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Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak presenting Akbarnama to Akbar, Mughal miniature
The court of young Akbar, age 13, showing his first imperial act: the arrest of an unruly courtier, who was once a favorite of Akbar's father. Illustration from a manuscript of the Akbarnama

The Akbarnāma (Persian: اکبر نامہ), which literally means Book of Akbar, is a official biographical account of Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor (r. 1556–1605), written in Persian. It includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his life and times. [1]

The work was commissioned by Akbar, and written by Abul Fazl, one of the Nine Jewels (Hindi: Navaratnas) of Akbar’s royal court. It is stated that the book took seven years to be completed and the original manuscripts contained a number of paintings supporting the texts, and all the paintings represented the Mughal school of painting, and work of masters of the imperial workshop, including Basawan, whose use of portraiture in its illustrations was an innovation in Indian art [1].


Contents of the Volumes I and II

The Akbarnama consists of three volumes or parts. The first volume deals with the genealogy of the descendants of Timur, and detailed information from the birth of Akbar, his accession to the throne, and the first seventeen years of his reign. The second volume narrates the reign of Akbar from the eighteenth year of his reign to the forty sixth year of his reign. It stops there because Abu’l Fazl was assassinated at the order of Jahangir, Akbar’s son and heir on August 12, 1602. The account of Akbar's reign from the 46th regnal year, where Abu’l Fazl's work stops till his death in October, 1605 was later added to the second volume by Inayat Ullah or Muhammad Salih. This work is known as Takmil-i-Akbarnama. This work omits many happenings between 1602 and 1605.[2]

Besides recording Akbar’s life and reign, the Akbarnāma also includes many descriptions of the social order of India. Both Abu’l Fazl and Akbar had very tolerant religious ideas, and Fazl used his writing to show Hinduism in a good light to the Muslims of the Mughal ruling class. [3]

Volume III: The Ain-i-Akbari

Akbar on a hunt

The third volume named Ā’īn-i-Akbarī and details the administrative system of the Empire as well as containing the famous "Account of the Hindu Sciences". Here Abu'l Fazl's ambition, in his own words, is: "It has long been the ambitious desire of my heart to pass in review to some extent, the general conditions of this vast country, and to record the opinions professed by the majority of the learned among the Hindus. I know not whether the love of my native land has been the attracting influence or exactness of historical research and genuine truthfulness of narrative..." (Ā’in-i-Akbarī, translated by Helen Blochmann, Volume III, pp 7). In this section, he expounds the major beliefs of not the six major Hindu philosophical schools of thought, and those of the Jains, Buddhists, and Nāstikas. He also gives several Indian accounts of geography, cosmography, and some tidbits on Indian aesthetic thought. Most of this information is derived from Sanskrit texts and knowledge systems. Abu'l Fazl admits that he did not know Sanskrit and it is thought that he accessed this information through intermediaries, likely Jains who were favoured at Akbar's court.

In his description of Hinduism, Abu’l Fazl tries to relate everything back to something that the Muslims could understand. Many of the orthodox Muslims thought that the Hindus were guilty of two of the greatest sins, polytheism and idolatry. [3]

On the topic of idolatry, Abu’l Fazl says that the symbols and images that the Hindus carry are not idols, but merely are there to keep their minds from wandering. He writes that only serving and worshipping God is required. [4]

Abul Fazl also describes the Caste system to his readers. He writes the name, rank, and duties of each caste. He then goes on to describe the sixteen subclasses which come from intermarriage among the main four. [5]

Abu’l Fazl next writes about Karma about which he writes, “This is a system of knowledge of an amazing and extraordinary character, in which the learned of Hindustan concur without dissenting opinion.” [5] He places the actions and what event they bring about in the next life into four different kinds. First, he writes many of the different ways in which a person from one class can be born into a different class in the next life and some of the ways in which a change in gender can be brought about. He classifies the second kind as the different diseases and sicknesses one suffers from. The third kind is actions which cause a woman to be barren, or the death of a child. And the fourth kind deals with money and generosity, or lack thereof. [6]

The Akbarnama of Faizi Sirhindi

The Akbarnama of Shaikh Illahdad Faizi Sirhindi is another contemporary biography of the Mughal emperor Akbar. This work is mostly not original and basically a compilation from the Tabaqat-i-Akbari of Khwaja Nizam-ud-Din Ahmad and the more famous Akbarnama of Abu´l Fazl. The only original elements in this work are a few verses and some interesting stories. Very little is known about the writer of this Akbarnama. His father Mulla Ali Sher Sirhindi was a scholar and Khwaja Nizam-ud-Din Ahmad, the writer of the Tabaqat-i-Akbari was his student. He lived in Sirhind sarkar of Delhi Subah and held a madad-i-ma´ash (a land granted by the state for maintenance) village there. He accompanied his employer and patron Shaikh Farid Bokhari (who held the post of the Bakhshi-ul-Mulk) on his various services. His most important work is a dictionary, the Madar-ul-Afazil, completed in 1592. He started writing this Akbarnama at the age of 36 years. His work also ends in 1602 like the one of Abu´l Fazl. This work provides us some additional information regarding the services rendered by Shaikh Farid Bokhari. It also provides valuable information regarding the siege and capture of Asirgarh.[2]


  1. ^ a b Illustration from the Akbarnama: History of Akbar Art Institute of Chicago
  2. ^ a b Majumdar, R.C. (ed.) (2007). The Mughul Empire, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, ISBN 81-7276-407-1, p.7
  3. ^ a b Andrea; Overfield: “A Muslim’s Description of Hindu Beliefs and Practices,” “The Human Record,” page 61.
  4. ^ Fazl, A: “Akbarnama,” Andrea; Overfield: “The Human Record,” page 62.
  5. ^ a b Fazl, A: “Akbarnama,” Andrea; Overfield: “The Human Record,” page 63.
  6. ^ Fazl, A: “Akbarnama,” Andrea; Overfield: “The Human Record,” page 63-64.


  1. Beveridge Henry. (tr.) (1902-39, Reprint 2010). The Akbarnama of Abu-L-Fazl, Vol. I & II, Delhi: Low Price Publications, ISBN 81 7536 482 3.
  2. Beveridge Henry. (tr.) (1902-39, Reprint 2010). The Akbarnama of Abu-L-Fazl, Vol. III, Delhi: Low Price Publications, ISBN 81 7536 483 1.
  3. Beveridge Henry. (tr.) (1902-39, Reprint 2010). The Akbarnama of Abu-L-Fazl, Set of 3 Volumes, Bound in 2, Delhi: Low Price Publications, ISBN 81 7536 481 5.

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