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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The LAST Portrait : Tragedy of a dying emperor | With English translation of surviving Persian Inscriptions | Death of Mughal Emperor Akbar - Part 1 of a 3 part series

" Suraj hoon, zindagi ki ramak chhod jaunga
Main doob bhi gaya tau shafak chhod jaunga "

सूरज हूँ , ज़िंदगी की रमक छोड़ जाऊँगा 
मैं डूब भी गया तो शफ़क़ छोड़ जाऊँगा !

" The Sun I am, the seeds of life I shall sow
Even as I set, will leave behind an afterglow "

MOST PORTRAYALS OF Akbar show him actively engaged - whether participating in celebrations, hunting, leading armies, directing building programs, or receiving distinguished guests.

But this particular portrayal by Manohar that is possibly the last portrait made of Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1605, just before he passed away, marks a departure from the above tradition. Here, in his early sixties, gray and worn, Akbar is seen leaning against a bolster within a red sandstone throne-pavilion. He seems to be listening intently to a dignified and serious gentleman identifiable as Hakim Ali Gilani, his physician, who is probably discussing possible remedies for the stomach ailment from which Akbar eventually died.

    Last Painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar during the final days just before his death in October, 1605.
With him are present his favourite grandchildren - Prince Khusrau waving a "chauri" - a sign of royal authority and Prince Khurram (the younger child), the physician Hakim Ali Gilani, a marksman holding a matchlock and calling a faithful dog sitting at Akbar's feet, and a peacock on top of the pavilion.

The original miniature is now at Cincinnati Art Museum, USA, Gifted by - John J. Emery, 1950
A copy is present at the National Archives of India, Delhi,  from where this has been sourced. 

In the foreground, a sleek hunting dog turns its face away from an attendant bearing a majestic green matchlock, aware that it is not the time for an outing.

Just behind Akbar stand his two favourite grandsons, Prince Khusrau (son of Princess Man Bai), aged 18 and waving a "chauri" - an object which is both practical and symbolically regal - and a 13 year-old Prince Khurram (son of Princess Jagat Gosain and later known as Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan) with him.

Both youngsters look gravely concerned about their grandfather's failing health, and one wonders if they had any inkling about the political intrigue that was soon to follow with tremendous historical ramifications, in the trail of the passing away of their grandfather and the current emperor.

This painting was made by Manohar, whose father Basawan was also in service of Akbar as a gifted painter. Manohar excelled himself with this miniature. It clearly records Akbar's pained expression mixed with a mannerly resolve in dealing stoically with his malaise, and the physician's concern about the emperor's deteriorating health. Perhaps the physician is earnestly asking the Shahenshah to accept a particular remedy or take rest. Khusrau is shown waving a "chauri" - an emblem of rank among the Mughal nobility.

Importance of the Persian Inscriptions on this painting:

If the painting itself is filled with the undercurrents of a tragedy about to come to pass, the inscriptions on it which reflect the feelings of Akbar during his last days, are equally poignant. They provide a glimpse into the mind of a once mighty emperor who is now weak and dying and well-aware that power is slipping out of his hands into the clutches of the nobility that till a few days back had dared not look him in the face. They offer a rare view of the vulnerable side of Akbar, lonely and powerless, as life ebbs away slowly.

This post presents the Persian inscriptions from the painting along with their approximate translations. Please feel free to help improve the translation. As has been said in earlier blog posts, i used the word "approximate" because some Persian words convey dual meanings. Then there are some Persian words that CANNOT be 'exactly' translated into English without losing their essence. For this reason, serious Mughal historians / scholars prefer to directly read from Persian accounts instead of their commonly available English (or other language) translations, in case of any ambiguity. 

