Unpublished translations by FWP from several early printed Akbar-Birbal joke books. They were prepared for a paper given at Madison years ago, and I've never pursued the subject any further. But here's a fine overview article by C. M. Naim on the general subject: *"Popular Jokes and Political History: The Case of Akbar, Birbal, and Mulla Do-Piyaza" (1995)*

C O L L E C T I O N   O N E

From the Urdu jestbook Lata'if-e Akbar, Hissah pahli:  Birbar namah, by Mahanarayan. Delhi: Matba` Jauhar-e Hind, 1888)  i,20 p.  [India Office Library 1144 VT].

1A  One day Akbar Badshah commanded Birbar [=Birbal], "Bring me a Muslim turned into a Hindu." Birbal asked for the respite of one week. The king agreed. When six days had passed, on the seventh day Birbar took a donkey to the river and busied himself in bathing it. It happened that Akbar Badshah too came to the river. He asked, "Oh Birbar, what are you doing?"  He submitted, "Refuge of the World, I am bathing this donkey, so that it will turn into a horse."  The king said, "You fool, can a donkey possibly turn into a horse?" Birbar submitted, "Refuge of the World, how can a Muslim turn into a Hindu?"  [p. 2]

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1B  One day Akbar Badshah, in the assembly, asked all of them, "Which flower is the best flower of all?" No one could answer. Finally Birbar's turn came.  Birbar said, "That flower is the best of all flowers, from which the whole world's clothing is made." The Refuge of the World accepted his reply.  [p. 3]

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1C  One day Akbar Badshah drew a line with his auspicious hand on the floor of the open court, and commanded, "Make this small, but don't by any means erase it with your hand." All those present were stupefied. When Raja Birbar's turn came, he at once drew another line next to it, and didn't disturb the first line. Those present saw it, and said, "In truth, the first line is small(er)."  [p. 4]

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1D  One day Akbar Badshah was riding along on his open palanquin. Raja Birbar rode along in attendance at his side. And Birbar's mother's name was well known to be Kali [=black], and Akbar Badshah's esteemed mother's name was Ni`mat [=blessing]. It happened that on the road a black bitch was coupling with a dog. The king's gaze fell on her. He said to Birbar, "Look what that black bitch [or, that bitch Kali] is doing."  Birbar submitted, "Refuge of the World, according to you she is Kali/black, but to that dog she is indeed a Ni`mat/blessing!"  [p. 6]

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1E  One day Akbar Badshah commanded Raja Birbar, "If you become a Muslim, you'll get a great reward." Birbar submitted, "I'll give an answer tomorrow." He took his leave from there, and went out, and calling all the scavengers [haramkhor] he said, "The king has given the order, 'I will make all the scavengers Muslim.' Be on your guard!" So at once the scavengers went all together before the king and submitted, "We don't accept the Muslim religion!" Birbar submitted, "Refuge of the World, when these people don't accept it, how will anyone else accept it?"  [p. 6]

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1F  One day Akbar Badshah said something to Birbar and asked for an answer. Birbar gave the very same reply that was in the king's own mind. Hearing this, the king said, "This is just what I was thinking also." Birbar said, "Lord and Guide, this is a case of 'a hundred wise men, one opinion' [sau siyane ek mat]." The king said, "This proverb is indeed well-known." Then Birbar petitioned, "Refuge of the World, if you are so inclined, please test this matter." The king replied, "Very good."
        The moment he heard this, Birbar sent for a hundred wise men from the city. And the men came into the king's presence that night. Showing them an empty well, Birbar said, "His Majesty orders that at once every man will bring one bucket full of milk and pour it in this well." The moment they heard the royal order, every one reflected that where there were ninety-nine buckets of milk, how could one bucket of water be detected? Each one brought only water and poured it in. Birbar showed it to the king. The king said to them all, "What were you thinking, to disobey my order? Tell the truth, or I'll treat you harshly!" Every one of them said with folded hands, "Refuge of the World, whether you kill us or spare us, the thought came into this slave's mind that where there were ninety-nine buckets of milk, how could one bucket of water be detected?"
        Hearing this from the lips of all of them, the king said to Birbar, "What I'd heard with my ears, I've now seen before my eyes: `a hundred wise men, one opinion'!"  [pp. 13-14]

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1G  One day Akbar Badshah said to Birbar, "Bring me four individuals--one, a hero; two, a coward; three, a modest person; four, a shameless person." The next day Birbar brought a woman and had her stand before the king. Hazrat commanded, "I had called for four individuals, and you brought one. Where are the others?"  Birbar submitted, "Refuge of the World, this one has all four qualities." The king directed him, "Explain." He replied, "When she stays in her in-laws' house, out of shame she doesn't even open her mouth to speak clearly. And when she sings insult-songs at a marriage somewhere, her father and brothers and husband and in-laws and caste-fellows all sit and listen, but she's not ashamed before any of them. And when she sits with her husband, at night she won't even go alone into the store-room, and she says, 'I'm afraid to go.' Then, when she takes a fancy to someone, at midnight in the dark, all alone, with no weapon, she goes fearlessly to meet her lover, and is not at all afraid of robbers or evil spirits." Hearing this, the king was pleased, and gave Birbar a reward, and commanded, "You speak truly."  [p. 14]

