History of India
January 6, 2018
Conquests of Akbar
- Padma Mohan Kumar, freelance writer
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
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
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
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