Akbar the Great and the Bengali Calendar

Govardhan. Akbar With Lion and Calf ca. 1630, Metmuseum via Wikipedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Govardhan._Akbar_With_Lion_and_Calf_ca._1630,_Metmuseum_(cropped).jpg

A number of Indian calendars, of course, have their new year around now: the Punjabi, Assamese, and Tamil, to name a few. The modern Bengali calendar, though,is unique among these, given that it was introduced by the Mughal Empire.

More than two decades into his rule, Emperor Akbar, third in the Mughal line, had set up, what was at the time, the most powerful empire on Earth.

Secure in his power, the emperor’s attention shifted to the more intellectual side of things: religion, philosophy, and the arts. Amartya Sen’s book, The Argumentative Indian, mentions how Akbar’s interest in various religions led him to dabble in the calendars of various faiths as well.

As a result, as Sen put it, Akbar invented “a combined calendar which paralleled his interest in floating a combined religion, the Din-e-Ilahi.”

This calendar, modestly titled the Tarikh-e-Ilahi, “calendar of God,” was introduced in 1584.

Taxman: Many historians believe, however, that Akbar chose the calendar not out of any interest in theology but in response to a much higher power: taxes.

In their compendium The Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis, Kunal Chakrabarti and Shubhra Chakrabarti write that, earlier, the Mughal Empire was having trouble collecting land revenue since they followed the Islamic Hijri calendar.  Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, it did not coincide with the seasons, leading to much confusion.

Akbar therefore asked his royal astronomer to devise a new calendar which merged the Islamic calendar, the historical Bengali calendar (based upon a Sanskrit astronomy text, the Surya Sidhant), and Akbar’s own date of coronation.


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