The Mughal Influence on Vaisnavism, Part 29

BY: SUN STAFF - 5.3 2019


Jahangir preferring a Sufi sheikh to Kings and Royals
Mughal, c. 1620

A serial presentation of the Mughal effect on Vaisnava society.

While the dates of Akbar's meetings with various Hindu sadhus and ascetics are not known, they took place near the end of his life. In the late 1590's, Akbar and his son Salim are known to have visited a sannyasi recluse named Jadrup Gosain. Gosain lived near Ujjain in a cave, and later moved to Mathura. It is said that Akbar consulted the yogi for advice on his own mortality.

Salim, the son who joined Akbar for the meetings with sadhu Gosain, was later known by the name Jahangir. The eldest surviving son of the emperor, Jahangir followed the example set by his predecessors, attempting to steal power away from his father under threat of violence. In 1600 A.D., while Akbar was after from the capital on expedition, Salim began a rebellion, declaring himself the new Emperor. Akbar quickly returned to Agra and restored his supremacy. Prince Salim forcefully took the throne again, eight days after his father's death, and became the new Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.

Like his father, Jahangir displayed his religious sentiments quite openly, although he was said to prefer the company of the Sufi saints to the other kings and European rulers, what to speak of the Hindu yogis. According to the record set down by Akbar's court historian, Badauni, in later life Akbar had adopted various religious practices that were taught to him not by Sufis, but by the Hindu ascetics:

"[The emperor] limited the time he spent in the Harem, curtailed his food and drink, but especially abstained from meat. He also shaved the hair of the crown of his head, and let the hair at the sides grow, because he believed that the souls of perfect beings, at the time of death, passes out by the crown (which is the tenth opening of the human body) with a noise resembling thunder, which the dying man may look upon as a proof of his happiness and salvation from sin, and as a sign that his soul by metempsychosis will pass into the body of some grand and mighty king."

In Warrior Ascetics and Indian Empires, author William R. Pinch writes about Badauni's feelings on Akbar's "religious pursuits", while he felt boded ill for Islam:

"The best way to condemn that eclecticism, in the eyes of an orthodox Muslim, was to elevate the paradigmatic unbeliever, the heterodox yogi, as the main source of Akbar's decline into apostasy. And to condemn the emperor as a perverse Mughal yogi.

Later stories about Akbar indicate that the emperor's reputation as a Mughal yogiextended beyond the level of the court. An example is the fabulous tale told to John Marshall, an East India Company trader living in Patna in 1670, who recorded it in his notebook as "Jougee-Eckbar" (or Yogi-Akbar). According to "the Moores" who recounted it for him, during Akbar's reign there was said to have lived a yogi who could fly through the air with the aid of a pellet of quicksilver that he held in his mouth. One day, en route to the shrine of Jagannath in Orissa, this yogi chanced to alight on the terrace of the emperor's harem for a nap."

Here is the story of the flying yogi, as told by John Marshall himself:

Jougee Eckbar

"The Moores say that in King Eckbar's [Akbar's] raigne there was a Jougee [jogi] or Hindoo Fuckeer [faqir] who flying towards Jaggarnaut [Jaggernath] and being over the King's Pallace, seeing it such a pleasant place, lighted there and fell asleep upon the top of the Tarrast [terrace]. When a sleepe let fall out of his mouth a ball of Quicksilver, by which hee flew. The King going to his Maul [mahal], where his women were, found this Jougee lying upon his Tarrast neare his Maul a sleepe, and found by his side his Quicksilver ball, which hee took up and kept in his hand, for hee knew wherefore it was (being well read in the Hindoo bookes and understanding most of their tricks).

Hee awakened the Jougee and asked him wherefore he durst come so neare his Maul, who answered that as hee was flying over the palace, seeing it a very pleasant place, lighted there but he had not medled with any of his women and, missing his Quicksilver ball, desired the King to give it to him againe, without which hee could not fly; but the King would not, but kept him to teach him some tricks.

The Jougee told the King hee would [? could] take his own soule out of his body and put it into any body else &ca., which the King for tryall sent for a Deer and bid the Jougee put his soule into it, and command the Deers soul into the Jougees body, which hee did. Then the King bid the Jougee put the Kings soule into the Deers and the Deers into his, which hee did, and a while after rechanged again.

When the King was satisfied in the truth of this (having experimented it by going into the Deers body himselfe), [he] was very angry and afraid of the Jougee and casued him presently to be killed, which was accordingly done. Immediately after which the King was extreamely altered, and all his life long after lived a retired life, which was for about 10 or 11 yeares, and as to all his disposition hee was perfectly altered, and any that went to him would not have knowne by his discourse or actings that hee was the same man as before. So that the Moores say That when hee ordered the Jougee to be killed, that the Jougee changed soules with the King, so that it was the Kings soule that was gone, and the Jougees would remaine in the King."

John Marshall in India - Notes and Observations in Bengal (1668-1672)