OLD FORT, MATHURA ROAD, NEW DELHI, INDIA.
Sher Mandal, Purana Quila.
File Fact, Humayun: The five century old Sher Mandal is a double story tower located within the Purana Quila. In 1556, Mughal emperor Humayun fell down its steep staircase sustaining fatal injuries that led to his death.
On the 24th of January,1556, Humayun, aged 47, was at peace. His bitter trials and exhausting wars to regain his father’s empire had gained him more territory than he set out to conquer. An expansive one million square kilometer area that stretched from Afghanistan in the west to the city of Agra in the east, with its wealth and manpower, now lay at his disposal with no serious contender left in-between to challenge his rule. In real time he had become the most powerful man in northern India.
Fate it seemed was, at last, smiling upon him.
Formidable opponents like Sher Shah Suri, a brilliant Afghan commander who had driven the Mughals out of what is now present day India, for a period of fifteen years, and his son Islam Shah, another competent military genius, had both passed away. Sparing Humayun the trouble of mustering his will and forces to engage in a long drawn out conflict – the outcome of which he could not predict. Their successor Sikander Shah Suri had opposed the invaders with a larger force but a feigned retreat by the Mughals followed by a fierce counter attack had won the day, allowing Humayun to retake what was originally his. Just six months ago, he had marched at the head of a triumphant army into his former citadel of Dinpanah (today known as the Purana Quila) in Delhi and immediately set about completing unfinished projects that lay untended during his absence.
The Sher Mandal was given top priority.
Built entirely of red sandstone, the double story structure was originally intended to be a pleasure tower but Humayun had other plans for it. He wanted it to be a library as well and an observatory. Ordering the masons to work, Humayun had stone shelves built inside to contain his many books and decorated the interior with embellishments in plaster as per his taste. A dedicated student of astronomy he looked forward to spending his evenings observing the heavens above and his days discussing matters of the state with courtiers.
Events that led to Humayun’s death.
The evening on the 24th, wasn’t any different from the ones before. No prophecy of doom or bad omen had painted the twilight hour with warning signs and Humayun in good cheer was in his precious Sher Mandal among his beloved books. Like most men are unaware of their exact moment of death, he had stood on the second floor least aware of the events to follow – later Mughal writers of the period would describe in their manuscripts as an accident.
Apparently, in his haste to pay obeisance to a call for prayer, Humayun tumbled down the steep narrow staircase and unintentionally managed to smash his head on the edge of a rough stone at the bottom. Severe brain trauma had him unconscious almost immediately and bed ridden for the next two days. On the third, the 27th of January, 1556 he had succumbed to his injuries, leaving Akbar as his sole successor.
What modern historians think.
Modern day historians largely regard the event as an act of fate than that of man. Humayun was an emperor and would have been surrounded by hand-picked bodyguards and men of trust. Getting close to him would have been next to impossible. Moreover, written records of the time make no mention of plots on the life of the emperor.
The Humayun-Nama and the Tazkirat-ul-Waqiat in particular are two genuine accounts that faithfully unveil the life and misfortunes of the emperor. Both were written by people who loved Humayun dearly. Any plot or assassin would have been spitefully mentioned. Yet there are none to be found.
A surviving copy of the Humayun-Nama, written by Humayun’s half-sister Gulbadan Begum, technically does not qualify, as it ends four years before the event in mid sentence. As the copy (presently at the British Museum on Great Russel Street in London) is believed to be an incomplete one by scholars. However, the Tazkirat-ul-Waqiat written by Jahur the Aftabchi, a personal attendant of Humayun for twenty five years, is considered intact and admired as a more powerful piece of historical work inspite its inconsistencies.
In its undecorative words there too exists no mention of foul play.