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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan


Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Remembering Shehzada Saleem and his beloved

In the 16th century, a King named Akbar ruled India.

So one day, the king arrives at the court and asks his minister where his son Saleem (named “Shaikho” by his mother) would be.

Minister Man Singh hesitates at first, but when Akbar shows his stern face, he hands him a flower. He understands. He is with Anarkali, a courtesan.

To say that Saleem loved her would be an understatement. He can be seen reciting Rumi’s couplet.

From depth of the earth to the highest sky, love has five hundred wings, If I’ll start talking about love, a thousand doomsdays will pass by, but what I have to say won’t end

Akbar, however, sees her as a threat. To his son, his self & the kingdom. He orders her arrest. She’s taken away from Saleem & presented in Akbar’s courts in Chains. She wears the shackles like ornaments and tells Akbar that neither throne nor jewels; her heart rests with love.

Unconvinced, Akbar puts her in prison. When Saleem comes to her rescue, his father says, “You’re forgetting that she’s a courtesan; this face doesn’t even deserve to be on a queen, let alone the Queen of entire India.” But he replies, “And I swear by this face, it deserves that and more!”

With a young heart boiling with rage, Saleem gets her out of prison. He takes her away to better lands, but the soldiers of the kingdom are following them like hounds.

Saleem, the inheritor of the entire continent’s wealth, is handcuffed to this one choice, love. The soldiers take them back.

Saleem is drugged and made to sleep in his quarters for long. And Anarkali? The girl who appeared like pomegranate in blossom is issued her death note. She is thrown in a well, and the well is closed. She dies in darkness when she gives in to her fate and the curse of love.

And so does Akbar, six years after killing that flower. Saleem is given the same throne for which Anarkali was made silent. He becomes the most powerful man of his time. But if there is something he can’t bring back, it’s his love lost to time. He goes back to the well.

He orders the construction of a memorial, an ode to a soul he loved more than his. A memory of marble is erected in the city he lost her in.

On the grave, he writes,

“If only I could get to see your face for one more time, I’d have spent the rest of my life in gratitude for it.”

Times go by. Saleem goes beyond the curtain of death. The Sikhs conquer Lahore and then the British. Both use her tomb for their convenience. Pakistan gains independence, and the tomb is converted into a Civil Secretariat.

In a clutter of typewriters and dust files, Anarkali rests. But when the office shuts and evening dawns, the souls of lost lovers still unite in Lahore. And as it’s said, to see them is not the fate of everyone’s eyes. No sight can behold this gamble of centuries. It can only be viewed through one lens; that of the heart.

The story turned into music, an all-time classic from PTV's golden age.


Commentary: in some variations of the tale, Akbar orders the masons at his court to set to work and entrap Anarkali within palace walls.

The historical references differ in so many accounts that some still call it a fabrication or fickle of imagination. We don’t know if she existed, when, or why she ceased to do so. But her tomb still stands in the city & so does her declaration; Lahore remembers love.


This tale has been written by Miss Hamd Nawaz.

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