Here is an old blog post that quoted a reputed scholar, and showed how some Persian writing is not easy to be exactly translated into English due to linguistic limitations and cultural differences. 
Link : Meywa Jan Begum Fake Pregnancy Case | An Oriental Perspective

Persian Inscriptions on Painting And Their Translation

The First Set of Persian Inscriptions On This Miniature

Shabi Ze Faqa namudam Shikayat Bisyar
Ze Kar-e Khesh mara sad umedwar be Kar
Ke umr rafth wa na gushtam ze bakht-e bar khurdar
Hazar haif se naumed gashtan Akher Kar

Last Painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar during the final days just before his death in October, 1605.
Zoomed version of painting that shows a few Persian inscriptions.
A copy of the painting is present at the National Archives of India, Delhi. 

Approximate Translation 

One night i was worried because i was facing many difficulties (physical ailments),

Earlier i was very hopeful and I did many works.
Now i have become old and am not feeling well. 

Oh sad I am, as I am going to die.

Second Set of Persian Inscriptions On This Miniature 

Namazam az ru~eah marg khud dami sad bar
Dear ein Khayal chu~ Khayu~m budh ba Hatif-e-gebh (Payam dadh ki)
Man imrooz Ke~as niyarad yad (Ze Khat-e-'Ariz)
Hameh ze pasti Khud mi kashi tu ein Sea~khti tu ra-zi Himmat dust bar dil-e-gam wa bar (Nadanam-ze-Che~h)


Last Painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar during the final days just before his death in October, 1605.
Zoomed version of painting that shows a few Persian inscriptions.
A copy of the painting is present at the National Archives of India, Delhi. 

Approximate Translation 

Therefore many times i wanted to pray to God for my death.
Nobody remembers me today.
You are leading a very difficult life, you are also facing many problems, but there is grace of God.

Last Painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar, moments before his death.
This is more clear than the above miniatures, and shows the top portion.
Copy is present at the National Archives of India, Delhi. I got it from there.

The complete inscription has not been deciphered so far because of its dilapidated condition, but a brief attempt has been made in this post to decipher whatever remains of the inscription. Some of the inscriptions on this miniature have been lost forever, as can be seen above.

Akbar says that one night he was very worried because he was facing too many physical ailments. He remembered the time when he had done many important things. But now that he was old and unwell, he was feeling unhappy that he was going to die.

As mentioned earlier, this miniature depicts Akbar during his last days. He looks drained and sick, despite trying to appear calm and unruffled. The records of the 3rd Christian mission show that there were rumours that Akbar had been administered poison. But other historical writers like Broecke, Ogilby and Mundy opine that Akbar accidentally consumed a poison pill which was intended for someone else.

But despite his sickness, Akbar is seen sitting upright in the miniature, and carrying his sword and ja~madhar (dagger). (He presented this sword to Prince Salim before passing away while anointing him as his successor.) In fact, throughout his sickness, he tried to remain outwardly cheerful and optimistic of his recovery, as recorded by the 3rd Christian Mission in their testimony -

" The Fathers, who had full information of the king's sickness, went on a Saturday to see him, in the hope that he would hear the words, which after long thought, and having commended the matter to God, they had prepared for this hour. But they found him amongst his captains, and in so cheerful and merry a mood that they deemed the time unsuitable for speaking to him of the end of his life, and decided to await another opportunity. "

But from inside, his resolve was getting weakened with each passing day, as we saw from the translation of the Persian inscriptions. The apparent contradiction between Akbar's countenance and thoughts may be ascribed to the desire of a benevolent person and an astute emperor to assure his family, well-wishers and the general public that he was hale and hearty and they had nothing to worry about. Perhaps he himself desperately wanted to believe that he would recover from the ailment that had lain him low, though this might have seemed increasingly like an impossibility with each passing day, filling him with sadness that even a mighty emperor has to bow to destiny and be reduced to dust one day. 

The Christian priests apparently continued their efforts till the end to convince Akbar to convert to their faith but remained unsuccessful, much to their chagrin.

