Akbar and the Portuguese (1572-1601)

Introduction: Akbar, the Great Mughal (1542-1605) corresponded with the Portuguese who had established bridgeheads in India before his time and controlled the Indian Ocean. He came in direct contact with them when he conquered Gujarat. Documents (1) and (2) show Akbar’s eagerness to befriend them after this conquest. Document (3) contains the invitation to the Jesuits who then attended Akbar’s court and participated in his religious discourses. The letter to Philip II (4), probably drafted by Abul Fazl, never reached Philip as Saiyyid Muzaffar, who was ordered to take it Portugal, fled to South India because he did not share Akbar’s views. The Farman sent to the Portguese Viceroy (5) is obviously meant to impress the Portuguese as Akbar boasts of the control of ports. Actually the Mughals never controlled Pegu and they conquered Chittagong only in 1666 long after Akbar’s reign.
(see also AHOI, Ch. 5, section: Akbar’s expansion and reform of the empire)

(Excerpts from English translations)

(1) Farman of Akbar to Aires Telles, Captain of Diu, Ahmadabad, 13 December 1572
Most great and powerful Aires Telles, captain of Diu, I am your great friend... Although we have never met, Coge Tasadim and many other people inform me of your nobility. ... So I request you that you may see fit that my name be spoken among the Moors, and also that my coinage may circulate henceforth in all the lands under your jurisdiction and that you will write to me regarding anything that you may desire from me, for I am willing to do it immediately.

(2) Farman of Akbar to the Officials of the Empire, Broach, 18 December1573
To all my noble Regents, Governors, Captains and Nobles....,especially those that control and govern the Province of Guzarate... Know you all that D. Antonio de Noronha, ... Viceroy of the Portuguese has offered and shown his great desire for my friendship and his desire to serve this my elevated royal household. And this offer came via the honourable Antonio Cabral who came on his behalf so as to request and to kiss the foot of my high throne.... I order you ... that you shall not take ...Daman and its lands ... which are in his possession. Nor shall you enter these lands for any reasons nor approach its borders. And you shall not protect the Malabars who go there to trade  and sail there in their galleys and pinnaces, being thieves and evil-doers... But instead I order you to favour the said Portuguese.....

(3) Farman of Akbar to the Jesuits of Goa, Fatehpur Sikri, December 1578
I send thither Ebadoli, my ambassador, and Domingo Pires to ask you to send me two learned priests, who should bring with them the principal books of the Law and the Gospel, so that I may learn the Law and what is most perfect in it for I greatly wish to know of it in my heart.

(4) Letter of Akbar to Philip II of Spain, Fatehpur Sikri, March/April 1582
Boundless homage to the true sovereign, whose realm is preserved from the calamity of decline.... It will be known to your enlightened mind, that by the unanimous consent of the adherents of all religions and governments, regarding the two states, namely the religious and the secular – the visible and the invisible world -, it is believed and considered fully proved that in comparison to the next, the present world is of no account. What laudable efforts the wisest men of the period as well as the great princes of every country are making to ameliorate the present perishable outward state .....Allah, the Most High, has, however, by His eternal favour... graciously inspired us with longing after Him, but although we have brought the dominions of several great princes under our subjection... the purpose of all our activity.. is a desire to meet with divine approbation, and to discover that which is true.
            As most men are fettered by the bonds of tradition... without investigating the arguments and reasons, to follow the religion in which he was born, thus excluding himself from the possibility of ascertaining the truth which is the noblest aim of the human intellect. Therefore we associate... with learned men of all religions , and thus derive profit from their exquisite discourses and exalted aspirations. Our language, however, being different from yours, we hope you will rejoice us by sending to these parts a man able to represent to us those sublime objects of research in an intelligible manner.
            It has been brought to our notice that the revealed books such as the Pentateuch, the Gospels, and the Psalms, have been translated into Arabic and Persian. Should these books ... whether translated or not be procurable in your country, please send them.
            (We) despatched Sayyid Muzaffar, who is endowed with many excellent qualities.,,, He will orally communicate to you certain matters and may be trusted. Please always keep open the portals of correspondence...

(5) Farman of Akbar to Aires de Saldanha, Burhanpur, 29 March 1601
Mandate.. from the mighty King..Respected ... Viceroy Aires de Saldanha, beneficiary of the boundless grace and friendship of the King of Kings. Know that by the infinite grace of God all the ports of Hindustan from Cinde (Sindh) to Chatigao (Chittagong) and Pegu are protected by our prosperity. And it has always been in our royal heart.... that the leading traders and merchants should be able to come and go with complete safety and confidence .... especially  the inhabitants of the kingdoms of the Portuguese, ... who are accustomed  to navigating the sea of Hindustan ..... Father Bento de Gois has been sent together with our trusted servant Cogequi Sultao Sama to you to gain  sure and certain knowledge of the sort of rare objects that are held in high esteem in Portugal, and the means, style and fashion of the nobles..... And if there are any skilled craftsmen who desire to visit our royal court... he shall give them all they need in food and apparel and bring them to this court... on the understanding that, having been in our service, they shall freely be given leave to return to their country whenever they so wish.....

(Source: Jorge Flores/Antonio Vasconcelos de Saldanha (eds.), Os Firangis na Chancelaria Mogol. Copias Portuguesas de Documentos de Akbar (1572-1604), New Delhi: Embaixada de Portugal, 2003)



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