Jharokha Darshan was a daily practice of addressing the public audience (darshan) at the balcony (jharokha) at the forts and palaces of medieval kings in India. It was an essential and direct way of communicating face-to-face with the public, and was a practice which was adopted by the Mughal emperors. The balcony appearance was first introduced in India by the 16th-century Mughal ruler Akbar in the name of Jharokha Darshan also spelled jharoka-i darshan, even though it was contrary to Islamic injunctions.
Darshan is a Sanskrit word which means "sight" and "beholding" (also means: “the viewing of an idol or a saint”) which was adopted by Akbar for his daily appearance before his subjects. This also showed a Hindu influence, and was also adopted by Humayun. Jharokha is an easterly facing "ornate bay-window", canopied, throne-balcony, the "balcony for viewing" (an oriel window projecting out of the wall) provided in every palace or fort where the Emperors resided during their reign.
Giving Jharokha darshan from this jharoka was a daily feature. This tradition was continued by rulers who followed Akbar. Jahangir (r. 1605–27 CE) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58 CE) also appeared before their subjects religiously. However, this ancient practice was discontinued by Aurangzeb during his 11th year of reign as he considered it a non-Islamic practice, a form of idol worship. In Agra Fort and Red Fort, the jharokha faces the Yamuna and the emperor would stand alone on the jharokha to greet his subjects.
Practices by various rulers
During Akbar's reign
It is said that Akbar's daily practice of worshiping the sun in the early morning at his residence in Agra Fort lead him to initiate the Jharokha Darshan. Hindus, who used to bathe in the river at that hour greeted Akbar when he appeared on the jharokha window for sun worship. It was also the period when Akbar was promoting his liberal religious policy, and in pursuance of this liberal approach he started the Jharoka Darshan. Thereafter, Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605 CE) would religiously start his morning with prayers and then attend the Jharokha Darshan and greet the large audience gathered every day below the jharokha. He would spend about an hour at the jharoka "seeking acceptance of imperial authority as part of popular faith", and after this he would attend the court at the Diwan-i-Aam for two hours attending to administrative duties.
The crowd of people assembled below the balcony generally consisted of soldiers, merchants, craft persons, peasants, women with sick children. As the balcony was set high, the king would stand on a platform so that people gathered below could reassure themselves that he was alive and that the empire was stable; even when the sovereign was ill. He felt that it was necessary to see them publicly at least once a day in order to maintain his control and guard against immediate anarchy, but also had a symbolic purpose. This was a time when people might make personal requests directly to the ruler, or present him with petitions for some cause. Akbar, therefore, began appearing at the jharokha twice a day and would hear the complaints of the people who wished to speak to him. Sometimes, while the emperor gave his Jharokha Darshan, he would let out a thread down the jharokha so that people could tie their complaints and petitions seeking his attention and justice. Akbar's father, Humayun, for example, had fixed a drum beneath the wall so that the petitioners could beat it to draw his attention.
During Jahangir's reign
Akbar's son, Emperor Jahangir, also continued the practice of Jharokha Darshan. In Agra Fort, the jharokha window is part of the structure which represents the Shah Burj, the Royal Tower. The tower is in the shape of an octagon and has a white marble pavilion. During Jahangir's time and even more frequently under Shah Jahan's rule this jharokha was used for giving darshan. During Jahangir's Jharoka Darshan, hanging a string to tie petitions, considered a Persian system under naushrwan, was also practiced. Jahangir elaborated on this system by adopting a golden chain to tie the petitions but Aurangzeb stopped it. Nur Jahan, Jahangir's wife, was also known to have sat for the Jharokha Darshan and conducted administrative duty with the common people and hearing their pleas. Jahangir was fully dedicated to the practice and made it a point to conduct the Jharoka Darshan even if he was sick; he had said "even in the time of weakness I have gone every day to the jharoka, though in great pain and sorrow, according to my fixed custom."
During Shah Jahan's reign
Emperor Shah Jahan maintained a rigorous schedule during his entire thirty years rule and used to get up at 4 AM and, after ablutions and prayers, religiously appeared at the jharokha window to show himself to his subjects. During his stay in Agra or Delhi, huge crowds used to assemble to receive his darshan below the balcony. He would appear before the public 45 minutes after sunrise. His subjects would bow before him which he would reciprocate with his imperial salute. There was one particular group of people known as darshaniyas (akin to the guilds of Augustales of the Roman Empire) who were "servile" to the king and who would take their food only after they had a look at the face of the emperor which they considered as auspicious. More than half an hour had to be spent by the King at the balcony as it was the only time they could submit petitions to the king directly through the chain let down for the purpose (which was drawn up by attendants) of receiving such petitions by passing the nobles of the court.
There were times when people used to gather below the jarokha window to hold protest demonstrations to place their grievances before the emperor. One such incident occurred in 1641 in Lahore when people who were affected by famine and were starving pleaded before Shah Jahan to provide famine relief. In 1670, Hindus had assembled at the jharokha to protest against the jizya tax imposed on them by Aurangzeb.
Do-Ashiayana Manzil was a portable wooden house used by the Mughal emperors during their visits outside their capital. This was a double storied house built with a platform supported over 16 pillars, of 6 yards height. Pillars were 4 cubits in height joined with nuts and bolts which formed the upper floor. This functioned as a sleeping quarter for the king and also for worship and holding Jharokha Darshan.
On the occasion of the Delhi Durbar that was held on 12 December 1911, King George V and his consort, Queen Mary, made a grand appearance at the jharoka of the Red Fort to give a "darshan" to 500,000 common people who had assembled there to greet them.
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