About the Book


Retold from the Hamzanama

By Mamta Dalal Mangaldas and Saker Mistri

Foreword by Milo C. Beach, Retired Director, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Published by Mapin Publishing AND HarperCollins Publishers India

The Hamzanama (or “Story of Hamza”) was the most popular epic during the Mughal period. Full of giants, demons, dragons, heroes and beautiful princesses, these were great adventure stories narrated around camp fires and in courts in many countries from Iran through Central Asia and India, and even across the Indian Ocean, in Indonesia.

In fact, it was one of the favourite stories of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar. In the 16th century, when the thirteen-year old Emperor ascended the throne, he commissioned a grand illustration of the Hamzanama. It took 100 artists over 15 years to complete the illustration and the inscription of the Hamzanama. The resulting manuscript included over 1400 magical paintings, which illustrated 360 tales. Today only about 200 of these paintings are known to exist.

The Kidnapping of Amir Hamza contains a retelling of one exciting tale from the Hamzanama. It has been lavishly illustrated using the original paintings which Emperor Akbar enjoyed. The book introduces children to the creation of Mughal paintings in the chapter; Akbar’s Painting Studio. It also initiates them to ways of seeing Mughal art in the chapter; Be An Art Detective.

The paintings in The Kidnapping of Amir Hamza belong to the MAK museum in Austria.


The Federation of Indian Publishers awarded "The Kidnapping of Amir Hamza" the first prize for Children's books in 2008

About the Authors

SAKER MISTRI is a Speech Pathologist and Museum Educator. She has spent 25 years living in the Middle East, Europe, South East Asia and the U.S. where she has developed museum programmes for children and contributed to travel and art publications. This is Saker's first book.

MAMTA DALAL MANGALDAS was born in Bombay, India and spent her childhood there. She grew up reading, cooking and looking at art. She has an MBA from London Business School, which she never uses. She loves reading children’s books and understanding how children learn. She is very excited about making art accessible to children and has conducted workshops to introduce Indian art to children without scaring them away. This is Mamta's first book.

Read Professor Milo Beach's Introduction

Image from the Akbarnama, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Akbar and his Hamzanama

In 1556, a 13 year old boy became the Emperor of India. His name was Prince Akbar. A courageous and outgoing young man, he grew to be one of the greatest Mughal Emperors, ruling over one of the richest and most powerful kingdoms in the world.

When Akbar ascended the throne, he took charge of the Mughal armies and opposed anyone who thought he was too young, or not smart enough, to rule. His kingdom stretched from Afghanistan in the northwest to Bengal in the east and halfway down the Deccan. His grandfather Babur, had been the first in his family to rule India. Akbar inherited his grandfather’s fascination for the many different kinds of people who lived in India, and his passionate love for history. However, he did not inherit his grandfather’s interest in reading and writing. While Babur had kept a very detailed diary of all the events at court, and wrote poetry too, Akbar preferred physical activities: riding horses and elephants, as well as hunting, wrestling, and other sports. The important things that happened at Akbar’s court were also written down, but others did this, not the Emperor himself. These records eventually became a book, The Akbarnama (The Story of Akbar), and it shows that the young emperor Akbar became an even more powerful ruler than either his grandfather; Babur or father; Humayun.

Akbar was an Islamic king, yet he encouraged his subjects— many of whom were Hindus—to practice whatever beliefs they wished. His curiosity was balanced by his energy. He met and talked with merchants, missionaries and other travellers who came to India; seeking to learn about them and the countries they came from.

Akbar never lost his love of adventure and he often took great risks. The painting on the facing page is from the Akbarnama. It shows the young prince riding his elephant. His companions had stopped at the banks of the River Ganga, which was swollen with floodwaters from the heavy monsoon rains. But Akbar, not worried about the depth or the strength of the fast moving waters, rode his elephant across—to the amazement of his companions, one of whom was Darbar Khan the storyteller. Listening to stories seems to have been so important to Akbar that he took his storyteller on many of his expeditions.

In Mughal times, storytellers like Darbar Khan were expected not only to recite stories perfectly from memory, but also to elaborate on favourite parts and even invent new episodes. One of Emperor Akbar’s favourite stories was The Hamzanama—The Story of Amir Hamza, a Persian warrior. The Hamzanama was a tale popular from Iran through Central Asia and India, and even across the Indian Ocean, in Indonesia. Full of giants, demons, dragons, heroes, beautiful princesses, and people from many different countries, these were great adventure stories to hear in the evening after the excitement of a day hunting elephants. Akbar had a special fondness for elephants and kept hundreds of them in the royal stables.

Soon after he became Emperor, Akbar decided he wanted the Hamzanama stories to be written down and also illustrated. He hired painters and scribes, and men skilled in making paper and pigments, and put them to work on this mammoth task. It took 100 artists over 15 years to complete the illustration and the inscription of the Hamzanama. The resulting manuscript included over 1400 very large and intricately detailed paintings.

