Birbal was one of the nine jewels of Akbar and probably he yielded greater influence on Akbar than even Abul Fazl. He rose from the ranks on account of his natural gift, tact and devotion to the king.
His original name was Mahesh Das and he was born in about 1528. He was a Brahman by caste and he started his life as an ordinary versifier. It is stated that before coming to Akbar, he had spent some time in the service of Raja Ram Chandra of Bhatha and also at the court of Amber.
It is true that he did not possess high education but he possessed an enormous gift of wit and humour. In the art of conversation, story-telling and repartee, he excelled all. He was a poet of repute. Many stories and anecdotes are attributed to him. He was given the title of Kavirai, i.e. poet Laureate of Hindi. He was also given the title of Raja. Ajagir was given to him in Bundelkhand. He was also given the rank of Mansab of 2,000.
In 1583, he was put in charge of administration of justice at the royal court. His duty was to receive petitions, scrutinise them and introduce suitors for justice to the Emperor. He was also in charge of purchase and sale of certain commodities. He was employed on various mission to the courts of Hindu Rajas. He was sent to fighting against the Yusuf Zais, but he was killed in 1586 while fighting against them.
It is said that the news of his death plunged Akbar into grief. Abul Fazal says: “The deaths of loyal servants and especially the death of Raja Birbal, his spiritual companion, aggrieved him (Akbar) exceedingly and his heart turned from everything…. For two days and nights, he did not take his daily food and drink.” Budayuni says: “Akbar never experienced such grief at the death of any Amir as he did at that of Birbal”. Akbar used to say: “Alas! that they could not bring his body out of that defile, that it might have been committed to the flames.” Akbar condemned Hakim Abul Fateh and Zain Khan for what he called their betrayal to Birbal.
Birbal was the only important Hindu who joined the Din-i-Illahi. He was a worshipper of the sun and that was probably the reason why Akbar also showed great reverence to the sun. It cannot be denied that Birbal exercised a tremendous influence on the life and thought of Akbar in favour of Hinduism. Birbal was known for his generosity and he gave away a lot of money to poets.