NO incident in the history of Mughal India enjoys so much popularity as the royal romance of Prince Salim (later Jahangir) and Anarkali. It is believed that the original name of Anarkali was Nadira or Sharfunnisa and that she received the name or the title of Anarkali (literally meaning pomegranate bud) for her beauty.
The popular version of the story runs thus. Anarkali was a dancer at the court of Emperor Akbar. The emperor’s eldest son and heir apparent, Salim, fell in love with her. Akbar did not approve of the relation as the dancer was of lowly birth and hence considered not fit to be the queen of the would-be emperor of Hindustan. But the lovers did not pay heed to the emperor’s disapproval. At last, Anarkali was sentenced to death — she was bricked alive in a wall. This basic story-line is variously told with minor variations in detail. However, one may be surprised to note that the name of Anarkali is not even mentioned in the historical details of the period of Akbar or in the memoirs of Jahangir.
Today many historians doubt the authenticity of the story and consider it a mere fabrication.
The believers in the story mention a tomb in Lahore which is popularly considered to be that of Anarkali. It is situated on the premises of the Punjab Civil Secretariat and now houses the Punjab Records Office. It is an octagonal building covered with a dome. At each corner of the building is an octagonal turret surmounted with a kiosk. In olden times, this building was surrounded by a garden that had at its entrance a double-storeyed gateway. But no trace of the garden survives now. The building still enshrines a beautifully inscribed monolithic sarcophagus.
On the sarcophagus are inscribed 99 names of Allah and the Persian couplet:
Ta qayamat shukr goyam kard gar khwish ra
Ah! gar man baz beenam rui yar khwish ra
(Ah ! could I behold
the face of my beloved once more;
I would give thanks unto my God
Unto the day of resurrection).
On the northern side of the sarcophagus are inscribed the words Majnun Salim Akbar i.e. "The profoundly enamoured Salim (son of ) Akbar".
The sarcophagus bears two dates also. The date given in letters as well as in numerals is 1008 hijri(1599-1600 AD). On the western side of the sarcophagus is another date 1024 hijri (1615-16 AD).
Scholar Ahsan Quraishi mentions one more inscription in the tomb which is said to have been destroyed by General Ventura, the French mercenary fighting for the Sikhs, who used the monument as his residence. The contents of this extinct Persian inscription can be translated as follows: "The innocent who is murdered mercilessly and who dies after enduring much pain, is a martyr. God considers him/her a martyr".
Although the name of Anarkali is not mentioned in any of these inscriptions but on the basis of the contents of these inscriptions, a group of scholars construe that the person buried in the memorial is no other than Anarkali. Of the two dates, the first is believed to be that of the execution of Anarkali and the second one as the date of the erection of the tomb. But this supposition cannot be correct because Akbar was not at Lahore in 1008 hijri. He had already left it for Agra in 1007 (hijri ) (in November 1598). So the story about Anarkali being buried alive by the orders of Akbar cannot be correct.
The earliest writers to report the love affair of Salim were two British travellers — William Finch and Edward Terry. William Finch reached Lahore in February 1611 (only eleven years after the supposed death of Anarkali), to sell the indigo he had purchased at Bayana on behalf of the East India Company. His account, written in early seventeenth century English, gives the following information: In the suburbs of the town, a fair monument for Prince Daniyal and his mother, one of the Akbar’s wives, with whom it is said Prince Salim had a liaison. Upon the notice of the affair, King Akbar caused the lady to be enclosed within a wall of his palace, where she died. The King Jahangir, in token of his love, ordered a magnificent tomb of stone to be built in the midst of a walled four-square garden provided with a gate. The body of the tomb, the emperor willed to be wrought in work of gold....
Edward Terry who visited a few years after William Finch writes 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 Britishers’ 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 nobody other than the mother of Prince Daniyal.
Eraly supports his hypothesis by quoting an incident recorded by Abul Fazl, the court-historian of Akbar. According to the historian, Salim was beaten up one evening by guards of the royal harem of Akbar. The story is that a mad man had 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. Most probably, the intruder was no other than Prince Salim and the story of the mad man was concocted to put a veil on the indecency of the Prince.
But the accounts of the British travellers and consequently the presumption of Eraly is falsified when one comes to know that the mother of prince Daniyal had died in 1596 which does not match the dates inscribed on the sarcophagus.
Another scholar, Muhammad Baqir, the author of Lahore Past and Present opines that Anarkali was originally the name of the garden in which the tomb was situated, but 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 Hazrat Mian Mir used to sit. Dara also mentions the existence of a tomb in the garden but he does not give it any name.
Muhammad Baqir believes that the so-called tomb of Anarkali actually belongs to the lady named or entitled Sahib-i Jamal, another wife of Salim and 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 June 18, 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 marriages between near relations. But we do not know the date of death of the either of these two wives of Jahangir.
Noted art-historian R. Nath argues that there is no wife of Jahangir on record bearing the name or title of Anarkali to whom the emperor could have built a tomb and dedicated a couplet with a suffix Majnun. He considers it "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."
Article by Subhash Parihar