AKBAR’S CHRISTIAN WIFE. MARIAM ZAMANI BEGUM
In the deserted and ruined city of Fathepur Sikri, the favourite capital of the Emperor Akbar, twenty two miles from Agra, founded in 1568-9, there still exists the beautiful palace of Akbar’s Christian wife, known as the “Armenian Princess’ palace”.
It is a well known historical fact that one of Akbar’s queens was an Armenian, known as Mariam Zamani Begum. That well-known Indian historian, Henry George Keane, in his Sketch of the History of Hindustan, says:-
“Akbar subsequently married at least two other foreign ladies, an Armenian and a princess of Marwar. Preserving unmolested in the palace their Chapels and their Chaplains, these ladies would necessarily have their share in promoting the Catholicity of the Emperor’s mind and predisposing him to regard with favour Hindus and Christians.”
William Hunter, a great authority on Indian History writing of Akbar’s wives says, in his Indian Empire, that “another of his wives is said to have been a Christian.” Louis Rousselet, says in his India and its Native Princes: “Near Akbar’s mausoleum beyond the enclosure, stands a vast ruined cenotaph enclosing the tomb of the Emperor’s Christian wife, the Begum Maria.”
De Laet, who wrote his Empire of the Great Maguls in 1631, that is only 26 years after the death of Akbar, when the slightest circumstance connected with him was fresh in the memory ofall, mentions in his description of the palace “one set belonging to Mary Makany, the wife of Akbar.”
Henry Blochmann, in his translation of the Ain-i-Akbari mentions in one of his notes that there is not the least doubt of “Akbar having an Armenian wife.” Fanthome, the author of Reminiscences of Agra, says: “I have in my possession information which leads me to believe that there is a great deal of truth in the assertion that Akbar had a Christian wife whose name was Mariam.”
Some 20years ago, the late F. Hosten S. J. read a learned Paper on Akbar’s Christian wife before the Asiatic Society of Bengal and exhibited an artistic painting, in water colours, of the Emperor with his Christian wife. There was a Persian superscription which can be rendered into English thus: “Jalal-ud-din Akbar with Mariam Zamani Begum.”
In the painting Akbar is seated on a rich sofa, holding in his right hand the mouthpiece of his hookah; his left arm is thrown round the neck of the girl, who stands half reclining against him and supports his left-hand with her left.
Fr. Hosten’s Paper, with the photographic illustration of the painting, were published in the “statesman,” on the 14th November 1916. The following is a copy:
AKBAR’S CHRISTIAN WIFE.
Two Interesting Pictures.
Two months ago, I was completing the proof-reading of my paper on “Mirza Zu-l-Qarnain, a Christian Grandee under three Great Moghuls, with Notes on Akbar’s Christian Wife and the Indian Bourbons” (shortly to be issued by the Asiatic Society of Bengal) my conclusion being that Akbar appears to have had a Christian wife, an Armenian, when the unexpected discovery was made of a painting in the European style of art, representing Akbar with a Christian girl in partly European attire, and the Persian superscription “Jalal-ud-din Akbar ma Maryam Zamani Begum”(Jalal-ud-din Akbar with Maryam Zamani Begum).
The picture had been bought by Mr. A. Stephen, of Camac Street, Calcutta, from the estate of the late Prince Muhammad Bakhtiyar Shah, of the House of Tippu Sultan of Mysore, together with three other paintings. When Mr. A. Stephen mentioned casually to one of his friends, Mr. Mesrovb J. Seth, the author of “The Armenians in India” (Calcutta, 1895), that one of the paintings exhibited Akbar with a lady wearing a cross, Mr. Seth, who had helped me for my paper on Mirza Zu-l-Qarnain, naturally concluded that she must be Akbar’s reputed and elusive Christian wife. An examination of the picture could not but strengthen him in this opinion, especially as the Persian superscription was plain. He communicated at once with me, and an examination of the picture, I made in his company, caused me also for my part, to concur in the view that the picture was intended to represent Akbar’s Christian wife.
