Friday, Feb. 04, 2011

Akbar the Great

If ever a leader merited a tautology, it was the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (literally, "Great the Great"). Under Akbar, a fragile collection of fiefs around Delhi grew into the great Mughal Empire, a diverse and sprawling kingdom across northern India. While Christians staggered haltingly toward achieving what we now know as the Renaissance, Akbar presided over a flourishing of the arts, sponsoring artisans, poets, engineers and philosophers. He was a canny warlord whose conquests gave rise to one of the early modern world's wealthiest states. Moreover, while a Muslim, Akbar was spiritually curious and hosted religious scholars from Hindu gurus to Jesuits at his vast, diverse court. At his capital city of Fatehpur Sikri, which he built according to astronomical coordinates, he championed a melding of Hinduism and Islam known as the din-i-ilahi or the "divine faith." While the creed no longer lingers, the ethos of pluralism and tolerance that defined Akbar's age underlies the values of the modern republic of India.