Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant

Origin of Name

The pendant which is of late 16th century origin as indicated by the date inscribed on its enameled gold cap, belongs to the period of the first of the great Mughal emperors of the classic period of the empire, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, whose reign extended from 1556 to 1605. The classic period of the Mughal empire, during which it reaches the peak of its power and glory, excelling in the arts, literature, architecture and building construction, and the Mughal court attains its greatest pomp and pageantry, begins with the accession of Akbar the Great in 1556 and ends with the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707. It was during this period that the domains of the empire reach their greatest extent, and their most visible legacies such as the Taj Mahal at Agra, the Red Fort of Delhi, and numerous other palaces, mosques, tombs, minars and forts that stand today in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Lahore, Dhaka, and other cities of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh originated.

The use of jewels and jewelry to enhance the brilliance of the Mughal court and its rulers also reached its zenith, during this period. Diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies and sapphires were freely used to embellish the crowns, headdresses, royal robes, thrones, carpets, and ornaments used by the emperors, empresses and their family members. The Mughal treasury had chests full of loose diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones, that were used by the court artisans in turning out fabulous pieces of  jewelry for the court. Jewelry designing and crafting also attained a high state of refinement during this period, and thousands of experienced and well-trained craftsmen who had been practicing their trade for generations, were on the regular pay roll of the emperors. Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant, is just one piece of jewelry, originating from this rich tradition, and was perhaps part of a more elaborate necklace of unknown design, worn by the emperor, or one of his empresses or a member of the royal family.

 

Characteristics of the pendant

The pearl is large and oval-shaped, but slightly baroque, with a height of 4.0 cm. The diameter of the pearl, and its weight whether combined with its accessories such as the bell cap, or alone, are not known. In the photograph, the pearl appears to be white in color, with the characteristic luster and iridescence of a nacreous pearl. The surface of the pearl also shows blemishes and other imperfections. However, overtones if any in the pearl, cannot be judged from a photograph. The bell cap of the pearl pendant is made of enameled gold, engraved with a leaf motif. Three of the gold leaves are  engraved and nielloed on the left edge. On one of the gold leaves appear the numerals 982 in Arabic indicating the date in the Islamic calendar, perhaps of the year of production of the piece of jewelry. The inscriptions on the edge of the other two leaves are indecipherable, perhaps due to wear and tear.

 

The Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant

The Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant

© Australian Museum

The year 982 A.H. in the Islamic calendar can be converted to the Gregorian calendar, using Hodgson's formula, which gives a mathematical relationship between the two calendars.

G = H - H/33 + 622  where G and H represent Gregorian and Hijra years respectively.

Substituting for H in the formula, we have :-

G = 982 - 982/33 + 622

G = 982 - 30 + 622

G = 1574

Thus the year 982 A.H. in the Hijra calendar is equivalent to 1574 A.D. in the Gregorian calendar, which falls within the period of rule of Emperor Jaluddin Muhammad Akbar from 1556 to 1605. It is this finding that led to the association of the baroque pearl drop pendant with Emperor Akbar the Great, and hence came to be known as Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant.

 