Last Painting of Mughal Emperor Akbar, moments before his death.
This is more clear than the above miniatures, and shows the bottom portion.
Copy is present at the National Archives of India, Delhi. I got it from there.

What Follows 

This is the first part of a series of posts related to the passing away of Akbar and the events that surrounded it. The second part of this series will be posted in a few days. 
It will attempt to answer the oft-asked question: did Akbar die naturally or was he poisoned? It will also provide a detailed description of the conditions prevailing in the Mughal court at the time of Akbar's death, especially with regard to selection of Akbar's heir and the perceived need for the "protection" of Islam in the Mughal empire by many of the nobles.

I promise to take you down memory lane, in one of the most detailed and meticulously researched articles on this blog, to relive a day when f
ortunes were made and destroyed in a matter of just 2 hours on the fateful day when a colossus like Akbar passed away. 

Ending this article, with these beautiful lines from the pen of poet Iqbal Sajid.
Courtesy : Rekhta

Thanks to Radhika for her inputs.
Do share your views below. Your feedback keeps me going!

Article Category : Mughals (Akbar)

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Special Anniversary Post | Archival snippets of Prince of Wales' Visit to Fatehpur Sikri in 1906 | Tributes to Akbar and Fatehpur Sikri | Mariam-Uz-Zamani's Twins' death linked with Fatehpur Sikri | With Akbarnama miniatures, 30+ pictures of Fatehpur Sikri from archives

Hey all,
What's up guys ? Writing a blog post after a pretty long break. But for a perfect reason on a very special occasion.

Today, OUR blog completes 2 years! Yet, it feels as if it was born just a few days back. Time sure flies by so quickly, doesn't it ?

Re-living those memories and remembering the great discussions we all had here engulfs me with nostalgia. This blog was a personal space that was started to share my reading/learning of history with like-minded people across the globe. In no time at all, we all became part of a big family. My quest became learning more and more from you guys through your enriching comments and our fruitful discussions. Never thought historical research and discussion could become so interesting!  

Over 5,23,000 visits have been registered on this blog till now in just 2 years - including the last 8 months when no blog post was made and the blog was, more or less, in hibernation. This is stupendous by any standards. Especially for a niche blog that initially started only with purely historical posts on Mughal and Rajput history.

The blog family includes members ranging from researchers to book writers, from youngsters to senior citizens, members from various professions across various nationalities. There are quite a few people who have contributed to the history posts on this blog. In fact, a few posts have been written solely on the historical inputs shared by blog members based on their readings (as can be seen from the credits in those posts).

Among the 5200+ comments posted on 160+ blog posts till now, there are many saying Thanks for the posts and some extremely flattering comments as well. But today its my turn to Thank all the people out here who made the journey so fulfilling. The blog has received unbelievable and invaluable support from you for which I am falling short of words to express my gratitude.

- Thank you for reading the blog posts.
- Thank you for your kind words of appreciation - i'm indebted for them, forever.
- Thank you to fellow history researchers / book writers / aficionados, for sharing historical inputs on the blog and taking out time for participating in the long discussions.
- Special thanks to the friends who differed / brought new perspectives to discussions. Diversity is the most beautiful aspect of this universe, and a multitude of views adds depth to any discussion, especially when expressed in as civil a manner as is the norm on this blog.

Each one of you has contributed in immeasurable ways to the birth and growth of this blog. And therefore this blog belongs to all of us. 

 In this illustration to the Akbarnama, the official history of the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar, the ruler is depicted dressed in white in the upper section of the painting. He inspects the construction done in the royal city of Fathpur ('City of Victory', also known as Fatehpur Sikri) in 1571. 

 Painting, in opaque watercolour and gold on paper, Akbar, in white at the upper right of the painting, inspects the building of the city of Fathpur (Fatehpur Sikri). The image shows a crowded building site with both male and female labourers. ca. 1586 - ca. 1589 (made). At V&A Museum.

