Mughal rulers who lit lamps of equality

Last Updated : 10 November 2015, 07:23 IST
Last Updated : 10 November 2015, 07:23 IST

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Deepavali or Diwali, derived from Sanskrit to mean row of lights, falls on a moonless night (amavasya) in the month of Kartika (October-November). Light represents strength, while darkness stands for weakness. The demonical forces which are at work within us destroying the strength and purity of our lives are the symbols of darkness.

Troubled by the forces of darkness, human beings seek light for their deliverance. The lamps of Deepavali are meant as symbols towards this end. It is the darkness within us – the darkness of ignorance, of selfishness, of duality – which must be dispelled and eliminated.

During these inflamed times of intolerance, it would be of great use to learn from history how our rulers celebrated festivals keeping in mind the well being of all classes of the society. In what is certainly a treat for all history lovers, let’s look at the celebrations of Deepavali during the period of Mughal rule.

Rituals and beliefs apart, Deepavali has come to be celebrated by people of all communities across India for the sheer sense of enjoyment it entails. More than 400 years ago, Mug-hal emperor Akbar started the tradition of celebrating Deepavali in his court. His aim was to come closer to the people of his empire. He ordered that decorated lamps be placed in front of the statues of Hindu gods like Lakshmi and Rama. The Mughal kings called it Jashn-e-Chiraghan (festival of lights).

The beautiful paintings of Deepavali celebrations bear testimony to this. The pomp and splendour of these paintings show how grand were these celebrations at the royal Mughal courts. For instance, the Rang Mahal at Red Fort, in the hall of private audience, where Takht-e-Taus or peacock throne occupied the pride of place, the festival was observed with all the courtesans and nobles.

The Mughal connections with Deepavali began at the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri – where the palaces of Jodha Bai and Birbal were also situated – to mark the equality of all religions. This tradition bears a direct relation to the Rajput wives of Akbar, who were allowed to practice their religion their own rituals. The first and the chief among them being, Harka Bai, also called Mariam-uz-Zamani, the princess of Amer.

Passed over generations
Jahangir and Shah Jahan also encouraged Deepavali celebrations in their court but Aurangazeb was content with receiving gifts from his Rajput generals such as Raja Jaswanth Singh of Jodhpur and Raja Jai Sing I of Jaipur. His grandson, Jahangir Shah, who ruled for just about a year also celebrated Deepavali at Lahore with his wife Lal Kunvar.

Deepavali was considered even by the orthodox Muslims as the festival of natural joy. Besides the colourful (rangeela) Muhammud Shah, his predecessor, Farukh-Siyar had ordered illuminations at the Delhi gate, which he had built on the Agra-Delhi road. The Sayyeds of Barah also belonged to the 12 villages of Uttar Pradesh, where the festival was celebrated with great enthusiasm by Hindu and Muslim peasants.

A special feature of Deepavali celebrations at the Mughal courts was the bursting of crackers and fireworks at the Red Fort under the supervision of Mir-Atish. Camphor candles called kufiri-shama were placed on 12 candlesticks to light up the palace.

The akash diya (light of the sky) was lit with greater pomp, placed atop 40-yard high pole, supported by 16 ropes and fed on several mounds of binaula (cotton seed oil) to light up the darbar. A gaint-sized statue of Tesu Raja and his wife Jhainji, symbolised by illuminating pots, would also be out for immersion in the holy waters of Yamuna.

Abul Fazal’s Akbarnama informs us that emperor Akbar, who adopted a Hindu way of life,  began to celebrate many other Hindu festivals like Deepavali.

Published 09 November 2015, 18:21 IST

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