The sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Mughal em­peror Ak­bar and Ibrahim II from the Adil Shahs of Bi­japur are colour­ful and cu­ri­ously rel­e­vant in to­day’s times…

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Cover Story - BY MANU S. PIL­LAI

In the 24th year of Jalal-ud-din Ak­bar’s reign, a 10-year-old boy was in­stalled on the throne of the Adil Shahs of Bi­japur. Ibrahim II was sev­eral decades the Mughal em­peror’s ju­nior, but if the two had met, they’d have en­joyed each other’s com­pany. Though sep­a­rated by dis­tance as well as a gen­er­a­tion gap, there was a great deal the Mughal

and the Dec­can sul­tan had in com­mon. Both were pa­trons of the arts, and each was a man of abil­ity as well as charisma. And in what is di­rectly rel­e­vant to our own times, Ak­bar and Ibrahim both em­braced the plu­ral im­pulses of the so­ci­eties over which they reigned, birthing a mag­nif­i­cent age, and light­ing a path that still shines cen­turies af­ter they went to the grave.

The hor­ror with which Ak­bar’s re­li­gious views were per­ceived is well chron­i­cled. But in the shadow of the em­peror, Ibrahim lan­guishes for­got­ten. Like Ak­bar, he too was a vi­o­lent man when it came to mat­ters of state. But when bat­tle was done, and a calmer breeze pre­vailed, his cu­rios­ity matched that of the em­peror far away. Where Ak­bar hor­ri­fied the con­ser­va­tive with a tika on his fore­head, Ibrahim did the same with the rudraksha around his neck. Where the em­peror wel­comed padres at court, in Bi­japur too the gates were thrown open for the mes­sage of Christ. And while Ak­bar par­tic­i­pated in “hea­then” rit­u­als with his Ra­jput wives, Ibrahim joined his Maratha con­sort and ven­er­ated, be­sides Gana­p­ati, the god­dess Saraswati. It wasn’t like pow­er­ful in­ter­ests did not dis­ap­prove, and both men knew their un­ortho­dox views could pro­voke trou­ble. Badauni held Ak­bar “in de­fi­ance and con­tempt of the true faith”, just as a sufi rushed to “res­cue” the Adil


Shah from the philo­soph­i­cal em­brace of a yogi. Both had to com­pro­mise with the con­ser­va­tive. Ak­bar died swathed in whispers that he was an apos­tate, and so too went Ibrahim, sur­rounded by smaller men with nar­rower minds. In­deed, the Adil Shah felt im­pelled to ward off at­tacks on his mem­ory. “No,” his grave read, “Ibrahim in truth was not a Jew, nei­ther a Chris­tian”. He was “one pure of faith”, and “never of the idol­a­tors.” But even here he played a trick. On the face of it he was bow­ing to the ortho­dox. But this was a line from the Qu­ran, and “Ibrahim” could be ei­ther the Adil Shah or the Prophet him­self – even in death he would not fully con­cede.

If Ak­bar and Ibrahim re­turned to gaze upon our world, they would see, like them, many with minds full of cu­rios­ity and spirit – but they would also see, as in their own time, oth­ers is­su­ing dik­tats on what one should think, whom one should obey. Cen­turies and many ages sep­a­rate us, but in the story of so­ci­ety, th­ese kings might chuckle, some things clearly never change. Ker­ala-born Pune boy Manu S. Pil­lai has au­thored Rebel Sul­tans: The Dec­can from Khilji to Shivaji (2018). He won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2017 for his book The Ivory Throne: Chron­i­cles of the House of Tra­van­core (2015), which he wrote over six years af­ter re­search­ing in three con­ti­nents. He has worked with the BBC on their In­car­na­tions his­tory se­ries. He is cur­rently do­ing his PhD at King’s Col­lege Lon­don.

Shirt, T.M. Lewin; trousers, Ap­s­ley; shoes, Ru­osh

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