History of the baroque pearl drop pendant

The sources of precious stones that entered the treasury of the Mughal empire

The sources of diamonds for the Mughal empire

Diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies and sapphires were the main gemstones used in the jewelry designed for the Mughal court, and to embellish their thrones. As for diamonds the Mughal court did not have much problems, as India was the source country for diamonds for the entire world, from time immemorial until the beginning  of the 18th century, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil. The source of the diamonds in India, was the  basins of the  river systems, on the eastern side of the Deccan plateau in the Central and Southern provinces of India. The Mahanadi River basin was one of the most ancient sources of diamonds in India, and it has been identified as the diamond river mentioned by Ptolemy, the Greek writer and historian in A.D. 60 to 90. The diamond mines on the eastern side of the Deccan plateau are divided into five main groups :- 1) The Panna Group in Bindelkhand, between the Khan and Son Rivers 2) The Sambalpur Group on the Mahanadi River, which includes the ancient Sambalpur mines 3) The Ellore or Golconda Group on the Kistna River, which includes the famous Kollur or Golconda mines 4) The Nandial Group between the Penner and Kistna Rivers which includes the Karnul diamond mines. 5) The Cuddapah Group on the Penner River, which includes the Chennur diamond mines. The products from these mines eventually reached the Mughal courts, after being purchased by the agents of the emperor, even though the last three, the Ellore (Golconda), Nandial and Cuddapah groups in Southern India were not under the direct rule of the Mughal empire. The most prolific of these mines were the Golconda mines at Kollur, but diamonds were discovered here only in the mid-16th century (around 1560), and continued for about 200 years until the end of the 18th century. Throughout the classic period of the Mughal empire from 1556 to 1707, the Kollur mines of Golconda were in active production, but the mines came under the direct control of the empire only during the reign of Aurangzeb in 1687, when he was able to subjugate the Golconda kingdom and annex it to his empire.

 

The sources of emeralds for the Mughal empire

Emeralds that entered the Mughal treasury came from overseas, as emeralds were not found in India. The only source of emeralds in the world during the classic period of the Mughal empire, was Colombia in South America. In Colombia the emeralds could have originated in either the Somondoco/Chivor or Muzo emerald mines. The Somondoco/Chivor mines were discovered by the Spanish conquistadors led by Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada in 1537, and exploitation of the mines began soon afterwards and large quantities of emeralds were exported to Spain from these mines, through the Caribbean port of Cartagena in Colombia. The exploitation of the mines continued for more than a hundred years until 1675, when King Charles II of Spain issued a royal decree closing down the mines indefinitely, due to the incredibly cruel conditions, under which the mines were operated. The abandoned Somondoco/Chivor mines were then over grown with jungle and not rediscovered until over 200 years later in 1896. The Muzo emerald mines were discovered in 1594, and exploitation began soon afterwards and continued until the mid-18th century, until a disastrous fire destroyed the entire mines, which were abandoned until after Colombia regained independence from Spain in 1819. Thus most of the emeralds that entered the Mughal treasury during the classic period 1556 to 1707, most probably originated in the Somondoco/Chivor mines whose active production period extended from 1537 to 1675 and the Muzo emerald mines, whose active production period was from 1594 to around 1750. In the latter part of the classic period 1675 to 1707, the emeralds would have come mainly from the Muzo mines, as this was the only functional mines during this period. The emeralds from Colombia first reached Spain after being carried across the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and after one-fifth of the best emeralds were taken as royalty by the King, most of the remaining emeralds were exported to Europe and countries in Middle East and Asia, such as the Ottoman empire based in Turkey, the Persian empire based in Iran and the Mughal empire based in India. Emeralds would have reached India, overland after being downloaded at the Mediterranean Turkish ports, and passing through Arabia and Persia, or taken by Spanish ships around the cape to the west coast of India or along with consignment meant for the Spanish colony of Philippines, that was taken across the Atlantic, and overland from Vera Cruz in the Gulf of Mexico to Acapulco on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and then by the Spanish Pacific fleet, across the Pacific to the Philippines and later to the eastern coast of India.

 

The sources of rubies for the Mughal empire

Rubies for the Mughal empire came mainly from Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and also from Badakshan in Afghanistan. However, what they got from Badakshan, was mainly Balas rubies, which are also known as spinels. The Timur ruby which is part of the private collection of jewels of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a Balas ruby, and bears the inscriptions of four Mughal emperors on its surface - Jahangir Shah (1612 A.D.), Shah Jahan (1629 A.D.), Aurangzeb ( 1660 A.D.), Faruk Siyar (1713 A.D.). Ceylon (Sri Lanka) had been one of the most ancient sources of rubies in the world, dating back to the period of King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. In Burma, which is famous for its Mogok rubies, mining had been taking place since 1597. Initially, rubies for the Mughal court came mainly from Ceylon, but later after the working of the Mogok mines began in 1597, large quantities of these rubies reached the empire, across the border from Burma. Thus Burma became the main source of rubies for the empire.

