History of India

January 6, 2018

Conquests of Akbar
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
email: padma413@gmail.com

The latter half of the 16th century witnessed the rapid expansion of the Mughal Empire under Emperor Akbar who had succeeded to the throne in 1556. Akbar had established his power over large parts of northern and central India by the time of his regent, Bairam Khan’s death. He now resolved to vanquish the various states of Rajputana which challenged his supremacy. In 1561 he began his mission of conquering these states. He had already conquered Ajmer and Nagor. He used both diplomacy and military might to attain his objective. In 1564, he sent a large army under the command of Asaf Khan against Gondwana in central India. Gondwana, at that time was under the rule of Rani Durgavati, a heroic and valiant queen and her minor son, Vir Narayan. She gave a stiff resistance to the invaders but she was ultimately defeated. She took her own life in order to evade capture while her son was slain during the attack on her capital Chauragarh. Gondwana was annexed to the Mughal Empire.

The next state to feel the weight of the Mughal arms was Ranthambore. Akbar looked on Ranthambore as a major threat because the Hada Rajputs of this fort considered themselves as sworn enemies of the Mughals. Akbar had first led an expedition against Ranthambore in 1558 but he later decided to annex Jaunpur, Gwalior and northern Rajputana. Akbar turned towards Ranthambore after his major victories around Rajputana and the fall of Chittorgarh. He had decided to capture it as it was regarded as the most invincible fortress in Rajputana.

This fort was the capital of Bundi state which belonged to the Hada clan under the command of Rao Surjan Hada. On 8th February, 1568, Akbar launched an offensive against Ranthambore. The fort was besieged by a Mughal force comprising over 50,000 men led by the emperor. An area spanning an eight-mile circumference around the fort was captured by a Mughal force which comprised 5000 men. The besieging forces had brought along with them the largest cannons ever built in the empire. Three of them measured more than 15 feet long. The ranks of the besieging forces were joined by an additional force of 70,000 men within weeks of the offensive. The emperor’s tent was set up in front of the hill facing the gateway of the fort. The invaders captured three rocky outcrops situated near the fort. The cannon batteries were placed on these three rocky formations. It was from these three positions that Akbar bombarded Ranthambore Fort which was located atop a steep rocky cliff. During the following days Akbar subjected the fort to a relentless battering with even bigger cannons and high velocity mortars. He also ordered his men to begin constructing sabats or covered trenches so as to enable the army to move nearer to the fort walls. The invading forces were able to capture the areas just below the steep slope of the fort. The Mughal army built prefabricated walls to prevent these territories from being recaptured by the Rajputs. They then bombarded the fort walls with long range cannons and volley guns with deadly effect. They were able to set fire to the buildings within the fort walls. Flames began to shoot up and the skies turned black with smoke. Akbar then massed his forces near the gates of the fort and prepared to launch an onslaught. Finally on March 21st 1568, Rao Surjan Hada, the ruler of Ranthambore, opened the gates of the fort and allowed the invaders in. He welcomed the Mughal emperor who in turn invited him to his imperial camp. Rao Surjan Hada thus submitted to the Mughal emperor. He was sent to Bundi while a Mughal garrison was stationed at Ranthambore Fort under the command of Mehtar Khan.

By 1567, almost all the Rajput states had accepted Akbar’s supremacy with the sole exception of the Sisodia ruler of Mewar, Udai Singh. The Mughal emperor could not brook this challenge to his supremacy over North India. In 1567 the Mughal emperor led an expedition against the kingdom of Mewar. His forces besieged the fort of Chittorgarh which was the capital of Mewar. It was defended by 8000 Rajputs and 40,000 peasants under the command of Jaimal who was one of the chiefs of Uday Singh. Chittorgarh, which was heavily fortified, is located on a 152m hill and is spread over an area of 700 acres. It was believed to be invincible but in 1303 it was attacked by Alauddin Khilji and about 200 years later by Bahadur Shah the ruler of Gujarat. Chittorgarh was of key strategic importance. The fortress was too invincible to be conquered in a single onslaught. The inhabitants either had to be starved into submission or mines had to be laid near the walls so as to enable the invaders to breach them. Akbar’s initial attempts to break the fort walls by force ended in failure. Hence the services of 5000 expert builders, stone masons and carpenters were enlisted for the construction of trenches and the laying of mines to bombard the walls. Almost two months had passed before the sappers reached the walls of the fort. Two mines were exploded while the casualties among the invaders reached a total of 200. The defenders sealed the opening but the attackers were able to bring the cannon up to the walls of the fort under the cover of the trenches. Finally on 22 February 1568 the attackers launched an assault by breaching the walls at several points simultaneously. They began a coordinated offensive during which Akbar killed the Rajput commander, Jaimal. The defenders were highly demoralized by the loss of their commander and they prepared to die unto the last man. Their womenfolk immolated themselves in order to escape dishonor at the hands of the invaders. The inhabitants of the fort were put to death by the Mughal soldiers. The invaders inflicted such heavy damage on the fort of Chittorgarh that it was reduced to deserted ruins. Uday Singh, the Rana of Mewar was forced to flee to the foothills of the Aravallis. After his death four years later, his son Rana Pratap continued the struggle against the Mughal might. He firmly refused to accept Akbar’s supremacy and kept up his dogged resistance to the Mughal aggression till his death in 1597.

