Akbar, Rupee, Ahmadabad mint, Ilahi year 41, Month Mihr

Started by Rangnath, July 20, 2007, 02:59:52 AM

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Part !

Akbar and a Rupee 

   Recently, in June, 2007, I had the pleasure of cataloging an assortment of unidentified coins in a small shop near my house in Portland, Oregon. I was surprised, excited and delighted to find the coin of an old friend among the total strangers in that musty box; a silver rupee minted during the reign of Akbar the Great. 

   Akbar, his friend Birbal and I, first met in the summer of 1986 in the Catskills of upstate New York.  The drought and heat of that cloudless day seemed in collusion with the cancer that was killing my wife. Needing to escape the oppressive dread and pervasive hopelessness, I had taken my six year old daughter Shira to an Indian gift shop and we bought a small stack of comic books. One was called ?The stories of Akbar and Birbal.? 

    My dear old friend from the comic book was a benign ruler ever ready with humility and humor to be the straight man for his friend Birbal. Their adventures and dialog would become some of India?s favorite children?s stories. Shira and I loved them. My comic book Akbar was an all powerful potentate who could recognize the folly in his own behavior and experience growth as a result.  Because the stories were able to bring smiles to Shira and me during such a traumatic time, I felt respect and gratitude towards the two main characters and that?s how Akbar became my friend.

     He was born Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar in 1542 in modern day Gujarat, India. When he was only 13 years old, his father died of a clumsy accident and left Akbar a disorganized, impoverished, uncultured kingdom threatened on all sides. By 1605, the year of Akbar?s death, the Mogul Empire was one of the great empires of the world; a center of learning and culture, music and art, poetry and architecture.

   In mid life, the wheat colored Akbar of Turkic and Mongolian descent was described as slightly taller than average height, broad shouldered, robust, virile and energetic.  He didn?t sleep much, the night extending his work time. When he laughed, he laughed convulsively. When he was angry, people feared his power of life and death. His voice carried well and was characterized as majestic. He had been trained as a hunter and warrior but, perhaps due to a learning disability, was illiterate all of his life. Akbar the Great was confident and decisive. 

   Akbar was also a man of contradictions.  On the one hand, he had a thirst for knowledge and enjoyed engaging the learned and wise from Asia and Europe in discourse. He married Hindus, Christians and Moslems in successful efforts to unite important martial families in his empire.  He eliminated unfair taxes levied against Hindus and befriended Hindu, Sikh and Jain Rajas as trusted partners in his government. He even attempted to create a unifying religion for his people; a faith that he thought exemplified the best of Islam and Hinduism.  There are Indian historians who admire Akbar as one of the two greatest, if not the greatest, Indian rulers.

On the other hand, Akbar duplicated the barbaric custom of his ancestors, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane by building pyramids of decapitated heads of his enemy. That wasn?t mentioned in the comic book! He once killed 30,000 defenseless non-combatants including children following a successful campaign in Rajasthan. His ?marriages? were illegal under the laws of Islam and his ?religion? nothing more than a worship of his own personality.  It was easy to find Hindu historians who saw in Akbar a monster and a scourge.

    His admirers, perhaps more in number than detractors, emphasized his genius as an administrator. Surely he was, in retrospect, a fine judge of character.  He surrounded himself with genuine talents: military men, artists, financial wizards, judges and the wise of all religious persuasions.  Akbar loved the arts and from his aesthetic sensibility was born a Mogul style, a genuine marriage of Hindu and Moslem arts,  that led to exquisite classical ragas, gorgeous illustrated texts and a wonder of the world created under the rule of his grandson Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal.


Part II

                Akbar?s inner circle of ministers and advisors was referred to as the nine jewels of his empire. Of those, three were closest to the ruler. Birbal, my second comic book friend, was one of those three.

