Taj: Fact-Checking the Web Series for Historical Accuracy
How factual is the fictional series ‘Taj- Divided by Blood’ which is currently on an OTT platform? At the very start of the show the producers have given a disclaimer that the story and the incidents shown in it are fictional and do not reflect real historical events, but while one can allow creative freedom to writers to spice up their story, should they be allowed to go on and misrepresent people and mix up events that actually did happen? The Peepul Tree Stories research team did a quick fact check on some big misses.
First a quick backgrounder on the series in case you have missed it. ‘Taj - Divided by Blood’ is a web series that looks at the later years of Emperor Akbar’s reign with an emphasis on the battles for the throne between his sons Salim (later Emperor Jahangir), Murad and Daniyal.
Visually, the series is beautifully put together. The eye on detail can be seen in the opulent sets representing Mughal palaces and their interiors. They are authentically portrayed with the fine red sandstone, lattice work and marble inlaid panels, that were in vogue during the era. The makers have done a good job in recreating street scenes in Agra, Chittorgarh and Kabul and thankfully there isn’t the overuse of special effects which is the current trend. While Nasiruddin Shah does a great job portraying Akbar in his later years, he does look a tad old for the role. The Mughal Emperor was just 63 when he died in 1605 and the first season of the series captures the years between 1580 to 1599 CE.
But that is not such an issue. What is, is the following.
The Story of Murad and Daniyal
Where the story goes off is in the portrayal of Akbar’s other 2 sons Prince Murad (1570-1599) and Prince Daniyal (1572-1605).
In the series Prince Murad is portrayed as cruel and barbaric. He is also shown as leading the campaign against the rebel Mirza Hakim, Akbar’s half-brother, who is defeated by the three princes and later taken prisoner. Fact is that Mirza Hakim rebelled against Akbar and invaded Punjab in 1580 when Murad was just 11 years old. The actual man at the helm, the architect of the victory, was Man Singh, Akbar’s General (though the army was under the titular leadership of Prince Murad). On February 6 of 1581, Man Singh defended Lahore, repulsed Mirza Hakim’s attack, and later defeated him near Kabul on July 12. It was nearly a month later that Akbar arrived in Kabul with the young Salim.
The series also portrays Murad as a fearless warrior. In fact, it was quite the contrary. Records show that Prince Murad was weak and incompetent mostly due to his fondness for drink. While Emperor Akbar left no stone unturned to open Murad’s mind to knowledge - he had appointed a Portuguese Jesuit Priest named Antonio de Montserrat as a tutor to the Prince, Murad’s record was poor. He also failed in most of his military expeditions, finally drinking himself to death in 1599 CE when he was around 30 years old.
The writers of the series also do great disservice to Prince Daniyal, Akbar’s youngest son who is portrayed as weak and effeminate. He was also very different in reality. It was under Prince Daniyal’s leadership that the Mughal army defeated the Nizamshahi army in the Deccan and captured the city of Ahmednagar in 1600 CE. As a reward, Daniyal was awarded the viceroyalty of the Deccan with its capital at Burhanpur, in present day Madhya Pradesh.
But alcohol was a big issue for Daniyal too. He drank himself to death in 1605.
Anarkali – Fact or Fiction
The story of Anarkali plays a central role in the Taj series. She is a pivot. An obsession for Akbar, the love interest of Salim and the mother of Daniyal. But was there even an Anarkali? Did she really exist?
Much of what we know of the famous love story between Salim and Anarkali, is based on the account of a contemporary English Merchant William Finch who visited Lahore in 1611. He wrote about Akbar’s concubine named ‘Immaeque Kelle’ or ‘Pomegranate Kernel’ who was buried or literally ‘bricked’ alive because of her affair with Prince Salim. Finch also refers to her as ‘The Mother of Prince Daniyal’. This story is also mentioned in the accounts of another English traveler to the Mughal court, Edward Terry in 1616. This tells us how the story of Salim-Anarkali was doing the rounds in the Mughal court.
But apart from these European accounts, there is no other evidence to support the historicity of Anarkali. There is no reference to her in Jahangir’s writings - and he documented a lot, nor in the writings of those who were his contemporaries in the Mughal court.
You can read more on the ‘mystery’ of Anarkali on Peepul Tree Stories. Click here.
Mirza Hakim’s Rebellion
The plot of the series begins with the revolt of Mirza Hakim, Akbar’s half-brother who is defeated by the three princes and later taken prisoner.
Historical records tell us that Mirza Hakim was a semi-independent ruler of Kabul who never truly accepted Mughal suzerainty. In 1580, he rebelled and invaded Punjab. As mentioned earlier, to defeat Hakim, Akbar sent his general Man Singh under the titular leadership of Prince Murad, who was then barely eleven years old. On February 6 of 1581, Man Singh defended Lahore and repulsed Mirza Hakim’s attack, and later defeated him near Kabul on July 12. Akbar with young Salim entered Kabul on 10th August 1581. He reinstated Mirza Hakim as the governor but made his sister Bakht-un-Nissa in charge of Kabul.
Hakim also died due to chronic alcoholism in 1585, after which Kabul was completely annexed into the Mughal Empire.
In the series, it is claimed that Birbal was assassinated by Mirza Hakim. But in reality, Birbal or Raja Mahesh Das was killed in a massacre during what is referred to as the ‘Yusufzai’ disaster. In 1586, Raja Birbal was sent with Zain Khan Koka, a leading Mughal official in the court of Emperor Akbar, on an expedition against the Pashtun Yusufzais in the Swat and Bajaur regions in the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan. Due to his distrust and disagreements with Koka, Birbal fell into the trap of the Yusufzais. He along with 8000 Mughal soldiers were killed in the massacre on the 24th February 1586.
Man Bai – Jahangir’s First Wife
In the series, one character who has been shoddily portrayed - perhaps to iterate Salim’s unfaltering love for Anarkali, is his chief wife Man Bai. It is shown that this princess from Amer, and Man Singh’s sister was mentally unhinged. But this is not true. In fact, Salim who becomes Emperor Jahangir, writes of her glowingly in his autobiography the Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri. She was given the title of Shah Begum after the birth of her son Khusrau and records suggest that she was his favorite wife before Nur Jahan. While their relationship went through difficult times, Salim was not indifferent towards her. Man Bai did however suffer from mental ailments later in life.
More about Prince Khusrau’s story here.
Series like the Taj, are great as they take history to a wider audience and help us visualize a bygone era. However, it would have been great if the writers could have kept some basic facts in mind, to make their ‘fictional’ story even richer. Moreover, there is always the danger that factual errors, unnoticed, can be construed as facts, over time. Take for instance the case of Jodha Bai.
The 2008 Bollywood Blockbuster erroneously called Akbar’s chief wife - Harkha Bai - Jodha. Harkha Bai, the princess of Amer, was the chief wife of Akbar and the mother of Salim (Jahangir). Jodh Bai of Jodha was the name of Jahangir’s wife Jagat Gosain who was a princess from Jodhpur. She was the mother of Khurram, the future Shah Jahan. Today few remember the name Harkha bai as she is often referred to as Jodha - even in this series!
Without easily accessible facts and in a world rife with falsities, viewers of the Taj web series could also be carried away into believing this fictionalized account of events that did happen.
While the title of the series "Taj" refers to the Mughal crown rather than India's wonder of the world, it features the iconic 'parchinkari' or marble inlay work that you can still see on the Taj Mahal. At Peepul Tree, you can find a piece of this magnificent heritage, crafted by the skilled artisans who continue the legacy of the old marble inlay workers of Agra. Check out our collection of marble coasters inspired by the Taj Mahal.
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