In Lahore’s old city, a place of augmented past and reminiscence of the future lies a beautiful little mausoleum. A white marble stone structure with corner turrets, it is an extraordinary yet unnoticed part of the past that nobody seems to remember. Inside is a pure marble sarcophagus with one of the finest carvings anywhere in the world! Legend has it, that this was perhaps the final resting place of the tragic heroin of the most spectacular romance in history- Anarkali. Though her legend echoes the world of romance, it is not very evident whether she really existed or is just a piece of pure imagination.
For years researchers and historians are perplexed by the fact that seems so much like fiction- was Anarkali a real person or is she just a fragment of imagination?
Anarkali’s search through the pages of history is wild, but her tomb provides some valuable information about the legend of Salim- Anarkali. On her tomb, one can witness 99 names of Allah and two corresponding dates 1599 and 1615 AD. There also carved an inscription-
Ta qayamat shukr goyam kard gar khwish ra
Ah! gar man baz beenam rui yar khwish ra
“Ah ! If could I behold the face of my beloved once more
I would give thanks unto my God, Unto the day of resurrection”.
Majnun Salim Akbar.
This inscription is very important in the context of finding Anarkali’s authenticity, though it does not clarify who she really was. Here, Majnun Salim Akbar is none other than the Emperor Jahangir of the Mughal Sultanate. According to the legend of Salim- Anarkali, when Akbar found out about their possible affair, he ordered Anarkali to be enclosed within a wall of his palace, where she is assumed dead. However, it’s not entirely true because other accounts state that it was just a hoax to distract Salim and Akbar in actuality didn’t ensepulchre Anarkali. He freed her on the condition that she would never see Salim ever again.
If this is true, then whose tomb lies beneath the mausoleum? The dates inscribed on the tomb, suggest that the person died in 1599 and this tomb was built in his/her memory in 1615. This is indeed the period when Emperor Jahangir acceded to the throne from 1605 to 1622, pointing out that the tomb was in fact built during his reign. However, in Jahangir-nama or Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, which is an autobiography of Emperor Jahangir, there is no mention of Anarkali. How come the king never spoke about the one he madly loves, even once in his memoir? Similarly, there is no mention of her even in Akbar-Nama.
According to the accounts by British traveler William Finch, who visited India in 1611, 11 years after the supposed death of Anarkali, told that Anarkali was a concubine who was killed by Akbar after her affair with Salim was revealed. Another account states that she was the Concubine of Akbar himself. One day while sitting in the house of mirrors Akbar notices Anarkali and Salim exchanging smiles, deducing that they are having an affair he orders Anarkali to be built into a wall.
Other speculations come from Abraham Eraly’s ‘The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals’, which states that Mughal Prince Salim and Emperor Akbar often conflicted with each other. One account suggests that once Salim was beaten up by guards of the royal harem of Akbar, who mistook him for a madman sneaking inside the Harem. Some sources suggest that Salim went inside to catch the intruder himself, however, other accounts reveal that the madman was Salim himself who went there to meet his lover.
Eraly’s accounts also suggest that Anarkali might have been the mother of Prince Daniyal, however, this claim was rebuffed as the mother of Prince Daniyal had died in 1596 which does not match the dates inscribed on the sarcophagus.
In 1860, Anarkali was mentioned in ‘Tehqiqaat-i-Chishtia’, a book by Noor Ahmed Chishti. In his book, he described her as Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nissa, who was the favourite concubine of Akbar. She was eventually poisoned by Harem ladies due to jealousy and thus Akbar ordered the tomb to be built in her memory. In another book by Kanhaiya Laal titled Tareekh-i-Lahore (1897), he writes Anarkali as Nadira, Akbar’s concubine. She was named Anarkali by the emperor due to her beauty and complexion. Years later her death, Akbar built this tomb.
While few accounts say that Anarkali was a real person, only her name differs. However, another scholar, Muhammad Baqir, the author of Lahore Past and Present says that Anarkali was no real person but a pomegranate garden. It was also mentioned by Dara Shikoh, the grandson of Jahangir, in his work Sakinat-al-Auliya, as a place where the emperor used to rest. In the middle of the garden was the tomb of Salim’s wife Sahib-i-Jamal. And though the garden faded with time, its name remained. This theory is also backed by several historians who argue that a womanizer like Salim who had 800 wives and a concubine would risk his throne for one woman.
Perhaps the most famous theory of Anarkali is that she was none other than Mughal queen Noor Jehan herself. It is known that Emperor Jahangir married Noor Jehan after murdering her husband and literally conquering a small kingdom for her. Thus, many speculate that Anarkali might not have been buried inside the walls but somehow fled her destruction. She is said to be living in anonymity in Kasur near Lahore. And years later, when the prince was finally promoted to lead the Empire, he brought back his beloved by murdering her husband. How much of this story is true- WE DON’T KNOW.
But contrary to this theory is the fact that though the background of Anarkali is unknown, the background of Mughal Queen Noor Jehan is very much recorded. Her records say that she was born into a family of Persian nobility which does not make her a concubine as per the legend.
Anarkali’s story, so far, has been shrouded in mystery however her legend had certainly aroused numerous stories and writers brewing out their part of imagination. The trend started by K. Asif in his mega-hit epic historical drama- Mughal-e-Azam has since remained and stuck.