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Where does Akbar the Great's “Great” come from?

Where does Akbar the Great's “Great” come from?

According to Wikipedia:

Akbar was accorded the epithet "the Great" due to his many accomplishments, among which was his record of unbeaten military campaigns that both established and consolidated Mughal rule in the Indian subcontinent.

The cited reference for this claim is Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World by Lal, Ruby (2005). However, all that the linked Google Books excerpt states is:

Mughal histories speak of Akbar the Great and his many accomplishments.

The above sentence is unfortunately unclear and ambiguous.

I would like to know:

  1. When was he accorded his epithet? Did it happen during his lifetime?
  2. What was the actual epithet in Persian?

You are confusing his epithet with his regnal name.

As already mentioned, the practice of Regnal Names was common in the Mughal and some other oriental dynasties. Definition by Wiki:

A regnal name, or reign name, is a name used by some monarchs and popes during their reigns, and used subsequently to refer to them. The term is simply the adjective "regnal", of or relating to a reign, monarch, or kingdom, modifying "name". Since ancient times, monarchs have frequently, but not always, chosen to use a different name from their original name when they accede to the monarchy.

Akbar's birth name was Shahzada (Prince) Jalal ud-din Muhammad. He was given the Kuniyat Abu'l-Fatah. So his fullname became Abu'l Fatah Jalal ud din Muhammad Gorkani (ابو الفتح جلال الدین محمد گورکانی). Moreover, Mughal aristocracy also used the titles Beg (بیگ), Khan (خان) and Mirza (مرزاء) to refer to Royal Princes and in some case, other aristocrats to signify their Persio-Turco-Mongol origins. So formally he would be Shazada Mirza Abu'l Fath Jalal Ud din Muhammad Khan Beg Gorkani.

When Akbar succeeded his father to the throne, he adopted the regnal name Akbar, a tradition that was followed by both his predecessors and successors as mentioned in the earlier answer. The full string of titles that he adopted were:

Original Persian/Urdu

شہنشاہء ھند، السلطان الاعظم و الخاقان المکرم، امام عادل، سلطان الاسلام کفت الانعام، امير المومینین، خلیفتہ المتعلی صاحب الزمان، پادشاہ غازی ظل الہی، عرش آشیانی

Latin Transliteration

Shahanshah-e-Hind, Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Imam-i-'Adil, Sultan ul-Islam Kaffatt ul-Anam, Amir ul-Mu'minin, Khalifat ul-Muta'ali Sahib-i-Zaman, Padshah Ghazi Zillu'llah 'Arsh-Ashyani

English Translation

King of Kings of India, the Great Sultan and Exalted Khaqan (Khan of Khans), the Just Leader, Sultan of Islam and source of benevolence, Commander of the Faithful, the Holy Caliph of the Lord of the Age (Prophet Muhammad), Ghazi (A title given to veterans of Jihad) Emperor, Shadow of God (Derived from Hadith that a just King is shadow of God), Dweller of Highest Sky

As you can see, the epithet is not there.

So as far as your questions go that when was he granted the epithet, we don't know. He gave himself the name Akbar But he had taken it as a Regnal name, not an epithet. Akbar means literally the great but that's not the actual epithet you are talking about.

The Epithet here is "Azam", which also means Great/Greater/Greatest. He was referred to by two such epithets:

  1. Akbar-e-Azam (اکبرء اعظم) - Which means Akbar the Great
  2. Mughal-e-Azam (مغلء اعظم) - Which means the Great Mughal

Later he proved himself through his various military and administrative achievements to be the greatest monrach the House of Timur ever produced, surpassing even his glorious ancestor, Timerlane.

Since these epithets are only to be found in later histories, we can safely assume that Akbar himself never accorded himself the title of being great. It was just a coincidence that he chose himself a regnal name which also means "Great". This is an amusing coincidence, something we would call Ism-ba-Mus'ami (اسم بامسمی) in Urdu, meaning a person whose name fits his character.

For example, see this coin minted during his reign:

If you read the inscriptions, On left side we see the proclamation of Muslim creed:

"La Ilaha il Allah Muhammad ur Rasool Allah" (لا الہ ال اللہ محمد الرسول اللہ)

Translation: There's no God but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.

The right hand side bears the name of the Monarch:

Jalal ud Din Muhammad Akbar Ghazi Badishah (جلال الدین محمد اکبر غازی بادشاہ)

Translation: Jalal ud Din Muhammad Akbar, Ghazi King

The epithet "Akbar-e-Azam" is missing from the official coins and also from the official correspondence records made by Akbar, where he just uses his full name and Regnal Name.

