Zoya Ansari appreciates the great Mughal closest to nature
Emperor Jahangir’s Naturalist World – Noor-ud-Din Muhammad Salim known as Emperor Jahangir was the fourth in line of the great Mughals and was the most mercurial of the lot. He reigned on the legacy of the grandeur and authority bequeathed by his illustrious father Akbar to the Mughal Empire. His father had left him a large and peaceful empire, which Akbar built through war and conquest. Jahangir’s interests were however and the authentic manifestation of it was that he kept a superb diary, as good as the one maintained by his great-grandfather Babur. Jahangir’s, however, was full of observations about the natural world with which he was fascinated. He was not as active as his father and preferred a languid lifestyle and was hedonistic in outlook. He was in awe of his father and never took much interest in the affairs of state in his early age.
He however became conscious of his status in the Empire when his son Khusrau became the favourite of his father and was reported to be considered for succession instead of Jahangir. He rebelled but was quickly made to surrender ultimately succeeding his father. From the time of Babur, the Mughals hunted as their favourite pastime and following the tradition he enjoyed hawking and loved hunting. His favourite wife Noor Jahan was also a hunter and hunted observing purdah riding on elephant’s howdah from where only the musket’s barrel showed. Jahangir records her as once killing two tigers with two shots. Mercurial to the hilt Jahangir gave up shooting though not hunting to honour his father who by the end of his life had become vegetarian. Jahangir later gave up all forms of hunting as an offering to God, if God would save his grandson through Khurram, later Shah Jahan. The boy was saved and Jahangir stopped hunting but true to his mercurial nature started it again after he fell out with Shah Jahan who rebelled against him.
Jahangir had a childlike tendency to inquire and was inquisitive about every matter but was more inclined towards understanding mysteries of nature. He is widely acknowledged to the first scientist emperor in very rudimentary terms but his interests undoubtedly were honed by experimenting before forming an opinion. He was keener to develop into a naturalist and most of his inquisitiveness was directed towards natural phenomena. He could rightly be termed as the first and probably the only emperor with a child like enthusiasm to discover something new and his enthusiasm led him to keenly observe nature and animals. Jahangir’s temperament for discovering new things and new facts was unmatched to any rulers though his grandfather Humayun has shown interest in such matters.
He conducted many experiments that have been recorded in Mughal chronicles and in his autobiography. Observing by the record, Jahangir comes out to be a person who could not be easily convinced to do anything because he demanded proof for everything instead of believing. He would often challenge or question claims of holy men and it would be tough for them to prove their claims. He once challenged Christian Jesuits that he will convert to Christianity if they threw the cross in fire and it does not burn as they claimed. His skepticism was however tempered by an inherent contradiction whereby he loved his pet animals very much and would get upset and mourn for days if he lost them and also build them tombs such as Hiran Minar in Sheikhupura. His pet lions and tigers he fed with his own hands sometimes. But he also was a prolific hunter!
He was a naturalist who observed nature and animals and gave details of flora and fauna around him with great interest. His observations pertained to numerous things and are quite entertaining in their detail. Jahangir correctly observed that an elephant’s gestation period was 18 months and it was confirmed later in the 20th century. Once a deer was thrown into his tiger’s cage for meal and they became friends. The deer would sleep keeping its head on tiger’s chest and the tiger licked it like a parent and showered attention. The emperor was informed about it and was awe struck and decided to conduct an experiment on animal psychology. He removed that deer from the cage and brought a similar deer and put it in its place. The tiger immediately killed and ate it. Then a sheep was put inside and it met the same fate. When the original deer was put in back, the tiger treated it with the usual love and affection licking its face and allowing it to sleep by placing its head on his chest making the emperor to observe that love is a natural faculty that may be provoked in highly unlikely situations.
Jahangir did cross-breeding of animals and once cross-bred Markhor goats with Barbary goats and lion with a tiger and proudly showed the offshoots of his experiments. He was very fond of dissecting animals to discover what was inside them and often dissected reptiles, crocodiles, birds, lions and tigers. Once he had a lion dissected to check from where it derived its strength and courage and concluded that it was because of its gall bladder enclosed in its liver. In another experiment of the same breed his conclusion was that its strength was held in its paws.
Once the emperor was shown bitumen brought to him from Persia and it was reported that it helps mend broken bones but after conducting experiments the emperor was convinced that the claim was false. He conducted experiments on soil from various locations and concluded that some places like Gujarat had fertile lands than places like Agra. Once a man claimed that laughter arises because people eat saffron and if eaten in excess it could cause death. The emperor was fascinated by this claim and got a hardened criminal to eat half a kilo of saffron and nothing happened making the emperor to ridicule the claimant.
In yet another experiment a Yogi claimed that he can devour any amount of arrack but always remains in his senses so the emperor got him a drink it and when he passed out after few pints, threw him out of his presence. For five years Jahangir kept two Saras-cranes with him and observed them and recorded all their behaviour in such a detail that could make any zoologist proud. He recorded his experiments in his superbly kept diary known as Tuzk-e- Jahangiri that is a valuable emulation of his worthy great-grandfather’s momentous autobiography but the vital difference is that Jahangir’s book is full of observations about the natural world with which he was fascinated.
All the animals that Jahangir encountered including gifts from foreign lands, he records their details with unusual meticulousness. It could very well be inferred from his detailed accounts that he possessed in abundance the curiosity of a true naturalist. He observed a python with a large belly and got it cut open and found that it had swallowed an entire deer. He tried to force the animal again down the python’s mouth without success and then had the corners of the snake’s mouth slit open but still the deer’s carcass does not fit. He recorded the event in a state of excitement. The Weekender