I confess that the name Maryam Zamani Begum was a surprise to me, not that the name is not connected in some traditional accounts with Akbar’s Christian wife, but because it appeared to take so readily for granted a point which to prove is so extremely difficult, the best authorities being agreed that Maryam Zamani Begum was most probably the daughter of Raja Bihari Mal, and very probably Jahangir’s mother. Considering, however, that these two points were not absolutely settled, we could feel less uneasy about the name.
If the picture was to speak for itself, it was evident that it was meant to represent Akbar’s Christian wife. Opinions may differ as to the correctness of Akbar’s likeness; but there will not be two opinions about the portrait being intended as a likeness of Akbar; only he and his son Jahangir shaved their beard, keeping only the moustache; the takauchiyah or cabaya is tied on the right, according to Akbar’s own directions in the Ain (Blochmann, I. 88), whereas formely it was tied on the left. Even the huqqa, of which Akbar holds the mouthpiece in his right hand, was meant to show that he smoked or presided at the invention of the huqqa. As for the girl, the first thing that strikes the beholder is that she wears a plain cross from her necklace of pearls. Now, no one has ever advanced that Maryam Zamani Begum was a Muhammadan. Therefore, the girl in the picture could be only a Hindu or a Christian. A Hindu she could not be: the dress, the décolletage, the absence of tika or beauty-mark, the amorous attitude of the pair, especially the cross, were against it. She was a Christian then. Of what nationality? Here again opinions could differ. The type of the girl is somewhat vague; but the arguments to prove that Akbar’s Christian wife was Portuguese are extremely weak, while the Bourbon tradition that she was an Armenian compared with certain events of 1590-1600, appeared plausible. To me the face looked more Eastern than European, and some of my Armenian friends felt rather strong on the point that she had Armenian features. Various other characteristics of the picture seemed to favour this view. A European lady, on seeing the painting, compared Maryam’s dress to that of a Circassian girl.
What led us further to emphasise the importance of the discovery was that at first we could not get beyond the information that the picture had been from time immemorial in the possession of its former owners. We might even have concluded that the picture had come to Calcutta by way of the Dekkan.
There were, however, two facts which called for reflection. First Akbar was represented smoking a huqqa. We have shown that Akbar smoked at least on one or two occasions, and that one of his doctors is credited by a certain tradition with having invented the huqqa. Be the latter point as it may, we could a la rigueur wink at the fact that the painter had tried to combine in one picture the idea that Akbar smoked sometimes, together with the tradition that he had a Christian wife. It was enough for our purpose if the picture antedated the late written evidence on Akbar’s Christian wife. In fact, a good argument could be made out of a picture of Maryam dating from 1770-1800 because we still find at that date other descendants of Juliana than the Bourbons, and the Bourbons maintain that Juliana was the sister of Akbar’s Christian wife. But, how old was our picture?
Secondly,-With the picture of Akbar’s Christian wife there were three others of a different kind, but of the same size and style, all showing scenes of regal life at the Moghul Court: (1) dancing amusements of Princes in the Fort of Delhi in the time of Akbar II (reigned 1806-1837); (2) Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah seated on the Peacock Throne not corresponding at all, except for the two Peacocks, to the gorgeous description of Tavernier and many others; (3) a darbar of Ahmad Shah (reigned 1748-1754). Now, not long before, I had come across a picture exactly similar to that of Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah on the Peacock Throne, and it did not take long to re-discover it in the Loan Exhibition of Antiquities, Coronation Durban, 1911, published by the Archaelogical Department of India, p.134, Plate LIX, where it is described as the property of L. Bulaqi Dass of Delhi.
Further repeated investigations elicited the information that the picture of Maryam had been presented in 1902 to the widow of Prince Bakhtiyar Shah by her grandfather, the late Nawab Mirza Akbar Ali Beg, Prime Minister of Karauli, who died at Delhi some five or six years ago.
