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Thursday, March 19, 2015

When Akbar RODE a Horse to STOP a Forced Sati Practice of Rani Damayenti


In this post i am sharing an incident, which was quite unusual to be done, especially by a monarch, who happened to be the Emperor of Hindustan. This incident pertains to the practice of "Sati" which was stopped by personal intervention of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

In simple terms, Sati is a practice, according to which, a wife committed herself to the funeral pyre of her husband at the latter's death, willingly or unwillingly. This practice is NOT restricted to a single community or a place. Incidents of Sati have been found across Indian subcontinent in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bengal, Odisha, Coromandel Coast area, Nepal, etc. etc.

In the beginning, i said, this event was unusual as this was a rare case for an Emperor to personally intervene in order to save the life of a lady. First, it was against the well-established customs of those times. Second, the Emperor traveled long on his horse to stop this practice.

Let's start the post.

The lady whom Akbar saved in 1583, from getting immolated in the funeral pyre of her deceased husband was Rani Damyenti. Later, she died a natural death in 1627.
Mother - Rani Jaswant Ji, daughter of Rao Durzan of the principality of Varsingot. She died in 1601.
Father - Mota Raja Udai Singh of Jodhpur(don't confuse him with Rana Udai Singh of Mewar). 
Jagat Gosain(Jodh Bai), who got married to Salim 4 years after this incident, was also his daughter from a different wife. Mota Raja died in 1595.
Issue - She had 2 sons. One of her sons' name was also Udai Singh.

Her husband was the Thakur of Mertha. His name was Jai Mal. He died at Chausa in Bengal, in 1583.

Historian Smith has described this incident as a romantic* adventure, characteristic of "Akbar at his best", which shows that even when he was past 40 he retained the activity and chivalrous spirit of his youth. JaiMal of Deosa was a close cousin of Raja Bhagwan Das of Amer who had been assigned to Imperial Office on an urgent task in the area of Chausa in Bengal. He rode hard to comply with urgent orders, and died near Chausa from the effects of the heat and over-exertion. His widow, a daughter of Udai Singh, did not want to commit herself to the funeral pyre, as was the prevalent "custom". But her son, also named Udai Singh, and some other relatives insisted that, she must burn. Abu'l Fazl records in Akbarnama that - Akbar came to know of this news while he was in his Female Apartments / harem , and it was early morning. Getting the news, at once, he resolved to prevent the sacrifice. He jumped on a horse and rode to the spot, unattended and unescorted by the royal guards, although some of his personal guards galloped after him as soon as they learned of his disappearance. He was in time, and his unexpected arrival stopped the proceedings. At first he was very eager to execute the guilty parties who forced the lady, but on consideration he granted them their lives and merely imprisoned them for a short period.

* Romantic does not means that Akbar was in Love with that widow..! :-P 

This is more about praise and to render a sense of chivalry to this remarkable act at the age past 40. :)

The words from an abridged translation/extract of Akbarnama are as follows -

" In the interior of Hindustan it is the custom, when a husband dies, for his widow willingly and cheer­fully to cast herself into the flames (of the funeral pile), although she may not have lived happily with him. Occasionally love of life holds her back, and then the husband's relations assemble, light the pile, and place her upon it, thinking that they thereby preserve the honour and character of the family. But since the country had come under the rule of his gracious Majesty, inspec­tors had been appointed in every city and district, who were to watch carefully over these two cases, to discriminate between them, and to prevent any woman being forcibly burnt. About this time, Jai Mal, who had been sent with his forces to join the amírs in Bengal, died of sunstroke in the vicinity of Chausa. His wife, the daughter of Mota Raja, was unwilling to burn; but her son Udai Singh, with a party of his bigoted friends, resolved upon the sacrifice. The matter came to the Emperor's knowledge, and his feeling of justice and humanity made him fear that if he sent messengers to stop the proceedings, some delay might occur, so he mounted his horse, and rode with all speed to the place. As the facts were not fully known, some of these men, in their thoughtlessness, were disposed to resist and make disturbances. But when His Majesty arrived, Jagganath and Rai Sal came forward to meet him, and brought the leader of these foolish men to him. He accepted their assurance of repentance, and only placed them in con­finement."

