Social Scientist. v 20, no. 232-33 (Sept-Oct 1992) p. 3.


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IRFAN HABIB'

Akbar and Technology

In April 1580 the Jesuit father Francis Henriques reported from Fatehpur Sikri that 'Akbar knows a little of all trades, and sometimes loves to practise them before his people, either as a carpenter, or as a blacksmith, or as an armourer, filing.'1 Rudolf Acquaviva soon afterwards (July) referred to Akbar's taking delight in 'mechanical arts'2 and in September Anthony Monserrate claimed to 'have even seen him making ribbons like a lacemaker and filing, sawing, working very hard.'3 In his Commentary written later, Monserrate recalled that

Zeialdinus (Akbar) is so devoted to building that he sometimes quarries stone himself along with the other workmen. Nor does he shrink from watching and even himself practising for the sake of amusement the craft of an ordinary artisan. For this purpose he has built a workshop near the palace where also are studios and workrooms for the finer and more reputable arts, such as painting, goldsmith work, tapestery-making, carpet and curtain-making, and the manufacture of arms. Hither he very frequently comes and relaxes his mind with watching those who practise their arts.4

These statements by Jesuit witnesses are important, since they suggest that Abu'l Fazl's claims of Akbar's great interest in craft and technology were not mere products of courtly praise. Akbar had a natural inclination towards industrial crafts; and this was undoubtedly a source of his encouragement to technological innovation.

'PREFAB' AND MOVABLE STRUCTURES

An early testimony to Akbar's interest in technology comes from 'Arif Qandahari. Writing in 1579, he says:

His high and majestic nature is such that when he journeys, the tents of His Majesty's encampment is loaded on five hundred camels. There are eighteen houses, which have been made of boards of

Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University

Social Scientist, Vol. 20, Nos. 9-10, September-October 1992



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