   The real Birbal, poet and writer, was born Mahesh Das, a Hindu, in 1528. He grew up in a poor Brahmin family in a village in what is now Madhya Pradesh, the central state of India. Akbar apparently saw the enormous value in wit and wisdom of Mahesh.  The Emperor invited him to be a part of his royal court, renamed him Birbal and conferred on him the title of Raja.

   Birbal became a combination of court jester, judge, traveling companion and foil for the great Emperor. Together, Akbar and Birbal?s adventures would become the source for some of India?s most beloved children?s stories.  My comic book illustrated five of them. Raja Birbal would die in military service of his ruler in 1583 in modern day Afghanistan keenly missed and greatly mourned. Please forgive me my friends Birbal and Akbar, the following story I am retelling from memory. Your comic lies stored somewhere in the basement.
   Once upon a time, the Emperor and Birbal were visiting Akbar?s summer palace in Kashmir.  Situated by a pristine and frigid mountain lake, Akbar and Birbal strolled by the shore as the sun began its descent.  Akbar tested the water and was shocked to discover just how cold it was.  Ever the gambler, a man to challenge others and within earshot of a small gathering of villagers who turned out to see their great Ruler, Akbar in his commanding voice announced the following: ?Whoever of you can stand waist deep in this lake from sunset to sunrise shall be awarded 50 Rupees!? 

   Now, these were simple folk for whom one rupee was a princely sum.  Fifty was unbelievable wealth!

   Only one farmer, a desperately poor man with daughters to marry, accepted the challenge.  Though this act might mean his death, he waded into the glacial lake.

   In the morning, as the sun?s rays first appeared, word was sent to the palace. Soon, Akbar and Birbal arrived. The villagers helped revive the farmer after he painfully wadded ashore. He was more dead than alive, frozen to the bone, numb to the world but he did it! He had managed to survive the night.  Birbal turned to Akbar and said ?Oh Great one, God has permitted this man to succeed!  He is truly worthy of your benevolence!?  ?No?, said Akbar, a man not willing to accept defeat, ?this man has cheated! He spent the whole night staring at the lights of the village across the lake and drawing upon its warmth!  No reward for this man!?

   One does not argue with a King of Kings and Birbal had no intention of doing so.  But he did have a plan. He invited Akbar to dine with him that evening, when the sun was to touch the mountain peaks that surrounded the lake.

   Akbar arrived as the shadows of the mountains covered the valley. He was very hungry and looked forward to Birbal?s feast.  Birbal always went out of his way to provide his Sultan of Sultans with the very best and Akbar was never disappointed.

Akbar waited in Birbal?s reception hall.  Birbal entered just as the sun was in its appointed place and asked Akbar?s indulgence.  The food it seemed was not quite ready. 

   Akbar waited.  The sun disappeared completely; the sky changed from golden to grey. The clouds began to fall between the mountain peaks.  And still Akbar waited.  He grew impatient.
Birbal?s servant appeared and announced that the food was almost ready and pleaded with the Emperor on his master?s behalf for a little more time.

The sky became very dark and stars appeared and still Akbar waited.

   Finally Akbar would contain himself no longer.  He strode into the court yard.  There, near one wall was the cooking fire. High above the fire, over three times his height and suspended from a third story sandstone bracket, was the cooking pot.  ?What? thundered Akbar ?is the cooking pot doing way up there?   The food will never heat up that way!?  ?Well? said Birbal innocently ?just as the farmer drew his warmth from the lights of the village across the lake, this pot will have no problem drawing its warmth from the fire burning below.? 

   Never having heard anything so absurd, Akbar was stunned! And then he bellowed with laughter. He embraced his minister and said ?Oh, my Raja Birbal, feed me now and then we?ll make sure that this half frozen farmer gets his 50 silver coins as promised!?