Complete Translation of Akbarnama, gives more details of this incident. Akbarnama, Vol-3, Pg-595, states:

" One of the occurrences was that the grand-daughter of Rao Maldeo obtained a new life. In the wide country of India, on account of truth-choosing, and jealous honour, when the husband dies, his wife, though she have spent her days in distress, gives herself to the fire with an expanded heart and an open brow. And if from wickedness and love of life she refrain from doing this, her husband's relatives assemble and light the flame, whether she be willing or unwilling. They regard this as preserving their honour and reputation. From the time that this ever-vernal country has been kept verdant and fresh by the justice of the world's lord, vigilant and truthful men have been appointed in every city and district in order that the two classes of cases may be continually kept distinct, and that forcible burning may not be permitted.

At this time H.M. had sent Jaimal by relays of horses to the Bengal officers. On account of immoderate expedition, and the excessive heat, the torch of his existence was extinguished in the neighbourhood of Chausa. His wife, the daughter of the Mota Raja Udai Singh, had not the courage to burn herself. Udai Singh, her son and some bold and foolish persons set themselves to work this injustice (to make her burn). It was high dawn when the news came to H.M.'s female apartments. The just sovereign fearing that if he sent others there would be delay, mounted a swift horse and went off to the spot. As the circumstances were not known there was confusion for some time. Foolish talkers, and imaginative simpletons, made up wonderful stories of a fight. The loyal and devoted, and the happy warriors, got agitated and assembled in troops. There was a time of confusion and they set about putting on their armour and making ready for battle. 

The loyal but feeble-minded were at a loss, while the strong and well-disposed galloped off. The two-faced and wicked misunderstood matters and talked unintelligently. The crooked in their ways and the inwardly dark raised a song of triumph. Such had been the rapidity that even the guards had not been able to come up, but some of the personal attendants arrived near the spot. The faction gave up their proceed­ings in presence of the Shahinshah's majesty. When that cavalier of fortune's arena had come near the spot, Jagannath(son of Raja BharMal) and Rai Sal went ahead and seized the ringleader of the ignorant and turbulent ones and brought him to His Majesty. The appreciative sovereign read the writing of repentance on the foreheads of the crew, and in all this ebullition of anger gave them their lives, but imprisoned them. In a short time the prudent prince made use of justice, graciousness, and courage, and brought things into tranquillity. The dust of turbulence was laid and the pean of joy rose high. "

Following points will help you all to understand the above info in a better manner:

1. There is another person named Jai Mal who died in the Battle of Chittor in 1568. Do not confuse him with the JaiMal mentioned in this post.

2. Serving in Bengal was tough. The toughness of the climate and extreme situation of Bengal can be ascertained from the fact that, the Mughal soldiers who served in Bengal were to be given DOUBLE the pay compared to the soldiers serving in REST of the Sultanate.This was an order of Akbar somewhere after 1575, during the time when Shah Mansoor was handling financial affairs. More can be read about that incident here. Click Here -> LINK

3. Abu'l Fazl has not given the details of the place where Akbar travelled to save the concerned lady. It would seem from reading Jarett, II, Pg-288, that he travelled as far as Loni, which is in Ranthambore, in the Sarkar of Revari ; because this was the current residence of that royal family. But, the place itself is not explicitly mentioned in Akbarnama, as we saw above.

4. Ain-i-Akbari, II, Pg-42, Jarett ; states that "Akbar insisted on the principle that no widow should be forced to burn against her will." So, Akbar was against FORCED Sati practice.

5. Abul Fazl tells us that it was Early Morning when Akbar got this news, while he was in his harem.

6. The husband of the lady, JaiMal was a nephew of Raja BharMal. I had mentioned earlier, in my post on Marriage of Akbar and MUZ, that JaiMal was the FIRST person who met Akbar in January 1562, as a representative of Amer Family for negotiations before the marriage. After JaiMal, his father Rupsi met Akbar. And, at last it was Raja Bharmal himself who met Akbar. 

You can read more at this post: 453rd Marriage Anniversary of Akbar-MUZ - Part 2

7. JaiMal, son of Rupsi, had his estate in Deosa, in Jaipur. Rupsi was brother of Raja Bharmal of Amer.
Jai Mal was the cousin of Raja Bhagwan Das, Raja Jagannath Das, Harka Bai(MUZ) , as their fathers were REAL brothers.

So, this was the story where Akbar stopped a forced Sati practice. In medieval ages, when there were NO women or human rights organizations, in those days, such an act by Akbar, itself speaks volumes about the thought process of this remarkable man - whom we still remember. 

There is one more LESSER known incident where Akbar forbade a lady from committing Sati, which i will cover in separate post. It seems, Akbar was "really" concerned about this practice.

Last Post : Farman of Wali Nimat Mariam-Uz-Zamani Begum with Persian Scan

This article has been posted under the Mughals section of history_geek's blog.

