The 16th-century Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar is profoundly known through various instances as being one curious soul. As per today’s terminology, the emperor could be considered a psychology enthusiast, who held a keen interest in the human mind. Akbar wanted to identify the language that develops naturally, without any hindrance. His eagerness to learn about the phenomenon led him to conduct a psychological experiment for identifying the development of communication, which was later termed the ‘Forbidden Experiment’ by modern scholars.
The emperor was quite famous for inviting Christian missionaries over, hosting them and making efforts to get acquainted with their beliefs. He would often let these leaders tutor his kids to get them familiar with the ways of the world. He was known to have initiated ‘Ibadat Khana’, a centre for religious debates among the various religious preachers.
It’s amusing to know that these debates often ended up in heated arguments and even took a physically violent turn at times. Apart from having a keen interest in various societies and cultures, the emperor was also renowned for his curiosity in interpreting human behaviour, which is evident from the Forbidden Experiment.
The emperor Akbar instructed his subordinates to send away twelve newly born infants into isolation at a distant palace. The palace came to be known as ‘Goong Mahal‘ or ‘The Palace Of The Mute‘. The children were meant to be kept in utter solitude from the exterior, social world. Mute nurses were appointed for their supervision and feeding needs, to avoid any hindrance in the procedure. The children were deprived of any kind of social interaction, while their necessities for survival were arranged. The isolation period was called off a few years later.
The emperor had presumed notions about language being a learned behaviour instead of an inherent proficiency which was the root of conducting the project. The outcome of the experiment turned out quite close to his expectations. The consequence of the experiment led these children to not develop any language, instead, they used sign language for communication purposes. Later on, the scholars considered the outcome to be ambiguous, considering the development of sign language was caused by the deterrent in the process. It was observed that the mute nurses might have communicated to the children or within themselves, through actions, which led the kids to observe and develop sign language as a mode of communication.
The experiment is known to be the Forbidden Experiment, considering its unhealthy and hazardous effects on the behaviour of its subjects. When a child is isolated from the social structure, they develop to be incompetent to survive in society later on. They are most likely to live a life full of chaos and anxiety. The Forbidden Experiment has been represented in pop culture through content like Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy‘, in ‘The Twilight Zone‘ (1963), ‘Batgirl’ comic series, and many more.
Interestingly, this experiment wasn’t the only one conducted for discovering the inherent mode of communication in humans. There have been four historically recorded accounts claiming the conduction of similar experiments. In Herodotus’ book ‘Histories‘, the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I (664 – 610 BE, i.e. 200 years before Herodotus) carried out such an experiment and concluded the inherent language of humans to be the Phrygian language. The conclusion was backed by the claim, that one of these children babbled a word that is known to have its origins in the Phrygian culture. Another instance of this experiment could be traced to the holy Roman emperor Frederick II ( 13th century). He claimed, the children developed fluent Hebrew, which is perhaps the original language of humans. Apparently, both of these conclusions were criticised to be fabricated, lacking authentic substance and solid evidence.
The experiment conducted by emperor Akbar, despite providing ambiguous outcomes, is the sole experiment considered imprecise yet authentic by scholars. However, the inherent mode of communication in humans continues to remain a mystery.
Ashna Arif is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Syed Ilham Jafri