‘ARRIVAL OF HUMAYUN IN THE CITY OF LAHORE’: An Illustrated Folio from the “Third” Akbarnama Manuscript

Mounted on an album page most probably dating to the eighteenth century.

Inscribed to the bottom of the red border with the subject of the painting:

āmadan-e hazrat jannat āshiyāni be-lāhur

“The coming of His Majesty Jannat Ashiyani to Lahore”.

Further inscribed in the lower right corner with the names of the two artists:

‘amal-i makra(?), chehra mukund

“Work of Makra(?), portraits by Mukund”.

The Akbarnāma of Abu’l Fazl is the biography of the Mughal emperor Akbar and an imperial chronicle of his reign  (1556-1605) and that of his father Humayun (1530-1540; 1555-1556).

The event of the Mughal emperor Humayun’s arrival in Lahore took place on 24th February 1555, on his way to defeat Sikandar Shah at Sirhind, followed by his occupation of Delhi where he died in January 1556.  In this painting, Humayun is shown in the fort near the river Rāvi with drummers celebrating his arrival and gifts being presented to the emperor.

Humayun wears the distinctive turban with a tall pointed cap which he designed himself to distinguish his rule.  A boat laden with gifts is moored on the riverbank and men are beginning to unload the boat, entering the fort though the door in the lower left.  Foreign ambassadors wearing unusual hats including a European can be seen in the first courtyard through the door.  A horse accompanies these visitors in the courtyard while another horse drinks from the river to the bottom left of the painting.  To the right is a camel carrying logs or rolled carpets and textiles on its back.

According to Abu’l Fazl, Humayun was given an extremely warm welcome at Lahore.  He writes in the Akbarnāma:

“The nobles of that country came forward to welcome him.  They offered up thanks for this glorious favour and gave large presents.  High and low were treated with royal favours according to their degree.  On the 2nd Rabi-us-Sāni (24th February 1555), the illustrious city of Lahore, which is in fact a great city in India, was made glorious by his advent, and all classes and conditions of men were freed from the evils of the times, and attained the objects for which they had been long waiting on hope’s highway”.(1)

Mukund is listed by Abu’l Fazl as one of the leading artists of Akbar’s court. He is chiefly known as a portrait painter and amongst fifty-three of his known works, Som Prakash Verma in Mughal Painters and Their Work, 1994, pp. 304-308, lists four signed portraits by him, including a portrait of Akbar.  The majority of these works are in Jaipur Royal Collection, the British Library, London and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

A 1598 portrait of Genghis Khan, in the Imperial Library, Tehran, by Sanwala, is inscribed as having been sketched by Makra and coloured by Mukund.  Makra is also known for his animal studies, as illustrated here by his careful and accurate depiction of the horses and the camel.

This page is one of sixteen miniatures that have recently come to light from an important royal manuscript thought to have belonged to Akbar’s mother, Hamida Banu Begum.  Scholars who have studied these paintings, in particular Linda York Leach, have identified the manuscript as a third royal Akbarnāma.

The earliest Akbarnāma manuscript is primarily in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has 116 miniatures.  This first Akbarnāma was painted around 1590-1595 and presented to the emperor as his close friend Abu’l Fazl was still working on the text.

The second copy of the Akbarnāma is divided between the British Library, which owns 39 illustrations, and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, which has 66 paintings.  This second Akbarnamāma is quite different in style from the first manuscript, more refined and less dynamic, with many of the pages lightly tinted rather than highly coloured like that of Akbar’s own copy.  It was produced between 1603 and 1605, probably to commemorate the tragic assassination of Abu’l Fazl in 1603.

According to Leach in her study, “Pages from an Akbarnama”, in Rosemary Crill, Susan Stronge and Andrew Topsfield (eds.), Arts of Mughal India: Studies in Honour of Robert Skelton, 2004, pp. 42-55, the newly discovered third Akbarnama pages are related to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s highly coloured, dynamic illustrations and were probably painted after Akbar’s own series, between 1595 and 1600.

Leach convincingly suggests several reasons for identifying the royal family member for whom this Akbarnāma was commissioned as Hamida Banu Begam.  Firstly, the text is written in the conservative naskh script as opposed to the nasta‘liq used on the other two copies.  Naskh is a script that Hamida is thought to have preferred.  From her personal library is a naskh manuscript with her ownership seal, penned for her just before her death.  Secondly, a number of scenes centre on women and their activities, depicting them with unusual animation and intimacy, and showing scenes from the zenana that would have appealed to Hamida.  These include “Humayun surprising his parents”, discussed by Leach on pp. 44 and 47, fig. 1.

Finally, several paintings such as the present depict her husband Humayun in the context of much greater warmth, tenderness and drama than his portrayals in the other Akbarnāma mas.  One of the finest, combining all these aspects, is “Festivities at the wedding of the Emperor Humayun and Hamida Banu Begam” now in the Cynthia Hazen Polsky Collection in New York.  With radiant faces painted by Daulat, this is illustrated by Leach on pp. 44-45, figs. 2, 3 and 4; and also by Jerry Losty in Andrew Topsfield (ed.), In the Realm of Gods and Kings: Arts of India, 2004, pp. 372-373, cat. no. 165.

A painting depicting “The game of wolf-running in Tabriz”, by Banwari, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, is illustrated by Leach on p. 46.   Leach also illustrates on p. 52, “The supply train crosses the bridge of boats on the Ganges”, attributed to Basawan.

From a private collection that has been in England since the 1940s.

1. H. Beveridge (trans.), The Akbarnāma of Abu-l-Fazl, 1897, vol. 1, p. 623.