance on the path of definite dissension?


[Page 323]

In the spacious territories of India there is a country called Gondwāra, viz., the country inhabited by Gonds. They are a numerous tribe and mostly live in the wilds. Having chosen this as their abode, they devote themselves to eating and drink¬ing and to venery. They are a low-caste tribe and the people of India despise them and regard them as outside the pale of their realm and religion.


[Page 342]

It was a season when those proudly-stalking elephants—the clouds—had in their violence flung confusion and uproar on the time and the ter¬rene and had in their oozing fury sent forth floods and made high¬lands indistinguishable from lowlands, and in their arrogance and haughtiness paid no regard to the guiding-crook (kajak) of the lightning, that the sublime standards approached Narwār*1 and the Sīprī*2 where there were elephant forests. When the camp reached the bank of the Cambal, the river was, owing to excessive rain, in full flood.


[Page 365]

One of the occurrences was the sending of Qulīj K. to Rohtās in order to conciliate Fath K. The short account of this is that there is in Bihar a fortress named Rohtās which is one of the greatest in India, and which is a marvellous work of the Creator. It stands on a very high hill and is guarded from the thought of disturbance. Its length and breadth are more than five kos. The ascent from the plains to the terrace of the fort may be more 3 than a kos. A wonderful [Page 366] thing is that though the fort is situated so high, good water is found whenever the soil is dug to the depth of two yards. From the time it was built, no ruler had ever got possession of it, except Sher Khān, and he took it by fraud by introducing troops dressed as women, as has already been briefly related.


[Page 372]

Among the principal events of the year was the founding of the fort of Agra. It is not concealed from the minds of the mathematical and the acquainted with the mechanism of the spheres that since the world-adorning creator hath decked Time and the Terrene with the existence of the Shāhinshāh in order that the series of creations might be perfected, that wise-hearted one has exercised himself in bringing each individual life from the secrecy of potentiality to the theatre of performance. At one time he has prepared the constituents of rule by perfecting the earth for animated nature by improving agriculture by irrigation and the sowing of seeds.


[Page 373]

In this year H.M. determined that a person should be appointed to the lofty office of Sadr, who should be distinguished for wisdom and probity, etc., in order that ascetics and devout persons might approach the sublime threshold and receive pensions and support in accordance with their condition. In this way they would be comforted and be able to give themselves up to their devotions without anxiety. Though this tribe of men is to be found in every country, and there is no clime with out them, yet they are most numerous in the districts of India. It was indispensable that there should be at the head of such an affair someone who should be firstly single-eyed, so that this high office should not be a scene of grasping and contention, and that he should not covet the goods of the poor, for to cast eyes of desire on everyone's property is to make oneself a public and private plunderer. It would be most wretched if he should in this way seek to satisfy the maw of his desires! Secondly, he must be capable and a discerner of mankind so that he be not unduly swayed by the recommendations of oppressors, the blandishments of flatterers, [Page 374] and his own ignorance. He must be able to appraise every man according to his merit, and so further their work. Thirdly, he must not have a patrician nature (mīrzā tabī'yat )and so spend his time in sloth and pleasure, and delay the business of the poor. On the contrary he must be strenuous, and one who distinguishes not between night and day so that he may carry matters through and show the most exquisite devotion towards the needy.


[Page 402]

One of the occurrences was that H.M. the Shāhinshāh displayed his world-adorning graciousness to the servants of the sublime threshold, and directed his attention towards the assessment (jama') of the parganas. In accordance with his orders Mozaffar Khān set aside the Jama' raqamī* (assessment according to kinds of produce?) which had [Page 403] been made in the time of Bairām Khan and in which, on account of the plurality (kasrat) of men and the paucity (qillat)of territory, a nominal increase had been made for the sake of appearances. All these (papers) had remained in the public offices and been regarded as authentic, and had become the tools of embezzlement for the slaves of gold. Qānūngoes and others who were acquainted with the whole of the territories the empire fixed according to their own estimates the actual produce of the countries and established a new assessment.

Though it was not a regular estimate (hāl-hāsil), yet in comparison with the former one, it might be so called.


[Page 412]

The royal camp established itself in Lahore and cast the shadow of justice over the land. The glory of the standards of victory destroyed darkness in minds and horizons. The great feast of the holy weighment took place at this time, and was performed according to rule with gold and silver and other rareties. Gifts and alms were distributed to rich and poor, and the rulers of tracts of country, especially the governors and landholders of the northern districts placed the head of submission and the forehead of obedience on the dust of the threshold and scattered largesse in proportion to their means. A number who were unable at that time to obtain the blessing of kissing the threshold sent their children and relatives along with able ambassadors.


[Page 422]

While he was encamped at Thānesar, a dispute arose among the Sanyāsīs which ended in bloodshed. The details of this are as follows. Near that town there is a tank which might be called a miniature sea. Formerly there was a wide plain there known as Kūrkhet which the ascetics of India have reverenced from ancient times. Hindus from various parts of India visit it at stated times and distribute alms, and there is a great concourse. In this year before H.M.'s arrival, the crowd had gathered. There are two parties among the Sanyāsīs: one is called Kur, and the other Pūrī. A quarrel arose among these two about the place of sitting. The asceticism of most of these men arises from the world's having turned its back on them, and not from their having become cold-hearted to the world. Consequently they are continually distressed and are overcome of lust and wrath, and covetousness. The cause of the quarrel was that the Pūrī sect had a fixed place on the bank of the tank where they sate and spread the net of begging. The pilgrims from the various parts of India who came there to bathe in the tank used to give them alms. On that day the Kur faction had come there in a tyrannical way and taken the place of the Pūrīs, and the latter were unable to maintain their position against them.

This text is an English-language translation of the original version:

This is a selection from the original text


climate, feast, food, revenue, revenue

Source text

Title: The Akbarnama of Abu-L-Fazl:Vol.2

Author: Abu-L-Fazl

Editor(s): H.Beveridge

Publisher: Baptist Mission Press

Publication date: 1897-1939

Original compiled c.1589-1598

Original date(s) covered: c.1589-1598

Place of publication: New Delhi

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at the Digital Library of India: http://www.dli.ernet.in/. Original compiled c.1589-1598 Original date(s) covered: c.1589-1598

Digital edition

Original author(s): Abul Fazl

Original editor(s): H.Beveridge

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) page 33 to 34
  • 2 ) page 56 to 57
  • 3 ) page 152 to 153
  • 4 ) page 231
  • 5 ) page 294 to 295
  • 6 ) page 300
  • 7 ) page 315
  • 8 ) page 323
  • 9 ) page 342
  • 10 ) page 365 to 366
  • 11 ) page 372
  • 12 ) page 373 to 374
  • 13 ) page 402 to 403
  • 14 ) page 412
  • 15 ) page 422


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > chronicle histories

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.