Mahesh Das, aka Birbal (1528 - 1583)
We have all heard of Birbal, whose name immediately evokes one more notable person - Akbar.
The bond and trust between these two persons is legendary as is proved beyond doubt in the numerous stories that history has carried forth till today.
Before we take our virtual tour of the famous stories that exhibit the wit of Birbal in reply to the cunning manipulations of various other court attendants, we shall take a moment to step aside and take a look at the actual facts that fail to get as much limelight as the morals of the stories do.
Birbal is not his real name, it happens to be one of the titles given to him - another being Raja. His actual name was Mahesh Das, and was known to have been born to Gangadas amd Anabhadevi in Trivikrampur in 1528, during the reign of the Mughal Emperors. As he lost his father at a very young age, he was sent to his maternal grandfather for education. His grandfather, who was a scholar in Sanskrit, also taught him Hindi and Hindustani (a mix of Hindi and Urdu, which was later popularized by the British as it was a very good common medium for both the Indians as well as themselves.)
Mahesh Das was well known for his yearning for poetry and music besides his penchant for humor and wit. As his poetic compositions were written under the nom-de-plume of 'Brahm Kavi', his original name was soon forgotten.
His fame drew him close to the Kings of Jaipur, Rewa and, ultimately, to Emperor Ab-ul-Fath Jalil-ud-deen Muhammad, (born 1542) at Agra! was later on known as 'Akbar', meaning 'Great (est)'.
He was recognized as one of the Navaratnas (lit. 'nine gems') at Emperor Akbar's court (1556 - 1605).
History has shown that Akbar had respected non-Islamic traditions unlike his contemporaries, and one of such respects was to bestow appropriate titles to courtiers in line with the Hindu culture. It was due to Mahesh Das' exemplary display of bravery during one of the Emperor's expeditions of war, that he was conferred with the title of 'Veervar'. As time passed, his original name was forgotten and his title, though in a corrupt form (Veer Bal, Bir Bal, Birbal), stuck forever.
It should be noted that Birbal was born to a Brahmin family and as such he was a strict vegetarian.
Birbal's rise up the echelon of power within the court was remarkable. It was this proximity to the Emperor that put him in an enviable position among his colleagues - thus giving rise to the hundreds of stories woven out of nothing but pure jealousy.
On going through the numerous stories, which we take great pleasure in presenting to our readers, we find that Birbal was quick to read the opponent's mind and react appropriately.
There were several instances when Birbal used his wit and intelligence to calm the ire of Emperor Akbar while amusing him at the same time. It was this quick-wittedness that made the Emperor have Birbal in his accompaniment wherever he went.
It was Zain Khan, who envied Birbal's proximity to the Emperor, who brought a sad end to Birbal's life. Birbal was asked to assist Zain Khan in his attack against the Afghan tribes who were a constant headache to Akbar's kingdom. Zain Khan took the opportunity to mislead Birbal into a narrow gorge overlooked by steep hills - only to be ambushed by the Afghanis.
The news of Birbal's death shocked the Emperor for more than two days when he was known to have drawn into himself - not even touching food during his mourning! The bond of over thirty years was showing it's toll on Akbar.
This bond is very apparent in almost all the stories that we present here for your entertainment and learning.