Synopsis : We could all learn something from the sacrifices some people make for their love for each other as Anarkali , Laila and Juliet did so long ago and became a legend.
Source : Google photo of a painting of Anarkali and Salim
Have you ever heard of Anarkali? Chances are you have not so today I will write about a very beautiful girl called Anarkali whose very tragic life is a testament to what some people are asked to sacrifice just because they fell in love.
Anarkali means pomegranate blossom so it was most likely her nickname but I am sure she had a real name and was a real person who lived in the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century India. Anarkali was not a cheap prostitute to please others because she belonged to the harem of Akbar so she must have been chosen for her beauty and her talents.
All Muslim rulers and their princes kept their harems full of women who were literally kept as slaves because they had no liberty and could not see other men. They were jealously guarded by the armed guards 24 hours of the day and killed any intruder who was not authorized to visit the harem. To make sure that the guards did not have funny ideas that could lead them to some indiscretions on their own, they were castrated so they were eunuchs just like in the forbidden palace in Beijing in the olden days.
These beautiful but helpless women were purchased from the slave traders who kidnapped them from many parts of the world and they were traded as a commodity and not as a human being. The king could never marry them because as Muslims they were only allowed 4 wives so they were kept as concubines .
Now Akbar himself was no stranger to love as the history shows because he married a beautiful Hindu princess called Jodha Bai from Rajputana ( Rajasthan now) and made her the Queen of India and loved her dearly and fulfilled all her wishes but he also kept other wives and a harem full of pretty women like Anarkali to boot. It was the standard practice at that time so many rich people in power did the same and sired numerous illegitimate children from their concubines that created its own problems later on.
But let us focus on Anarkali . She saw the crown Prince Salim and fell in love at once with him as did the prince himself. Anarkali was not just a beautiful woman like any other but she was a great dancer, musician, educated and talented in many arts and calligraphy but she broke the taboo being in the harem of the king so Akbar got very angry with the lovers and forbade any further contact between them so prince Salim rebelled and took a large number of troops sympathetic to his cause to give battle to his father.
The outcome of this rebellion by the prince was a foregone conclusion because the loyal army of Akbar easily defeated the rebels and the unrepentant Salim was brought to his father in chains to face the music so to speak. Akbar was still very angry with his son so ordered him to be blown away by canon fire so the hapless prince was tied up to a post to face the canon that his father himself lit.
But a General sympathetic to the cause of the prince turned the canon at the last moment so the ball went in a different direction saving the life of the prince. By this time the anger of the king had abated somewhat and he realized that the prince was after all to be the next king. Perhaps the queen mother was also able to convince him to cut the prince a bit of slack and go easy on him.
But Akbar was still angry with Anarkali who had to be punished. A crown prince could never marry a commoner like her so he ordered her to be buried alive but that was probably just in the movie made in the sixties called Mughal e Azam where it was shown that secretly a tunnel was dug under the tomb to take out Anarkali that way. Indians did not like sad endings in their movies so were relieved when Anarkali escaped her death.
Some say that she was exiled by the King to Lahore where she spent the rest of her life on a small pittance and piety which was indeed a sad ending of such a beautiful girl who was so talented. She was punished for loving the wrong person but the history shows that prince Salim who later became the king never forgot Anarkali and built a nice mausoleum where she is buried in Lahore. People place flowers on her grave and wish all loves are so priceless and exemplary.
Source : Google photo of the grave of Anarkali in Lahore
The grave of Anarkali in Lahore that has Arabic inscriptions identifying it as her grave. The painting below shows she being buried alive by the order of the king .
(The tomb is accessible to the public in Lahore. Anarkali was a legendary favorite in the harem of Emperor Akbar. Apparently she had fallen in love with Akbar’s son Prince Salim . One day Akbar saw her return Salim’s smile and as a punishment she was buried alive in 1599 — Source Wikipedia)
Source : Google photo of a painting depicting the execution of Anarkali
Known for his temper ,the mighty king Akbar quite likely gave the order so that she was executed this way but her place of execution is not known although probably in Agra.
There is another tragic story of unrequited love that I write about here called the story of Laila and Majnu.
