Vir Singh Bundela and His Patron Jahangir - Murder of Abul Fazl

It is well-documented that Shaikh Abul Fazl, the esteemed historian and close confidant of Emperor Akbar, met a tragic end at the hands of Jahangir. In his Memoirs, Jahangir openly admits to orchestrating the murder, "I employed the man who killed Abul Fazl and brought his head to me and for this it was that I incurred my father's deep displeasure." (Price/Jahangir) The 'man' whom Jahangir 'hired' to assassinate Abul Fazl was Vir Singh Bundela, also known as Bir Singh Deo and Nar Singh Deo in Persian records.

bir singh deo and jahangir

Orchha, the proud capital of the Bundela Rajputs, lies on the left bank of the river Betwa in Madhya Pradesh. Established in 1531 by King Rudra Pratap (reign: 1501-1531), Orchha has a rich history and cultural heritage.

After Rudra Pratap, his son Bharti Chand (reign: 1531-1554) took over the throne.

Bundela Revolts in the Reign of Akbar:

Madhukar Shah (r: 1554-1592) who succeeded his brother Bharti Chand, often challenged Akbar's authority. At times, he submitted to Akbar, while at other times he rebelled against him. 

Following the death of Madhukar Shah in 1592, his eldest son Ram Shah submitted to Akbar and was recognized as the ruler of Orchha (r: 1592-1605). With this started internal revolts among the Bundelas.

Ram Shah's younger brother, Vir Singh Dev, who held the jagir of Barauni in Datia, rebelled against him. Vir Singh often led plundering expeditions into nearby territories, sometimes with the assistance of his other brothers, Indrajit and Pratap Rao, and seized several territories belonging to his brother Ram Shah and Akbar, including the fort of Erach.

Akbar sent three successive military campaigns against Vir Singh from 1592 to 1599. Despite adopting a conciliatory approach and offering generous terms, Vir Singh continued to rebel. The first expedition was led by Raja Askaran of Gwalior and Ram Shah. The second expedition was led by Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Ram Shah and others in 1594. In 1599, Raj Singh was dispatched to confront Vir Singh. Although ultimately defeated, the Mughals were unable to completely subdue him.

Prince Salim's Rebellion:

In 1599, when Akbar was busy with campaigns in the Deccan, prince Salim rebelled and established his court at Allahabad. Upon hearing this news, Akbar hurried to Agra, appointing prince Daniyal as the Viceroy of Deccan. He also summoned Abul Fazl from Deccan to Agra with a plan to reconcile with prince Salim and persuade him to return to Agra.

Meanwhile, due to the ongoing conflict with Akbar's troops and Ram Shah, Vir Singh's position became increasingly precarious. Seeking outside help, Vir Singh's commander, Yadav Gaur, advised him to seek assistance from prince Salim, who had rebelled and set up his court at Allahabad. Vir Singh presented himself before prince Salim through Sharif Khan, seeking his support.

Prince Salim considered Abul Fazl as his greatest enemy. When he learned of Abul Fazl's summons to Agra in August 1602, he became alarmed. Salim instructed Vir Singh to ambush and eliminate Abul Fazl as he traveled through Bundelkhand on his way to Agra.

Upon Abul Fazl's arrival at Sarai Vir near Gwalior, Vir Singh and his men surrounded him and his small entourage. Vir Singh beheaded Abul Fazl and brought brought his head to Barauni. Champat Rai, an associate of Vir Singh and father of Chhatrasal Bundela, later presented it to prince Salim at Allahabad. Abul Fazl's tomb is located at Antri.

"Vir Singh, you have given an empire to me...I shall give a kingdom to you", declared prince Salim.


Upon learning of the murder of Abul Fazl, Akbar was deeply saddened. He immediately ordered Rai Rayan Patra Das Khatri and others to capture Vir Singh and 'not to rest till he had severed his head from his body'. Salim, concerned for Vir Singh's safety, warned him to be cautious.