Exepert knowledge was required to pronounce on the provenance and age of the picture. Mr. Percy Brown, the Principal of the Government School of Arts, went to inspect it and declared it to be late Lucknow or Oudh work, and that the European conception of it was not beyond an Indian painter imbued with the European methods of the Oudh school of art. One of his assistants, an Indian, studied it at the Government School of Arts, where it was sent for inspection, and said that the colour used-it is not an oil-painting-were European; hence, the picture might not be more than 50 or 70 years old Possibly, it was an enlargement of an earlier mininature by a European. He even thought that, “some 24 years ago, in the time of Lord Curzon” (therefore not before 1899), he had seen in the shop of a Muhammadan painter at Delhi three or four oval pictures, like ours, but he could not be positive that the subject was the same. This was making our picture very young, indeed; and we might have tried to cavil about the period when the colours indicated as European were introduced into India, but there is no need for that now.
I then wrote to the papers describing our picture summarily, and asking whether similar pictures or miniatures were known to exist in India; also, what oral traditions were still current on the subject of Akbar’s Christian wife. I had collected a good number of statements from printed books. To what extent had the wear and tear of time influence them? In particular what was Maryam’s nationality? Was she Portuguese or of some other nationality?
My letter appeared in the papers of September 16th, 1916, and, on September 20th, “Forty-Seven” informed us through The Statesman that he was told there was a painting of Akbar’s Christian wife in Nana Earnavis’ Wada at Menavlii in the Satara District. I invited “Forty-Seven” to continue his investigations, and, if possible, to procure us a photo. If necessary, a photo of our picture will be sent for comparison; but I have not heard of ”Forty-Seven; since, and the fact that Menavlii is not given in the “Imperial Gazetter of India” or in the old District Cazetteer is somewhat discouraging. Will. “Forty-seven” be so good as to send us his address? We cannot, of course, come to a conclusion so long as a copy of that picture is not obtained.
THE SECOND PICTURE
A few days later, very definite information reached me privately from Delhi about a picture similar to ours. Mr. I. W. Bowring, I. Police, Delhi, wrote on September 24th that the “original” picture of Akbar and the Christian girl was in the possession of Munshi Bulaqi Dass, Proprietor of the Muir Press, Delhi, a gentleman who has hundreds of pictures in his albums. “He bought it with other pictures many years ago in an unfinished condition in pencil, and he has since had it painted. The picture, as far as he knows, came from the studio of the descendant of some court-painter. Mirza Akbar Ali Beg died here in Delhi five or six years ago. His sons (three) are here now. They live in the Farash-Khana quarter. Mr. Bulaqi Dass tells me that Mirza Akbar Ali Beg may have had a photo taken of his pictures, as he used to send for them to look at.” (By the way, Mr. A. Stephen’s picture in not a photo but a painting.) Mr. Bulaqi Dass was kind enough to send me his picture for inspection. It turns out to be identical in substance with that of Mr. A. Stephen. The conception is exactly the same. Only the coloration, the floral designs on the costumes and tapestry, and some trifling other details are different. Which of the two pictures is superior in execution, I leave to art-critics to decide. Nor those it matter, for Mr. Bulaqi Dass’ statement that he bought his picture as a pencilsketch “some 25 years ago” (as Mr. Bowring wrote on Oct. 4), and had it painted later, also the frequent visits to his house and borrowing of pictures by Mirza Akbar Ali Beg, can leave no reasonable doubt as to Mr. Bulaqi Dass’ picture being the original one The doubt is still less since Munshi Bulaqi Dass is, I am told, the same as L. Bulaqi Dass, who exhibited at the Darbar of 1911 a picture of Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah on the Peacock Throne, for a copy of it, once in Mirza Akbar Ali Beg’s possession, was bought by Mr. A. Stephen along with the picture of Maryam. The reason why the two pictures of Maryam remained unknown all through the oft-repeated discussions on Akbar’s Christian wife, is that Munshi Bulaqi Dass did not exhibit his at the Durbar of 1911, while the other was kept in Prince Bakhtiyar Shah’s zenana.
