Abu’l Fazl was born in Agra, the second son to the Indian scholar and teacher Shaikh Mubarak, who educated Abu’l Fazl from an early age in the Islamic sciences, Greek philosophy, and mysticism. At age 23, Abu’l Fazl was introduced to the court of emperor Akbar by his older brother Abu’l Faizi, the future poet laureate. A liberal thinker like his father, Abu’l Fazl quickly gained favor with the emperor and supported him in extending the religious tolerance of his empire. In 1579, together with his father, Abu’l Fazl helped to compose the decree known as the “Infallibility Decree,” which endowed the emperor Akbar with religious superiority over the orthodox authority of the ulama. In 1599, Abu’l Fazl was given his first office, at Deccan, where he was recognized for his ability as a military commander. Three years later in 1602, he was assassinated under secret orders from emperor Akbar’s eldest son, the future emperor Jahangir, whose ascendancy and 1600 rebellion against his father Abu’l Fazl had opposed.
Abu’l Fazl is best known today for his Akbarnama, a three-volume history of the life and empire of its commissioner, the emperor Akbar. It was composed in Persian between 1590 and 1596 while more than 49 different artists worked on the illustrations. The first volume details the history of Akbar’s family back to Timur, and the second volume describes Akbar’s own reign as far as 1602. The third volume of the Akbarnama, the Ain-i-Akbari, or the “Institutes of Akbar,” is the most famous. As well as containing a detailed report of Akbar’s system of government and administration, the fourth book of this volume gives a more general history of India in addition to an account of Hindu philosophy, literature, religion, and custom.
In the second volume of the Akbarnama, Abu’l Fazl describes the third siege and consequent third Jauhar [Johar] at the fort of Chittor [Chaitúr] in 1567. Jauhar and Saka, often referred to together simply as Jauhar, are the names for the two parts of a mass suicide ritual carried out by the Rájpút clans in the face of immediate and inescapable military defeat. Jauhar specifically refers to the self-immolation of the women and children in anticipation of capture and abuse. Saka is the subsequent or simultaneous march of the men to certain death at the hands of their enemies. Not an immediate witness of the Jauhar, Abu’l Fazl reports that several fires became visible in Chittor less than an hour after the governor of the fort was killed. He describes the women as unwilling participants in the Jauhar, victims of the Rájpút men, who, the next day, came out of the house of Ráná, the temple of Mahádeo, and the gate of Rámpúrah in “twos and threes” to “[throw] away” their own lives.
Abu’l Fazl Ibn Mubarak, “An Account of the Siege and Reduction of Chaitur by the Emperor Akbar,” from the Akbar-namah of Shaikh Abul-Fazl, tr. Major David Price. Miscellaneous Translations from Oriental Languages, Vol. II (London: Samuel Bentley, 1834, pp. 14-15, 31-34, 38, 40).
from BIOGRAPHY OF THE EMPEROR AKBAR: ON JAUHAR AND SAKA
In the meantime, entertaining a notion that the imperial army was but inadequately provided with the means of carrying on the arduous operations of a siege, the infatuated Ráná devoted his attention to strengthen the fortifications of Chaitúr, and to furnish it with stores and provisions for many years to come. And yet, to the limited scope of human vision, the ramparts of this celebrated place seemed already beyond the reach of anything like a successful attack. He lodged in it, moreover, a garrison of five thousand Rájpúts of acknowledged bravery, and already renowned for their devotion to the paths of glory. After which, having laid waste the surrounding districts in every direction, so that there was not left a blade of grass remaining, he finally withdrew himself beyond the inaccessible passes of his mountain lands.
On due consideration, Akbar was early convinced that the success of the enterprise in which he was engaged would be but little advanced by pursuing the man whose doom was already sealed, in the heart of his mountains; and it was surely by the inspiration of his superior fortune, that he now determined to devote the whole of his energies to the sole object of making himself master of this fortress of Chaitúr, universally considered as the very foundation and resting-place of the Ráná’s power and renown. On Thursday, the 19th of the latter Rabía, accordingly, he appeared in the neighbourhood of the place, and encamped.
A. H. 975. A. D. 1568, 23d February.–The circumstances of this auspicious and splendid event may be distinctly collected from the following statement. On the night previous to the day of its capture, the place was attacked at once on every side, and the rampart having been breached in several parts, all things indicated that the conquest of Chaitúr was now at hand. Near the head of the principal sap, the imperial troops pushing forward on anticipation, succeeded in effecting a considerable breach in the strongest part of the wall, where they proceeded to exhibit the noblest proofs of devoted courage. Some time after midnight, however, the besieged brought a competent force to bear upon this breach; and on the one hand, giving themselves up to the winds of destiny, proceeded on the other to load this breach with bales of cloth and cotton, and faggots smeared with oil, for the purpose of setting on fire the moment the besiegers advanced to the assault, so that it would be impossible to effect a passage through.