 

The sources of sapphires to the Mughal court

Sri Lanka was also the most ancient source of sapphires in the world, and the Sri Lankan blue sapphire, had been mined for thousands of years, from time immemorial and still do not seem to have been exhausted. The next important source of sapphires had been Burma, where sapphires had been mined along with rubies, since the end of the 16th century. The next important source of sapphires was Kashmir, where sapphires were discovered accidentally, after a landslide in 1880, at an altitude of about 16,000 feet. More new sources of blue sapphires have been discovered around the world after the accidental Kashmir discovery. Thus, the most important source of blue sapphires to the Mughal empire was Ceylon and Burma.

 

The sources of pearls to the Mughal court. The possible sources of the Akbar pearl.

The source of pearls for the Mughal empire, was mainly the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, the hub of the most ancient pearl industry in the world. The Persian Gulf was the oldest and most prolific pearl banks in the world, and pearls were exploited in the Gulf from time immemorial, until as recently as the 1920s and 1930s. In the Gulf of Mannar, pearl banks were found on both the Sri Lankan and Indian sides. On the Sri Lankan side the pearl banks were found in the Bay of Kondaichchi (Condatchy), on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, and on the Indian side the pearl banks were situated mainly off the coast of Tinnelvelly, in Tuticorin. However, the pearl banks on the Sri Lankan side were much richer than those on the Indian side. During the height of the Mughal empire from 1556 to 1707, most of the pearls produced in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar, reached the capital of the empire at Agra and later Delhi. Apart from this pearls also reached India, from the newly discovered pearl banks in the New World in Venezuela, Colombia and Panama, where exploitation of pearl resources took place, soon after their discovery in 1498 by Columbus. The Spanish overexploited these resources, and within about 150 years, most of the New World pearl resources were exhausted. Thus by about 1650 most of the pearl resources of Venezuela, Colombia and Panama were exhausted. Given the period, the Emperor Akbar pearl pendant was designed, year 1574, the Akbar pearl could have originated either from the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Mannar or the pearl banks of Venezuela, Colombia or Panama.

 

The Mughal empire from 1556 to 1707 was the richest and most prosperous empire in the world

The Mughal empire at that time was the richest and most prosperous empire in the world, and all precious stones whether diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies or sapphires finally reached its capital from the producing countries. The Mughal emperors paid attractive and competitive  prices for gemstones of good quality and producers preferred to sell their gemstones to them, instead of selling it to other royal houses in other parts of the world. Thus the Spanish, who were not only able seamen and explorers, but also clever traders, sent their emeralds and pearls all the way from Colombia and Venezuela to India, where they fetched very high prices.

According to Abul Fazl, Akbar was the first Mughal emperor, who organized a special treasury to house the enormous collection of precious stones owned by him. It was reported that at that time diamonds, emeralds, red and blue yaquts (rubies and sapphires), were classified into 12 classes and pearls into 16 classes. Akbar's son and successor Jahangir, was said to be a great lover of gems, particularly diamonds and jade. By the time the mantle of power shifted to  Shah Jahan, the Mughal treasury was bursting at its seams so to speak, overflowing with diamonds, emeralds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, corals, agate, carnelian, chalcedony,  amethyst, garnet and quartz, and precious metals like gold and silver. It was then that Shah Jahan ordered his court jewelers, to design and construct the most splendorous throne ever created in the history of mankind, the "Peacock Throne," covered with gold and embellished with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. The great emperor's line of thinking was that jewels stacked away in the dark vaults of a treasury would not serve any useful purpose, and would be better utilized to embellish the throne of the Sultan, so that it would not only elevate the status of the Sultan by increasing his brilliance, but also give an opportunity to his subjects to appreciate the beauty of the jewels possessed by him. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who had the rare privilege of examining Emperor Aurangzeb's jewels on November 2, 1665, including the famed Peacock Throne, described the throne in his book, "Travels in India" published in 1676, as follows :- "The underside of the canopy is covered with diamonds and pearls, with a fringe of pearl all round, and above the canopy, which is a quadrangular-shaped dome, there is a peacock with elevated tail made of blue sapphires and other colored stones. The body of the Peacock is made of gold inlaid with precious stones, having a large ruby in front of the breast, where hangs a pear-shaped pearl of 50 carats or thereabouts, and of a somewhat yellow water. On both sides of the peacock there is a large bouquet of the same height as the bird, consisting of many kinds of flowers, made of gold inlaid with precious stones."