It was the later Historians who gave him the epithet "The Great" as there is no mention from accounts of Akbar's own days, where he called himself that. Not to mention, it helps distinguish Akbar the Great from the incompetent Akbar II.


Jalaluddin Muhammad took the name of Akbar(great) when he was crowned king. A new name/title is not uncommon among the Mughals - Salim took the name Jahangir, Aurangazeb became Alamgir(conqueror), Muazzam took the name Bahadur Shah(brave king), Khurram went by Shah Jahan. Where do the names come from? They just picked whatever name they wanted would be my best bet.

Could not add this as a comment, hence the answer. It would be great to see better explanations to this one.


The Native American Government That Inspired the US Constitution

When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in 1787 to debate what form of government the United States should have, there were no contemporary democracies in Europe from which they could draw inspiration. The most democratic forms of government that any of the convention members had personally encountered were those of Native American nations. Of particular interest was the Iroquois Confederacy, which historians have argued wielded a significant influence on the U.S. Constitution.

What evidence exists that the delegates studied Native governments? Descriptions of them appear in the three-volume handbook John Adams wrote for the convention surveying different types of governments and ideas about government. It included European philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, whom U.S. history textbooks have long identified as constitutional influences but it also included the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indigenous governments, which many of the delegates knew through personal experience.

“You had the Cherokee chiefs having dinner with [Thomas] Jefferson’s father in Williamsburg, and then in the northern area of course you had this Philadelphia interaction with the Delaware and the Iroquois,” says Kirke Kickingbird, a lawyer, member of the Kiowa Tribe and coauthor with Lynn Kickingbird of Indians and the United States Constitution: A Forgotten Legacy.

Since the U.S. had trade and diplomatic relationships with Native governments, Kickingbird says, thinking the constitutional framers weren’t familiar with them is like saying, “Gosh, I didn’t know the Germans and the French knew each other.”


Starch granules of lentils (peas, chickpeas, green gram, black gram) have been recovered from the interior surface of storage jars from the Harappan site of Farmana (located in the Ghaggar Valley, Haryana).

Great Granaries of Harappa

In fact, ancient Indian texts describe recipes of dal that were served to guests at celebratory meals. It is believed that special dal served at Chandragupta Maurya’s wedding back in 303 BC was the precursor of ghugni – a lentil preparation that is still very popular in east India and can be often found being sold in street side shops as a breakfast option.

In medieval India, it was the revival of the dum pukht technique (slow cooking in steam) that raised the stature of dal, especially chana dal (Bengal gram), in the royal menu. So much so that in years to follow, serving any other dal except chana dal to the Emperor was considered a suicidal move by the royal cooks.

It was the advent of panchmel (also called panchratna dal) that helped change this status quo. While little is known about the exact origin of this lentil preparation, it is believed that the panchmel dal first became popular in the royal house of Mewar.


Susan Rice Has A Mysterious Gap In Her Resume

Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is one of the leading contenders to become presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate. If the ticket wins, she would make history as the first Black person and woman to serve as vice president, and she would bring decades of experience working in government to the post.

It’s unclear ― and potentially worrying ― what she would bring from another portion of her career. Rice worked in private consulting in 2001 and 2002 after serving in the White House and State Department under President Bill Clinton. That’s a common line of work for former officials in Washington, but it can involve morally dubious choices, like defending violations of human rights or democratic norms, and create conflicts of interest when these figures return to power and make decisions affecting the same clients who were recently paying them millions of dollars and could do so again in the future.

Even in the event that prior relationships do not have a bearing on one’s actions in a public office, just the perception of a conflict of interest can undermine the effectiveness of U.S. policy and faith in government.

In Rice’s case, public scrutiny of potential conflicts is especially hard because she has largely hidden who her clients were when she was a part-time consultant for Intellibridge, a now-shuttered firm that conducted geopolitical research. Her closeness to one client whose identity is publicly known ― Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame, the country’s president since 2000 ― has previously raised concerns among human rights groups and fellow officials.

It appears Rice concentrated on contracts with African countries ― approaching some of the same officials she had already built ties to as a diplomat, now on behalf of private interests. She and Gayle Smith, another former Clinton administration official, “worked to sell Intellibridge services to African government clients,” wrote Hamilton Bean, a former Intellibridge employee, in a 2011 book.

Intellibridge was a successful enterprise. Founded in 1998, the firm attracted $10 million in financing in 2001, the year Rice began working with it, and an additional $1.85 million in 2002, according to The Washington Post. The firm was planning to double its revenue in 2002 and had 140 clients already, offering them intelligence swept up through internet research and then analyzed by national security experts.

A spokesperson for Rice declined to say if she would share details of her clients if chosen to run with Biden, who will announce his selection within days.

