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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Documentary based on a Real Life event related to Mughal Emperor Akbar & his Hindu Wife | With Rudyard Kipling's Poem - Akbar's Bridge, Illustrations & Historical Inputs


Hi everyone,

This article has been 'assembled' after drawing its ingredients from various places, viz. a newspaper article, a poem, illustrations, historical inputs. Before starting, let me explain what the article is all about so that all the things become clear.

Mughal Emperor Akbar had decided to build a grand mosque in the province of Jaunpur in mid-1560s to please the Almighty, so that his wife ( called Jodha Bai in common memory) bears him a child. The work commenced & the governor - Munim Khan resorted to excessive extraction of money from the people of the area for the purpose. Akbar came there and a widow complained to him about the excesses of Munim Khan, and convinced him to build a bridge instead of a mosque. Akbar consented. This story is supported by historical accounts also, which are listed below in the article.

First of all, here is an article from India Today, which talks about a documentary made on the same incident :

"
A film based on Emperor Akbar's life and times inspired by Rudyard Kipling? Manohar Ashi, a short film and documentary maker, has done just that with Akbar's Bridge, an eponymous Kipling poem which glorifies the Emperor's winning, cosmopolitan ways. The film - which premiered before a select audience in Bhopal last fortnight-is based on an incident in 1566 * , when Akbar shelved a plan to construct a mosque on the banks of the Gomti at Jaunpur and instead, built a bridge across the river, earning secular gratitude.

* - The article wrongly mentioned the year as 1556. It should be 1566. I have corrected this year.

For good measure, Ashi also brings in a dash of other poems into play-Alfred Lord Tennyson's Akbar's Dream, and Rabindranath Tagore's Dindaan which is about a Hindu king who gives up a plan to build a magnificent temple and bows to his wife's wishes to give the money to victims of drought.

Good, secular credentials apart, the film, which Doordarshan said it will pick up for Rs 7 lakh, cost more than three times that-making the sale unlikely. But Ashi is still flying on the secular angle and romantic appeal for a pitch to another buyer.

And, on dancer and IAS officer Shovana Narayan's debut effort, playing the role of a potter whom Akbar meets incognito. The reason: she hears the emperor plans to build a grand mosque as an offering to Allah so that his wife, Jodha Bai, bears a child, and tells Akbar that his officials had been extorting money from the poor artisans and workers for building the mosque.


What the people really required, said the potter, was a bridge across the river. "She (Shovana) was fantastic," gushes Ashi. "She even spent time among potters near Bhopal to get the feel of the wheel." Among others, the film stars Sanjay Mehta as Akbar and Anuradha Tarafdar as Jodha Bai. From initial accounts, the film holds promise. But whether the 94-minute effort can hold on long enough to bridge the gap between a dream and a distribution disaster is still open. 
"


A poem written about this bridge by Rudyard Kipling : 

Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He wrote tales and poems of British soldiers in India and stories for children. He was born in Bombay, in the Bombay Presidency of British India.

He worked in a newspaper in Lahore(then a part of India, now in Pakistan). In November 1887, he was transferred to the Gazette's much larger sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad in the United Provinces. In Allahabad, he worked as the Assistant editor of The Pioneer, and lived in Belvedere house, Allahabad from 1888-89. It was here that Kipling also saw the Akbar's Bridge, and came to know the story behind its construction.

Kipling's only son John died in the First World War, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, at a young age of 18. John had initially wanted to join the Royal Navy, but having had his application turned down after a failed medical examination due to poor eyesight, he opted to apply for military service as an Army officer. But again, his eyesight was an issue during the medical examination. In fact, he tried twice to enlist, but was rejected. His father had been lifelong friends with Lord Roberts, commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards, and at Rudyard's request, John was accepted into the Irish Guards. This was a major setback to Kipling as he held himself accountable for his son's death.

Limits and Renewals, Kipling’s last collection of short stories, was written shortly after the death of his only son - John. Unsurprisingly therefore, many of the stories take on the themes of pain, inner suffering and mental anguish, with an on-going exploration into the level of physical and psychological torment that can be endured before a complete breakdown. Dark and penetrating in tone, these are brilliant portraits of a soul in torment, showcasing excessive pain.

 
The following poem Akbar's Bridge is taken from the above collection - "Limits and Renewals" published in 1932. The pain of the widow is visible in this poem also, which is present below :


Jelaludin Muhammed Akbar, Guardian of Mankind,
Moved his standards out of Delhi to Jaunpore of lower Hind,
Where a mosque was to be builded, and a lovelier ne'er was planned;
And Munim Khan, his Viceroy, slid the drawings 'neath his hand.

High as Hope upsheered her out-works to the promised Heavens above.
Deep as Faith and dark as Judgment her unplumbed foundations dove.
Wide as Mercy, white as moonlight, stretched her forecourts to the dawn;
And Akbar gave commandment, "Let it rise as it is drawn."

Then he wearied"the mood moving"of the men and things he ruled,
And he walked beside the Goomti while the flaming sunset cooled,
Simply, without mark or ensign"singly, without guard or guide,
Till he heard an angry woman screeching by the river-side.

'Twas the Widow of the Potter, a virago feared and known,
In haste to cross the ferry, but the ferry-man had gone.
So she cursed him and his office, and hearing Akbar's tread,
(She was very old and darkling) turned her wrath upon his head.