Despite several defeats at the hands of Rai Rayan, Vir Singh managed to escape to Datia, where prince Salim was waiting for him. Rai Rayan was eventually recalled 'as Vir Singh had become a vagabond in the desert of destruction'.

Prince Salim finally submitted to Akbar on the sad occasion of Maryam Makani's [Hamida Banu Begum] death in August 1604, [on the request of Vir Singh according to Virsinghdev Charitra].

After the departure of the imperial troops, Vir Singh's established friendly relations with other princes of his family and managed to recover some of the provinces he had previously held.

In late 1604, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the son of Abul Fazl, Abdullah Khan, Raja Raj Singh and Rai Rayan were sent to confront Vir Singh. Despite being severely defeated, Vir Singh narrowly escaped with a few followers. The Mughal army pursued him and in the following encounter with Raja Raj Singh, he was seriously wounded but managed to evade capture. After a few months it was reported to Akbar that Vir Singh had poisoned the wells of Orchha, resulting in many deaths from fever. So the imperial forces had to withdrawn from Orchha.

Although Akbar intended to launch another expedition against Vir Singh, his illness prevented him from doing so. Akbar passed away on October 15, 1605, and was succeeded by prince Salim, who took the title Jahangir.

Upon his accession, Jahangir made Vir Singh the ruler of Orchha (r: 1605-1627) after deposing Ram Shah.

Bundela Revolt in the Reign of Jahangir:

Ram Shah rebelled against Vir Singh, but with the assistance of imperial forces led by Abdullah Khan, Vir Singh defeated him in 1607. Subsequently, Jahangir appointed Vir Singh as the Raja of Chanderi and even married his daughter.

Jahangir writes in his Memoirs: "Raja Vir Singh Dev was one of the Bundela Rajputs patronized by me. In courage, innate goodness and guilelessness he shone among his peers. I promoted him to the rank of 3000 [afterwards it became 5000]. The reason for his promotion was" the murder of Abul Fazl!

"Toward the end of my exalted father's reign, Shaikh Abul Fazl, one of the shaikhzadas of Hindustan who was outstanding in his learning and wisdom, had ostensibly adorned himself with loyalty and sold it to my father for an exorbitant price. He was summoned from the Deccan, and since he was suspicious of me he was always making snide remarks. At that time, because of the corruption of mischief-makers, my exalted father's mind was quite turned against me, and it was certain that if Abul Fazl succeeded in reaching him he would create more discord and prevent me from rejoining my father. It was therefore absolutely necessary that he be prevented from reaching him. Since Vir Singh Dev's territory lay in his path, and at that time Vir Singh was in the circle of insurgents, I sent him a message that he should waylay the miscreant and dispatch him to nonexistence, in return for which he could expect great rewards from Abul Fazl was passing through Vir Singh Dev's territory, Vir Singh blocked his path, scattered his men in a skirmish, and killed him, sending his head to me in Allahabad. Although this caused distress to His Majesty, in the end it resulted in my being able to proceed to kiss the threshold of my exalted father's court without fear, and little by little the bad blood between us subsided."

The bestowal of rapid promotions and high mansabs on Raja Vir Singh continued and in 1623 Raja Vir Singh Dev, "than whom there is no greater amir among the Rajputs", was honoured with the title of Maharaja.

Murder of Abul Fazl (August 1602):

Akbarnama calls Vir Singh 'a highway robber'. According to Virsinghdev Charitra, Vir Singh at first entreated Jahangir to pardon the Shaikh as the relation between them was that of a master and a servant. Jahangir told him that "so long as the Shaikh is living I am a dead man." At last, Jahangir prevailed on Vir Singh and gifted him his own sword, then sent him off with Muzaffar Khan and others.

The details of Abul Fazl's murder are further elaborated by Asad Beg in his Halat-i Asad Beg, also known as Wikaya-i-Asad Beg:

Abul Fazl had received reports of Vir Singh's plundering activities even while in the Deccan, yet he chose to travel through hostile territory. Upon reaching Sironj, Abul Fazl left the veteran troops he had brought from the Deccan with Asad Beg, and proceeded with fresh troops provided by Gopal Das, the local ruler.