“This remains a hypothetical but, as always, Ambassador Rice will fully comply with the law and any disclosure requirements,” Erin Pelton, the spokeswoman, said in an email.

As a vice presidential candidate, Rice would not be required to disclose work from two decades ago. And though she had foreign clients, she never registered as a foreign agent ― meaning she did not try to shape U.S. policy on their behalf, but eliminating another possible route to learning who she was working for.

Pelton claimed Rice’s sole role with Intellibridge was to arrange business relationships between Intellibridge and some of its future clients.

Transparency would then be a matter of ethics more than law ― and of good politics.

Ben Freeman, a researcher tracking foreign influence in the U.S. at the Center for International Policy think tank, noted that Biden “has come out and said that he would like to ban lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, so how would that mesh, then, with having as his vice president somebody who has at the very least worked on behalf of foreign governments,” though she was not a registered lobbyist.

“Would it be okay for his vice president but not for other people in the future?” Freeman added. “Because of Biden’s stance on this, it would be incredibly important for her to clarify exactly who her clients were and exactly what her role was.”

Even if Rice faced a legal hurdle like having signed a non-disclosure agreement about her Intellibridge work, she could describe it to the public in broad terms, Freeman said.

In 2012, rights advocates and some U.N. officials expressed concerns that Rice, then the envoy at the international organization, was doing too little to prevent atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo because she was reluctant to pressure neighboring Rwanda and her former client Kagame, The New York Times reported.

“At no point in Ambassador Rice’s government service did her work in the private sector influence her decisions as a policymaker,” Pelton said. “The premise of this story is baseless because when Ambassador Rice worked on African affairs in the Clinton administration she had no relationship to (Intellibridge), and when she returned to government in the Obama administration the firm was defunct and she hadn’t had ties to it for many years.”

Her defenders also note that the perception that she was soft on Kagame had existed in Washington’s policy community prior to her consulting work.

In Bean’s book, he described Intellibridge as a fast-growing company that had to expand into a neighboring apartment and still didn’t have room for enough desks, leaving staff working from a kitchen counter. Particularly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, international consultancy and intelligence-gathering mushroomed, enabling lucrative careers for many international relations analysts amid increased global anxiety for governments and businesses.

David Rothkopf, the former Clinton staffer who founded Intellibridge, is today representing the United Arab Emirates. Eurasia Group, another advisory firm, absorbed Intellibridge in 2005.

Rice returned to government after her Intellibridge work and a years-long stint at the Brookings Institution when President Barack Obama tapped her for the U.N. post. It’s unclear what she had earned at Intellibridge, but by that time she was worth $27.65 million, per the Center for Responsive Politics.

Her consulting did not appear to cause a problem for the Obama administration or Congress at the time, which her supporters cite as proof there was nothing untoward about it. Tens of thousands of people who work in consulting, including former government officials, keep their client lists private.

“She was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2009, following close scrutiny of her record,” Pelton wrote.

Public awareness and political concern about people with U.S. government experience working with foreign governments have grown significantly, however, Freeman said.

“The environment which we now live in is very hyper-focused on foreign influence. … In the early 2000s, people were just woefully not conscious of this issue,” he said, pointing to the ongoing controversy over Russian interference in U.S. politics and increased Justice Department pressure on former officials and others who failed to report work for foreigners.

Many of the officials who Rice worked with in the Obama administration ended up becoming consultants themselves after President Donald Trump’s election. Some progressives, good government groups and Democratic leaders say that private work should be better examined before such consultants gain positions of public trust.

Given that Rice has never before faced the scrutiny that comes with running for elected office and, as vice president, would become a top contender to succeed Biden as president, a full understanding of her record is especially important.

“I really think it would behoove Biden and Susan Rice, if she ends up being his vice presidential pick, to be very clear about what she did,” Freeman said.


Patronage of the Arts

Unlike his father, Humayun, and grandfather Babur, Akbar was not a poet or diarist, and many have speculated that he was illiterate. Nonetheless, he appreciated the arts, culture and intellectual discourse, and cultivated them throughout the empire. Akbar is known for ushering in the Mughal style of architecture, which combined elements of Islamic, Persian and Hindu design, and sponsored some of the best and brightest minds of the era—including poets, musicians, artists, philosophers and engineers—in his courts at Delhi, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.

Some of Akbar&aposs more well-known courtiers are his navaratna, or "nine gems." They served to both advise and entertain Akbar, and included Abul Fazl, Akbar&aposs biographer, who chronicled his reign in the three-volume book "Akbarnama" Abul Faizi, a poet and scholar as well as Abul Fazl&aposs brother Miyan Tansen, a singer and musician Raja Birbal, the court jester Raja Todar Mal, Akbar&aposs  minister of finance Raja Man Singh, a celebrated lieutenant Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana, a poet and Fagir Aziao-Din and Mullah Do Piaza, who were both advisors.