Tavernier, had counted 108 rubies, all cabochons weighing between 100 to 200 carats each, and 110 emeralds, weighing 30-60 carats each on the great throne. Tavernier put the estimated cost of the famous throne at that time during the end of the 17th century at Rs. 10 corore (Rs. 100,000,000 - Rs. 100 million - one corore = 10 million).

 

Emperor Akbar the Great - A short biography

Akbar's early life and upbringing in a rural environment in the absence of his parents who lived in exile in Iran

Akbar was born on October 15, 1542. in Sindh, where his father Emperor Humayun, the eldest son of Emperor Babur, was taking refuge with his recently wedded wife, Hamida Banu Begum, at the Rajput fortress of Amarkot. Humayun was forced to seek exile after his decisive defeat by the Afghan Pashtun leader Sher Shah. Humayun and his empress, were eventually granted asylum in neighboring Iran (Persia). However, they did not take Akbar to Persia, instead entrusting the infant to the care of the Maharajah of the Princely State of Rewa, where Akbar grew up in the village of Mukundpur. Akbar grew up together with the Maharajah's son Prince Ram Singh, and the two struck up a friendship, that lasted throughout their lives. Akbar was also raised for a short time by his uncle Askari and his wife, in the eastern part of the Persian empire, which is now in modern Afghanistan. The boy's unsettled early life deprived him of the early education that was so vital for a future monarch of an empire. Thus Akbar accumulated the skills of hunting, running, horse racing, fighting, taming wild animals, and even carpentry and lace making, during his early childhood, but never learned to read or write, the only exception in the line of enlightened Mughal monarchs, who ruled the empire. Ironically, in spite of this drawback, Akbar eventually matured into the greatest of all Mughal emperors, self-educated by listening to scholars in their respective fields, such as the arts, architecture, music, literature and theology, and broad-minded able to tolerate other people's opinions, and give due respect to other religious beliefs in the true spirit of his own Islamic beliefs.

 

Humayun's return to Delhi in 1555. Akbar's ascension to the throne in 1556 at the age of 14 years. Consolidation of the empire under the regency of Bairam Khan.

Humayun re-captured Delhi in 1555, in the immediate aftermath of Sher Shah's death, with the help of his host king, Shah Tahmasp of Persia. However, Humayun did not live long after his victorious return, and died suddenly on February 14, 1556, when he fell down in his attempt to rush down the staircase to answer the call for prayer. Akbar who was now 14 years of age was in the midst of a war in Punjab against Sikandar Shah, to consolidate Mughal rule in the province. The death of Humayun was not announced to the world and kept a secret by his chief minister Bairam Khan, until the smooth succession to the throne by Akbar had taken place. The 14-year old Akbar was proclaimed the Shahanshah at Kalanaur, in Punjab, and Bairam Khan was appointed as regent to the young king. Bairam Khan as regent first decided that Akbar should move first to eliminate the threat of Sher Shah's dynasty, and advised that he lead an army against Sikandar Shah Suri in Punjab. Akbar entrusted Delhi to the regency of Tardi Baig Khan and marched against Sikandar Shah in Punjab. However, Sikandar Shah on learning of Akbar's army marching towards Punjab, withdrew from the territory as Akbar approached. In the absence of the Emperor and his army in Delhi, Hemu Vikramaditya, who was the chief minister of one of the Sher Shah Suri's claimants, attacked and captured Agra and Delhi in October 1556, and declared himself the Emperor of India. Tardi Baig Khan fled the city. Akbar who heard of Delhi's capitulation, was urged by Bairam Khan to march on Delhi to reclaim it. Akbar's army met the numerically superior Hemu Vikramaditya's army at Panipat, 50 miles north of Delhi, where a major battle took place. During the battle, an arrow shot towards Hemu, passed through  one of his eyes, and he fell unconscious from his elephant. When their leader fell, Vikramaditya's forces dispersed out of fear, and his unconscious body was brought to Akbar, and beheaded.

