“The Emperor’s Writings” by Professor Dirk Collier

Professor Dirk Collier the Belgian writer has written a fictional autobiography of Emperor Akbar, laced with facts. It is titled “The Emperor’s Writings”. Why it is fictional is that Akbar was illiterate. Written in the form of a letter to his Jahangir, it chronicles the life and times of the Mughal emperor. The author talks about being inspired by Akbar, the emperor’s 5,000 wives and more!

Here are some conclusions from the book

Akbar was not a very romantic man like other Great Mughal emperors including Jahangir and Shah Jahan. While he did sleep with countless women, particularly when he was still young, it seems he had no real “love of his life”. It is however well documented that his cousin Salima Sultana, whom he married after Bairam Khan’s death, was clearly his favorite, in spite of the fact that she did not bear him any children. She was highly influential, probably much more than Akbar’s mother was, and Akbar greatly valued her opinion. She appears to have been intelligent, exceptionally well-read, and an accomplished poetess.

It is reported that no less than 5,000 women lived in Akbar’s palace, of whom, chroniclers hasten to reassure us only about 300 (still a highly impressive number) were his wives or concubines. It should be remembered, though, that many of these unions were, above all, politically inspired: many a local ruler was more than eager to send one of his daughters to the imperial palace and thus establish a family link between himself and the emperor.

It is also well documented, that the ladies in the imperial palace were quite influential and active in society. Many mosques, madrasas and other monuments of the Mughal era have in fact been commissioned by women! It is also reported that the princess of Amber (Akbar’s first Hindu wife and Jahangir’s mother) was a highly astute business woman, who ran an active international trade in spices, silk, etc., and thus amassed a private fortune which dwarfed the treasury of many a European kings.

From the reviews in the different newspapers and magazines, it appears that it is very well written and full of facts culled from authentic sources. Collier has spent 7 years researching for the book.

Tana and Riri, Tansen and Akbar

Tansen was one of the Nine Ratna’s (9 Gems or extraordinarily talented) of Moghul King Akbar the great. He was a great musician with complete his mastery over Indian classical music. He is said to have created fire by singing the Raag Deepak (Lamp). His body was filled with heat and burning and he was in great pain due to the heat generated. He tried so many cures but there was no respite from this burning and suffering. Akbar distressed, suggested that the maestro go back to his home at Gwalior for some time and recuperate there. He went to his home but his suffering was unabated. He embarked on a journey in search of the cure. Roaming the country, he reached a place called Vadnagar in Gujarat.

In the Vadnagar, lived two Brahmin “Nagar” sisters who were great singers and did everything singing and making music. You can say that music was their way of life. Like “Gurudev” Rabindranath, about whom it is said that poetry flowed in every deed he did. Tansen happened to saw them coming to fill pitchers with water from a village tank. After they filled the pitchers and started towards their home, he confronted them and told about his ailment and requested them to cure him. Due to the restrictions of the customs, the girls did not sing in front of anyone. But they took mercy on Tansen and agreed but under the condition that he will not divulge this to anybody.

He promised, and they sang Raag “Malhaar” which is related to the rains. There were cool showers of water raining only on the body of Tansen from nowhere and all his heat was soaked by the showers and taken away from his body and cured him. Tansen went back to Akbar’s court. Akbar was surprised and very happy. Naturally, his curiosity was aroused and he demanded about how (Tansen) got cured. Though Tansen remembered his promise to girls, who can face the wrath of emperor. He told the emperor the whole story. Akbar wanted that he should go and bring the girls to court. Girls refused as they said due to custom they could sing only in front of Devi (goddess) temple. But they feared retribution in case of refusal, they ended their lives by drowning in a well. When the news reached Akbar the Great he was greatly distressed and ordered Tansen to compose a Raaga in girls’ honor. Tansen created the Raaga called “Tana Riri” after their name.

A movie bearing the name Tanariri in Gujarati was made in 1975. It starred Sohrab Modi, Kanan Kaushal, Bindu, Naresh Kumar, Arvind Pandya, Urmila Bhatt, Rajiv. The songs were sung by Mahendra Kapoor, Asha Bhonsle, Manna Dey, Usha Mangeshkar, Sulochna Vyas, Kamal Barot, Manhar, Hansa Dave, Maheshkumar, Laxmiprasad & Govindprasad. Lyrics were written by Kanti-Ashok and music was provided by Mahesh-Naresh.