Akbar’s victories in Rajputana were followed by the conquest of Gujarat (in 1584), Surat (in 1584), Kabul (in 1585), Kashmir (in 1586-87), Sindh (in 1591), Bengal (in 1592) and Kandahar (in 1595) within the Mughal territory. The Mughal army led by General Mir Mausam also conquered parts of Baluchistan around Quetta and Makran by 1595. 

Conquest of Gujarat
Gujarat was a prosperous region both agriculturally and industrially. It was famous for its textiles and was among the busiest seaports in India.  Its wealth and maritime commerce were enough to tempt Akbar to conquer it. Apart from these reasons, Humayun had occupied it in 1536, thereby providing Akbar a perfect reason for reclaiming it as a lost province of the Mughal Empire. The weak ruler of Gujarat, Muzaffar Shah III had no control over his vassals who were in constant conflict with one another. One of the nobles named Itimad Khan invited the Mughal emperor to attack Gujarat and Akbar lost no time in taking advantage of the situation. In 1572 he marched towards Ahmedabad where he hardly faced any resistance. Muzaffar Shah fled for dear life and in fact he was found hiding in the cornfields. But when Akbar returned to his capital at Agra, Muzaffar Shah started creating trouble. Akbar again marched towards Gujarat, completing a journey of 600 miles in nine days. He won a decisive victory in the conflict of 1573 but he had to carry out a few more offensives before Gujarat could be completely subjugated in 1584. The conquest of Gujarat proved to be of strategic importance to the Mughals as it provided them free access to the sea.

Akbar’s annexation of Gujarat (1584) was followed by his conquest of Surat the following year. In 1581 Akbar led his army to Kabul and defeated its ruler Mirza Hakim who was ambitious enough to conquer Delhi. Mirza Hakim was one of Akbar’s step brothers and the second son of Emperor Humayun. When he died in 1585, the territory of Kabul was annexed to the Mughal Empire. The next states to fall were Kashmir (1586-87) Sindh (1591) Bengal (1592) and Kandahar (1595).Parts of Baluchistan around Quetta and Makran were also conquered by 1595.

After having conquered the whole of North India, Akbar now turned towards the south. The main kingdoms of the south at that time were Berar, Ahmad Nagar, Bijapur, Golkonda and Bidar. They came into existence after the breakup of the main Bahmani kingdom. In 1574 Berar was annexed by the ruler of Ahmad Nagar.

The first Deccan kingdom to face the Mughal onslaught was Ahmad Nagar which was ruled by a heroic and valiant queen named Chand Bibi. In 1595, the Mughal army under the leadership of Akbar’s son Murad invaded Ahmadnagar. The valiant queen resolutely opposed the Mughal forces. Murad offered to raise the siege of Ahmadnagar in return for Berar. In 1596, she ceded Berar to Murad as her troops were suffering from starvation and she could not hold out against the invaders for much longer. So Chand Bibi was forced to make peace with Prince Murad, who retreated after she had ceded Berar to him.

She urged her nephews Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur and Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah of Golconda to unite against the Mughals. Ibrahim Adil Shah II sent a force of 25,000 men under Sohil Khan. The Bijapuri army was joined by a contingent of 6000 men from Golconda.  Muhammad Khan, the traitorous minister of Chand Bibi, made overtures to the Mughals, offering to surrender the whole sultanate to them. The Mughal general started annexing districts that were not ceded along with Berar. The inevitable conflict took place between the Mughal forces and the combined armies of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, and Golconda under Sohil Khan near Sonpet (or Supa) on the banks of Godavari River in February 1597. The Mughals emerged victorious but they lacked the strength to take advantage of their success. There were rivalries between the commanders which affected their unity. Owing to these quarrels, Akbar was compelled to recall his minister Abdur Rahim Khan-I-Khana in 1597. Akbar sent another son of his, Prince Daniyal after the death of Prince Murad. Prince Daniyal was accompanied by the Khan-I-Khana with fresh troops. The Mughal forces laid siege to the fort of Ahmadnagar. Chand Bibi put up a valiant resistance but she could not quite stave off the aggressors and decided to negotiate peace with Prince Daniyal. However her downfall was brought about by the rumours of her treachery in negotiating with the Mughals. Her troops rose up in rebellion against her and killed her. The Mughal forces laid siege to Ahmadnagar fort and after a period of four months and four days they captured it in 1600. Akbar had also captured Burhanpur, Asirgarh fort, Khandesh and Berar; and in 1601 he captured the fort of Sirgarh. Thus the entire area stretching from the borders of Kabul on the west till Bengal in the east, and from Punjab in the north till Khandesh in the south came under Akbar’s sway.

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