 

Defeat of Sher Shah's dynasty and regaining control of Mughal lands

The decisive victory for Akbar at Delhi, consolidated his position, and he now moved once again against Sikandar Shah in Punjab, using over 1,500 elephants he captured from Hemu. Sikandar who was besieged at Manikot, surrendered to Akbar, who  pardoned him and granted him a large estate, where he lived until he died two years later. Akbar then took on Sikandar's brother Adil Shah, and defeated and killed him at a battle in Bengal. The defeat of Sher Shah's dynasty and regaining control of Mughal lands during the initial years of Akbar's rule is solely attributed to  the military genius of Bairam Khan, who served both Humayun and Akbar very loyally and laid the foundation for a strong empire. Akbar acknowledged this contribution by Bairam Khan, by supporting him, when his enemies drew up a plan to oust him by implicating him in a plot to oust the emperor. However, Bairam Khan was subsequently killed by an Afghan assassin, when he was on his way unarmed to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Emperor Akbar The Great

Emperor Akbar The Great

Akbar leads his own army in 1561 against Malwa, and begins a campaign of conquests that lasts a life time, extending his territory covering the entire Indian sub-continent north of Godaveri River

Bairam Khan's position was filled by Adam Khan, Akbar's foster brother, who also continued with campaigns to extend the empire and suppressing insurgencies in different part of the domain. By 1561, Akbar led his own army to capture Malwa, and then marched to Sarangpur to punish Adam Khan, for improper conduct. Later, he captured Chunar, which had always defied Humayun. In the year 1562, Akbar married a Rajput princess, daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amber, which signified the beginning of a firm alliance between the Mughals and the Rajputs. It was during the same year he took charge of governing his vast domain, and formulating his own policies, which was implemented by his governors, who were in charge of different provinces. He consolidated power by centralizing the administration. Akbar campaigns of conquest, which he began in 1562 by capturing Malwa, continued throughout his lifetime, that saw the conquest of Chittor and Ranthambor  in Rajasthan in 1569, Gujarat in 1572, Bengal in 1574, Kabul in 1581, Kashmir in 1586, Kandahar in 1595, Berar in 1596, Ahmednagar in 1600 and Kandesh in 1601. This was in keeping with his policy that "A monarch should be ever intent on conquest, lest his neighbors rise in arms against him." In modern warfare this is somewhat equivalent to launching pre-emptive strikes on your neighbors, weakening their capacity to launch attacks against you." At the time of Akbar's death in October 1605, the Mughal empire covered the entire area north of the Godavari River, with the exception of Gondwana in central India and Assam in the northeast, and also included the present day territories of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

 

Akbar's efficient system of administration, with a strong central government, provincial governments, district and village councils

Emperor Akbar's period of rule is not only significant for its great military achievements, but also for its sound and efficient administrative set up with a strong central government and several provincial administrations. The central government consisted of four ministries, each headed by a minister appointed by the emperor. They are 1) the prime minister, known as the wakil.  2) the finance minister, known as diwan or wazir. 3) the paymaster general, known as mir bakhshi.  4) the chief justice and religious authority, known as sadr al-sudr. The duties of each of the ministers were well defined and they were directly answerable to the emperor. The appointments, dismissals and promotions of ministers were the prerogative of the emperor.