The discussion must now be transferred from Mr. A. Stephen’s picture to that of Munshi Bulaqi Dass; and I am afraid it will yield little or nothing. A number of points in Mr. A. Stephen’s picture, which we might have laid stress on to prove Maryam’s Armenian parentage, are missing in the earlier picture. She looks more European in the latter, her complextion being farier and rosier. Parhaps, the idea of the painter was that she was Portuguese. Again, and this is not less important, the Persian superscription is wanting in Munshi Bulaqi Dass’ picture. Hence, the authority for its insertion in Mr. A. Stephen’s picture appears to be simply that of Mirza Akbar Ali Beg, who may have borrowed the name from the current tradition.
We ought to be able to prove that the Minshi’s picture is an original conception or a copy of something earlier. In the first case, we prove nothing unless we show that there exists among Hindus or Muhammadans a tradition running on parallel lines to, and independent of, that current among Christians. Both Hindus and Muhammadans seem to have such a tradition, but how shall we show that it is not borrowed from the Christians? It is not feasible. That the Muhammadans own to such a tradition, we might conclude from the statements of some of the letters that have appeared in the papers, e.g., one by A. F. M. Abul Ali of Mymensingh in which the writer expresses, however, his scepticism regarding its truth. We might perhaps infer it also from the action of Mirza Akbar Ali Beg in labelling his picture as he did. Hindus, too, appear to believe in her existence. One of the prominent Maharajas of Bengal wrote to me that he has “always known Mariam Zamani to be a non-Muhammadan woman, at least in the beginning; for whether she was subsequently converted to Islam, I cannot say.” A Hindu painter, in whose family painting is a hereditary profession, volunteered the statement that he had heard his mother’s father, Babu Shivlal of Patna, say that Akbar had a vilayati Bibi, not from Europe, but from Armenia. The man had nothing to expect from me, however, as he might have communicated with others who had heared me express my opinion about Maryam’s Armenian extraction, his statement may be regarded by some as not unprejudiced. Then, there is the action of the Delhi Court-painter or one of his descendants who sketched the Munshi’s picture; whether he was a Hindu or a Muhammadan remains to be learned.
Doubtless, all this prove next to nothing. I hope that my Delhi correspondent will succeed in finding out whether the Delhi painters have a tradition about Akbar’s Christian wife and her nationality. Perhaps, he will discover the descendants of the Court-painter, and so learn whether the Munshi’s picture is original or a copy of something earlier. If it is original and therefore fanciful, or nothing further is discovered, it would be some consolation if a picture of a new type, or at least older than Mr. Bulaqi Dass’, were found at Menavlii, the place pointed out by “Forty-Seven.”
And, if nothing turns up, what then? Then matters stand as they were. We have no new argument. That is all.
H. HOSTEN, S. J.”
The publication of Fr. Hosten’s Paper led to a controversy and several letters, pro and con, appeared in the columns of the English dailies in Calcutta-the “Statesman” and the “Englishman.”
On the face of solid historical evidence, which cannot be challenged, some sceptics disputed the existence of a Christian queen in Akbar’s seraglio.
Fr. Francisco Corsi, a Jesuit priest, writing on the 15th October, 1626, refers to Mirza Zul-Qarnain, who was brought up in the palace, as follows:-
“The King [Jehangeer] loves him, as brought up in the Royal House at King Akbar’s order by one of the queens, whom he called mother, and King Akbar he called father.”
This clearly shows that Akbar had an Armenian wife, who was the childless aunt to Mirza Zul-Qarnain, whose mother had died when he was young, and according to Jesuit records, both he and his younger brother, Mirza Scanderus, were brought up in the Palace by their maternal aunt.
We had, prior to the publication of Fr. Hosten’s Paper, published in the columns of now defunct “Englishman, the following letter on the 20th September, 1916:-
AKBAR’S CHRISTIAN WIFE.
THE ARMENIAN TRADITION IN INDA.
Sir,-In his interesting letter which appeared in The Englishman on the 16th instant, my learned friend, Father Hosten, S. J. wishes to know if the “Armenians have no traditions in the matter.” As the historian of the “Armenians in India from the earliest times to the present day” I have no hesitation in stating that Akbar’s Christian wife was an Armenian lady from the banks of the Aras and her name was Mariam, which is the Armenian nomenclature for Mary. There is in Calcutta at the present moment in the possession of a well-known Armenian gentleman, a beautiful and highly artistic painting, in colours, of Akbar and his Armenian wife, nay Queen, as we shall see presently. The lady is depicted in semi-Asiatic, semi-European costume, without any of those rich and highly gaudy ornaments on the head which characterize the paintings of Hindoo or Mahomedan Queens of the time, but she has a beautiful double-row pearl necklace with a plain Armenian gold cross, with a diamond in the centre, hanging from the necklace. Let it be remembered that she wears a plain “cross” and not a “crucifix’ and this fact goes to prove conclusively that she was an Armenian, for a crucifix is never worn by Armenians either as an ornament or as an amulet, a plain gold or silver cross being invariably worn by orthodox Armenians as an amulet. Then again, Akbar’s Christian wife is seen in the painting wearing a beautiful and exquisite gold belt which is a specimen of ancient Armenian art. She wears a “Mantilla,” hanging gracefully from her hair downwards and in old Armenian paintings the mantilla or “mandill” as it is commonly called, is always a prominent feature of their head gear. But all this is not perhaps sufficient evidence to prove her nationality as my critics will no doubt require something more tangible and reliable as regards the identity of Akbar’s Christian wife. The late Professor Blochmann of the Calcutta Madrasah in his translation of the “Ain-i-Akbar,” mentions in one of his notes that there is not the least doubt of “Akbar having an Armenian wife.” Mahomedan historians make several references to one “Mariam” as one of the few wives of Akbar and her grave is to be seen at Sekundra to this day and known as ‘Bibi Mariam ka Rowza.” If it can however be proved that this Mariam of the Mahomedan historians is the Christian wife of Akbar, it can at the same time be proved that she was the Armenian wife of the great Mogul, as Akbar is known to have had but one Christian wife.
Let us lift up the veil over the painting of Akbar and his Christian (Armenian) wife and see what the picture has to say for itself. In the left corner of the painting there is the following inscription in Persian:-“Jelal-ud-din Akbar ma Mariam Zamani Beigum”, which can be translated thus:- The glory of the Faith, Akbar, with Mariam Zamani Queen.” Let us not lose sight of the fact that Mariam is called the Queen and it is not likely that the great Akbar-the Napoleon of the East-would have had his portrait painted with any other lady of the harem but the Queen, so that the Armenian-Christian Mariam was the Queen amongst Akbar’s 8 wives, as enumerated in Abul Fazl’s “Ain-i-Akbari.”
Now the question arises. How did an Armenian lady from far-off Armenia find her way into Akbar’s seraglio? As merchants, Armenians have been seen in India from time immemorial, and in my “History of the Armenians in India” published in 1895, I have dwelt at great length on the early Armenian colonies in this country but the limited space at my disposal will not permit me to go into details. Suffice it to say that they found great favour in the eyes of Akbar and held high and responsible posts under him in the Government of the country, the Chief Justice or Mir-Adl of the Imperial Camp being an Armenian by the name of Khwaja Mir Abul-Hai-Hai being the Armenian nomenclature for a native of Armenia. Then again, the famous Mirza Zul-Qarnain, who was a Grandee of the Mogul Court during the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan, was, I am proud to say, an Armenian. His father Mirza Sikandar had the salt monopoly of Sambhar in Rajputana and they all professed the Christian faith although at a Mahomedan court.
