Birbal Faces A Tough Poser

Emperor Akbar upset at emerging second best in a test of wits with Birbal, wished to get even by putting him down in public. Instructions went out to all officials to attend the court to be convened on the following morning without fail.


So on this day it was a full court seated in a hush when Akbar settled down in his throne. There was an unmistakable glint of mischief in his eyes that put Birbal on alert.

Akbar turned to Birbal:

‘Birbal, yesterday night, a question came to mind that robbed me of my sleep. To get back my peace I would like you to seek answers from the wise men here.’

‘My Lord, that was indeed very unfortunate. May we request you to share with us those annoying matters? I’m certain we’ll find answers in this august assembly that would satisfy you.’

‘I’m sure you’ll. Birbal. You’ve always, haven’t you? Here’s it is: Who in all of this empire has a bigger stature than your Emperor? I’m very curious to find out who it is.’

Instantly the entire court was on its feet chorusing:

‘Impossible, Jahampana, anyone to rival you? Please tell us whoever mooted this idea – we’ll have his tongue pulled out.’

‘Not an interesting answer I am looking for.’

Disappointed at the push-back, they looked at each other hoping for some spark only drawing a blank.

When it was clear they were totally flummoxed, Akbar smiled at Birbal:

Akbar-birbal folknet in

‘Usually you have an answer to every question. What do you have to say, Birbal? You appear to be tongue-tied this once.’

A caucus of officials nodded their head vigorously in affirmation. They loved to see Birbal fall from the Emperor’s favor.

Birbal: ‘My Lord, I was waiting for the court to express itself first.’

A mildly irritated Akbar: ‘Don’t you hear the loud silence? You may now say what you wanted to say if you did have something to say.’

Birbal: ‘With your permission, my Lord, I say this; I can surely think of one who is endowed with bigger proportions than my Emperor.’

A voice from the court: ‘Birbal has lost his head.’

Another voice: ’If he hasn’t already, he will now.’

A stern look from Akbar silenced the voices.

He turned to Birbal: ‘My dear Birbal, would you care to tell us who would it be?’

His even voice presently sounded neither amused nor provoked.

‘My Lord, when I say this I include not only this empire but neighboring kingdoms and far beyond.

‘You’re keeping us waiting,’ now Akbar’s curiosity fully aroused.

‘Janampana, you are seen by all present to be sitting here in this court at this moment, but this one I’m talking about – who lives by you – the presence is so massive to be perceived at once by people living far apart. Surely, has a bigger stature?’

‘You’re talking in riddles, Birbal.’

‘My Lord, what else can it be but your fame?’

A minute of silence followed.

When it sank in, Akbar laughed out aloud.


About Akbar and Birbal

Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam or Akbar the Great (1542 – 1605), was the third Mughal Emperor. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun, and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal Empire covered most of northern and central India. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a zenith as compared to his predecessors (Wikipedia).

You may use search to enjoy six other stories of Birbal’s wit and wisdom in this blog.

Credits: and for images


Birbal Does It Again!

One more of Akbar-Birbal stories never told before!


Emperor Akbar held an open court on certain days of the month when any of his subjects with a grievance could walk in and seek help or justice from the court. On some occasions, the emperor himself would hear the matter and deliver judgment. On other days it was left to a senior minister to stand in for him.

On this day when the brothers Ram and Kishan took their matter to the court, Akbar himself was in the seat. The two brothers inherited a large tract of fertile cultivable land from their deceased father. Unfortunately there was no will, the father’s death being unexpected and sudden. Goaded by their wives the siblings decided to part ways and were at loggerheads over equitable division of the property.

It was a pretty straightforward matter to resolve. Akbar had one of his officials do some measurements and calculations on the map produced by the brothers. Very quickly an area was marked for Ram and another for Kishan.

Kishan felt let down:

‘My Lord, my brother gets 600 fully grown mango trees while there are only 400 for me. If you permit me, doesn’t seem fair to me at all.’

Akbar went into consultation with his official and found it to be true. More measurements and more calculations and the boundary was redrawn.

It was Ram’s turn now to voice his disappointment:

‘My Lord, to Kishan you’ve given away eight water-holes to draw water and there are only three for me. How does one grow crops without water?’

For the first time Akbar’s visage broke into what could be described as a frown. Back to the drawing board. This time they were more careful to propose a solution that took into consideration several considered important by the brothers.

Kishan took one look and cried in dismay:

‘My lord, my brother’s property is directly accessible from the main trunk road while mine is pushed out to the far end on a kaccha road. Is this fair?’