The vast empire was divided into 15 provinces, known as Subahs. These provinces arranged in alphabetical order were : Agra, Ahmadnagar, Ahmedabad, Ajmer, Allahabad, Avadh (Ayodya), Bengal, Berar, Bihar, Delhi, Kabul, Kandesh, Lahore, Malka, Multan. Sindh was part of Multan and Orissa part of Bengal. The provinces were created mainly for their historical importance as the seat of administration of former kingdoms, and were of different extents and income. Each province was headed by a governor, assisted by four senior officials, the Diwan (treasurer), the Bakshi (military commander), the Sadr (religious authority) and the Qadi (judge). At the provincial level there was separation of powers between the governor and the diwan, a significant operating principle, that made the Diwan answerable only to the emperor, ensuring tight financial discipline.

The provinces were again divided into districts, known as Sarkars. Each Sarkar had a Fowjdar, who was a military officer, with duties almost equivalent to that of a collector. Other officials in the Sarkar were the Qadi (judge), the Kotwal, who was in charge of sanitation (public health official), the police, a Bitikchi (head clerk), a Khazanedar (treasurer). Every significant town had its own Kotwal. At the village level, the communities conducted their own affairs through autonomous units known as Pancayats (village councils).

Akbar The Great

Akbar The Great

Akbar's reorganization of the nobility

Previously the Mughal nobility was composed mainly of Central Asian nobles belonging to the old Turani clan, nurtured on the Turko-Mongol tradition of sharing power with the royalty. Akbar was determined to broad base the composition of the nobility to include diverse ethnic and religious groups. He therefore recruited prominent Indian Muslims, Persians and the non-Muslim Rajputs to the Mughal nobility. Among the Indian Muslims the Baraha Sayyids, the Bukhari Sayyids and the Kambus were offered high military and civil positions. The Persians of Iranian origin were also given high-ranking appointments, but the most significant was the recruitment of Hindu Rajput leaders into the Mughal nobility, a revolutionary move by a Muslim ruler, a confidence-building measure, that set the stage for a new era of  mutual co-operation between the powerful warrior clan of India, the Rajputs and the Mughal rulers. The Rajput chiefs, their sons and close relatives, were granted a high rank, pay and other special rights and privileges. They were also given an assurance that they could retain their age-old traditions, rituals and beliefs as Hindu warriors. The Rajput chiefs' right to their ancestral holdings were recognized, and they were also entitled to receive new land assignments (watans) for their services. However, like all other land holders (Zamindars), they were expected to pay tribute to the emperor. The new spirit of co-operation between the Rajputs and the Mughal rulers, led to the Rajputs not only expressing their allegiance to the emperor publicly, but also offering active military service to the emperor when called upon to do so, and willingly giving their daughters in marriage either to the emperor or his sons.

The re-organization of the nobility was not without its consequences. The old Turani nobility, consisting of the Uzbeks, the Mirzas, the Qaqshals and the Atgah Khails, demonstrated their indignation over the change by organizing a revolt from 1564 to 1574, making use of the Muslim orthodoxy's resentment over Akbar's liberal views, which ultimately culminated in the rebels proclaiming Akbar's half-brother, Mirza Hakim as the ruler of Kabul in 1580. Akbar suppressed the opposition ruthlessly, eliminating Mirza Hakim.

The Fatehpur Sikri, the hall of Private Audience of Emperor Akbar the Great

The Hall of Private Audience of Emperor Akbar the Great at Fatehpur Sikri.

Akbar's campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Hindu majority of his empire

Akbar, though illiterate was naturally gifted to learn fast by experience, and master the intricacies of statecraft and diplomacy, that was needed to hold his vast empire together. He put together a team of trusted and efficient advisers and administrators from among Muslims as well as Hindus, whose advice he sought on all matters affecting the state. Raja Todar Mal and Raja Man Singh were two prominent Hindus in his inner governing circle, who rose to become the Finance Minister and a trusted general in Akbar's army respectively. Todar Mal was responsible for completely overhauling the revenue generating system of Akbar's empire. Raja man Singh, who was a trusted general in the army, headed many campaigns on behalf of the emperor.