   Shira?s mother and my wife Allida was to pass away four months after we purchased and first read the comic book of Akbar and Birbal.  In those days, I tried to draw warmth from where I could. My good friends Akbar and Birbal helped and I will always be thankful for their company.  As for Akbar?s coin, I smile every time I look at it.
Rangnath, July, 2007

If you're interested in seeing the image in larger format:



Thank you, Richie, for an illuminating story. It's hard to react on such a story without reverting to banalities. I had many thoughts reading the story and I pick out one, almost at random.

Akbar came from a family of conquerors. A nation-forming race. He would fit right in with a Chinese theory of dynasties. In this theory, a wild tribe would come out of the steppes, led by a ferocious general. The general would defeat the emperor, a vile, oppresive man who'd be more interested in protocol and palace plots than in his people. The general would act crudely, but decisively and just. The general's son would be less crude than his father and more constructive. He'd build roads and forts, he'd deal with the last remnants of resistance against the rule of the new dynasty. The general's grandson would be the apogee of the dynasty, a cultured man with broad interests (this role is for Akbar). The next generation would be a man of refined taste, a builder of monuments and the creator of an elaborate court protocol. From then on, following generations would slowly descend into high taxes, high spending, opulence, more and more disinterested in ruling and fighting, always preoccupied with palace plots, until a ferocious new general would come out of the steppes...

I don't know where this is all leading to. Maybe it says something about cycles and rejuvenation or maybe it's just a fun anecdote.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


Thanks for reading it Peter.
For the Moghul Dynasty as a whole, the pattern fits.  Did you ever read the Foundation trilogy by Asimov?  Its Science Fiction, but deals wonderfully with this ebb and flow, like the decline of the Roman Empire but on a Cosmic scale.
We're also dealing with Nature versus Nurture, aren't we? That, and do great men make history or does history make great men? 
Depending on my mood, I subsctribe to either.  Akbar though is an argument for Great Men Make History and Nurture over Nature.  He inherited very little from his father that would explain his accomplishments. From my perspective, Akbar's father looked like the dead end of a once great dynastic family.  Akbar did not have a refined cultured upbringing.
But my God, what single minded will he must have possessed, what incredible self discipline and what a genius for manipulating people into attaining his well thought out goals. 
After Akbar, his dynasty certainly follows the pattern you articulated.  I have no affection in reality or in fantasy for Aurangzeb!  I understand that the last emperor, what was his name? Shah Alam II? had control over the city of Delhi only when the British finally dispensed with him. 
I nice trivia question would be: When was the last coin minted by a Feudal State that paid tribute to the last Moghul Emperor?


  The coins which illuminated this interesting story has not further been described. Therefore a few notes about it;
1)The reverse has been put up-side-down.
2) When Akbar changed his religious thinking it reflected also his coinage, the Kalima was ousted from the coins and in its place came the Ilahi creed Allah Akbar Jalla jalalah. On the reverse the Persian month, year and mint is shown. This was quite an innovation in numismatic history. Now onwards the coins issued in different months had names of the month of issue.
3) This coin is such an Ilahi rupee and was struck Ahmadabad in the month Mihr (Persian: Mehr=Mithra) and stands for the Zodiac sign of Libra. The regnal year given is 41.


To the untrained eye, the kalima and the ilahi seem to differ little. What is the significant difference? Am I right in thinking that Akbar would have been interested in positioning himself as independent from thereligious powers of the Caliph?

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


I'm interested in the answer to Peter's question.
There seem to be at least two sides concerning Akbar's religious aspirations and political achievements. 
1. He was an ego maniac and brutal potentate who wanted to elevate himself further by this feeble, some would say, attempt at a state religion.
2.  He was incredibly intelligent and wise and undertook the near impossible task of trying to create a state religion that would be all inclusive and which would further cement Akbar's disperate constituents.  Guru Nanak's disciples attempted that as well, as did those of the glorious Kabir.

Does Akbar belong being mentioned in the company of Saints or Sinners?

I'd be curious as to Oesho's opinion about this.


For an appropriate view of the coin, I'm posting the following: