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The richly carved white marble cenotaph at the Tomb of Anarkali bears inscription: Could I behold the face of my beloved once more, I would thank God until the day of resurrection. Though this tomb is believed to be of Sahib Jaimal, wife of Salim

Anarkali (lit.'pomegranate blossom'), was the nickname given to a legendary courtesan, Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nisa,[1] who was said to be the love interest of the 16th century Mughal prince Salim, who later became the Emperor Jahangir.

According to fiction, Anarkali had an illicit relationship with Salim and hence his father, the Mughal Emperor Akbar, had her executed by immurement. Her character often appears in movies, books and fictionalised versions of history. She is famously depicted in the 1960 Bollywood film Mughal-e-Azam, where she is portrayed by Madhubala.

Historicity and development[edit]

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

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]

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

Western traveler accounts[edit]

The earliest Western accounts 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.[3]

" a faire monument for Don Sha his mother, one of the Acbar his wives, with whom it is said Sha Selim had to do ( her name was Immaeque Kelle, or Pomgranate kernell); upon notice of which the King [Akabar] caused her to be inclosed quicke within a wall in his moholl, where shee dyed, and the King [Jahangir], in token of his love commands a sumptuous tombe to be built of stone in the midst of foure square garden richly walled, with a gate and divers roomes over it. The convexity of the tombe he hath willed to be wrought in workes of gold with a large faire jounter with roomes over—head..." (sic) ~ William Finch.[nb 1]

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.[4]

Scholarly claims and discourse[edit]


The gravestone in the tomb for Anarkali bears the inscription:[5]

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

According to Andrew Topsfield, in his book Paintings from Mughal India, (p. 171 n. 18) Robert Skelton has identified these verses as being from the 13th-century poet Saʿdī.[5]

Jahangir as Majnun[edit]

According to Ebba Koch, Jahangir perceived himself as a Majnun prince king, who is almost mad in his love for his beloved ones. Not only did he have his name inscribed as Majnun on the Anarkali's tomb sarcophagus but he also had pictorials painted of himself as Majnun king; as late as 1618 he reared a pair of Sarus Cranes, species considered to be love birds in Indian culture, named them Layla and Majnun, observed their breeding and wrote about them with keen interest.[5]

Prince Daniyal's mother[edit]

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.

Just a garden[edit]

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.

Sahib-i Jamal[edit]

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. 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 Zain Khan's cousin). Akbar objected to marrying near relations. But we do not know the date of death of either of the two wives of Jahangir.

Sharif un-Nissa[edit]

Although there are many views over the death of Anarkali, the most prominent are: Anarkali born as Sharif un-Nissa,[6] and also known as Nadira Begum, was a courtesan from Lahore (in modern-day Pakistan).

Anarkali or "Sharif un-Nissa", 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 is no validation in history over the fact on how Anarkali died.

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.

Nur Jahan[edit]

One more 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.

Jahangir and Anarkali.

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.

Opinion of historian Ram Nath[edit]

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]

Personalities and timeline[edit]

Personality Who is who Respective Time line
Anarkali The lover of Emperor Jahangir
Majnun Salim Akbar Emperor Jahangir himself 31 August 1569– 28 October 1627

Reign: 3 November 1605 – 28 October 1627

Akbar Mughal Emperor and father of Jahangir October 1542– 27 October 1605)

Reign:1556 to 1605

Daniyal Mirza Third son of Emperor Akbar the Great and the brother of the Emperor Jahangir. 11 September 1572 – 19 March 1605
Sahib i-Jamal Wife of Jahangir [7] mother of Salim's second son, Prince Parviz.[8] daughter of Khwaja Hasan of Herat, making her the cousin of Zain Khan Koka died c. 25 June 1599
Khas Mahal Daughter of Zain Khan Koka

Married to Salim on 18 June 1596

Daughter of Khawaja Hasan Wife of Salim i.e. Jahangir
Nur Jahan (born Mehr-un-Nissa, The twentieth (and last) wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir married to him in 1611; Prince was believed to be in love with her when she was married or widowed; She also got to play most influential role in day to day activities of the Court. has got independent Tomb of Nur Jahan, @ Lahore. 31 May 1577 – 18 December 1645[9]Padshah Begum 25 May 1611 – 28 October 1627

Fictional 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.[10] Another Indian silent film about the courtesan, Anarkali, was released in 1928 by R.S. Choudhury, who remade it under the same title in Hindi in 1935. Bina Rai portrayed Anarkali in Anarkali, a 1953 Indian film. In 1955, Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Anjali Devi starred in Anarkali. Kunchacko directed Anarkali, an Indian Tamil-language film, in 1966.

Madhubala's role of Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam (1960) is considered as one of the finest roles of the courtesan.

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 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.[11]

In Pakistan, Anarkali was released in 1958 with Noor Jehan in the titular role, based on the Imtiaz Ali Taj play/script as adapted by Hakim Ahmad Shuja for his son Anwar Kamal Pasha's direction.[12] 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. ^ Don Sha his mother→ Mother of Daniyal Mirza
    Acbar→Emperor Akbar, Sha Selim Prince Salim i.e. Emperor Jahangir, Immaeque Kelle → Most probable misspelling of Anarkali by ~ William Finch (Later traveler Edward Terry spells it clear enough so they are referring to name 'Anarkali' William Finch is referring to Mother of Daniyal Mirza, While no proof she was a Akabar's wife but both the travelers seem to refer her as Akabar's wife.
    moholl→ Misspelling of word 'Mahal' meaning 'palace' From William Finch is referring to the tomb separately So not clear if place of death and tomb are same or different from his account
    Most likely construction of the tomb was incomplete until 1615 while Finch visited in 1611
    * Also see Anarkali#Personalities and timeline section below


  1. ^ InpaperMagazine, From (11 February 2012). "Legend: Anarkali: myth, mystery and history". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Legend: Anarkali: myth, mystery and history". Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  3. ^ Flinch, William (1921). Foster, William (ed.). William Flinch (PDF). Early Travels in India 1583 to1619. Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press. p. 166.
  4. ^ Terry, Edward (1655). A Voyage to East-India. London: J. Wilkir. p. 408.
  5. ^ a b c Koch, Ebba (2010). Necipoğlu, Gülru (ed.). The Mughal Emperor as Soloman, Majnun, and Orpheus, or The album as think tank for allegory. Muqarnas. Leal Karen. BRILL. pp. 277–312 & Footnote:62. ISBN 978-90-04-18511-1.
  6. ^ Glover, William (January 2007). Making Lahore Modern, Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City. Univ of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816650224.
  7. ^ Hasan (2001), p. 117.
  8. ^ Balabanlilar, Lisa (2012). Imperial Identity in the Mughal Empire : Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early Modern South and Central Asia. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 10. ISBN 9781848857261.
  9. ^ Banks Findly 1993, p. 8.
  10. ^ "Loves of a Moghul Prince" – via
  11. ^ Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willemen, Paul (1999). Encyclopaedia of Indian cinema. British Film Institute.
  12. ^ Karan Bai (19 March 2016). "The fascinating tales of the many Anarkalis".


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