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Mughal Library
November 2, 2021 at 12:00:00 AM
A platter of unity (Diwali celebrations during Mughal era)

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A platter of unity (Diwali celebrations during Mughal era)

Emperor Akbar wasn’t the first ruler to celebrate Deepavali or Jashn-e-Chiraghan as that credit goes to Muhammad bin Tughluq who became the first Delhi Sultan to celebrate the festival in his harem along with Holi and many others. So why is it that history honors Mughals to be the architect and designer of the modern-day celebration of Deepavali complete with fireworks, a lavish feast, Lakshmi puja, and the cultural fiesta?

A headstrong Akbar along with his scholars and Amir-i-Majlis (officer in charge of royal feast and festival) set about to create his own version of Jashn-e-Chiraghan that would be based on Hindu tradition with a few rituals from Nowroz added to the celebration to turn it into a royal festival. By all accounts, Emperor Akbar’s Deepavali, while being celebrated on par with the Persianfestival with various rituals and nuances including the famous fireworks as well, it was more of a preview of what the festival will become in the years to come. But during his reign, Deepavali would remain a court festival attended by courtiers who would be given a thal of sweets and gifts on behalf of the king.

It was during the reign of Emperor Jahangir and his son Shah Jahan that Deepavali transformed into the fiesta that we know today. Born into the culture of the Deepavali celebration, it was Jahangir who turned Deepavali into the extravaganza it became, especially with the food. In his golden years, the emperor ordered a special platter of 56 sweet dishes to be made for the occasion. This royal decree was the first time that the empire, now managed by a string of military governors, mansabdars, and royals, participated in putting together the festival. Cooks, khansamas, expert sweetmeat makers, varq makers were sent months in advance to Agra Fort to put together a feast of extraordinarily lavish treats. Such was the effect of the order that rulers of their respective regions would often hold a competition to choose the best hand to represent them on the platter — not only the one that would be created in the royal kitchens of Agra Fort but also the one that would be part of the nazrana presented to the emperor, a tradition that was part of Akbar’s festivity as well.

The sweet thali

Many believe that it was Jahangir’s idea of creating the Chappan thal of sweets that united the empire and catapulted Deepavali into a festival that went beyond the realms of religious differences. Fascinatingly, in his zeal to give his beloved festival an almost dream-like quality, Jahangir created the ultimate melting pot of food cultures from not just the different regions of the Mughal empire but the world. And the one aspect that this diversity was showcased to the hilt was through the sweet platter that was once limited to nariyal barfi, besan, moong laddoo, kheel, khaand, and batashe but under him, it boasted of sweets across pan-India including barfis, Sandesh, payasam, karanji, imarti and a slew of halwas that were specially created by the mithai makers of Agra and Gujarat.

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