Sunday, December 05, 2010

Celebrating Mughal Emperor Akbar's birthday in Bihar

Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar [1542-1605]
Mughal emperor Akbar's birth anniversary was celebrated recently. This news, which was published in newspapers in Bihar had caught my attention sometime back but I couldn't write about it then.

The organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Ashok Sena, that organised the function to mark the '468th birthday of Shahanshah Akbar' is headed by Shakya Ranjit Maurya, who lives in Patna. The event was unique in many ways. 

Firstly, in India, most anniversaries are either observed by Centre and state governments or organisations. In some cases, seminars or symposiums are organised in universities.

But personalities who are identified by their caste groups or religious sects are more commonly remembered. Even otherwise there is no dearth of famous personalities in India but often lesser known persons are remembered while those who don't fall into the confines of caste, region or religion are forgotten.

Claiming personalities & Caste pride
Ironically, Maithili Sharan Gupt is mostly remembered by Vaishya Community though he was a poet of high literary standing. And most functions to remember Chandrashekhar Azad are organised by Brahmin organisations.

Kayastha websites and organisations also claim Amitabh Bachchan, Subhas Chandra Bose, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Vivekanand among the heroes of community. Though Amitabh Bachchan is claimed by Allahabad and UP-walas also.

In fact, freedom fighters are also appropriated in accordance with their caste, regional and religious affiliations. Many social groups that don't have a famous personality to identify with, look for names in history and celebrate their anniversaries, so that they can hold their heads high and inspire the children of their community.

Maharana Pratap, Mahatma Phule and Maulana Azad

It is this reason that Maharana Pratap, a symbol of valiance, became signifying Rajput pride and the Meo [Mev] Muslims have now begun identifying themselves with Hasan Khan Mewati. However, a personality like Akbar who is termed as 'Akbar the Great' can't fit in such confines.

In fact, it's rare for non-Dalits to hold a function recalling contribution of Mahatma Phule or BR Ambedkar. And equally rare for a non-Muslim organisation to hold functions in memory of Hasrat Mohani, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai or even Maulana Azad.

Caste, Community, Regional and Religious Identities in India

It is not just caste group or religion, however, region and community sub-groups also claim heroes. Bundelkhandis and Jhansi residents take extra pride in the Jhansi ki Rani Queen Laxmi Bai. Rajendra Prasad is not just a leader of Bihar but Kayastha groups claim him as a great Kayastha leader.

Shivaji is a demi-god in Maharashtra but in neighbouring Gujarat he is not the same sort of hero, as he had attacked Surat. So there is a conflict on this level also. For some personalities there are multiple claimants while some others are forgotten.
Those who don't fall in any such category and have less following are not remembered. Phiroz Shah Mehta or Dadabhai Naoroji will remain in text books as the number of Parsis is dwindling.

Akbar and his contribution

Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, of course, is in a different league, as a king, who ruled India centuries ago. Though a Muslim, he was perhaps not as 'pious'. He even initiated a new religion 'Din-e-Ilahi'. Nevertheless Akbar remains one of the most important figures in medieval India.

Akbar's contribution towards communal harmony, inter-faith dialogue and his governance apart from shaping the geographical boundaries of modern India is known to anyone. Had he been linked to a 'biradari' or clan, the particular group would be remembering him every year without fail.

However, it's not the case. And in this context, it is more important that an organisation remembered him. At the All India [Akhil Bharatiya] Ashok Sena's programme, speakers recalled the Mughal ruler's 'sulah-i-kul' policy as well as his progressive thoughts, social reforms and steps towards bringing order in the country.

Read similar posts on this blog published in the past

1. Maithili Sharan Gupt, a poet of Vaishyas!
2. Freedom fighter Chandra Shekar Azad or Chandra Shekhar Tiwari