Source : Google photo of Laila and Majnu
Qays ibn al-Mulawwah fell in love with Layla al-Aamiriya. He soon began composing poems about his love for her, mentioning her name often. His unselfconscious efforts to woo the girl caused some locals to call him “Majnun.” When he asked for her hand in marriage, her father refused because it would be a scandal for Layla to marry someone considered mentally unbalanced. Soon after, Layla was married to another noble and rich merchant belonging to the Thaqif tribe in Ta’if. He was described as a handsome man with reddish complexion whose name was Ward Althaqafi. The Arabs called him Ward, meaning “rose” in Arabic.
When Majnun heard of her marriage, he fled the tribal camp and began wandering the surrounding desert. His family eventually gave up hope for his return and left food for him in the wilderness. He could sometimes be seen reciting poetry to himself or writing in the sand with a stick.
Layla is generally depicted as having moved to a place in Northern Arabia with her husband, where she became ill and eventually died. In some versions, Layla dies of heartbreak from not being able to see her would-be lover. Majnun was later found dead in the wilderness in 688 AD, near Layla’s grave. He had carved three verses of poetry on a rock near the grave, which are the last three verses attributed to him.
“ I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the walls that has enraptured my heart
But of the One who dwells within them ”
Layla visits Majnun in the wilderness; Indian watercolour held by the Bodleian Library (Source :By Arie m den toom — eigen werk / selft made, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3508955)
Many other minor incidents happened between his madness and his death. Most of his recorded poetry was composed before his descent into madness.
It is a tragic story of undying love much like the later Romeo and Juliet. This type of love is known as “virgin love” because the lovers never marry or consummate their passion. Other famous virgin love stories set in Arabia are the stories of Qays and Lubna, Kuthair and Azza, Marwa and Al Majnoun Al Faransi, and Antara and Abla. This literary motif is common throughout the world, notably in the Muslim literature of South Asia, such as Urdu ghazals.
The story of Layla and Majnun was known in Persia as early as the 9th century. Two well known Persian poets, Rudaki and Baba Taher, both mention the lovers.
Although the story was known in Arabic literature in the 5th century, it was the Persian masterpiece of Nizami Ganjavi that popularized it dramatically in Persian literature. Nizami collected both secular and mystical sources about Majnun and portrayed a vivid picture of the famous lovers. Subsequently, many other Persian poets imitated him and wrote their own versions of the romance. Nizami drew influence from Udhrite love poetry, which is characterized by erotic abandon and attraction to the beloved, often by means of an unfulfilled longing. Other influences include older Persian epics, such as Vāmiq u ‘Adhrā, written in the 11th century, which covers a similar topic of a virgin and her passionate lover; the latter having to go through many trials to be with his love.
In his adaptation, the young lovers become acquainted at school and fell desperately in love. However, they could not see each other due to a family feud, and Layla’s family arranged for her to marry another man. According to Dr. Rudolf Gelpke, “Many later poets have imitated Nizami’s work, even if they could not equal and certainly not surpass it; Persians, Turks, Indians, to name only the most important ones. The Persian scholar Hekmat has listed no less than forty Persians and thirteen Turkish versions of Layli and Majnun.” According to Vahid Dastgerdi, “If one would search all existing libraries, one would probably find more than 1000 versions of Layli and Majnun.”
In his statistical survey of famous Persian romances, Ḥasan Ḏulfaqāri enumerates 59 ‘imitations’ (naẓiras) of Layla and Majnun as the most popular romance in the Iranian world, followed by 51 versions of Ḵosrow o Širin, 22 variants of Yusuf o Zuleikha and 16 versions of Vāmiq u ʿAḏhrā. ( Source : Wikipedia )
There are many such stories of unrequited love found in many countries that lovers still shed their tears upon like that of Anarkali or Romeo and Juliet. I have seen the house of Juliet in Verona , Italy but not the grave of Anarkali in Lahore.
Source : Google photo of the tomb of Juliet in Verona, Italy
What makes these stories remarkable and eternal is the tragedy that befell the lovers that destroyed them and set an example of how great their sacrifice was and how steadfast they were in their love for each other. Can you imagine the agony of a young and beautiful girl being buried alive just because she was in love? Can you feel her pain centuries later?
They set the bar for love very high indeed.
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links :