Now let us hear what Armenian traditions have to say regarding Akbar and his adoption of a handsome Armenian boy, who however is no other but the famous Mirza-Zul-Qarnain referred to above. An Armenian, Thomas Khojamall by name, who lies buried at the Agra Armenian cemetery (where he died on the 22nd January, 1789) wrote a History of Bengal in Armenian, from Mohamedan sources, at Allahabad, in 1768. In an appendix to the above work, he mentions of Akbar having adopted the beautiful son of an Armenian merchant, Hakobjan by name, whom he met in Kashmere, and at the same time invited the parents of the boy to go and settle at Akbarabad (Agra) and which they did, as was natural, and thereby laid the foundation of a flourishing Armenian colony at the capital, of which more hereafter. The handsome Armenian boy grew up in the Palace, beloved by all, and in Jesuit records it is stated that on one occasion, of which the good Jesuit Fathers at the Court of Akbar were eyewitnesses, Akbar was seen at the window with the Armenian boy in his arms and with a cross hanging from his neck and which (cross) Akbar kissed and made the boy kiss too before the public gaze downstairs. It will no doubt occur to many that a Christian child would not have been cherished, fostered, may tolerated in a Mahomedan seraglio had there not been a Christian lady behind the scenes and this Christian lady could be no one else but the Armenian “Mariam Zamani Begum”.-Akbar’s Christian (Armenian) wife.
MESROVB J. SETH.
We have seen on page 91 that the little girl of Domingo Pires, the Armenian interpreter at Akbars’ Court, was with the queen the greater part of the year. Now had there been no Christian queen in Akbar’s seraglio, no Christian girl would have been allowed to enter the palace and become a companion of Akbars’ daughter, spending the greater part of the year with the queen, according to the testimony of the contemporary Jesuit Fathers, but the skeptics say there was no Armenian queen in Akbar’s seraglio, and the skeptics are “honourable men.” Shade of Mark Antony!
Unfortunately in these days of improved audition and vision, thanks to the advance of science, (historical research) the disbelieving Thomases have ears, yet they cannot hear, they have eyes, but they will not see, being blinded by prejudice and racial antipathy.
It was at Fathepur Sikri that Domingo (Dominic) Pires, the Armenian interpreter at the court of Akbar, married, in 1582, an Indian woman, with the approval of Akbar, who assisted at the marriage service. The Jesuit priest, Fr. Rodolf Aquaviva writing from Fathepur Sikri on the 27th September, 1582, gives an account of the marriage as follows:-
“On Tuesday, the 24th of September, the Emperor [Akbar] came in the afternoon to see the marriage of Domingo Pires, in our Chapel. We decorated the Chapel very well and painted two trophies in his honour, and Domingo Pires, ordered a Portuguese banquet to be prepared for him at our house. The Emperor was delighted with everything and showed me much affection for entertaining him to the best of my power. At the marriage I preached a sermon to the couple, the woman did not understand me, and the Emperor interpreted to her in her own language what I was saying in Persian. The Emperior remained in our house till nearly eight O’ clock at night with great pleasure he brought to the house all the principal chiefs of the Muhammadans and the heathen. One of the heathen, a ruler in these lands was much amazed and made a jest of the chapel. Others, children of the Emperor, were present and dined at the house, as well as two of the principal Muhammedan chiefs whom the Emperor sent for.”
A shot account of the origin of Fathepur Sikri may be of interest to our readers.
Fathepur Sikri, now a ruined city, is interesting only from an architectural point of view. It was founded by Akbar in 1570 as a thanks offering for the birth of his son, Selim, afterwards the Emperor Jehangeer, obtained through the intercession of a famous Mohammadan saint, named Shaikh Selim Chisti. Fathepur Sikri, the Windsor of Agra, was a favourite residence of Akbar throughout his reign and his palace was one of great magnificence.
Adjoining the Emperor’s palace is the dwelling assigned to his Chiristian wife. It is exquisitively carved, and unlike other Moslem buildings, is covered with paintings in fresco. They represent the adventures of the Persian hero Rostam, as related in Firdosi’s Shah Nama. Certain niches however, over the doors and windows contain pictures of a different character, and certainly have a religions significance. On one side are the Hindoo gods and goddesses-the elephant-headed Ganesh Mahadeva and Lakshmi-and the other, two tablets, almost obliterated by vandals, but still sufficiently distinct to show that one of them is intended for the Annunciation. Akbar’s Latitude in religious matters is well-known. Among the ornamental designs of this palace, the Armenian cross is not unusual, and it is related that when the Jesuits once solicited the Emperor’s protection, he replied to them:-
“What would you have? See! I have more crosses on my palace than you have in your churches.”
