Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson | Go to book overview
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cultural synthesis who believed in his patron's attempt to achieve an amalgam of the best that was in Hinduism and Islam ( P. P. Sinha115).

Today in India, even illiterate children in remote villages recite anecdotes about Birbal, the jester of the sixteenth-century Moghul emperor Akbar. Indians in more prosperous circumstances are generally familiar with the paperback editions of Birbal's jokes and the films in which he is a leading character. The folktales, comic books, and movies of popular Indian culture depict Birbal as an amiable Hindu surrounded by scheming Persian Muslim courtiers; he rises above poverty and obscurity by virtue of his skillful repartee and convinces the emperor to favor Hinduism over Islam. In these tales, Birbal is a vulnerable man of conscience whose only tools for survival are his clever mind and sharp tongue. He acquires religious, political, and personal influence over Akbar without resorting to violence or intrigue. But even though many of the legends have a historical basis, there is little evidence that Birbal affected Akbar's policies as greatly as they suggest. Modern Indian scholarship also tends to overstate Birbal's role in the formulation and implementation of Akbar's policies. Akbar's affection for Birbal is evidence of the Moghul's religious tolerance and social liberalism, but was not necessarily the cause of them.


Agrawal C. M. Akbar and His Hindu Officers. Jalandhar, India: ABS, 1986.

Ahmad Aziz. An Intellectual History of Islam in India. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh UP, 1969.

Allami Abu'L-Fazl. Ain-i Akbari. Trans. H. Blochmann. Lahore, Pakistan: Qausain Publishers, 1975.

Cragg Kenneth. House of Islam. Encino, CA: Dickenson, 1975.

Craven Roy. Indian Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 1976.

Dowson John, ed. The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians. 1873. New York: AMS, 1966.

Lal Muni. Akbar. New Delhi: Vikas, 1980.

Rushdie Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York: Viking, 1989.

Sinha P. P. Raja Birbal: Life and Times. Chauhatta, Patna, India: R. B. Singh for Janaki Publications, 1980.

Sinha Rajeshvar Prasad Narain. Our Birds. New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1959.

Smith Vincent A. Akbar: Mogul, 1542-1605. Oxford: Clarendon, 1917. The Oxford History of India. 1919. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1958.


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