Having consolidated his position as emperor after bloody military campaigns, Akbar realized that the continued survival of the Mughal empire depended entirely on the allegiance and support of his Hindu subjects, who constituted an overwhelming majority of the population. He therefore immediately set about implementing confidence-building measures, to allay the fears of the majority Hindu population, and bring them into the mainstream of life, so that they would share the benefits of his economic prosperity. The elevation of the Rajput chief's to noble status that assured their allegiance  and continued support for his rule, was part of the new confidence-building measures adopted by the benevolent ruler. He then abolished the unpopular "Jizyah" tax that was placed on non-Muslims by his predecessors, that was a root cause of alienating the majority Hindu population. He also abolished the infamous pilgrimage tax placed on the Hindus, and banned the forcible conversion of prisoners-of war to Islam. He also reformed the administration of religious grants, which was previously available only to Muslims, and made them available to learned and pious men of all religions. Hindus were given appointments to all positions in the civil service, and above all he laid the foundation for a non-sectarian state, where all religions were given equal protection, and one could practice freely the religion of his or her choice. The privileged position enjoyed by Islam in the state was gradually withdrawn.

 

Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri

Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri

Photo above Creative Commons

Akbar's attempts to find common grounds in all religious beliefs and persuasions. His policy of Suleh-e-Kul, the universal tolerance of all religions and communities.

As Akbar matured into an enlightened ruler, his hunger for knowledge became insatiable. He never considered his illiteracy as a handicap, but instead used educated and knowledgeable people around him to further his own education. His interest in comparative religion was unprecedented in the history of monarchies around the world, and became a shining example worthy of emulation by all monarchies around the world, in the dark days of the middle ages, when religious persecution and intolerance was the order of the day, particularly in the west, where large scale massacres of Protestants and Jews were committed in the name of religion. Akbar's courts at Agra and Fatehpur Sikri became centers of learning and culture, where learned scholars, poets, musicians and painters, were encouraged to make presentations before the emperor. His interest in comparative religion  while serving to expand his knowledge on all religious teachings, also helped him to find common grounds between all religions, that eventually led him to propound his own concept of a universal religion, that can unite the entire humankind. Akbar invited learned scholars of all religions, such as the Muslim ulema, the Hindu pundits, the Portuguese Jesuit priests from Goa, the Sikh gurus, Parsi and Jain priests, to his court and encouraged them to present their viewpoints at his court, and engage in discussion and debate in a spirit of tolerance. He listened patiently to all arguments presented in his court, and finally declared his policy of  "Suleh-e-Kul" meaning the universal tolerance of all religions and communities.

 

Akbar the architect of modern India

Emperor Akbar was perhaps the greatest ruler the world has ever seen. Living in the 16th century and holding together his vast domains, the largest and most populous nation in the world during that period, with diverse ethnic groups and religions, his thinking was far ahead of the times. The greatest divisive force in the world at that time was religion, and countless massacres were committed in many parts of the world in the name of religion. Religious tolerance, and respect for other viewpoints besides one's own, was unknown to the world at that time. The protagonists of different religions, stuck to their long-held immutable positions, that they represented the only true religion in the world, and all other religions were false. Thus Akbar the Great, goes down in history as the first monarch, who preached religious tolerance, and encouraged the followers of different religions to look for common grounds that unite them, rather than clinging on to mistaken notions of infallibility. Akbar gave equal protection to all religions, and ensured the freedom of religion, to practice freely the religion of one's own choice. Three hundred years later Akbar's policy of freedom to practice the religion of one's own choice, was adopted as one of the pillars of modern democracy.

Emperor Akbar also gave equal respect to people of all communities, and appointed them to the highest offices on their own merits, irrespective of their religion, caste, ethnicity and other differences. Undoubtedly, it was the policy of tolerance adopted by Emperor Akbar, that ensured the survival of the Mughal empire, well into the 19th century, and led to large numbers of Hindus rallying round the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Zafar Shah II at the time of the Great Indian Mutiny against British rule in 1857. Thus Emperor Akbar is rightfully considered as the architect of modern India, who set the guidelines for a future secular state. The father of modern India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru in his book "The Discovery of India" gives credit to Akbar's unique abilities, when he said, "Akbar's success is astonishing, for he created a sense of oneness among the diverse elements of India."  