The figures of an Armenian cross, which is similar to the Greek cross and is of the same shape as St. George’s Cross, show clearly that the occupant of that beautiful palace was an Armenian lady, Akbar’s Christian queen.
Although Akbar went to the enormous expense of building this splendid residence and capital, he did not long occupy it. The saint (Chisti) found his devotions interfered with by the bustle of the busy city and the gaieties of the court. At last, when the Emperor (Akbar) wished to surround the hill with a chain of massive fortifications, the holy man could no longer restrain himself. He told his royal master that he had gone twenty times on pilgrimages to Mecca and never before had his comfort and quite so much disturbed, accordingly he said that either the Emperor or he must depart. “If that be your Majesty’s will,” replied the Emperor, “that one should go, let it be your slave I pray.”
Amongst the majestic ruins of Fathepur Sikri, Akbar’s city of victory, special mention must be made of the Boland Darvaza, or High Gate, which was erected by Akbar in 1601, to commemorate his victories in the Deccan. It is the highest gateway in India and ranks amongst the biggest in the world. It is about 175 feet high from the road way and is invisible from a great distance. It is said that on a clear day, the Agra Taj, which is at a distance of 22 miles, can be seen from the top of this gate. Fergusson calls it “noble beyond that of any portal attached to any mosque in India, perhaps in the whole world.”
Across the front of this gate, Akbar, who had a great veneration for Christ, had the following inscription carved on it. “Isa [Jesus], on whom be peace, said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build not theron. The world endureth but an hour, spend it in devotion.”
It is strange however that Akbar, who was well aquainted with the teachings of Christ, could have ascribed the above saying to Jesus, for the divine Master in all his parables, which are peerless gems of thought, never compared the world to a bridge although he impressed upon his followers the fickleness and the unstability of the world by advising them “lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieve, break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”
(Matthew VI. 19-20)
With regard to Akbar’s aquaiantance with the teachings of Christ. We have seen on page 89 of this work that when the first Jesuit Mission came to Fathepur Sikri from Goa, in 1580, they presented Akbar with a beautifully illustrated copy of the Bible in Persian, bound in seven volumes, which the Emperor received the great veneration reverently kissing them and then placing the volumes on his head, one after another, showing greater reverence for those containing the Gospels. According to Sir Edward Maclagan, in his monumental work on The Jesuits and The Great Mogul, a polyglot Bible said to be the one presented to Akbar by the Jesuits was in the possession of a branch of the Bourbon family at Lucknow shortly before the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The Bourbons of Lucknow must have inherited that sacred volume from their remote ancestress, Lady Juliana, the sister of Akbar’s Armenian wife, who was given in marriage to Prince John Philip Bourbon by Akbar in 1560. The polyglot Bible, according to the same authority, subsequently passed into the bands of a Father Adeodatus of Lucknow, and after passing through many strange hands during the past 350 years, it may now be resting safely on the shelves of some Catholic library, either in India or elsewhere. It is earnestly to be hoped that the sacred volume, with historic associations, did not find its way to the famous Louvain library in Belgium which the 20th century vandals with their much-vaunted “Kulter”, looted, plundered and pillaged in 1914, with a rapacity reminiscent of the days of the Huns and the Tartars-Attila, Chengiz Khan and Tamerlane.
After Akbar’s death in 1605 Fathepur Sikri was deserted, within fifty years of its foundation. The magnificent buildings erected by Akbar are now more or less in ruins, the most striking being the beautiful tomb of the ascetic Shaikh Selim Chisti, referred to above. The sarcophagus containing the body of the saint is surrounded with an elaborate marble screen, as in the Taj, carved into trellis work of surpassing beauty. The tomb is covered with an arched canopy covered with mother-o-pearl, the floor is of jasper, the walls of pure marble, inlaid with cornelian, onyx and jasper, and the doors of solid ebony.
Mesrovb Jacob Seth
‘Armenians in India’, Calcutta, 1937