1 thought on &ldquo Who was real Jodha Bai? &rdquo

WHO COULD MARIAM ZAMANI BE?
July 5, 2017
Real pen
Akbar’s History , History
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Mariam Zamani was the mother of Emperor Jahangir.In this article, we are only going to discuss her identity.This article is mainly based on analysis and perception.

Mariam Zamani was supposed to be the daughter of Raja Bharmal the king of Amber.His daughter Hira Bai popularly addressed as Jodha Bai was the 4th wife of Akbar the 3rd Mughal Emperor.

The mother of Jahangir to be Raja Bharmal’s daughter was recorded only in one book of the Mughal era. That book is Khulasat-ut-Tawarikh, written by a Punjab Historian Sujan Rai Bandar, during Aurangzeb’s reign in 1695.There is no detailed information about the author.He had written about the history of Hindustan, in which Mughal history was just a part of the book.Sujan Rai mentions in his book that the Amber princess, the third wife of Akbar was Salim’s mother.First of all Amber princess was the fourth wife.He had missed the second wife who was the granddaughter of Munim Khan whose wedding was celebrated in 1557.He had missed it because he was not in the Mughal court.Since most of the information in this book is authentic and no other book reveals the identity of Jahangir’s mother historians are forced to believe Sujan’s statement of Jahangir’s mother.

Jahangir refers his mother as Mariam Zamani in his memoir and does not give her identity.He mentions Raja Bharmal’s daughter to be a lady in his father’s harem. He does not say Rajabharmal’s family members as his mother’s relation(The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri vol 1 page no 15)

The Rajput Chronicle is silent about it.

Akbarnama doesn’t reveal the identity of Jahangir’s mother.It is very astonishing.But the same Akbarnama mentions about the Jaisalmer princess, wife of Akbar giving birth to a girl baby and passing away in 1 year(Akbarnama Volume III page 283), but is silent about Amber princess giving birth to Salim

A firman of Mariam Zamani was traced.In that firman also her identity was not given.The name is mentioned by title Wali nimat Mariam Zamani, Mogolmother of Jahangir.

Salim’s mother was referred to as a royal concubine of Akbar in the book “The Empire of the great MongolBy J.S.Holland”.It is a latin book written by Joannes De laet a Geographer in the year 1631 during Shahjahan’s reign. Historian Vincent has a opinion that Delaet has copied it from certain reliable Persian chronicle, but certain historian doubt the authenticity of the book.page no 147-148-REF-Full text of “The Empire Of The Great Mogol” – Internet Archive

This article I had written analysing the entire Mughal history.This is my views.I would not claim it to be History.

First of all we should try to analyze how Sujan Rai Bandar, during Aurangzeb’s reign had written that Raja Bharmals daughter was Mariam Zamani.How did he come to know about it.There was no information among the masses in that period that Raja Bharmals daughter was Mariam zamini.Among the masses Muz was thought to be a concubine of Akbar as it is given in the book“The empire of the great Mogol By J.S.Holland”.The author had only written the view of the masses.Not even one historian of the entire Mughal era had written that Raja Bharmals daughter was MUZ, then how come Sujan came to such a conclusion.No foreign traveler or some other historian have hinted about it which is astonishing.

We should sit and analyze how he had come to this conclusion.First see the above painting.

This painting is from Akbarnama written much before Sujan Rai’s period.What do you interpret out of it.We could see the lady who is sitting as the mother of Jahangir is a Hindu. This is the evident by the tikka she is wearing and also by her dresses.Most of the ladies around her looks like muslims except few.The old muslim lady looks like Hamida Banu.So Sujan had come to a conclusion that the mother was a Hindu.Then he should have sat and though about the Hindus wives who had entered Akbar.s harem.Raja Bharmals daughter was the only one who had entered till Jahangir’s birth.The other Hindu queens entered only after Jahangir’s birth.So he should have come to a conclusion that Raja Bharmals daughter was MUZ.

Again analyse the picture.There is no elderly Hindu lady,Then in that case where was Jodha’s mother during Salims birth.

Now let us sit and analyse whether any other Hindu lady had entered Akbar’s harem before Jodha.If one read Akbarnama in detail then,he will come to know that Rani Durgavathy’s daughter in law who was a Hindu had been forcefully pushed into Akbar’s harem.She was the daughter of Raja of Puragadha a region near the sea coast of Maharashtra.She was very beautiful.

