Among all the Mughal kings, Jahangir has been let off rather easily. In the common imagination, the immediate picture that appears on the mention of his name is one of an incurable romantic and a leisure-loving, gentle patron of the arts. His addiction to wine and opium is portrayed as an accessory to this “cultured” life. A substantial part of this myth flows directly from the so-called immortal “love story” between him and Anarkali, a myth inflated to sky-high proportions by the torrid movie, Mughal-e-Azam.
The reality that history shows is this: Jahangir’s wine and opium addiction was also accompanied by his debauchery on an epic scale. That story will be told another day. But the fact is that his unbridled pursuit of depravity was what he did full-time as a ruler. Administration and governance were headaches he outsourced to others.
Pelsaert shows us some glimpses of the actual situation on the ground. Read on.
Jahangir, disregarding his own person and position, has surrendered himself to a crafty wife of humble lineage, as the result either of her amorous arts or of her persuasive tongue. Nur Jahan still continues increasingly to take, such advantage of this opportunity, that she has gradually enriched herself with superabundant treasures, and has secured a more than royal position. Her former and present supporters have been well rewarded, so that now most of the men who are near the King owe their promotion to her, and are consequently under such obligations to her, that Jahangir is King in name only, while she and her brother Asaf Khan hold the kingdom firmly in their hands.
Many misunderstandings result, because the King's orders or grants of appointments, etc., are not certainties, being of no value until they have been approved by the Queen. She is impelled by a high and spirited temper, and although she has attained to the highest honour and rank, she still strives for an impossible advancement, for the world cannot sustain her eminence. Meanwhile she erects very expensive buildings in all directions. Sarais, or halting-places for travelers and merchants, and pleasure-gardens and palaces such as no one has ever made before—she intends to establish an enduring reputation.
The King does not trouble himself with public affairs, but behaves as if they were no concern of his. If anyone with a request to make at Court obtains an audience or is allowed to speak, the King hears him indeed, but will give no definite answer of Yes or No. He promptly refers him to Asaf Khan, who in the same way will dispose of no important matter without communicating with his sister, the Queen. She regulates his attitude in such a way that the authority of neither of them may be diminished. Anyone then who obtains a favour must thank them for it, and not the King.
The chief business that interests the King, and about which he asks questions, is in what places there is good hunting, sport being his greatest delight. He rides out to hunt in the afternoon when the sun's heat has diminished, or when he wakes up. Then he dresses and mounts a horse, or takes his seat on an elephant, not considering whether there are many or few attendants, or none at all, disregarding rain or wind. He will not return till he has caught something, whether with falcons, or with leopards.
Hunting with leopards is a remarkable form of sport. These brutes are so accustomed to men that they are as tame as cats, whether they are reared from cubs or tamed when full grown. They are very carefully fed, and each leopard has two men to look after him, as well as a cart, in which they sit, or are driven out, daily. When they come to a place where they sight buck, the leopard is released from the cart, his keepers show him the direction, and he creeps on his four feet until he gets a view, taking cover behind trees, plants or thickets, until he sees that his first quick rush and spring will be successful. Most of the leopards are so well trained that they never, or very seldom, miss.
Sometimes, the King hunts buck with buck. For this form of sport, buck are so thoroughly tamed that when they have been set free, they will come back when called by their masters or keepers. When there is to be a hunt, a running noose, made of tested sinews, is fastened on the tame buck's horns, and lies on his neck. When he sights a wild buck, he at once presents his horns to fight, and they push and struggle with their horns, until the tame buck feels that the noose has caught. Then he springs back and pulls so that they hold each other fast by the horns, until the men, who are standing or lying near, run up and capture the wild buck alive. The fanciers of buck derive great enjoyment or pastime from them, for they set them constantly to fight for stakes.
When the King was a young man, he preferred shooting to all other forms of sport, and he was a splendid shot. When forests which contained pig, lions, tigers and other dangerous beasts were pointed out to him, he went to the place, and killing lions and tigers was prohibited, unless information had previously been given to the King, who risked his life in such sport.
When the King comes home in the evening from hunting, he takes his seat in his Ghusalkhana, where all the lords come to present themselves, and where strangers who have requests to make are received in audience. He sits here till a quarter of the night or more has passed, and during this time he drinks his three pyala, or cups, of wine, taking them successively at regular intervals. When he drinks, all the bystanders shout or cry out wishes that it may do him good, just as in our country when "the King drinks" is played. Everyone leaves when the last cup has been drunk, and the King goes to bed.
As soon as all the men have left, the Queen comes with the female slaves, and they undress him, chafing and fondling him as if he were a little child because his three cups have made him so "happy" that he is more disposed to rest than to keep awake. This is the time when Nur Jahan, who knows so well how to manage him that she obtains whatever she asks for or desires. She always gets 'yes,' and hardly ever 'no’ in reply.
To be continued
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