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Who was Birbal?

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Akbar and Birbal

Akbar and Birbal (pronounced as Beerbal) stories are very famous and popular in India among all ages of people.

There was a Mogul Emperor in India from 16th century AD to 19th century AD. Akbar the Great was the first great King of the Mogul empire and lived from 1542-1605 AD. His full name was Jalaaluddeen Mohammed Akbar Padshah Ghazi and he ruled India from 1560 to 1605 AD. He himself was illiterate, but he invited several learned people in his court. Among these people, nine were very famous and were called "Nava Ratna" (nine jewels of the Mogul Crown) of his court. Among these nine jewels, five people were more famous - Tansen, Todarmal, Abul Fazal, Maan Singh and Birbal.

Nine Gems of Akbar's Court

1. Tansen - see also  Taansen

2. Dasvant - a great painter

3. King Todarmal - Todarmal was a financial wizard who from 1560 onwards overhauled the revenue system in the kingdom. He introduced standard weights and measurements, revenue districts and officers. His systematic approach to revenue collection became a model for the future Mugals as well as the British. Raaj Todar Mal was also a warrior who assisted Akbar in controlling the Afagaan rebels in Bangaal. Raajaa Todar Mal had learnt his craft from another able administrator Sher Shaah. In 1582, Akbar bestowed on the Raajaa the title of Diwan-e-Ashraf.

4. Abdu us-Samad - a brilliant calligrapher and designer of Imperial coins.

5. Abul Fazal (1551-1602) - Abul Fazal was a great historian and was the chronicler of Akbarís rule. He authored the biographical Akbarnaamaa, which was the result of seven years of painstaking work. He documented the history meticulously, giving a full and accurate picture of the prosperous life during the monarchís reign. His account also shed light on the brilliant administrative capacity of the Emperor.

6. Faizi (1547-1605) - was Abul Fazalís brother. He was a great poet writing verses in Persian. Akbar had enormous respect for this genius and appointed him as a tutor for his son. His famous work is Leelaavatee, on mathematics. It is a translation of Bhaaskaraachaarya's work "Leelaavatee".

7. Mir Fareh-ullah Shirazi - financier, philosopher, physician and astronomer,

8. King Man Singh - Raajaa Maan Sinh is known for his chivalry. Man Singh was the Kachchwaahaa Raajpoot Raajaa of Amber, later Kachchwaahaa built Jayapur, close to Amber). This trusted lieutenant of Akbar was the grandson of Akbarís father-in-law. His family had been inducted into Mugal hierarchy as Ameer (nobles). Raajaa Man Singh assisted Akbar in many fronts including holding off advancing Hakim (Akbarís half-brother, a governor of Kaabul) in Lahore. He also led campaigns in Orissa.

9. Birbal (1528-1583) - Birbal is known for his valuable advice. Birbal was a poor Braahman who was appointed to the court of Akbar for his wit as well as wisdom. Born by the name Mahesh Daas, he was conferred the name Raja Birbal by the Emperor. A man of tireless wit and charm, he enjoyed the Emperorís favor in administration as his trusted minister, and for his entertainment as his court jester. There are many witty stories of exchanges and interactions between the monarch and his minister that are popular even today. The stories are thought provoking, intelligent as well as educational. Birbal was also a poet and his collections under the pen name ĎBrahmaĒ are preserved in Bharatpur Museum. Raajaa Birbal died in battle, attempting to quell unrest amongst Afgaanee tribes in Northwest India. Akbar was said to have mourned for a long time on hearing the news.

Akbar's son Prince Sultan Salim, later known as Jehangir (pronounced as Jahaangeer), wrote that nobody could make out that Akbar was an illiterate. Akbar was a very hard-working King. It is also said about him that he slept only three hours a night.

Birbal (1528-1583) is surely one of the most popular figures in Indian history equally regarded by adults and children. Birbal's duties in Akbar's court were mostly administrative and military but he was a very close friend of Akbar too, because Akbar loved his wisdom, wit, and subtle humor. He was a minister in the administration of Mogul Emperor Akbar and one of the members of inner council of nine advisors. He was a poet and an author too.

It is believed that he was a son of poor Braahman of Trivikrampur (now known as Tikavanpur) on the banks of River Yamunaa. According to a popular legend he died on an expedition to Afghanistan at the head of a large military force due to treachery. It is also said that when Birbal died, Akbar mourned him for several months.

The exchanges between Akbar and Birbal have been recorded in many volumes. Many of these have become folk stories in Indian tradition. Birbal's collection of poetry published under the pen name "Brahm" are preserved in Bharatpur Museum, Raajsthaan, India.

Many courtiers were jealous with Birbal and often plotted for his downfall. There are many stories found on this issue too. There are a couple of other stories too which are of the same time and type and are as interesting as Birbal's ones.

Books on Akbar and Birbal

There are many books published about them, some of them are listed here.

(1) Sawhney, Clifford.  50 Wittiest Tales of Birbal.  Delhi: Pustak Mahal. [ISBN: 81-7806-050-7].
(2) Birbal the Inimitable.
(3) Birbal the Wise.  Amar Chitra Katha (Children Books).
(4) Moseley, James.  The Ninth Jewel of the Mughal Crown. Pasadena, CA, Summerwind Marketing. 2001. (Children Books) [ISBN: 0970444710]
(5) Pai, Anant.  Birbal the Clever. Paperback Comic Book. India Book House. 2003. (ISBN: 81-7508-032-9]
(6) Sarin, Amita.  Akbar and Birbal. Delhi: Penguin. 2005. [ISBN: 0-14-333494-8]
(7) Matba Jauhar-e-hind.  Lata'if-e-Akbar - Hissah Pahli: Birbal Namah. Delhi: Mahanarayan. 1888. (In Urdu language).

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Created by Sushma Gupta on 5/27/2001
Contact:  sushmajee@yahoo.com
Modified on 06/26/13