Today there is no place called Puragadha in the Indian map.But a place called Purangad is there.May be Abul Fazl had referred only this place.Purangad is a Hindu place in the sea coast of Maharashtra.The great Shivaji later constructed a fort in that place.Why I’m thinking in this angle is MUZ”s interest in trading.No Rajput lady had so much interest in trading like MUZ.Infact Jahangirs first wife was Jodha’s niece.Even that lady did not have interest in trading.Neither no Rajput male members had interest in trading.Nurjahan’s interest on trading was seeing her mother in law.

Why Raja of Purangad’s daughter had interest in trading.

There are 2 reasons for this:

1)Since Purangad was near the sea shore the princess should have seen the ship’s coming and going and could have devoloped a interest in trading.This talent of her’s was exhibited only after her son Jahangir became the emperor.

2)It has also been mentioned that trading flourished during Rani Durgavathy’s period.May be she also devoloped interest seeing her own mother in law.

Princess of Puragadha was so beautiful that Rani Durgavati had selected the princess for her son.She was brought to Gonda for the wedding.The wedding took place.After that the Mughals attacked Gonda, Durgavathy and her son were killed.All the ladies performed jahaur. People were appointed to burn all the ladies in a fort if the war was lost.All the ladies were burnt in a fort.Rani Durgavathy,s sister and her daughter in law were in a room where the fire could not reach.The Mughal’s captured them and sent them to Akbar’s harem which Abul Fazl had specifically mentioned that they were lucky to kiss Akbar’s threshold.(Akbarnama Volume II chapter 52,page 353)He had also added a line that though the wedding took place,it was not consumed(meaning she was a virgin).Why should Abul Fazl write such a line.Moreover the other two historian in Akbar’s court had not written about this lady.So it is clearly shown Abul Fazl who was very close to Akbar had known this fact and given importance to this incidence.

Again see the face expression of Jahangir’s mother in the above painting.It clearly shows that the lady was not happy.It is because she was forced into Akbar’s harem.This was the reason why MUZ did not involve in the controversy between Akbar and Jahangir.She had so much of hatred toward Akbar that she did not get involved in any of the affair.Salima,Akbar’s third wife and Akbar’s mother were involved in the negotiation between Akbar and Jahangir not MUZ .

MUZ gained importance and was active only during Jahangirs reign.Her firmann which was traced had been issued during Jahangirs reign.In the firmann MUZ had addressed herself as mother of Jahangir and not as wife of late Emperor Akbar.At the same time Hamida Banu in her firmann had addressed herself as wife of late Emperor Humayun.This confirms the hatred of MUZ towards Akbar .Moreover none of the foreign travellers in Akbar’s period or Jahangir’s have referred MUZ to be a Rajput.They only refer her as queen mother during Jahangir’s reign and gives no reference about any love between MUZ and Akbar.

Historical evidences that MUZ could not be Raja Bharmals daughter.
1.Abul Fazl does not give the identity of Jahangir’s mother,at the same time he had written about Shahjahan’s mother to be a Rajput and had given her identity.When Jaisalmer princess gave birth to a girl which has been mentioned in Akbarnama, then why can’t he mention that Raja Bharmals daughter gave birth to a son.

2.Abul fazl says that Akbar discourages wedding between cousin.If Jodha Bai was Jahangir’s mother then Jahangir’s first wife Mannbai is Jahangir’s cousin.Mannbai was Jodha’s niece.But Abul Fazl does’nt mention that they were cousin or doesnt give us an excuse for the wedding.At the same time when a wedding was proposed between Jahangir and Hakim’s(Akbar’s brother)daughter Abul Fazl was giving an excuse that though Akbar discourages wedding between cousin,since some good is going to happen he is agreeing for this wedding proposal.This clearly shows Jahangir and Mannbai were not cousins and hence Jodha was not MUZ.

3.Jahangirnama mentions Raja Bharmals daughter to be a lady in his father’s harem and does not mention her as his mother.Neither does he mention RajaBharmal to be his grandfather or Mann singh as his uncle.He only shows his hatred towards this Rajput family.At the same time he is close to MUZ and give her all respect and power.This again proves Jodha was not MUZ.

4,Shahjahan was very proud to say his mother was a Rajput.but he does not mention anything about his grandmother’s identity.This again adds on to the fact Jodha was not MUZ.

Again see the painting .The painting clearly shows Hamida Banu,Akbars mother happily in the scene taking care of the delivery.Where is Raja Bharmals wife in the scene.Most of ladies are Muslim and Hindu servant girls.If it was RajaBharmals daughter many Rajput ladies dressed richly would have been around her.Even one or two Hindu ladies around her looks like servant which Akbar could have posted since Jahangirs mother was a Hindu.The lady holding the baby looks like a Hindu having a sad face could be Rani Durgavathi’ sister who was forced into Akbars harem along with the princess of Purangabd.Both these ladies seem to be sad.