Herein would have ended a normal post thanking readers. 
But can any post on this blog be complete without some historical tidbits on the very least? Certainly not!
These days i am digging into details related to the Tomb of Mariam-Uz-Zamani (the search is almost complete) in Agra, close to the tomb of Mughal Emperor Akbar in Sikandra. During this research, i came across the following event.

The Prince* and Princess of Wales visited India in 1905 - 1906. They also visited Fatehpur Sikri and Agra. The Indian and the world media covered this event extensively in the newspapers of that time.

* The Prince of Wales later became King George V and visited India again with Queen Mary, holding Durbar in Delhi in 1911 that marked his accession as Emperor of India.
I also came across a few fascinating historical snippets from newspapers about Akbar, Mariam-Uz-Zamani, the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri and the religious eclecticism which prevailed here.

These newspaper reports were compiled into a very large volume by the Foreign Department of the Government of India, after 2 years in 1907. 

Construction of Fatehpur Sikri
Design by Tulsi the Elder, Painted by Bhavani, ca. 1590,
From Akbarnama, V&A Museum, London


Here is a bouquet of those snippets to let you relive that bygone era once more.

Compilation of the Visit of Prince and Princess of Wales released by the Foreign Department of the Government of India

The itinerary of the Prince and the Princess of Wales as reported by The Englishman

The itinerary Continued...

Visit of the Prince and the Princess of Wales to Fatehpur Sikri - DaftarKhana, Palaces, Temples, Mosques

Comparison of the aesthetic tastes of Shah Jahan and Akbar. A fitting tribute to Akbar.

The story behind Akbar's association with Fatehpur Sikri is also given, starting with the death of the twin sons of Akbar and Mariam-Uz-Zamani, which lead to the contact with Sufi Sheikh Salim Chisti.

Mariam-Uz-Zamani gives birth to Prince Salim / Jahangir.

Akbar builds a lofty capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Various structures come up, like the Diwan-e-Khas, etc. Later, Akbar deserts this city and shifts the capital to Lahore.

Hindu architecture in the female palace / Mariam's House at the Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri is Akbar himself in stone!

The divinity associated with the tomb of Salim Chisti and a narration of events about the clash of warriors against the Buland Darwaza.

The descendants of Salim Chisti still reside at the Fatehpur Sikri. The Prince and Princess was escorted by a descendant on their visit, whom the writer describes as the gentle mannered person.

Fatehpur Sikri is said to be a dedication to religious tolerance in an age of bigotry. One can see the structures like the Hindu Yogi's Seat. It is also called Astrologer's Seat. Akbar had the epic Mahabharata narrated to him by this Yogi.

The translation of an inscription referring to Jesus Christ on the Buland Darwaza  is also listed above.

End of the day

Panoramic view of the structures inside the Fatehpur Sikri, a watercolor by Sita Ram, 1814-15, (British Library)

Panoramic view of the mosque and palace of Fatehpur Sikri, a watercolor by Sita Ram, 1814-15, (British Library)

The visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales as reported by The Times. Credit is given to Lord Curzon for the restoration of the structures in Fatehpur Sikri.

The royal guests visit the bedroom of Akbar & the much discussed Mariam's House. Later, the text tells about the purest style of Hindu architecture.

The writer expresses his surprise that a Muslim ruler's seat of government was so heavily influenced by Hindu architecture.

Fatehpur Sikri, 1858 (James S. Virtue Co., London)

The view of Buland Darwaza and the Fatehpur Sikri from the south-east; by Sita Ram, 1814-15, British Library

The courtyard of the Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri, with Lord Hastings and his entourage being shown the sights; by Sita Ram, 1814-15, British Library

The Pioneer reports about the Fatehpur Sikri's elegance and grandness.

Like the other newspapers, this text also tells us about the striking impression produced by the House of Mariam.

As already stated, the text tells us about the descendants of Sheikh Salim Chisti who still guard the late Sufi's tomb.

