When one hears of Birbal the next name that comes to mind is Akbar. The two were very close and had a great rapport and friendship between them. Birbal was also known as Raja Birbal and amusingly both were titles conferred to him and were not his real name.
Birbal's real name was Maheshdas Bhatt and he was born in the city of Trivikrampur or Tiwkapur in 1528 to brahmin couple Gangadas and Anabhadevi. His grandfather Rupdhar was a great Sanskrit scholar and resided in Patrapunj. Maheshdas was the third child and at a very young age lost his father Gangadas. His mother sent him to her father Rupdhar at Patrapunj.
Maheshdas's grandfather Rupdhar started his education at age of 5 and taught him Sanskrit, Hindi and Persian (the state language). Then according to the family tradition he learned music and poetry. Soon he was writing his own poems and setting them to tunes and singing them in his sweet voice. He became famous as the poet-musician-singer. He also had a great wit and humor. His witty conversation made a mark on anyone he met.
Kings in those days were great patronizers of art. They gave royal positions to writers, poets, musicians, sculptors and other artists. When Bhagawandas, the king of Jaipur heard about Maheshdas, he invited him with great honor. Maheshdas sang his own composition in the court. He was writing under the pseudonym “Brahmakavi”. Soon his real name was forgotten.
From the court of Jaipur, Maheshdas went to the court of Raja Ramachandra of Rewa. Raja Ramachandra was great lover of art and Maheshdas and the famous singer Tansen were amongst his courtiers. Because of his accomplishments Maheshdas was able to marry a girl from a well known family in Kalinjar. By marriage, he was financially settled.
The fame of Maheshdas and Tansen reached the ears of Akbar and he invited the two to his court. They soon became part of the nine gems at the court of Akbar.
So Maheshdas became Brahmakavi but how did he become Birbal?
Maheshdas was not only an accomplished musician but was an expert at the art of warfare which was proven by taking part in the expedition of Sultanpur at Punjab. Emperor was so pleased that he conferred him with the title Veervar and the Jagir of Nagarkoth. Emperor Akbar was very fond of bestowing titles based on Hindu cultural system, history and mythology like Kaviraj, Mahapatra or Jagatguru. The title Birbar or Birbal conferred on Maheshdas became so popular that it replaced his real name. He himself preferred this name used it sometimes in his verses. Akbar is said to have borrowed this name from 'Vetal Panchvishanti' or the 'betal pachisi' the twenty five tales of Vikram and Vetal. In the third story a man named Veervar offers his services to the king and fully earns the high pay allowance by showing extraordinary proof of his loyalty and devotion. The title Veervar was transformed into Birbal on the basis of sanskrit rules according to which when two r sounds occur in close proximity the later is pronounced as L.
Birbal entered the court of Akbar in 1556 and worked with him for 30 years. Birbal rose to a very high position in the court with his wit, wisdom and humorous nature. He became one of the closest and trusted ministers of Akbar. Because pof his enviable positions many legends surround him. It is wise to enjoy the wit, humor and wisdom contained in them instead of validating the truthfulness of them.
Birbal's participation in many important expeditions proves he was a rare combination of a man with a pen and the sword. Akbar took him on expeditions to Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Because of his high position and influence with the emperor, he was envied by many and had many enemies amongst the courtiers. One of them was Zain Khan.
The northwest frontier of India was always of security concern to all the rulers of India. The Yusufzai and Mandar Afgan tribes living on the border, with their restless ways and abhorrence for any authority, led a constatnt marauding attacks. Akbar had sent Zain Khjan to deal with the frontier problem. The Yusufzais pretended defeat and then came back with renewed fight. The Emperor then sent Shaikh Farid, Shaikh Faizi, Sher Khwaja Fataullah with more reinforcements to no avail. The tribes had the home ground advantage in a huge area 40 miles by 60 miles.
At last, Akbar sent Birbal to help Zain Khan who misled him to enter a narrow pass at night. The Afgans were well prepared and were ready on the hills. They were trapped in the narrow alley. Many men lost their way or were killed oin the holes and the caverns. It was a terrible defeat called in the history as the Yusufzai disaster, in which Birbal, along with his entire army perished. Birbal fought with bravery and lost his life in the service of Akbar on 16 Feb 1583.
When Akbar heard the death of his dear friend he was profoundly shocked and did not eat food or water nor attended his court for two full days. It is very notable that this was one of the only 5 times that Akbar did not attend his royal court during his reign.
Akabar's genuine love and friendship for Birbal is attested by two incidents. Akbar was very fond of chowgan (modern day polo). During one such game, Birbal fell off his horse and was knocked unconscious. Akbar got down from his own horse and personally brought Birbal back to consciousness.
Another time, when Akbar was watching the fight between two wild elephants, one of the elephants went to attack a servant standing nearby. Halfway, the elephant changed his mind and ran after Birbal. He was about to strike Birbal when Akbar with the intention of saving his friend brought his own horse between the elephant and Birbal. The spectators were aghast and a cry went into the air. The elephant stood still overcome by the majestic courage. Akbar's uncommon venture was a great feat and there could be no greater test of his sincerity, love and friendship for Birbal.