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Salim and Anarkali

Quick Facts

Him: Salim, Mughal prince

Her: Anarkali, a court dancer for King Akbar, Salim’s father

Setting: India, late 16th century


Background

Salim, the only and long-awaited son of Mughal king Akbar, returns from a long time at war to find an entrancing dancer on center stage in his father’s court. Anarkali, a stunning young woman of lower standing, initially resists his affection, but soon finds the prince too difficult to resist.


Story

For years, the Mughal king Akbar and his queen Jodha have waited for the arrival of a son. The joy of the eventual birth is such that, when their patient prayers are finally answered, the woman who brings the king news a healthy prince, Salim, has come is promised a reward whenever she chooses to redeem it.

The young boy grows from rich blessing to spoiled curse before entering the army as a young man. Hardened by war, despite the richness of his skill in battle, Salim returns home to a welcome for the ages. At the celebration, he notices a beautiful dancer named Anarkali and immediately falls in love. Flattered by his attention, she finds herself unable to accept his advances – he is royalty and she is common, after all.

In the end, she relents and allows herself to love him, too. This is where the trouble begins. First, King Akbar imprisons her in order to force a separation. Then, he tells Anarkali her relationship with Salim – let alone a marriage – would be destroy the empire and encourages her to act as though she is after the royal wealth. When Salim discovers this is merely an act, Anarkali is jailed again, causing the prince to declare war on his father. Salim’s best friend, Durjan, rescues Anarkali just before the two sides take to the field and hides her far from the reach of King Akbar.

Overmatched by sheer numbers, Salim’s rebel forces are soon overtaken and the prince is quickly a prisoner. His father demands to know where Anarkali is hidden, but Salim steadfastly refuses to answer – Akbar’s fury leads to a death sentence for his treasonous son. When she reappears shortly before the execution, she agrees to Akbar’s offer that she spend one night with Salim before being put to death in his place.

Drugged and unconscious, Salim is unaware that Anarkali has slipped away to be walled up alive. He is asleep as the last brick is placed on her tomb – the time when her mother, the woman who had brought news of Salim’s birth, finally looks for the reward Akbar promised all those years ago. The king has the wall knocked down on one condition: the women leave the kingdom and never return.


Reputation

The love story of Salim and Anarkali is famous for a variety of reasons, not least of which its accurate depiction of the difficulty in joining two people from different social strata. As shown by Akbar’s prohibition, even the depth and truth of love cannot overcome the wishes of a parent sometimes. For many romantics, the acts of devotion between Salim and Anarkali are the sort of benchmarks of sacrifice we all should aspire to.



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