Who was Anarkali?


The romance between Prince Salim (who was later known as Jahangir) and Anarkali was one of the most popular romantic tales from the Mughal era. According to the popular story, the real name of Anarkali was Nadira or Sharfunnisa. Anarkali (which means a pomegranate bud) was a title bestowed upon her in regards to her beauty. The story tell us that Anarkali was a dancer at the court of Akbar. Emperor’s eldest son and heir to the throne Prince Salim fell in love with Anarkali. When Akbar came to know about the love affair he did not approve of the relationship. He felt Anarkali who was of low birth was not suitable to be the Queen of Hindustan. But both the lovers paid no heed to the Emperors warnings. This enraged Akbar and he sentenced Anarkali to be bricked alive in a wall. Though there are a few minute variations in versions of the story, but this is the crux of the matter.

Eternal Love Story of Prince Salim and Anarkali

Today many researchers are dedicating their time and effort to determine whether this was a mere story or a historical fact. It is very surprising that there is no mention of Anarkali in the records from Akbar or Jahangir’s era. But the believers of this event cite a tomb in Lahore as the place where Anarkali was bricked alive. This tomb is situated on the premises of Punjab Records Office. It is an octagonal building covered by a tomb. In some old writings there is mention of a beautiful garden but no trace of such a garden can be found today. Though there is a sarcophagus with inscriptions containing 99 names of Allah and a Persian couplet:

Tomb of Anarkali in Lahore

“Ah ! could I behold the face of my beloved once more;
I would give thanks unto my God
Unto the day of resurrection.”

And on the northern side of the sarcophagus there is an inscription stating “Majnun Salim Akbar” or “in deep love Salim the son of Akbar”. There are two dates on the sarcophagus: 1008 hijri (1599-1600 AD) and 1024 hijri (1615 AD). Some scholars feel there was another inscription on this tomb which was destroyed in time. This Persian inscription read “The innocent who is murdered mercilessly and who dies after enduring much pain, is a martyr. God considers him/her a martyr”. Though Anarkali’s name is not mentioned in any of the inscriptions but one group of scholars are of the belief that is the tomb of none other than Anarkali.

Inscriptions on the Sarcophagus

As mentioned before there are two dates mentioned near the tomb. Scholars feel first date signifies the execution of Anarkali and second is the date when the tomb was erected. But Anarkali could not have been executed in 1008 hijri as Akbar had left Lahore and started residing in Agra from 1007 hijri or November 1598. So there seems to be some discrepancy here. When we study further, it is seen that there are two different versions of the story recorded by the British travellers during those times. William Finch who visited Lahore just eleven years after Anarkali’s execution states that the tomb was built for Prince Daniyal’s mother and one of the wives of Akbar. Both of Salim and Prince Daniyal’s mother loved each other, but this news reached Akbar and he ordered the lady to be enclosed in a room by building walls. She died in her solitary exile. The tomb was erected to mark the love relationship between Prince Daniyal’s mother and Prince Salim. Another British traveller Edward Terry reported that Akbar had initially disapproved the relationship between Prince Salim and another court lady, but approved of their marriage in his deathbed.

Prince Salim had an affair with one of the Wives of Akbar

Analysing these two accounts leaves us with a conclusion that Anarkali was none other than mother of Prince Daniyal. Abul Fazl leading historian of Akbar’s times has made a startling claim in his records. According to him one evening Prince Salim was beaten up by the royal guards near Akbar’s royal harem. In his explanation of the deed Prince Salim explained that he had caught an intruder getting near Prince Daniyar’s mother’s chambers, but the guards in their haste had mistaken him for an intruder. Historians believe that this intruder was none else than Prince Salim himself trying to reach his beloved.

There is clear reference that Anarkali was actually one of the wives of Akbar with whom Prince Salim had a love affair. She was never bricked to the wall but rather died in solitude. The tomb belongs to some other person may be some royal lady residing in Lahore.

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4 thoughts on “Who was Anarkali?

  1. Good analysis. Several observers have made the same point. The matter of marriage between people of different classes (or even different religions) was never an issue with Akbar. His own mother was a commoner and several of his wives were Hindu. However, the fact that his son chose to have a quasi-incestous relationship with his own wife would be cause to offend most people, never mind an Emperor.

  2. Anarkali can be Daniyals mother because Jahangir seem to have strong liking for older ladies than young ones which is revealed in Nurjahan whom he married at the age of 35.

  3. Incentous relations were no new thing in royal family…abul fazls record points towards the fact …more over if we see by historical records or studys many of the wives were actually very young or had huge age gaps with the emperor hence not only did they had extramarital relationship with various courtiers but also with step sons …

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