This clearly shows Jahangirs mother could not have been Jodha,but she was a hindu which had misguided Sujan rai Bhandar.I had only thought in his lines and had come to the conclusion that Muz could be princess of Purangabad who was forced into Akbar’s harem.The main evidence is MUZ’s interest in trading which was not there among the Rajputs.

What I had written in this article is only my perception and not historical facts.I had written my opinion in a subject(Who is Mariam Zamani) which is always debatable and doubt in minds of Historians.Im not telling what I had written is true fact but it has possibility to be true.I hope historian give a ear to my thought and think in this angle,dig history and try to bring out evidences.

I had submitted my evidences,rest is left in the hands of the people and Historians.


Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal

Akbar's son, Jahangir, ruled the Mughal Empire in peace and prosperity from 1605 until 1627. He was succeeded by his own son, Shah Jahan.

The 36-year-old Shah Jahan inherited an incredible empire in 1627, but any joy he felt would be short-lived. Just four years later, his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child. The emperor went into deep mourning and was not seen in public for a year.

As an expression of his love, Shah Jahan commissioned the building of a magnificent tomb for his dear wife. Designed by the Persian architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, and constructed of white marble, the Taj Mahal is considered the crowning achievement of Mughal architecture.


Ashoka the Great

Ashoka the Great (r. 268-232 BCE) was the third king of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) best known for his renunciation of war, development of the concept of dhamma (pious social conduct), and promotion of Buddhism as well as his effective reign of a nearly pan-Indian political entity. At its height, under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire stretched from modern-day Iran through almost the entirety of the Indian subcontinent. Ashoka was able to rule this vast empire initially through the precepts of the political treatise known as the Arthashastra, attributed to the Prime Minister Chanakya (also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, l. c. 350-275 BCE) who served under Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta (r. c. 321-c.297 BCE) who founded the empire.

Ashoka means “without sorrow” which was most likely his given name. He is referred to in his edicts, carved in stone, as Devanampiya Piyadassi which, according to scholar John Keay (and agreed upon by scholarly consensus) means “Beloved of the Gods” and “gracious of mien” (89). He is said to have been particularly ruthless early in his reign until he launched a campaign against the Kingdom of Kalinga in c. 260 BCE which resulted in such carnage, destruction, and death that Ashoka renounced war and, in time, converted to Buddhism, devoting himself to peace as exemplified in his concept of dhamma. Most of what is known of him, outside of his edicts, comes from Buddhist texts which treat him as a model of conversion and virtuous behavior.

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The empire he and his family built did not last even 50 years after his death. Although he was the greatest of the kings of one of the largest and most powerful empires in antiquity, his name was lost to history until he was identified by the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep (l. 1799-1840 CE) in 1837 CE. Since then, Ashoka has come to be recognized as one of the most fascinating ancient monarchs for his decision to renounce war, his insistence on religious tolerance, and his peaceful efforts in establishing Buddhism as a major world religion.

Early Life & Rise to Power

Although Ashoka's name appears in the Puranas (encyclopedic literature of India dealing with kings, heroes, legends, and gods), no information on his life is given there. The details of his youth, rise to power, and renunciation of violence following the Kalinga campaign come from Buddhist sources which are considered, in many respects, more legendary than historical.

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He was highly educated at court, trained in martial arts, and was no doubt instructed in the precepts of the Artashastra – even if he was not considered a candidate for the throne – simply as one of the royal sons. The Artashastra is a treatise covering many different subjects related to society but, primarily, is a manual on political science providing instruction on how to rule effectively. It is attributed to Chanakya, Chandragupta's prime minister, who chose and trained Chandragupta to become king. When Chandragupta abdicated in favor of Bindusara, the latter is said to have been trained in the Arthashastra and so, almost certainly, would have been his sons.

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When Ashoka was around the age of 18, he was sent from the capital city of Pataliputra to Takshashila (Taxila) to put down a revolt. According to one legend, Bindusara provided his son with an army but no weapons the weapons were provided later by supernatural means. This same legend claims that Ashoka was merciful to the people who lay down their arms upon his arrival. No historical account survives of Ashoka's campaign at Taxila it is accepted as historical fact based on suggestions from inscriptions and place names but the details are unknown.

