Public Relief and the Mughal State, 1556-1605: Akbar versus the Jesuits

Arshdeep Singh Brar, Jadavpur University


From Abul Fazl’s hagiographical stance in Akbarnama to Badauni’s sardonic vein in Muntakhab-Ut-Tawarikh, the outbreaks of famines and health-crisis in Akbar’s reign has generated responses that vary considerably especially regarding the measures adopted. These accounts tend to present contradictory impressions with respect to the Emperor and his administrative measures considering the fact that his reign is regarded as an illustrious chapter in medieval Indian history. Akbar’s reign also coincides with the onset of Jesuit missions in India and presents an important moment in history. The accounts of Father Jarric and Father Monserrate offer an insight into the Emperor’s eclectic theological beliefs and a crucial moment of encounter between the Mughal Empire and the travellers from the “West”.

This paper will attempt to explore the question of fidelity in recording the account of the crisis of public relief by closely looking at the chronicles of Abul Fazl, Badauni, Qandahari, Khwaja Nizamuddin Ahmed and also strive to view them in conjunction with the narratives of the Jesuits and their own endeavours in public relief and charity. It will try to raise the question of agency and the possibility of hearing the voices of the subjects whose lives are referred to in passing by the chroniclers of history.