A strong feeling of suspense, mystery and awe surrounds the legend of Anarkali and the story has intrigued and baffled historians in particular and people in general. It has been treated as a traditional legend which travelled verbally from generation to generation. 

The basic story begins with Prince Saleem (later Emperor Jahangir), the son of Akbar the Great returning back home after military training. Since this day was one of great celebration, the harem of Akbar decided to hold a great Mujra (dance performance) by a beautiful girl named Nadeera, daughter of Noor Khan Argun. Akbar likened her beauty to a blossoming flower and called her Anarkali (blossoming pomegranate). During her first and famous Mujra in Lahore Prince Saleem fell in love with her and it later became apparent that she was also in love with him. They both gradually began to see each other although the matter was kept quiet. When Saleem conveys his intention of marrying Anrkali to his father, there is a huge fight and Akbar orders the arrest of Anarkali and places her in one of the jail dungeons in Lahore.

After many attempts, Saleem and one of his friends help Anarkali to escape and hid her near the outskirts of Lahore. Then, the furious Prince Saleem organises an army (from those loyal to him during his fourteen years there) and attacks the city; Akbar, being the emperor, had a much larger army and quickly defeats Prince Saleem's force. Akbar gives his son two choices: either to surrender Anarkali to them or to face the death penalty. Prince Saleem, out of his true love for Anarkali, chooses death penalty. Anarkali, however, unable to allow Prince Saleem to die, comes out of hiding and approaches the Mughal emperor. She asks him if she could be the one to give up her life in order to save Prince Saleem, and after Akbar gives his consent, she asks for just one wish, which is to spend just one night with Prince Saleem.

After her night with Saleem, Anarkali drugs Saleem with a pomegranate blossom. After a teary goodbye to the unconscious Saleem, she leaves the royal palace with guards. She was taken to the area near present-day Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, where a large ditch was made for her. She was strapped to a board of wood and lowered in it by soldiers belonging to Akbar. They closed the top of the large ditch with a brick wall and buried her alive. A second version of the story says that the Emperor Akbar helped Anarkali escape from the ditch through a series of underground tunnels with her mother, only with the promise of Anarkali to leave the Mughal empire and never return. Thus it is not known whether Anarkali survived or not. Another quite popular version states that she was immured alive in a wall.

It is baffling that neither Jahangir mentioned her in his book Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, nor any contemporary historian has left any clue of her saga. The Akbarnama, the official court history of Akbar, records an incident where Akbar became angry with Salim for some reason and sent a noble to admonish him. It is unknown whether this is a reference to the legend or not.

The first historical mention of Anarkali is found in the travelogue of the British tourist and trader, William Finch, who came to Lahore during 1608 to 1611. According to Finch’s account, Anarkali was one of the wives of Emperor Akbar and the mother of his son Danial Shah. Akbar developed suspicions that Anarkali had incestuous relations with Prince Saleem (Jahangir) and, on this ground had her buried alive in the wall of Lahore Fort. Jahangir, after ascending the throne, had a splendid tomb constructed, at the present site, in memory of his beloved. However, other foreign visitors who arrived here during the next two centuries, including Haggle, Prince and Mason, only mentioned the charming gardens and fascinating architecture of the tomb, but nothing about the person buried in the grave or the incident of Anarkali.

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 to be 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 who 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.

Anarkali has been the subject of a number of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani books, plays and films. Noor Ahmed Chishti, in his book Tehqiqaat-i-Chishtia (1860), has provided some details about the grandeur of the building and the episode of Anarkali, based on his personal observations as well as traditional tales. He writes, “Anarkali was a beautiful and a favourite concubine of Akbar the Great and her real name was Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nissa. Akbar’s inordinate love for her made his other two ladies jealous and hostile towards Anarkali. Now, some say that Akbar was on a visit to Deccan when Anarkali fell ill and died and the other two concubines committed suicide to avoid the emperor’s wrath. When the emperor came back he ordered to create this grand tomb.” Chishti also relates: “I saw the marble grave that has 99 names of Allah inscribed on it, and the name Sultan Saleem Akbar was written on the head side”.

Syed Abdul Lateef, in his book Tareekh-i-Lahore (1892), mentions that Anarkali’s actual name was Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nisa and she was one of Akbar’s concubines. He suspected illegitimate relations between Prince Saleem and Anarkali and, therefore, ordered that Anarkali be burried alive in a wall, and the tomb was later built there by Jahangir (Saleem) when he succeeded to the throne. A couplet by Jahangir written on the grave in Persian reads, “If I could behold my beloved only once, I would remain thankful to Allah till doomsday”.  This clearly infers a passionate affair between Saleem and Anarkali. Two dates have been mentioned on the grave: 1008 Hijri (1599AD) and 1025 Hijri (1615AD) — perhaps the date she died and the date of the completion of the tomb.