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She was not apparently married to Ashoka nor destined to accompany him to Pataliputra and become one of his queens. Yet she bore him a son and a daughter. The son, Mahinda, would head the Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka and it may be that his mother was already a Buddhist, thus raising the possibility that Ashoka was drawn to the Buddha's teachings [at this time]. (90)

According to some legends, Devi first introduced Ashoka to Buddhism, but it has also been suggested that Ashoka was already a nominal Buddhist when he met Devi and may have shared the teachings with her. Buddhism was a minor philosophical-religious sect in India at this time, one of the many heterodox schools of thought (along with Ajivika, Jainism, and Charvaka) vying for acceptance alongside the orthodox belief system of Sanatan Dharma (“Eternal Order”), better known as Hinduism. The focus of the later chronicles on Ashoka's affair with the beautiful Buddhist Devi, rather than on his administrative accomplishments, can be explained as an effort to highlight the future king's early association with the religion he would make famous.

Ashoka was still at Ujjain when Taxila rebelled again and Bindusara this time sent Susima. Susima was still engaged in the campaign when Bindusara fell ill and ordered his eldest son's recall. The king's ministers, however, favored Ashoka as successor and so he was sent for and was crowned (or, according to some legends crowned himself) king upon Bindusara's death. Afterwards, he had Susima executed (or his ministers did) by throwing him into a charcoal pit where he burned to death. Legends also claim he then executed his other 99 brothers but scholars maintain he killed only two and that the youngest, one Vitashoka, renounced all claim to rule and became a Buddhist monk.

The Kalinga War & Ashoka's Renunciation

Once he had assumed power, by all accounts, he established himself as a cruel and ruthless despot who pursued pleasure at his subjects' expense and delighted in personally torturing those who were sentenced to his prison known as Ashoka's Hell or Hell-on-Earth. Keay, however, notes a discrepancy between the earlier association of Ashoka with Buddhism through Devi and the depiction of the new king as a murderous fiend-turned-saint, commenting:

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Buddhist sources tend to represent Ashoka's pre-Buddhist lifestyle as one of indulgence steeped in cruelty. Conversion then became all the more remarkable in that by `right thinking' even a monster of wickedness could be transformed into a model of compassion. The formula, such as it was, precluded any admission of Ashoka's early fascination with Buddhism and may explain the ruthless conduct attributed to him when Bindusara died. (90)

This is most likely true but, at the same time, may not be. That his policy of cruelty and ruthlessness was historical fact is borne out by his edicts, specifically his 13th Major Rock Edict, which addresses the Kalinga War and laments the dead and lost. The Kingdom of Kalinga was south of Pataliputra on the coast and enjoyed considerable wealth through trade. The Mauryan Empire surrounded Kalinga and the two polities evidently prospered commercially from interaction. What prompted the Kalinga campaign is unknown but, in c. 260 BCE, Ashoka invaded the kingdom, slaughtering 100,000 inhabitants, deporting 150,000 more, and leaving thousands of others to die of disease and famine.

Afterwards, it is said, Ashoka walked across the battlefield, looking upon the death and destruction, and experienced a profound change of heart which he later recorded in his 13th Edict:

On conquering Kalinga, the Beloved of the Gods [Ashoka] felt remorse for, when an independent country is conquered, the slaughter, death, and deportation of the people is extremely grievous to the Beloved of the Gods and weighs heavily on his mind…Even those who are fortunate to have escaped, and whose love is undiminished, suffer from the misfortunes of their friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and relatives…Today, if a hundredth or a thousandth part of those people who were killed or died or were deported when Kalinga was annexed were to suffer similarly, it would weigh heavily on the mind of the Beloved of the Gods. (Keay, 91)

Ashoka then renounced war and embraced Buddhism but this was not the sudden conversion it is usually given as but rather a gradual acceptance of Buddha's teachings which he may, or may not, have already been acquainted with. It is entirely possible that Ashoka could have been aware of Buddha's message before Kalinga and simply not taken it to heart, not allowed it to in any way alter his behavior. This same paradigm has been seen in plenty of people – famous kings and generals or those whose names will never be remembered – who claim to belong to a certain faith while regularly ignoring its most fundamental vision.

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It is also possible that Ashoka's knowledge of Buddhism was rudimentary and that it was only after Kalinga, and a spiritual journey through which he sought peace and self-forgiveness, that he chose Buddhism from among the other options available. Whether the one or the other, Ashoka would embrace Buddha's teachings in so far as he could as a monarch and establish Buddhism as a prominent religious school of thought.

The Path of Peace & Criticism

According to the accepted account, once Ashoka embraced Buddhism, he embarked on a path of peace and ruled with justice and mercy. Whereas he had earlier engaged in the hunt, he now went on pilgrimage and while formerly the royal kitchen slaughtered hundreds of animals for feasts, he now instituted vegetarianism. He made himself available to his subjects at all times, addressed what they considered wrongs, and upheld the laws which benefited all, not only the upper class and wealthy.

