Ibadat Khana

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Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (r. 1556–1605) holds a religious assembly in the Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri; the two men dressed in black are the Jesuit missionaries Rodolfo Acquaviva and Francisco Henriques. Illustration to the Akbarnama, miniature painting by Nar Singh, ca. 1605.

The Ibādat Khāna (House of Worship) was a meeting house built in 1575 CE by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) at Fatehpur Sikri to gather spiritual leaders of different religious grounds so as to conduct a discussion on the teachings of the respective religious leaders . Unfortunately, the Ibādat Khāna no longer exists.[1]

Historical Background[edit]

Akbar built the Ibādat Khāna originally as a debating house open only to Sunni Muslims, but following a series of petty squabbles which turned ugly, Akbar encouraged Hindus, Roman Catholics, Zoroastrians, Jains and even atheists to participate. Religious leaders and philosophers from around this diverse empire, as well as those passing through, were invited to Akbar's Thursday evening discussions. Akbar's spiritual inclinations were roused to a large extent by the example of Sulaiman Kirani, a past ruler of Bengal, who was said to spend nights in the company of over a hundred ratiocinating spiritual men. Akbar also wanted to sharpen his theological grasp because he had been told of the imminent arrival to his court of Mirza Sulaiman of Badakshan, a Sufi with a predilection for spiritual debates.[1]

Faith of the Divine[edit]

By the late 1580s CE, Akbar began an attempt to reconcile the differences of all religions by creating a new faith, the Din-i-Ilahi ("Faith of the Divine"), which incorporated both pantheistic versions of Islamic Sufism (most notably Ibn Arabi's doctrine of Wahdat al wajood or Unity of Existence) and bhakti or devotional cults of Hinduism. Even some elements of Christianity (like crosses), Zoroastrianism (fire ceremonies) and Jainism were amalgamated in the new religion. Akbar was greatly influenced by the teachings of Jain Acharyas Hir Vijay Suri and Jin Chandra Suri and gave up non-vegetarian food because of their influence. He declared Amari or non-killing of animals on the holy days of Jains like Paryushan and Mahavir Jayanti. He rolled back the Jizya tax from Jain pilgrimage places like Palitana.

This faith, however, was not for the masses. In fact, the only "converts" to this new religion were the upper nobility of Akbar's court. Historians have so far been able to identify only 18 members of this new religion.

The exact site of the Ibadat Khana within the palace complex is unknown and has likely been long demolished. There is conjecture that the ornate single story Diwan-I-Khas was the Ibadat Khana's original site.[2]

Alfred Tennyson's poem Akbar’s Dream lauds the Ibādat Khāna, ascribing tolerance and humanity to his "Divine Faith", while implicitly criticising the intolerance of 19th century British Christianity.[3]

A painting depicting the scenes of the Ibādat Khāna.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Smith, Vincent A. "Akbar's "House of Worship", or Ibadat-Khana". JSTOR. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  2. ^ touristplacesinindia.com: fatehpur-sikri.
  3. ^ Notes to Akbar’s Dream, from The Death of Œnone, and Other Poems by Alfred Tennyson (1892).
  • Muslim Civilization in India. S. M. Ikram (edited by Ainslie T. Embree). New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.
  • The Din-I-Ilahi Or The Religion Of Akbar. Makhan Lal Roy Choudhury. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. (Edition: 1997) ISBN 81-215-0777-4
  • Jews and Judaism at the Court of the Moghul Emperors in Medieval India. Walter J. Fischel. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. 18. (1948–1949), pp. 137–177.
  • Akbar's Personality Traits and World Outlook: A Critical Reappraisal. Iqtidar Alam Khan. Social Scientist, Vol. 20, No. 9/10. (Sep. - Oct., 1992), pp. 16–30.