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Jahangir and Anarkali.

Anarkali (Urdu: انارکلی‎, lit. 'pomegranate blossom'), born as Sharif un-Nissa,[1] and also known as Nadira Begum, was a courtesan from Lahore (in modern-day Pakistan). According to one story, Anarkali had an illicit relationship with the Crown Prince Jahangir and the Mughal Emperor Akbar had her enclosed in a wall where she died. There is no historic proof of Anarakali's existence although her character often appears in movies, books and fictionalized versions of history.

Anarkali was first mentioned in the journal of an English tourist and trader, William Finch, after he visited the Mughal Empire on 24 August 1608.[2] The story was also written by Indian writer Abdul Halim Sharar and on the first page of his book, he clearly mentions it to be a work of fiction. Nevertheless, Anarkali's story has been adapted into literature, art and cinema.

She is depicted in the Bollywood movie Mughal-e-Azam (1960), where she is portrayed by Madhubala, which is set during the Mughal period. According to legend, Anarkali was ordered to be buried alive between two walls by Mughal Emperor Akbar for having an illicit relationship with the Crown-Prince Salim, later to become Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Historicity and development[edit]

The possible Tomb of Anarkali, in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

There is disagreement among scholars concerning the authenticity of Anarkali's story. There are many supporting and opposing views such as the ones mentioned below.

The earliest Western stories about the love affair between Salim and Anarkali were written by two British travellers, William Finch and Edward Terry. William Finch reached Lahore in February 1611 (only 11 years after the supposed death of Anarkali), to sell indigo he had purchased at Bayana on behalf of the East India Company. His account, written in early 17th-century English, gives the following information.

Anarkali had an affair with Prince Salim (Jahangir). Upon notice of the affair, King Akbar ordered her to be enclosed within a wall of his palace, where she died. The King Jahangir, as a token of his love, ordered a magnificent tomb of stone to be built in the midst of a walled four-square garden surrounded by a gate. The body of the tomb, the emperor willed to be wrought in gold.

Edward Terry, who visited a few years after William Finch, wrote that Akbar had threatened to disinherit Jahangir for his liaison with Anarkali, the emperor's most beloved wife. But on his death-bed, Akbar repealed it.

Basing his analysis on the above two accounts, Abraham Eraly, the author of The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals, suspects that there "seems to have been an oedipal conflict between Akbar and Salim." He also considers it probable that the legendary Anarkali was none other than the mother of Prince Daniyal.[citation needed]

Eraly supports his hypothesis by quoting an incident recorded by Abul Fazl, Akbar's court-historian. According to the historian, Salim was beaten up one evening by guards of Akbar's royal harem. The story goes that a mad man wandered into Akbar's harem because of the carelessness of the guards. Abul Fazl writes that Salim caught the man but was himself mistaken for the intruder. The emperor arrived upon the scene and was about to strike with his sword when he recognised Salim. It is likely that the intruder was none other than Prince Salim and that the story of the mad man was concocted to put a veil on the prince's indecency.

But the accounts of the British travellers, and consequently the presumption of Eraly, is unlikely in light of the fact that Prince Daniyal's mother died in 1596, which does not match the dates inscribed on the sarcophagus.

Another scholar, Muhammed Baqir, the author of Lahore Past and Present opines that Anarkali was originally the name of the garden in which the tomb was situated. However, with the passage of time, the tomb itself came to be named as that of Anarkali's. This garden is mentioned by Dara Shikoh, the grandson of Jahangir, in his work, Sakinat al-Auliya, as one of the places where the saint, Mian Mir, used to sit. Dara also mentions the existence of a tomb in the garden but he does not give it any name.

Muhammed Baqir believes that the so-called tomb of Anarkali actually belonged to a lady named or entitled Sahib-i Jamal, another wife of Salim, the mother of the prince's second son, Sultan Parvez, and a daughter of the noble Zain Khan Koka. This conclusion is also partially faulty. The mother of Sultan Parviz was not a daughter of Zain Khan Koka but the daughter of Khawaja Hasan, the paternal uncle of Zain Khan. Of course, subsequently, the daughter of Zain Khan was also married to Salim on 18 June 1596.

It is recorded in Akbar Nama that Jahangir "became violently enamoured of the daughter of Zain Khan Koka. H.M. (Akbar) was displeased at the impropriety, but he saw that his heart was immoderately affected, he, of necessity, gave his consent." The translator of Akbar Nama, H. Beveridge, opines that Akbar objected to the marriage, because the Prince was already married "to Zain Khan’s niece" (actually the daughter of paternal uncle of Zain Khan, and hence his sister). Akbar objected to marrying near relations. But we do not know the date of death of either of the two wives of Jahangir.

Noted art historian R. Nath argues that Jahangir had no wife on record bearing the name or title Anarkali to whom the emperor could have built a tomb and dedicated a couplet with a suffix Majnun. He writes: "[it is] absolutely improbable that the grand Mughal emperor would address his married wife as yar, designate himself as majnun and aspire to see her face once again. Had he not seen her enough? Obviously she was not his married wife but only his beloved, to whom he would take the liberty to be romantic and a little poetic too, and it appears to be a case of an unsuccessful romance of a disappointed lover... The prince could not save her, though it is on record that he was so unhappy with his father in this year 1599 that he defied his orders and revolted. It may be recalled that Mehrunissa (later Nurjahan Begum) was also married to Sher Afgan the same year and the young Prince was so dejected and disturbed on the failure of his two romances and annihilation of his tender feelings of love that he went as far as to defy Akbar."[citation needed]

Although there are many views over the death of Anarkali, the most prominent are:

1. Anarkali or "Sharrafunnisa", although cemented behind the wall by the order of Akbar, was released by the emperor on the request of Anarkali's mother, "Jillo Bai". Emperor Akbar had promised Anarkali's mother one wish in her life. Thereby, Anarkali escaped through a secret route to the outskirts of Delhi and then went to Lahore and lived there until her death.