This understanding of Ashoka's post-Kalinga reign is given by the Buddhist texts (especially those from Sri Lanka) and his edicts. Modern-day scholars have questioned how accurate this depiction is, however, noting that Ashoka did not return the kingdom to the survivors of the Kalinga campaign nor is there any evidence he called back the 150,000 who had been deported. He made no effort at disbanding the military and there is evidence that military might continued to be used in putting down rebellions and maintaining the peace.

All of these observations are accurate interpretations of the evidence but ignore the central message of the Artashastra, which would have essentially been Ashoka's training manual just as it had been his father's and grandfather's. The Artashastra makes clear that a strong State can only be maintained by a strong king. A weak king will indulge himself and his own desires a wise king will consider what is best for the greatest number of people. In following this principle, Ashoka would not have been able to implement Buddhism fully as a new governmental policy because, first of all, he needed to continue to present a public image of strength and, secondly, most of his subjects were not Buddhist and would have resented that policy.

Ashoka could have personally regretted the Kalinga campaign, had a genuine change of heart, and yet still have been unable to return Kalinga to its people or reverse his earlier deportation policy because it would have made him appear weak and encouraged other regions or foreign powers toward acts of aggression. What was done, was done, and the king moved on having learned from his mistake and having determined to become a better man and monarch.

Conclusion

Ashoka's response to warfare and the tragedy of Kalinga was the inspiration for the formulation of the concept of dhamma. Dhamma derives from the concept, originally set down by Hinduism, of dharma (duty) which is one's responsibility or purpose in life but, more directly, from Buddha's use of dharma as cosmic law and that which should be heeded. Ashoka's dhamma includes this understanding but expands it to mean general goodwill and beneficence to all as “right behavior” which promotes peace and understanding. Keay notes that the concept is equated with “mercy, charity, truthfulness, and purity” (95). It is also understood to mean “good conduct” or “decent behavior”.

After he had embraced Buddhism, Ashoka embarked on pilgrimages to sites sacred to Buddha and began to disseminate his thoughts on dhamma. He ordered edicts, many referencing dhamma or explaining the concept fully, engraved in stone throughout his empire and sent Buddhist missionaries to other regions and nations including modern-day Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, and Greece in so doing, he established Buddhism as a major world religion. These missionaries spread Buddha's vision peacefully since, as Ashoka had decreed, no one should elevate their own religion over anyone else's to do so devalued one's own faith by supposing it to be better than another's and so lost the humility necessary in approaching sacred subjects.

Ashoka died after reigning for nearly 40 years. His reign had enlarged and strengthened the Mauryan Empire and yet it would not endure for even 50 years after his death. His name was eventually forgotten, his stupas became overgrown, and his edicts, carved on majestic pillars, toppled and buried by the sands. When European scholars began exploring Indian history in the 19th century, the British scholar and orientalist James Prinsep came across an inscription on the Sanchi stupa in an unknown script which, eventually, he came to understand as referencing a king by the name of Devanampiya Piyadassi who, as far as Prinsep knew, was referenced nowhere else.

In time, and through the efforts of Prinsep in deciphering Brahmi Script as well as those of other scholars, it was understood that the Ashoka named as a Mauryan king in the Puranas was the same as this Devanampiya Piyadassi. Prinsep published his work on Ashoka in 1837 CE, shortly before he died, and the great Mauryan king has since attracted increasing interest around the world most notably as the only empire-builder of the ancient world who, at the height of his power, renounced warfare and conquest to pursue mutual understanding and harmonious existence as both domestic and foreign policy.


Where does Akbar the Great's &ldquoGreat&rdquo come from? - History

The History of Akbar
Volume 1

  • Volume 1
  • Persian title: اكبر نامه
  • Translated and edited by Wheeler M. Thackston
  • Previously translated by Henry Beveridge as The Akbar Nāmā of Abu-L-Fazl (3 vols. 1902-39)
  • This is a bilingual edition, with the original Persian text printed facing the English

See our review for fuller assessment.



Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bulletin of the SOAS . 2/2016 Derryl N. MacLean
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/9/2015 Roberto Calasso

Review Consensus :

Abu'l-Fazl was long an insider in the Mughal court during the reign of Akbar (b.1542, d.1605 reigned 1556 to 1605), and, as translator Wheeler M. Thackston explains in his Introduction, he was commanded in 1588: "to write a history of the reigns of the Timurid sovereigns of India", and the resulting work was the Akbarnāma -- the massive The History of Akbar (the Murty Classical Library of India/Harvard University Press edition is now up to five volumes).
As Thackston notes:


Watch the video: Akbar the Great Mughal Emperor - History of India. Educational Videos by Mocomi Kids (November 2021).

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