  The Tomb of Akbar the Great at Agra

The Tomb of Akbar the Great at Agra

Is Emperor Akbar's  Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant the oldest surviving example of a piece of Mughal jewelry?

According to Diana Scarisbrick's book "Ancestral Jewels" published by Andre Deutsch Ltd. in 1989, the earliest surviving piece of Mughal jewelry in the world today is a rock crystal bracelet studded with cabochon rubies and sapphires, that was believed to have been designed in the court workshops of Emperor Akbar, either in Agra or Delhi. However the exact year of manufacture of the bracelet is not known. On the other hand the year of manufacture of Emperor Akbar's baroque pearl drop pendant is clearly engraved on the piece of jewelry as 982 A.H., which is equivalent to 1574 A.D. by which time Akbar had consolidated his power as the absolute monarch of the Mughal domains, having ascended the throne in 1556. Thus the Emperor Akbar's baroque pearl drop pendant appears to be the oldest surviving example of a piece of Mughal jewelry today, older than even the rock crystal bracelet.

 

The Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant appears at a Christie's auction in the United Kingdom in 1999

The Emperor Akbar's baroque pearl drop pendant suddenly resurfaced in London, at a Christie's auction held on October 6, 1999. The auction house did not identify the owner of the historic pendant, but placed a pre-sale estimate of £65,000 to £95,000 on it. The auction also featured other historic pieces such as the emerald "bazuband" of Jehangir, and also jewels that adorned the turbans of the maharajah of Patiala. The "bazuband" adorned with emeralds and pearls, was estimated to fetch between £600,000 to £800,000. The identity of the purchaser of the historic baroque pearl drop pendant was not revealed.

 

The Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant is displayed at the National Islamic Art Museum, Doha, Qatar.

Presently, the Emperor Akbar's baroque pearl drop pendant is the proud possession of the National Islamic Art Museum, Doha, Qatar, where it is displayed as part of the valuable collection of jewels and jewelry, originating from Islamic nations across the world. The museum, which is a treasure house of Islamic art, was opened to the public on December 1, 2008. It is not known how and when the Islamic Art Museum acquired the historic pearl pendant, but it is believed that the museum in all probability purchased it from the buyer of the pearl at the Christie's auction in 1999. It is also possible that the pearl pendant was purchased directly by an agent of the Islamic Art Museum, who had been sending their representatives to all international art and jewelry auctions, scouting for historic pieces originating from Islamic nations.

 

The Emperor Akbar's Baroque Pearl Drop Pendant is exhibited around the world, as part of the traveling exhibition, Pearls : A Natural History

The Emperor Akbar's baroque pearl drop pendant was given on loan by the National Islamic Art Museum, Doha, Qatar, to the American Museum of Natural History, New York, to be exhibited around the world as part of their traveling exhibition, Pearls : A Natural History, that was organized in collaboration with the Chicago Field Museum. The pearl pendant was exhibited at all venues where the exhibition was held, in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, United Arab Emirates and France, between the period October 2001 to March 2008. During this period the National Islamic Art Museum was actually building up its collection of Islamic art and artifacts, and their new buildings were still under construction and not yet commissioned. When the new building was opened on December 1, 2008, the historic pearl pendant had already been returned to the National Islamic Art Museum, where it was put on permanent display in its jewelry gallery.

 

You are welcome to discuss this post/related topics with Dr Shihaan and other experts from around the world in our FORUMS (forums.internetstones.com)

 

Related :-

1) The Sultan Necklace

2) The Koh-i-Noor diamond

 

References :-

1) Mughal Empire - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

2) Move to stop auction of Mughal pearls, Sept 28, 1999 - www.rediff.com

3) The Mughal Empire, 1526 - 1761, The reign of Akbar the Great - Encyclopaedia Britannica 2006.

4) Akbar the Great - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Dr Shihaan Larif
Founder Internet Stones.COM

 

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