Ganjifa: Playing Cards

Original Ganjifa was brought to India by Moghuls. There is a district called Sawantwadi in Maharashtra. This touches the Goa state. When you travel by train to Goa from Mumbai, it is the last station in Maharashtra. Whole area which is adjacent to Arabian Sea is dotted with unending rows of Coconut palms. Ganjifa was popularized here by the ruler Khem Sawant Bhosle, who heard of it from scholars of the Telengana region. The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in shellac ware and wood craft, learned  to make these cards

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with shellac. Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders. It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts. The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu of India and the Deccan that later, with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance. The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu. These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu`s weapons. They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.

Dasavtar: Means ten incarnations of Vishnu. These are depicted in these cards

Box for packing these cards

Pappu Sain: The Ethereal Dhol Player

Many of us must have seen on television the whirling Dervishes of Turkey. This whirling is said to be form of meditation and the Dervishes are called Sufis. Sufism also flourished in the India and there had been great Sufi saints like Kabir, Guru Nanak, Baba Bulleh Shah and Baba Farid in the subcontinent. They were not bound by the narrow walls erected by the religious bigots who preach that their faith is on;y true one and rest others are fake. One thing about Sufism is that a devotee treats himself as a woman separated from her Husband or Khasam the God. All the efforts are directed towards meeting the supreme husband and end the painful pining.

Music is said to bring the humans near to the God because it is the most aesthetic feeling experienced by them. In one form or the another, even nature creates music, be it the dulcet sound of a falling water from a fall, or the wind rustling through the dry grasses, or the waves from sea lapping on to the shore. As the great Gurudeb Rabindra Nath described the carefree laughter of the young maidens akin to the passing of wind through the jungle.

I don’t know where in the Islam the music is barred as some zealots say and protest or even in extreme cases kill. The world of music is full of great persons belonging to the Muslim fraternity. Who does not know Mohammed Rafi, Bade Ghulam Ali, Ghulam Ali, the tabla maestro Alla Rakha and his son, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his forefathers who introduced the Sarod in this country. The list is inexhaustible.

In Lahore, there is a shrine of Sufi saint Baba Shah Jamal who had preached love, brotherhood and peace like all the other saints in the Punjab. At his shrine, thousands of people visit for prayers and eating famous food in the nearby shops.Baba Shah Jamal is known to have used drums and dancing to preach his beliefs and following the tradition. Pappu Saeen has performed in Germany, Switzerland, Britain and a number of Muslim countries, but is at his best only when he plays at the shrine. This year too, Pappu Saeen began the grand event with a spectacular performance as several devotees whirled to his dhol, and left the charas-smoking audience spellbound There is a one Dhol performer who is known by the name of Pappu Sain, who performs with his companion every Thursday and people are bewitched by the sound and beat. He plays the drum for hours without pausing. You will be susprised to see him spinning along with his Drums but still the beat is same. Beads of perspiration materialise on his forehead and soon coalesce and flow down the body. The fans dance and whirl uncontrolled to the beat as if some unseen power has seized them and gyrating them like toys.

I saw some of his videos which are available on the Youtube. Although quality of videos is not good but you still can enjoy the Dhol immensely. As far Pappu Sain, he seems to be very modest when he tells that he is duty bound because it was a tradition that runs in their family and he owes a duty towards his elders. He says he does not know anything or do anything by himself. As soon as the Dhol is in his neck, someone else takes charge and does all the playing.

Shah Jamal was born in 1559 to renowned religious scholar Maulana Abdul Wahid from Qazi Jamaluddin Budshahi’s noble Kashmiri family. Shah Jamal belonged to the Qadri Soharwardi school and came to Lahore in 1588, during the time of Mogul emperor Jalaluddin Akbar, and began to live in eastern Ichhra. Shah Jamal disagreed with the emperor’s ‘Deen-e-Elahi’ and converted people back to Islam. He died in 1649.