But he answered"being Akbar""Suffer me to scull you o'er."
Called her "Mother," stowed her bundles, worked the clumsy scow from shore,
Till they grounded on a sand-bank, and the Widow loosed her mind;
And the stars stole out and chuckled at the Guardian of Mankind.

"Oh, most impotent of bunglers! Oh, my daughter's daughter's brood
Waiting hungry on the threshold; for I cannot bring their food,
Till a fool has learned his business at their virtuous grandam's cost,
And a greater fool, our Viceroy, trifles while her name is lost!

"Munim Khan, that Sire of Asses, sees me daily come and go
As it suits a drunken boatman, or this ox who cannot row.
Munim Khan, the Owl's Own Uncle"Munim Khan, the Capon's seed,
Must build a mosque to Allah when a bridge is all we need!

"Eighty years I eat oppression and extortion and delays"
Snake and crocodile and fever, flood and drouth, beset my ways.
But Munim Khan must tax us for his mosque whate'er befall;
Allah knowing (May He hear me!) that a bridge would save us all!"

While she stormed that other laboured and, when they touched the shore,
Laughing brought her on his shoulder to her hovel's very door.
But his mirth renewed her anger, for she thought he mocked the weak;
So she scored him with her talons, drawing blood on either cheek...

Jelaludin Muhammed Akbar, Guardian of Mankind,
Spoke with Munim Khan his Viceroy, ere the midnight stars declined"
Girt and sworded, robed and jewelled, but on either cheek appeared
Four shameless scratches running from the turban to the beard.

"Allah burn all Potter's Widows! Yet, since this same night was young,
One has shown me by pure token, there was a wisdom on her tongue.
Yes, I ferried her for hire. Yes," he pointed, "I was paid."
And he told the tale rehearsing all the Widow did and said.

And he ended, "Sire of Asses"Capon"Owl's Own Uncle"know
I"most impotent of bunglers"I"this ox who cannot row"
I"Jelaludin Muhammed Akbar, Guardian of Mankind"
Bid thee build the hag her bridge and put our mosque from out thy mind."

So 'twas built, and Allah blessed it; and, through earthquake, flood, and sword,
Still the bridge his Viceroy builded throws her arch o'er Akbar's Ford!



Historical Inputs :

Mughal Emperor Akbar ordered the construction of the Shahi Bridge, which was completed in the year 1568–69 by Munim Khan, according to Persian inscriptions on this bridge. It was designed by Afghan architect Afzal Ali. { Bradnock, Roma (2004). Footprint India (13 ed.). pg. 193 }

Munim Khan's bridge which is, still used today, is generally recognized as Jaunpur's most significant Mughal structure. One Mughal writer states that although the Khan-i Khanan had no heirs, his descendant, the Jaunpur bridge, "will preserve his name for ages." { Maathir, II: pg. 291 } 

Interestingly, it consists of ten arched openings supported on massive pylons; chattris line either side of the top. The six inscriptions on the bridge indicate that it was commenced in 1564-65 and completed in 1568-69. { Asher, Catherine Ella Blanshard (1992). Architecture of Mughal India. The new Cambridge history of India 1.4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pg. 87. }

The Persian history of Jaunpur states that Munim Khan constructed the bridge in response to a discourse by Akbar in which he, hearing a widow complain about the lack of ferry service across the Gomti, proclaimed that it is better to provide public works than religious edifices. { A. Fuhrer, The Sharqi Architecture of Jaunpur, Archaeological Survey of India, New Imperial Series, Vol. xi (reprint ed.; Varanasi, 1970), pg. 20. }

Mughal Emperor Akbar visited the city of Jaunpur in his 10th reignal year, which translates to the year 1566. { Riyaz-us-Salatin, Barisal Backergunjep, 1903, pg. 161.

Interestingly 1566 was the same year when Akbar and Mariam-Uz-Zamani went on a barefoot pilgrimage to the Dargah of Sheikh Muin-ud-din Chisti in Ajmer, to pray for a son. This point was mentioned in the old blog post about kids of Akbar and Mariam Uz Zamani.
{Link}
 


Here are 2 illustrations of that bridge which was built in 16th Century :


Watercolour of Akbar's bridge over the Gomti River at Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, by an anonymous artist working in the Murshidabad style, part of the Hyde Collection, c. 1790-1800. Inscribed on the back in pencil: 'Bridge at Joanpore over the Goomty:' inscribed in ink: 'Bridge at Juanpore over the Goompty River in Oude with Native Boats and Travellers.'

Picture : Courtesy - British Library 

Jaunpur was established by Feroz Shah Tughluq in the late 14th century on an ancient site along the Gomti River. The town is known for its interesting architecture as many 14th and 15th century mosques in the town were built in a style that mixes Islamic, Hindu and Jain influences. Akbari Bridge pictured here was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century and still stands today. It crosses the river on the northern side of town.


This picture is from William Hodges' book 'Select Views in India'. Located at a crossing point on the river Gomti, Jaunpur, the massive Akbari Bridge, a remarkable structure with fifteen arches, was built in 1560's by Munim Khan, the local governor under Mughal Emperor Akbar. Hodges wrote: "The inoundations have been frequently known to rise even over the bridge insomuch that in the year 1774 a whole brigade of the British forces was passed over it in boats."




Panaromic View of the Shahi Bridge of Jaunpur. Modern Day picture.



Article Category : Mughals (Akbar)



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