( India: 1528- 1586)
While Western readers are familiar with the convention of the king-fool pair, famous in literature (King Lear), history ( King Henry VIII and Will Sommers), and even decks of playing cards, they are less acquainted with this pair in other cultures of the world. Yet it existed, and perhaps with even greater fame. In India, the historic king-fool pair of the Emperor Akbar and his fool Birbal of the sixteenth century remains so well known that even today it is still important in popular culture. Yet Birbal was different from his Western counterparts. He was indeed witty and entertaining in court, but he was also powerful. He was named to responsible positions in the military, took part in religious decisions, and was an intimate friend to Akbar, one of the most powerful rulers in the world. Apparently, in India, the absence of wealth, power, or birth was not requisite to being "licens'd" to speak freely as a fool to the king.
Birbal was born Mahesh Das in 1528, the third son of his parents, Ganga Das and Anabha Davito, members of a Brahmin family of bards and minstrels. Well educated in Hindi, Sanskrit, and Persian, he was a precocious student with an unusual aptitude for versification and music and soon earned a reputation as a ready wit, talented poet, and gifted singer. He gained employment as a jester to Raja Ram Chandra of Bhatta, who was considered the third most powerful ruler in northern India, as well as a great patron of the arts.
Here, at the Rewa court, Birbal used the name Brahma Kavi and became a highly regarded wit and poet. During this period, he married the daughter of a wealthy and respectable family who provided Birbal with some financial security