Tuesday, 8 January 2013

When Akbar took on the Sadhus

The Mughal Emperor Akbar had fought a number of battles and won most of them. He had laid the real foundation of the Mughal Empire which was to last for almost a century and half.
It was 1567 and Akbar was in the midst of his campaign against the Rajputs. He was finding the Rajputs a tough nut to crack. Brave and fearless, the Rajputs were fierce warriors who brooked no interference to their independence.
During one of his campaigns Akbar found himself at the head of a large army camping near Thanesar now in Haryana. The army had pitched camp on the banks of the river Saraswathi-Ghaggar where he had set up a Qanat.
The Qanat is a water management system in a dry or hot area to provide efficient and continuous supply of water. Akbar wanted to see that his troops were provided with adequate and continuous supply of  fresh water.
Akbar and his courtiers, including Abul Fazl, were drawing up a strategy to pin the Rajputs. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and the Mughals stayed out at the Qanat, guarding the road to Delhi and not allowing the Rajputs, particularly Udai Singh of Chittorgarh, the freedom to move into the land of five rivers-Punjab.
One day, Akbar suddenly noticed a huge group of Hindu Sanyasis and Sadhus  approaching the Mughal camp. Though his commanders and courtiers warned him to take preventive action, Akbar refused to do so.
The sadhus walked into the military camp with utter disregard and began taking bath in the Qanat. They also showed no respect for the Red tent-the huge and heavily guarded tent of the Emperor.
Though the Mughal soldiers were uneasy at the large presence of the Sadhus right in the middle of the military camp, Akbar showed no haste in driving them away.         
The group of Sadhus made themselves comfortable. As the sun wore on and the day became hotter, another group of Sadhus came to the Qanat. They too wanted water to bathe and quench their thirst. By the time the two groups met, their numbers had swelled to thousands.
When the Mughal soldiers became restive, Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan, a commander, advise Akbar to drive out the Sadhus. However, Akbar did not want to be seen as anti-Hindu and he thought that they would leave by evening.
Meanwhile, tensions arose between the first ad second group. The tension led to a brawl and soon the groups used trishuls and knives against each other. It was only now that Akbar realised the danger that his forces might face from the armed sadhus.
He then ordered 250 of his armed troops to move into the sadhus camp and drive them away. The sadhus then turned upon the Mughals and it as with great difficulty that they were driven away from the Qanat.
This short but tense war is known as the Battle of Thanesar or Battle of Sadhus or battle of Ascetics.
While the Sadhus had spears and Trishuls apart from knives, the Mughals had  matchlocks, guns, bows and arrows, and piked shields. The superior force won but not before Akbar learnt a lesson-never to allow anyone to enter a military camp.
He soon passed an order or firman banning any commoner from entering the Mughal encampment or army camp. Abul Fazl has beautifully illustrated the incident in his work Akbaranama. The illustration is by Basawan and it shows the entire episode. 
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London purchased the manuscript in 1896 from Frances Clarke, the widow of Major General John Clarke, who bought it in India while serving as Commissioner of Oudh between 1858 and 1862.

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