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1H  One day Akbar Badshah had gone to the riverbank for an excursion along the river. Birbar too was there with him. In order to test Birbar, the king took a priceless pearl necklace off from his neck and dropped it in the river and said to Birbar, "Birbar, mala de ['Give the necklace'; or ma la de, 'Bring and give [your] mother']."  Without hesitation Birbar said, "Refuge of the World, bahne do ['Let it float away'; or bahnen do, `Give [your] sisters']."  The king smiled, and was inwardly very pleased.  [pp. 15-16]

C O L L E C T I O N   T W O

From the Urdu jestbook Zarafat al-Akbar, Hissah-e suvvam: Barbar namah, by Munshiji Narayan. Delhi:  Matba` Jauhar-e Hind, 1888.  20 p.  [India Office Library 1144 VT.]  This is a later continuation of the jestbook above.

2A  One day Akbar Badshah was fishing by the edge of the river. And someone from somewhere had presented to the king some honey by way of a formal gift. The king was licking it. Birbar went out from the king's presence. On the road, some Muslims who were very respected and venerable, and were on their way to pay obeisance to the king, inquired from Birbar, "What is His Auspicious Majesty doing?"  Birbar said, "He is babbling nonsense [jhak marta hai] by the riverbank, and licking up dung."  Those Muslims were very much displeased....The Badshah said, "In fact he did not lie, but told the truth. For I was hunting (=marna) fish, and fish in the Shastr are called 'jhak.'  And as for honey, it is well known that it is the dung of honeybees, thus I was licking it. So don't be displeased."  [pp. 5-6]

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2B  In Akbar Badshah's court Mulla Do-piyazah generally arrived wearing a very elegant turban, and Birbar, wearing a cap.  [The Mulla boasted about his turban, so that Birbar undertook to rival it.] Accordingly, the next day Birbar, placing a mirror before him, tied a turban extremely excellently and went to court. [The Mulla claimed the turban had been tied by Birbar's wife. Asked by the king to prove it, he pulled off his own turban and retied it as it had been before; he then challenged Birbar to do the same.] Thus Birbar repeatedly tried to retie his turban, but it never came out as before, since previously he had tied it while looking in the mirror. Then the king laughed and said to Birbar, "Birbar, the Mulla says truly, and it seems that what you're not able to do yourself, you get done by your wife!"  Birbar was inwardly extremely ashamed and distressed.  [pp. 14-15]

C O L L E C T I O N   T H R E E

From the Urdu jestbook Hikayat-e Birbal kamil, har cahar hissah, by the arrangement of Malik Chiragh ud-Din. Lahore:  Matba` Kaikstan [Caxton?] Press, 1920.  96 p.  [India Office Library, Urdu F105.]

3A  One day the Chief Eunuch [Khvaja-sara] said to Akbar Badshah, "Janab Birbal is very quick-witted. He ought to be asked a question to which he can give no answer." The king said, "What you say will be asked [of him]." The Chief Eunuch said, "Today please ask Birbal where the center of the earth is, and how many stars there are in the sky, and how many men and women there are in the world." Hearing this, the king said, "It's true; good. Call Birbal." As he was saying this, Birbal appeared.  The king asked Birbal those very questions which the Chief Eunuch had told him. Birbal, having heard them, said, "I will give the answer to them tomorrow."  With these words, he went to his house.
        At dawn, Birbal, taking a hammer and an iron nail, presented himself in the king's service. The king, as soon as he saw his face, said, "Birbal has brought the answers to our questions of yesterday." He said, "Your Majesty, I am at your service." With these words he drove the nail into the midst of the royal palace, and said, "Your Majesty, this is the center of the earth. If you don't believe me, have it measured." Hearing this excellent answer, the king fell silent. And when he asked the answer to the second question, Birbal brought a ram to stand before him: "Your Majesty, as many hairs as there are on its body, there are just so many stars in the sky.  If there's any doubt of this, please count them."
        [Then Birbal said,] "I have also brought the correct answer to the third question. But one matter has thrown me into perplexity. It is this:  in which reckoning should the eunuchs be counted? They are neither women nor men. Thus the idea has come to me that if all the eunuchs in the world were to be killed, the account would become correct." Hearing this, the king laughed very much and the Chief Eunuch was inwardly very much ashamed. And the king, rewarding Birbal, gave him leave to depart.  [pp. 39-40]


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