Streaming outwards from the Mandi House roundabout — one of Central Delhi’s significant traffic nodes — are roads steeped in connections with Mughal emperor Akbar’s court and his life.
Moving towards the north, away from the roundabout, is Tansen Marg, adjacent to which runs Todarmal Road. Running eastwards from the roundabout is Sikandra Road, and southeastwards is Bhagwan Das Road. The central Delhi road named after Akbar himself is located slightly further away, leading out of the India Gate roundabout.
These roads had all been laid out and named during the creation of New Delhi in the early 20th Century. Historian Dr Narayani Gupta writes that the older cities of Delhi followed different systems of naming lanes and roads, while the concept of naming streets after prominent persons is a modern, Western one.
According to her, while roads were often named according to their functions or destination points, lanes were often named after a haveli-owner or the occupation or ethnicity of its inhabitants.
To name the new roads of the new city, Percival Spear, who taught history at St Stephen’s College in the 1920s-30s, had been asked to create a list of famous persons from Indian history.
“A historian chose who the roads would be named after. He was asked to pick those who had made a singular contribution to India’s history. And along with rulers — whose names were enshrined in Aurangzeb Road, Akbar Road and Tughlaq Road — he also picked persons like Bhagwan Das. In Percival’s mind, he was an important figure. While the teaching of history often presents a linear picture of a succession of Muslim rulers, in the naming of these roads, we see the many Rajput connections in the Mughal courts,” said historian Sohail Hashmi.
Sikandra, in present day Agra, is the site where Akbar’s body was buried and a mausoleum constructed after his death in 1605.
Tansen was a legendary musician in Akbar’s court and one of his navratnas, who has remained a part of popular memory with the many tales of his musical prowess. Raja Todar Mal, another one of the navratnas, was Akbar’s legendary advisor, most famous for introducing standard weights and measures and a systematic land revenue system.
Lesser known than Tansen and Todar Mal was Bhagwan Das, another prominent noble and advisor in Akbar’s court, who was also the brother of Jodhabai, also known as Harkhabai. She was Akbar’s wife and Jahangir’s mother.
Meanwhile, the road named after Akbar’s most famous courtier Birbal is located considerably further away in Jangpura.