Abul Fazl was warned of an impending attack by Vir Singh upon reaching Narwar, situated between Sarai Vir and Antri. However, he disregarded the warning and dismissed the informant. The following morning, as Abul Fazl prepared to resume his march, Vir Singh's troops emerged from behind the Sarai and fell upon the camp. Abul Fazl's companions requested him to take a safer route, but he said that it was against the will and prestige of a commander to run away due to fear of a rebel. Gadai Afghan, seizing the bridle of the Shaikh's horse prepared to escape to the hills, but just then the Rajputs made an onslaught.

At this time, a Rajput came up and struck Shaikh Abul Fazl in the back with a spear, so that it came out through his chest. The Shaikh tried to leap his horse over a small stream but failed, falling in the process. Jabbar Khassakhail, who was nearby, killed the Rajput, then dismounted to pull the Shaikh from under his horse and move him off the road, but as the wound was mortal, the Shaikh fell.

Shortly after, Vir Singh arrived with the rest of the Rajputs. The Shaikh's elephant driver, who was with Vir Singh, pointed out the injured Shaikh. Upon seeing him, Vir Singh dismounted and cradled the Shaikh's head in his lap, gently wiping his mouth with his own garment. Jabbar, who had been observing this from a distance, noticed Vir Singh's compassionate gesture and approached him, offering his respects.

At that moment, the Shaikh regained consciousness. Vir Singh, still kneeling beside him, saluted him, and telling his attendants to bring the farmans, said to the Shaikh with blandishment, "The all-conquering lord has sent for you courteously." The Shaikh looked bitterly at him. Vir Singh swore that he would carry him in safety to him. The Shaikh began to abuse him angrily.

Vir Singh's men said that the Shaikh was heavily wounded and could not be saved. Jabbar, in desperation, drew his sword and killed several Rajputs. He then advanced towards Vir Singh. Vir Singh's men immediately killed him and trampled him under foot. Vir Singh at last stood up, and his attendants dispatched Abul Fazl, beheading him.

Vir Singh is known in history as the murderer of Abul Fazl. From Asad Beg's account we learn that it was not a treacherous murder but the result of a battle. It is important to note that Vir Singh did not personally kill Abul Fazl.

Maharaja Vir Singh was a great warrior and the most powerful of the Bundela chiefs. The court poet Keshavdas immortalized him in his famous Hindi poem "Virsinghdev Charitra" (1607).

During Vir Singh's reign, Bundela architecture thrived. Jahangir granted him permission to build the Keshav Rai temple at Mathura, which was completed at a cost of thirty-three lacs of rupees. Regrettably, this temple was later destroyed by Aurangzeb during the Jat rebellion in Mathura.

Vir Singh built the fort of Jhansi, Datia Palace, Phool Bagh at Orchha and completed the Chaturbhuj temple at Orchha. He also built three tanks - Bir Sagar in Orchha, Singh Sagar in Kundar, and Dev Sagar in Dinara. The Jahangir Mahal at Orchha was built in honor of Jahangir. According to the Orchha State Gazetteer, in December 1618 alone, Vir Singh laid the foundations of 52 buildings.


Vir Singh passed away in 1627, just a few months prior to the death of his patron, Jahangir. His cenotaph, located at Orchha, overlooks the Betwa river. Following his death, his eldest son, Jujhar Singh, ascended to the throne and ruled from 1627 to 1634.


A note on the Historicity of Keshav's Virsinghdev Charitra By Gupta. B. D
Murder of Abul Fazl: A Re-appraisal By Amir Ahmad
Was Bir Singh Deo Bundela a 'Bandit' and 'Treacherous' murderer of Abul Fazl? By Ram Prasad Nayak
Wikaya-i-Asad Beg