These paintings remained in the Mughal Imperial Library at the Red Fort in Delhi for nearly 170 years till the Persian ruler, Nadir Shah looted Delhi and took away the magnificent Peacock Throne, the largest diamond in the world—the Kohinoor, and the beautiful Hamzanama paintings. When one of the last rulers of the Mughal dynasty, Muhammad Shah sent a special request for the return of the Hamzanama paintings, Nadir Shah said, “Ask but the return of all your treasures, and they are yours—but not the Hamzanama!”

Over the years, several of those 1400 paintings, made for Akbar were scattered across the world, and some of them certainly destroyed. Today only about 200 paintings are known to exist. The largest group of paintings is in the MAK –a museum in Vienna. A number of those are reproduced in this book.

Milo C. Beach
Retired Director
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.

Read Chapter One

Image from the Akbarnama, Victoria & Albert Museum, London


Once upon a time, there lived in India a young emperor who loved to ride wild elephants. He used to roam far and wide with his soldiers, through the forests and mountains of his kingdom, crossing deep and fast-flowing rivers, in search of these mighty beasts.

One day, when the young emperor was out riding in the forests of Narwar in North India, he saw a herd of wild elephants. He chased them deep into the woods and ordered his men to use rope snares and capture the elephants. The huge legs of the elephants became entangled in the ropes and as they struggled to free themselves, the emperor leapt on to the back of the leader of the herd. Digging his heels behind the matriarch’s ears, he commanded the wild beast to be calm. Once the elephants were subdued, the emperor left his soldiers in charge, and rode back to the camp to rest in his tent.

On the evening of the elephant hunt, the sun set quietly over the forests. It did not want to disturb the Ruler of Rulers, the Badshah, the Noblest Emperor of all times: Akbar the Great. In Akbar’s camp the men were bustling about, waiting for Darbar Khan, Akbar’s court storyteller. The emperor loved listening to tales of magic and adventure, and took his storyteller with him wherever he went. Akbar sat in a large and resplendent tent, drumming his fingers impatiently on the rubies and diamonds on his throne.

When Darbar Khan finally entered the royal tent, Akbar leapt up to embrace him and said fondly, “Come, and amuse us with one of your stories.” Then he turned to his men, “Darbar Khan can tell a different story every day, for a whole year. He is a wonderful storyteller. When he describes a rainstorm, you will shiver and feel the cold wind on your face. If he portrays a battle scene, the very ground trembles with the sound of horses and elephants in full charge.”

Often the storytelling continued for many hours and was accompanied by music and dancing. As he listened with his head propped on one hand, Akbar found himself wishing that he could read. It would be fun he thought to himself, to be able to read stories on his own—but then, he wouldn’t have the wonderful voice and expressive hands of Darbar Khan to transport him to these exciting new worlds.

The musicians took their places, and Darbar Khan in his scarlet robe, bowed low before the emperor. “Today’s tale my Badshah, is from your favourite book: the Hamzanama. There is no other book like it in the whole world. The paintings in the book are so dazzling that when you see them, it is as wondrous as seeing the sun and the moon for the very first time. The colours glow like the jewels in your majesty’s throne. And the hero of my story, the great Persian warrior Amir Hamza, is as strong and brave…,” Darbar Khan smiled, “well, almost as strong and brave… as you, my Emperor.”

Look at images from the book

Images from the The Kidnapping of Amir Hamza which are from the 16th century Mughal manuscript; The Hamzanama and belong to The MAK museum, Vienna.

This manuscript was commissioned by Emperor Akbar when he was 13.

For more information on the Hamzanama and Mughal India


To see and learn more about the paintings from the Hamzanama

The Smithsonian Museum’s online exhibit:


Galbi, Douglas: “Hamzanama of Akbar: A Masterpiece of Art from the Islamic World.”

To learn more about Mughal India

The British Museum’s interactive website:


To learn more about art in South and Southeast Asia

The Asia Society’s educational website:


The Metropolitan Museum’s website:

To learn about how the Hamzanama paintings were acquired by Victoria and Albert Museum:



Seyller, John, Ebba Koch and Rainald Franz. The Adventures of Hamza: Painting and Storytelling in Mughal India. Washington DC: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2002.

Stronge, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560–1660. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2002.

Eraly, Abraham. Emperors of the Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Moghuls. India: Penguin Books India, 2001.

Schimmel, Annemarie. The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture. India: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gascoigne, Bamber. The Great Moguls. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971.

Berinstain, Valerie. Mughal India: Splendours of the Peacock Throne. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1998.

Faridany-Akhavan, Zahra. “All the King's Toys.” Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture, Volume X (1993) : page numbers 292 to 298.

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