In his compilation, titled Tareekh-i-Lahore (1897), Kanhaya Laal writes that Nadira was a beautiful concubine in the court of Akbar and was endowed with the name Anarkali on the basis of her pink complexion and ravishing beauty. He also opines that she died a natural death when Akbar was on a tour of Deccan. Later on, Akbar got this graceful tomb built, but it was destroyed by the Sikh rulers and was later converted into a Church by the British.

Abdullah Chagatai, a 18th century historian and architect, has given a very different version. He opines that the tomb, basically built in the centre of a pomegranate garden, contains the grave of Jahangir’s wife Saheb Jamal who was very dear to him. With the passage of time the lady’s name disappeared into oblivion and the tomb was christened by the people as the tomb of Anarkali on the basis of the surrounding pomegranate gardens.

Another scholar, Muhammad Baqir, the author of Lahore Past and Present is of the opinion 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.

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 aspires to see her face once again. He reasons that 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 more commonly known version is the one portrayed in the historically famed Indian film Mughal-e-Azam. Emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) and his Rajput wife, Jodha Bai (Durga Khote) pray for a son. The news of their prayer being answered is brought to the emperor by a maid.  The overjoyed Emperor gifts his ring to the maid and promises to grant her any one wish she asks. The son, Prince Salim, grows to be a weak and pleasure-loving boy. His father sends him off to war in order to teach him courage and discipline. After 14 years, Salim returns as a distinguished soldier (Dilip Kumar). Salim falls in love with Anarkali (Madhubala), a court-dancer. Salim wants to marry Anarkali and arranges for secret meetings. However, the jealous Bahaar (Nigar Sultana), a dancer of a higher rank, wants the crown of India and she attempts to make the prince love her so that she may ascend to queen-ship. Being unsuccessful in her venture, she vents her disappointment by exposing the love between him and Anarkali. Salim pleads for Anarkali's hand, but his father objects and throws Anarkali into prison. Despite imprisonment, Anarkali refuses to reject Salim. Salim rebels and amasses his own army to confront Akbar. Salim is defeated in battle and is sentenced to death by his own father, but is told that the sentence will be revoked if Anarkali, now in hiding, is handed over to face death in his place. Akbar's subjects plead for the Emperor to spare his son, and Anarkali comes out of hiding to save the prince's life. She is condemned to death by entombment alive. Before her sentence is carried out, she pleads to have a few hours with Salim as his make-believe wife. She is granted the wish, as she agrees to drug him afterwards so that he cannot interfere with her entombment. As she is being walled up, Akbar is reminded that he still owes a favour to Anarkali's mother, since she was the one to whom Akbar gave his ring after she informed him of the birth of his son. Anarkali's mother takes advantage of this, and begs for her daughter's life. The emperor relents, and arranges for Anarkali's secret escape with her mother into exile. He stipulates, though, that they are to live in total obscurity, and that Salim is never to know that Anarkali still lives.

The saga of Anarkali and the crown prince Salim has been dubbed as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Despite the fact that it is unknown whether it is just a myth or has historical truth under it, it has been immortalized in numerous books and movies, some of which are epics in their own right.

11/28/2013 02:20:27 am

This is false story "salim and anakali"not mention in history this is mystry

11/28/2013 02:24:57 am

If you have any prof plz sent on my mail about salim and anarkali and I am teling you very frankly akbar and jodha also a false story is this tru plz tell your reply thankyou

12/27/2013 03:26:28 am

The intruder who entered Akbars harem was prince Daniyal Akbars third son and not Salim.The date 1599 may be the year of the commencement of the tomb for at that time Akbar had left to deccan and he advised Salim to chase the Rana.He did not go behind the Rana,may be he went to Lahore to commence the tomb.Every body forgets Akbars 2 sons and discard them to be a drunker,But attleast they took part in few expeditioin unlike Jahangir who was always sticking to his grandmother and Akbars harem. One must read Akbarnamna to know about Prince Murad and Daniyal..

11/10/2014 12:23:59 am

its not precise !!!!!!!

7/4/2017 03:30:11 am

There are so much to learn from myths, mystery and history. They are stories from different people that are being passed from generation to the next. Personally, I am fond of reading stories, especially when it talks about history. It fascinates me to think of what had happened from the previous life. It allows me to compare the world today to what it was yesterday. Stories like this must be read to children so that they would know how was life before.


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    February 2013