The dominance of Hindu architecture is clearly noticed along with the iconoclastic fanatic tendencies of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

This extract is a clear tribute to Mughal Emperor Akbar. The conservation work done by Lord Curzon is also mentioned.


Temple ruins at Fatehpur Sikri, by Roberts and French, 1852
Can anyone identify any such temple in the Fatehpur Sikri now ? Or, has this structure vanished ?

The interior of the Diwan-i-Khas in the palace at Fatehpur Sikri; a watercolor by Sita Ram, c.1814-15 (British Library)
Possibly the best view of Diwan-e-Khas i have ever seen.

Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a watercolor painting by a Delhi artist, c.1820

View of the dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti and the tomb of Islam Khan beside it in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri, a watercolor painting by Sita Ram, 1814-15 (British Library)

End Note:

To those who wish to see the newspaper Englishman in originality, the place to visit is the British Library. They have complete records, as can be seen below :

The Englishman newspaper was merged with The Statesman newspaper in 1934.


General View of Ruins, Fatehpur Sikri, photo by Bourne and Shepherd, c.1880's (a reprint of one by Bourne from the 1860's)

Ceiling of Mariam's House in the Fatehpur Sikri

Architecture Jodha Bai Palace Complex

View from the east of the Hawa Mahal in Jodha Bai's Palace, Fatehpur Sikri, a photo by Edmund William Smith, Archeaological Survey of India, 1893 (British Library)

Inside the Jodha Bai Palace

Close view of the upper storey of the structure seen in above picture ; inside the JodhaBai Palace in Fatehpur Sikri

Jodha Bai Palace

Entrance to the Jodha Bai Palace

Jodha Bai Palace Entrance Wide View

Entrance (upper view) to Jodha Bai Palace

Ceiling inside the Jodha Bai Palace

A decorative wall panel in Jodha Bai's palace.
The two rolled straw mats casually propped against the niche edges are just there by happenstance, but they manage to echo the colors and design so elegantly.

Points worth noting from the above extracts:

1. The fascination of the royal guests with the architecture at Fatehpur Sikri and the magnificence of Akbar's reign.

2. Repeated references to the Hindu architecture at the JodhBai Palace / Mariam House.

3. Religious diversity of Akbar in an age of bigotry.

4. Striking contrast between Shah Jahan and Akbar. Shah Jahan built more lavishly but Akbar built from his heart and his spirit can be felt even today in the glorious palaces of Fatehpur Sikri.

5. The reference to the death of the twin sons of Akbar and Mariam-Uz-Zamani in infancy, a troubled Akbar meeting the saint of Fatehpur Sikri for solace and the birth of Jahangir to the royal couple at Fatehpur Sikri with the saint's blessings. (Remember that this newspaper was not published from Agra or Delhi. This was from Calcutta.!)

A View of the Fatehpur Sikri, lying in ruins ; by William Hodges, 1786 (British Library)

Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri, by Robert Montgomery Martin, c.1860


Though i continue to read history, i am unable to devote much time to post about it due to other commitments. (The effort required to compile a post in a systematic manner is much more than the time i take to read and understand the event myself!) I will gladly seize any opportunity to post again if my present constraints allow me as there is much i wish to share with you and even much more that i wish to discuss with you.

I urge you to continue the reading process too because there is NO END to historical books and archives. No individual can ever claim mastery over the subject of history.

Thank you all, thank you again!

Akbar loved to alternate geometric designs with floral ones (notice that the floral ones don't repeat)

Mihrab on the south side of the chamber beneath the great dome of the Jami Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri, a photo taken in 1890s

The Panch Mahal and other palace buildings at Fatehpur Sikri; a watercolor by Seeta Ram, 1814-15 (British Library)

Carved pillars in the Panch Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, photo by Samuel Bourne, 1860's (British Library)

Ruins of Fatehpur Sikri , from Meyers' Universum, 1853

Article Category : Mughals(Akbar).

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