An exasperated Akbar concluded there was just no way of arriving at a mutually acceptable division between the two brothers. This was worse than a cat’s ball of wool. No, he knew exactly what he would do. Now he would propose a solution that is as fair as possible and the brothers would have no choice but to lump it. That was that. No one can fault him for not trying hard enough.

Just then he saw Birbal enter his court. A thought struck in his mind: ‘Why not ask Birbal to solve this one? He always tries to be clever. Let me see how he gets out of this one.’

So Birbal was summoned and briefed about the dispute. The details of Akbar’s unsuccessful attempts in solving the dispute were tactfully held back.

Birbal smiled for he had come in a little earlier and was fully in the know of what had happened.

‘My Lord, you did right by turning this irksome matter over to me. May I request you, Sir, to retire without any misgivings on the outcome. I assure you they will be quite satisfied with what I suggest.’

Beset with curiosity, Akbar let it be known he wasn’t budging and asked Birbal to proceed forthwith.

Akbar-birbal folknet in

Birbal bowed in assent and walked up to the brothers:

‘We’re going to toss a coin. Ram you’re going to call. If you call right you get to carve up the land for your brother and yourself. If you fail, Kishan divides up the land.’

No longer had Birbal finished, both the brothers were immediately up in arms. They cried:

‘Are you seriously suggesting we divide up on our luck with the toss of a coin? We came here for a fair judgment that would be satisfactory to both of us.’

Calming them down, Birbal added:

‘Well, I had not finished. While the winner draws the boundary, the loser gets to choose his piece first.’

Silence reigned for a while as the ingenuity of Birbal’s clever scheme slowly sank in.

And when it finally did, Ram and Kishan had to agree this was best for them.

Akbar shook his head in disbelief turning into admiration at the simplicity of Birbal’s solution to what seemed to him only moments ago as an intractable problem.

Credits: and for images and inspired by

No One Is Alone With A Friend Like…Another Akbar-Birbal Episode


Emperor Akbar was known to come up with whimsical questions that he would expect to be satisfactorily answered. This time he put this question to his court and asked Birbal to conduct the proceedings and find an answer:

‘Who is a man’s best friend?’

After a long silence and much encouragement from Birbal to speak up, a voice from the assembly set the ball rolling:

‘Well, I would say ‘Money’. If you’ve money, you’ll live comfortably.’

‘Is that money never leaves you or you never?’ Birbal posed.

‘Surely you have it to spend and if you spend, it goes.’


A young man ventured next: ‘It’s my horse. It’s always with me. I take care of her and she takes me everywhere.’

‘If you come across a river too deep for the horse and you need to get to the other side?’

‘Simple. I’ll get off my horse, secure it to a tree, dive into the waters and swim across.’

‘There you’re.’

This time it was a man of action: ‘To me, my sword is my best friend.’

‘Well, what do you do with the sword in times of peace as it mostly prevails in our Emperor’s reign? Of course, you could cut fruits. And still no help in getting to eat them – a spoon does better.’

A round of muted laughter.

Then a man of god got up, puffed out his chest as he claimed: ‘My faith is my ever-abiding friend.’

Everyone was keenly looking at Birbal to see his response.

Birbal grabbed a walking stick from an old man as he slowly walked up to the man of god.

In a not-so-sudden flourish he swung the stick bringing it down on the man’s head.

There was enough time for the man to break the blow to his head with two hands. No harm done.


Birbal returned to his seat and with an exaggerated bow towards the man said: ’Thanks you, Sir. You alone got it right. Your friend truly stood by you in the face of danger. I apologize for the little bit of drama.’

The man of faith regained his composure once again puffing out his chest feeling vindicated.

Birbal summed up for the expectant court and a more-than-keen Emperor:

‘What stays with a man through all times, protects him from many a danger, helps him earn a living and eat his roti (bread), would you all agree that would be man’s best friend?’

The court saw no reason to disagree and chorused a loud ‘Yes’. Many already had their answer.

‘Of course it would be his hands!’

There was a flutter in the court ending in most nods than nays.

Needless to add the Emperor was mighty pleased with Birbal’s verdict.


Pls see here for an earlier Akbar-Birbal episode:
Credit: for the image

An Akbar-Birbal Episode Never Told Before!


Emperor Akbar was known to come up with whimsical posers for his court to find answers.

So it was this time too and his question was: ‘What is the most ‘beautiful’ sound?’ ‘Beautiful ‘ meant a sound that one has heard and would like to hear over and over again.

