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huma_xceptionThere is a secret to Humayun’s unexpected flair for settling easily in every new station throughout his retreat, exile and comeback. Why he now settles down so quickly into Delhi and Agra. Throughout, Humayun has been accompanied by his beloved manuscripts. These are his most valuable possessions. A large part of this collection has been inherited from Babur who had carried them over the Khyber.

During feast days in the early part of Humayun’s rule, the illuminated manuscripts would be showcased to dazzling effect in the room known as the House of Good Fortune. The Khanah-i-talism (Mystic House) and his library room may be no more, but with his manuscripts he can bring the magic back, and he has already begun to do so at the octagonal pavilion now called the Sher Mandal. As a forum for discussion on all things temporal, spiritual and poetic, the name mandal is apt. He has had many discussions with his spiritual advisers on the power of this energy matrix known as the mandala.

Not only does its cosmological references give direction to design of buildings and char baghs, with the raja mandala, it casts light on kingship. In fact it has offered Humayun more direction than the reading of the stars. The lines that define the forces around a ruler are also a call to kings to circulate their domain, widen their circle of influence.

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Nothing like a poetry face-off. Image: From a 16th Century painting recreating an interaction between poets and scholars during the Delhi Sultanate (Royal Asiatic Society)

Sitting on the terrace of the Sher Mandal one day, he thinks of the long exile and asks some of his officials at hand, after the opinions of his subjects on his return. He is not surprised to hear that a few who have heard how far he has been, have seen his exile more as a vijayayatra. He tells no one, but in a sense, this is how Humayun has seen it too.

For now, he sits back as the poetry sessions begin. A visiting Turkish admiral rises to present a ghazal. Humayun is pleased that he has written one on the subject of a dashing new member of his entourage – the young Imperial Archer, Khoshhal.

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