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  1. Abhay

    Awesome as ever! :)

    Akbar was a man who was not only far ahead of his times in the 16th century but he would be far ahead of the times even in today's India.

  2. Abhay whatever posting you make is really thrilling and interesting to read and whatever we perceive from that post gives us knowledge and during dicussions i narrate it to my own people and everybody feels that i have a lot of knowledge about history. especially as the serial is going on now. in groups whenever discussion comes when i explain they listen with curiosity and i always mention yours and radhika's name. they too feel that they would have shown in the serial these real incidents. thanks a lot to both of you for the knowledge i gained from your posts

  3. Very great post , how humane of him to go personally. Awesome.

  4. Thanks, Mehak :)

    I have also gained a lot of knowledge from Abhay and all of you here, which many perceive as my knowledge ;p

    I seriously wish to see this sati incident in the show, though I know that this is highly unlikely.

  5. i was waiting for this info so long Abhay u made it very nicely with all the prof very well hinted and point outing the prof it so good that to read thankS but its really a new mess for me that he married that woman to till now it did know about it

  6. Meena

    No, he didn't marry her!! He only saved her life from forced sati.

  7. Abhay

    Akbar did so much for women in those days - he made it necessary that girls must give their consent for marriage, passed laws against child marriage, discouraged marriage among close cousins, prevented forced sati of widows, provided inheritance rights to girls, ....I even read that he passed a law that no man could marry a girl who was more than 12 years younger to him.

    Sometimes I wonder just what it was that drove Akbar to care for women and their rights / welfare at a time when women were treated like cattle and had no wajood of their own.

  8. Thank you Abhay, for highlighting yet another noble act of Akbar's. Extremely progressive in thought, Akbar set an example for the betterment of women in the 16th century itself. I wish Akbar was alive to rule today's India.

  9. rigtly said radhika. great post abhay. u made us remember y v love n respect akbar as a great man despite his flaws. i prefer reading ur blog dan odr websites vich write venom 4 akbar. here i m sure wht i read iz free 4rm bias n based on admiration n real love 4 history. hats off boy. way 2 go. love ur approach n refernces. i go n read myself 4rm ur references 2 satiate myself n hv always got satisfied.

  10. The point that bugs me is that Akbar was concerned about every aspect related to the betterment of women and himself valued the women in his family but all people today can see is that "he had a huge harem and so must have been a womanizer."

    People should look deeper and understand how Akbar treated women instead of blindly censuring him.

  11. This is a remarkable incident in the life of Akbar and lends itself so well to a depiction on screen that one wonders why it has not been done so.

    The minute facts that you have unearthed regarding this incident add meat to the story and are thrilling to read.

  12. Iqra

    So good to hear from you. :)

    The reason for starting this blog was to provide unbiased and prejudice-free information about Akbar, MUZ and other related historical figures / events. Otherwise, there is no dearth of "content" on the internet. :)

    And the reason for providing references as far as possible is just so people can read for themselves and not just satisfy that what is written here is true but go further and learn more. Sharing info on blog among all of us is like lighting candles - more the candles, more the light (of knowledge) that is spread to dispel the darkness of myth and ignorance.:)

  13. I completely agree with you Radhika. Just because Akbar had a huge harem, we cannot conclude that he was a skirt-chaser. The ladies of the harem as we all know became part of the harem through numerous wars and political alliances. Akbar was much more than a romancer. He truly respected women, their intelligence, capabilities and above all the feminine spirit. The laws that he laid out to safeguard the self-respect of a woman proves it. The respect and admiration that he had, for his mother Mariam Makani, hindu wife Heer Kunwar/ Jodha Bai, Salima Sultan clearly indicate that he held them in high esteem. If he did not sincerely respect them, these ladies would never have had a major role to play in the Mughal court, leave alone issue farmans. For a man of the 16th century, Akbar was extremely progressive, had no ego issues praising and accepting a smart woman.
    I wish political leaders today learn a few lessons from history as to how to address women respectfully and treat them with dignity.

  14. Abhay,
    Such a heroic action by Akbar, the Shehanshah, n also great act by u to hv discovered this and put in the public domain.! Reading this post,my respect fr Akbar has risen to different height. He was a man of right thinking, with all good human qualities. Thank Abhay fr this unusual info.

  15. Perhaps it was because he highly respect 2 of the most influential women in his life. His mother Hamida (Mariam Makani) and his beloved wife Harka Bai (Mariam Uz Zamani)

  16. ryt u r radhika. references r reasons i luv 'tis blog. n will keep cmng back always.