On the appointed day, the court assembled to discuss the Emperor’s question and seek the best answers. Besides the members of the court, the common folks too turned up in good number to watch the proceedings.

Once the question was announced, the responses came in fast and thick:

‘A mountain brook in frolicking flow.’

‘The call of a koel in thick of a mango orchard.’

‘The happy gurgle of a baby on sighting the mother after her absence.’

‘The jingle of gold pieces (currency).’

‘The early morning call of the temple bells.’

‘The tinkle of the anklets of a bashful bride withdrawing behind silk curtains.’

’The prattle of the Emperor’s grandson.’

The suggestions were wild, poetic, philosophical, romantic, humorous, fawning and some bordering on the ridiculous.

However the Emperor did not appear to be happy with what was coming to him.

One of the courtiers observed impatience writ the Emperor’s face and made an appeal: ‘My lord, we see you’re not pleased. May I make a submission?’

‘Go ahead.’

‘Your Highness, we observe Birbal hasn’t spoken a word. Perhaps he could address the question?’

The courtiers were jealous of Birbal’s standing in the court. They did not miss an opportunity to show him in poor light and cause him discomfort.

Akbar turned to Birbal: ‘Yes, I do see you unusually silent today. Would you know what is the most beautiful sound?’

Birbal was cautious: ‘Jahampana, clearly you’ve something more in mind than what you’ve heard here today. I request for some time to find and present it before you.’

‘Birbal, you’ve seven days and we meet again.’


In the following days, Birbal was seen to be busy more than ever. He scoured the city, met people at their houses, visited temples, gardens, palaces and markets and went to all places where people gathered.

When the court assembled again, it was a much harried looking Birbal taking his seat.

Akbar: ‘Birbal, we’re ready for you. And, hope you’ve not returned empty-handed.’

Birbal: ‘I seek your permission to present it before you, my lord.’

Akbar nodded his assent.

Birbal took a bow and turned to the footmen standing at a distance.

On cue, they marched a diffident looking young man right up to the front. Birbal held him by his shoulders seemingly to assure him everything was okay and the man had nothing to fear.

On seeing this piece of drama, a frown appeared on Akbar’s face: ‘My dear Birbal, we are here to hear your response to the question we had posed and you bring a man here

The courtiers perked up to see Akbar pulling up Birbal.

Jahampana, this man here lives in our city at the outskirts and is a carpenter by profession.’

The entire assembly went silent for a few moments feeling quite unsure of what would happen next.

The deep voice of Akbar broke the silence: ’We hope you’re not going to trivialize the subject or be flippant about it.’

‘No, I would never be emboldened to do so, my lord. I assure you this man knows what is the most beautiful sound. And if you kindly permit him to tell us

Barely concealing his impatience and fixing both of them in his stern glare, Akbar allowed him to proceed.

Thereupon Birbal in a slow soothing voice posed the question to the young man.

The young man bowed before the court, paused nervously for a moment and said:‘Sirs, the most beautiful sound I regard is my mother’s snore.’

The entire court was aghast at what they had heard. Birbal must have surely gone out of his mind to produce this man before the Emperor. The courtiers were secretly overjoyed to be a witness to Birbal’s certain fall from favor.

Akbar was visibly annoyed at Birbal: ’If this is some kind of a joke, Birbal, you know we’re not amused.’

Birbal in an assuaging tone: ‘My lord, please bear with me for a minute.’

Turning to the young man Birbal asked him to explain his strange response.

The young man said: ‘Sirs, my father passed away a few years ago. There are only two of us now – my mother and I. Unfortunately for several months now my mother contracted some unknown ailment that no vaidya is able to cure. I’ve called any number of them home to treat her, but to no avail. She has this intense pain in her stomach that does not let her do any work in her waking hours nor does it let her catch a wink of sleep. I’m unable to provide any palliative care besides helplessly watching her suffer. Occasionally out of sheer exhaustion she falls into sleep. And those are the moments I thank the almighty for and her snore at this time is the most beautiful sound to my ears.’

For a perceptibly long time the Emperor could not find his voice, nor the court.


About Akbar and Birbal

Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar also known as Shahanshah Akbar-e-Azam or Akbar the Great (1542 – 1605), was the third Mughal Emperor. He was of Timurid descent; the son of Emperor Humayun, and the grandson of the Mughal Emperor Zaheeruddin Muhammad Babur, the ruler who founded the Mughal dynasty in India. At the end of his reign in 1605 the Mughal Empire covered most of northern and central India. He is most appreciated for having a liberal outlook on all faiths and beliefs and during his era, culture and art reached a zenith as compared to his predecessors (Wikipedia).

