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The Story of India

Lesson 5: Akbar’s Debate

(Mughal Empire, 16th–17th Centuries CE)


  • Trace the Mughal conquest of India.
  • Review the basic tenets of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and Christianity.
  • Understand Akbar's vision of a universal religion.


Using new weaponry, the Mughals swept into India and easily defeated the ailing Delhi Sultanate. Through efficient organization and military tactics, the Mughals established an empire that reached all but the southern tip of India. As the Mughals solidified their political hold on the subcontinent, they greatly expanded their economy through trade with the Europeans who had recently joined the Indian Ocean trade network.

Akbar proved to be the most acclaimed Mughal emperor, both for his military successes and spiritual leadership. He understood that religious and cultural differences between the peoples of India would undermine the stability he hoped to maintain. He pursued policies of religious tolerance and became a student of all religions. His attempt to fuse the basic tenets of the major Indian belief systems into a new religion never gained popularity and disappeared soon after his death.

Main Task

Compose a conversation between representatives of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Jainism in Fatehpur Sikri that covers topics that could be used to find common ground between the religions, including salvation, kindness, piety, and proper behavior. Include Akbar as the moderator who leads the discussion.

Brief Process

  1. After reviewing the Mughal conquest of India, discuss Akbar's rule.
  2. View the Fatehpur Sikri video clip and discuss the difficulty of finding religious truths when combining multiple religions.
  3. Discuss Akbar's goals and his idea of Din–i–Ilah.
  4. Either individually or in small groups, research the basic beliefs of each of the major religions that would have participated in Akbar's discussions.
  5. Write a dialogue between representatives of three or more of the religious groups as they discuss the selected topics and find common ground.
  6. Share your dialogue with classmates.
  7. As a class, discuss the nature of religion and the impact these religions had, and still have, on India.


Extension Ideas

  • Present your dialogue to the class.
  • Create a video of the dialogue and post it online.
  • End the dialogue with a persuasive speech by Akbar challenging the participants to agree upon a series of basic beliefs.


Era 6: The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450-1770
Standard 3C: The student understands the rise of the Safavid and Mughal empires.
Grade Level Therefore, the student is able to:
5-12 Explain the Mughal conquest of India and the success of the Turkic warrior class in uniting the diverse peoples of the Indian subcontinent.
7-12 Analyze the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in the empire and compare Akbar's governing methods and religious ideas with those of other Mughal emperors.