At a period so critical, a person came in view of the emperor, clad in that species of armour denominated Hazár míkhí, or mail of a thousand studs, and exhibiting proofs of the highest authority, stood upon the breach, where he appeared to exert himself with signal bravery and activity. The identity of this personage who thus conspicuously distinguished himself could not however be made out by any one. Immediately seizing a favourite fusil, on which he had bestowed the name of Singrám, Akbar instantly discharged it at this person, expressing at the same time to Shujáat Khán and Rájáh Bahgwántdás, that feeling on this occasion the same exhilarating sensation as he experienced when killing game, he entertained but little doubt that his shot had taken effect on the man; on which Khán Jahán, another of the chiefs in attendance, took occasion to mention, that during the night the same personage had repeatedly appeared in the breach, exerting himself with singular diligence and activity, and that if he appeared no more, it was sufficiently evident that he must have fallen.
Not an hour afterwards, Jubbár Kulí Dívánah came and reported that not a man of the enemy was to be seen at the breach, and almost at the same instant the interior of the fort appeared on fire in several places. The attendants on the emperor were indulging in a variety of conjectures as to the meaning of this conflagration, when Rájah Bahgwántdás set the matter at rest by explaining that this was the Johar fire; adding, that in Hindustán, on the occurrence of a catastrophe such as was likely to happen on this memorable night, it was the custom to prepare a pile of sandalwood and odiferous drugs, together with dry fuel and other combustibles smothered with oil, and placing those in whom they could confide in charge of their women, with instructions to set fire to the pile and consume these unoffending and hapless females to ashes, the instant it was ascertained that the conflict had terminated fatally, and that the men were slain.
In fact, on the morning which dawned in victory to the imperial arms, it was ascertained that the shot discharged by the royal Akbar had actually taken effect on the person of Jaimal Pátá, the governor of the fort, and at once decided the fate of Chaitúr and his own. The Johar conflagration was found to ascend from the mansions of Pátá of the Seisúdíah tribe, and one of the Ráná’s most confidential ministers, of the Rahtúrs, of whom a certain Sáhib was the chief, and of Aisúrdas the leader of the Cháhúns, in which there were consumed to the number altogether of three hundred helpless females.
During the remainder of the night, although the breach had been entirely abandoned by the garrison, which had fled in dismay on the death of Jaimul, and withdrawn to various recesses of the places, the imperial troops, nevertheless, cautiously abstained from attack, with that prudent forbearance always necessary to avert unseen and sudden danger. They were at the same time held in perfect readiness to enter the place at the first dawn of daylight. Accordingly, at break of day, the troops issued at once from their trenches, and rushing into the fort at all points, proceeded immediately to the work of bondage and slaughter; while the unfortunate Rájpúts, having lost all order, were put to the sword, fighting and resisting to the very last man.
The number of Rájpúts inured to war collected on this occasion for the defence of Chaitúr, is stated at nearly eight thousand; but the inhabitants, who bore a part also in the defence of the place, amounted to more than forty thousand men. When the banners of the empire were displayed upon the works, the besieged retired partly into the pagodas; and trusting to the sanctity of those places, and the protection of their idols, awaited with fortitude the moment to lay down their lives. Others obstinately awaited their fate in their own houses; while others, with sword in hand and shortened lance, bravely faced their assailants, from whom they found the death they sought. Those who had madly taken post in the temples and dwelling-houses, when they beheld the imperial troops advancing upon them, fiercely sallied out, but were destroyed before they could come within sword-length, by the fire of their adversaries.
Thus, between early dawn and the hour of noon was the period in which these unfortunates were doomed to perish – to be consumed both body and soul by the wrath of Omnipotence; the slain on this occasion being stated at nearly thirty thousand men.
On this memorable day, although there was not in the place a house or street or passage of any kind that did not exhibit heaps of slaughtered bodies, there were three points in particular at which the number of the slain was surprisingly great; one of these was the palace of the Ráná, into which the Rájpúts had thrown themselves in considerable numbers; from whence they successively sallied upon the imperialists in small parties, of two and three together, until the whole had nobly perished sword in hand. The other was the temple of Mahádeo, their principal place of worship, where another considerable body of the besieged gave themselves up to the sword. Thirdly, was the gate of Rámpúrah, where these devoted men gave their bodies to the winds in appalling numbers.
This important conquest, which may well be considered the crowning triumph of imperial fortune, had the immediate effect of dispelling those fumes of ambition and self-importance which had distempered the brains of the haughtiest powers in Hindústán, and disposed them to assume in exchange the bonds of sincere allegiance.