There exists a tomb of Anarkali in Lahore. It was in Lahore that Prince Salim set eyes upon Anarkali ("Pomegranate Blossom"). She was Emperor Akbar's favorite dancing girl and, legend has it, that he was furious when he learned of her affair with the prince. As punishment, he had Anarkali entombed outside the fort. Whether this story is fact or fiction, a modest tomb does stand in Lahore which is believed to have been built by the lovesick prince in 1615. The gravestone in the tomb for Anarkali bears a tragic inscription:

Could I behold the face of my beloved once more,
I would thank God until the day of resurrection.

The tomb was converted into a church during British occupation and now serves as an archive (with a collection of old prints) within the compound of the Government Record Office. On the lower Mall Road, inside the grounds of the Punjab Secretariat, lies the tomb of Anarkali. The tomb is accessible to the public.

2. The second view is that Anarkali, after the death of Akbar, was recalled by Salim (Jahangir) after which they married. She was given a new identity, Nur Jahan.

Her father came to the sub-continent during the time of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and entered into his service. He rose rapidly through the ranks on merit. In 1607, Nur Jahan was brought to the court as a royal ward. She was beautiful and highly intelligent and attracted Jahangir's attention.

A good deal of fiction has gathered around this remarkable woman, obscuring her personality and role in the social and political life of the period. It is wrongly and widely believed that Jahangir murdered Sher Afghan, Nur Jahan's first husband, because he wanted to marry Nur Jahan. In reality, Sher Afghan died in a skirmish with Jahangir's foster brother, Qutbuddin Koka, in 1607. The conqueror of the world, Jahangir, fell in love with Nur Jahan and married her in 1611. He gave her the title of Nur Mehal, "Light of the Palace", and later, Nur Jahan, "Light of the World".

After marriage, Nur Jahan won Jahangir's complete confidence. She carefully attended to the affairs of the state. Her father and brother became ministers and together they dominated the courts. A number of historians believe that Nur Jahan became the real power behind the throne and practically the sovereign of the Mughal Empire. For many years she wielded the imperial powers. She even gave audiences at her palace and her name was placed on the coinage.

The decision to marry her daughter, Ladli Begum (from her first husband), to Shah Jahan's younger brother, Shahryar, caused Shah Jahan's rebellion. There are rumors that she had previously formed a junta supporting Shah Jahan's right to the throne along with her father Ghias Beg and her brother Abul Hasan (later Asaf Khan), who was also Shah Jahan's father-in-law. However, when Shah Jahan refused to marry Ladli Begum in spite of Nur Jahan's command, she married her daughter off to Shahryar, who was more compliant than his brother. Emperor Jahangir was captured by rebels in 1626 while he was on his way to Kashmir. Nur Jahan intervened to get her husband released. Jahangir was rescued but died on 28 October 1627.

Nur Jehan had a magnificent tomb erected over the grave of her husband. She retired from the world and lived a quiet and lonely life for 16 years after the death of Jahangir. She died in 1645 and is buried beside Jahangir at Shahdra, Lahore.

Film Portrayals[edit]

Anarkali has been the subject of a number of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani books, plays and films. The earliest and most celebrated historical play about her, Anarkali, was written by Imtiaz Ali Taj in Urdu and performed in 1922. The play was made into a film, Loves of a Mughal Prince, released in India in 1928 and starred Taj as Akbar.[3] Bina Rai portrayed Anarkali in Anarkali, a 1953 Indian film. In Pakistan, another film, also entitled Anarkali, was released in 1958 with Noor Jehan in the lead role.[4] Later, in 1960, K. Asif's landmark film Mughal-e-Azam was released in India with actress Madhubala in the role of Anarkali and Dilip Kumar as Prince Salim. In 1955, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi starred in Anarkali[ Anarkali (1955 film)]. In 1979, Telugu superstar N.T.Rama Rao directed and acted in the film Akbar Salim Anarkali, featuring himself as Akbar, Nandamuri Balakrishna as Salim and Deepa as Anarkali. Iman Ali portrayed Anarkali in Shoaib Mansoor's short music video series on the theme Ishq (love) in 2003. In the 2013 Ekta Kapoor's TV Series Jodha Akbar, she was portrayed by Heena Parmar while Saniya Touqeer played young Anarkali.

A daily soap was aired on Colors TV titled "Dastan-e-Mohabbat...Salim Anarkali", where Prince Salim is enacted by Shaheer Sheikh and his beloved Anarkali by Sonarika Bhadoria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glover, William (January 2007). Making Lahore Modern, Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City. Univ Of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816650224.
  2. ^ "Legend: Anarkali: myth, mystery and history". Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  3. ^ "Loves of a Moghul Prince" – via
  4. ^ "Anarkali (1958)" imdb; based on the Imtiaz Ali Taj play/script as adapted by Hakim Ahmad Shuja for his son Anwar Kamal Pasha's production/direction