Picture: Akbar receives an official sent by Queen Elizabeth

Raja Birbal (1526 – 1586) was the Wazīr-e Azam or Grand Vizier or the adviser of the Mughal court in the administration of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. He was one of his most trusted members along with being a part of Akbar’s inner council and most valued of nine advisors, known as the navaratna (Sanskrit: meaning nine jewels). Birbal’s duties in Akbar’s court were mostly military and administrative, but he was also a very close friend of the Emperor, who appreciated Birbal for his wit and wisdom, often involving humorous exchanges. These stories have become part of a rich tradition of folklore and legend. ,It also lead to the jealousy of other courtiers., they often trying to put him down in Emperor’s eyes (Wikipedia).

Credit: for the image

The Queen Is A Wife

Another of Akbar-Birbal stories aired for the first time!

This was a day when Emperor Akbar summoned Birbal to the court to tell him: ‘Birbal, I would like you to create an image, a visual that I cannot take my eyes off. By tomorrow morning it better be ready for my viewing,’ leaving a menacing ‘or else’ unsaid.

‘But I’m neither a painter nor a sculptor, as your Majesty knows,’ Birbal remonstrated.

‘I don’t care how you do it. Now get started, you’ve little time.’

Birbal knew it was useless to reason out with his Emperor when the latter was on a whimsical trip. He bowed out with a frown on his face.

There were many in Akbar’s court envious of Birbal’s closeness to the Emperor. They were happy to see Birbal’s current predicament. He was sure, on this occasion, to earn the Emperor’s displeasure and punishment.

For the rest of the day, they kept Birbal under watch. Wily that he was, he could get some artist to come in and help him out. To their intrigue, all was quiet at Birbal’s house right through the day. Only a maid stepped out late evening to return in an hour. Otherwise their all-night vigil did not reveal any unusual activity. In the morning they returned to their houses empty handed but mighty happy Birbal’s goose is now cooked well and good!

It was time to go. Birbal stepped out of the house followed by his servant carrying a large package hinting at a drawing canvas.

The set-up was completed well in time. A silk cloth covered the work of art.

Birbal smiled as he saw the Emperor coming in accompanied by the Queen. The maid had done her job well. The news had reached the Queen’s ears of the program to present to the Emperor a rare visual treat and she wasn’t not going to be around when it happened.

They were followed by members of his court keen on watching Birbal squirm in discomfort.

Salutations completed, Akbar was a little impatient, ‘Are you ready, Birbal?’

‘Yes, Majesty.’

Just then the stern-faced Queen elbowed out Akbar and stood squarely in front.

The cloth was pulled away to reveal a full-length mirror facing the Queen.

‘All yours, my Lord,’ Birbal said with a twinkle in his eyes and a challenge to the Emperor to dispute the image he saw.

A look of irritation fleeted across Akbar’s visage before turning sheepish while the Queen’s broke into a captivating smile, her fears dispelled.

So there was Birbal to live for another day to regale the Emperor and his court.


Living By The Skin Of One’s Teeth

Here is the latest addition to the rich Akbar-Birbal lore!

It was one of those days when Emperor Akbar was in a playful mood.

He had a question for his court: ‘Who lives most dangerously in his life, under constant threat of physical, social or financial kind?’

‘It is the soldier in the army, my Lord – he doesn’t know when and from where an arrow would pierce his heart.’

‘But we’re not always at war. He enjoys long periods of peace and leisure.’

‘Jahampana, it is a thief. He is under constant threat of being caught.’

‘Certainly he is. We could generally cover all scamsters, criminals in this category. Let’s see if there’re other answers.’

‘A lion tamer, Majesty. Things can go wrong at anytime, one never knows. ’

‘True and that stands for all stuntmen too. Well, what else? Birbal, you’re quiet. What do you think?’

‘I was waiting for others to speak, my Lord. The guy I propose works alongside a dozen+ grinding mills and cutting knives. His job is to feed the stock, hot or cold, to these menaces and he does it deftly with bare hands. Rarely gets hurt. Never goes out in the sun and no holidays for him. During slack times, he busies himself in making enemies with his words – arguing, complaining and hurting.

‘He certainly seems to qualify. But how is he different from a soldier, a thief or a stuntman? And who would that be? ’

‘Well, quite unlike others, Majesty, he goes in completely unguarded.’

‘That’s something. You haven’t told us yet who is it.’

‘Jahampana, we carry him in our mouth.’

There was uproar: ‘That’s not right, it’s not a person.’

The commotion instantly died down as Akbar broke into a smile.