In this article we will discuss about Nur Jahan’s influence on contemporary history and politics of India.
One of the most important events of Jahangir’s reign was his marriage with Nur Jahan. Mirza Ghiyas Beg, the father of Nur Jahan, belonged to a noble family of Tehran, and his father had served as governor of Yazd under Shah Tahmashp of Persia. After the death of his father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg fell on evil days and therefore, left for India in search of employment.
On his way to India, in 1577 A.D. his wife gave birth to a daughter named Mihr-un-nisa who afterwards became the empress of India and was called Nur Jahan. Mirza Ghiyas Beg was under most distressing circumstances at that time. Fortunately, he received kindly help from Malik Masud, the leader of the caravan with which he was travelling to India.
Malik Masud presented him before Akbar who took him under his service. Ghiyas Beg was a talented person and soon rose to eminence. He was appointed Diwan at Kabul and, later on, became Diwan of the emperor’s household. Jahangir, in the very beginning of his reign, awarded him the title of Itimad-ud-daula. In 1594 A.D., Mihr-un-nisa was married to Ali Quli Beg.
In 1599 A.D. Ali Quli Beg was given the title of Sher Afghan by prince Salim when he killed a tiger single-handed. When prince Salim revolted against his father, Sher Afghan left him and joined the Imperialists.
After the death of Akbar, prince Salim became the Emperor and assumed the title of Jahangir. He forgave Sher Afghan and appointed him Jagirdar of Burdwan in Bengal. Sher Afghan felt dissatisfied with his new assignment and did not act enthusiastically to suppress the revolt of the Afghans there.
In 1606 A.D., Qutb-ud-din was appointed governor of Bengal in place of Raja Man Singh. The same year, Sher Afghan was charged of disloyalty to the Emperor and was asked to present himself before the new governor. Qutb- ud-din treated him disrespectfully which infuriated Sher Afghan. He attacked Qutb-ud-din with his sword and killed him while he himself was cut to pieces by the followers of Qutb-ud-din.
Mihr-un-nisa and Ladli Begum, wife and daughter of Sher Afghan respectively were sent as prisoners to Agra. Mihr- un-nisa was appointed in the service of Salima Begum, widow of Akbar. Jahangir chanced to see her in one of the Nauroz-festivals in March 1611 A.D. He fell in love with her and married her the same year. She was given the title of Nur Mahal and Nur Jahan respectively by Jahangir afterwards.
Controversy regarding the Relation of Jahangir with Nur Jahan:
Historians have expressed divergent views regarding the death of Sher Afghan and marriage of Mihr-un-nisa with Jahangir. Some historians have expressed the view that Jahangir saw Mihr-un-nisa in 1611 A.D. for the first time and married her the same year. Prior to it he had no relations with her and had no hand in the incident of the death of her husband.
On the contrary, some other historians have maintained that Jahangir loved Mihr-un-nisa when he was a prince, but, as Akbar did not allow him to marry her, he fulfilled his desire after the death of his father. They also contend that as Jahangir never forgot Mihr-un-nisa, there is a possibility that he was involved in the murder of Sher Afghan.
Dr Beni Prasad is a prominent historian among those who contend that Jahangir did not know Mihr-un-nisa as a prince.
He has given following arguments to support his contention:
1. There is no contemporary record to support this view that Jahangir loved Mihr-un-nisa when he was a prince.
2. The records written during the reign of Shah Jahan also do not mention it.
3. No European writer or traveller has given any account of it.
4. Polygamy was prevalent among the Muslims and therefore, Akbar could not have any objection to the marriage of Mihr-un-nisa with prince Salim.
5. If Salim would have been in love with Mihr-un-nisa, Akbar would not have appointed Sher Afghan under the service of Salim and Salim would not have promoted Sher Afghan to a higher office when he himself became the emperor.
6. Raja Man Singh was transferred from the governorship of Bengal as he was found in sympathy with Khusrav. There was no other motive in appointing Qutb-ud-din as governor of Bengal.
7. Nur Jahan loved Jahangir. Had Jahangir been involved in the murder of Sher Afghan, she would not have loved him as she was a woman of strong character.
8. Mihr-un-nisa was brought to the court as her father and brother were there. Jahangir had no other motive at that time.
Thus Dr Beni Prasad has rejected the story of romance between Mihr-un- nisa and prince Salim and therefore, has denied that Jahangir was involved in the incident of death of Sher Afghan.
He writes- “An attentive study of contemporary authorities and of the well-established facts themselves knocks the bottom out of the whole romance and the character of Jahangir and Nur Jahan appear in a truer and more favourable light.” Dr R.P. Tripathi and Dr S.R. Sharma have also supported the contention of Dr Beni Prasad.
On the contrary, Dr Ishwari Prasad is inclined to accept the story of romance between Mihr-un-nisa and prince Salim and also the involvement of Jahangir in the murder of Sher Afghan.
He has given following arguments to support his view:
1. The arguments given by Dr Beni Prasad in favour of Jahangir are of a negative character.
2. Contemporary historians were not in a position to express their views freely regarding personal life of the Emperor.
3. The Emperor had ordered Qutb-ud-din to punish Sher Afghan merely on suspicion. Even Qutb-ud-din did not know the cause of displeasure of the Emperor against Sher Afghan.
4. Jahangir who described even the ordinary affairs of his life minutely did not write anything about Nur Jahan and the circumstances leading to her marriage with himself for three years after the marriage.
5. Jahangir has not described anything about Sher Afghan while narrating the events of his death.
6. Mihr-un-nisa was appointed in the service of Salima Begum while her father and brother were alive and were in the service of the Emperor. This fact certainly arouses doubt regarding intentions of the Emperor.
7. Jahangir avoided his marriage with Mihr-un-nisa for four years after the death of her husband because he wanted to give her time to console herself and also to avoid doubts regarding his intentions.
Dr Ishwari Prasad, therefore, writes:
“A careful persual of contemporary chronicles leaves upon our minds the impression that the circumstances of Sher Afghan’s death are of a highly suspicious nature, although there is no conclusive evidence to prove that the Emperor was guilty of the crime.”
A contemporary Dutch writer, De Laet, certainly described the romance of prince Salim with Mihr-un-nisa in his famous work, Description of India and Fragment of Indian History. He described that “as she was engaged to Sher Afghan, Akbar did not permit her marriage with Salim. But Salim never forgot his love towards her.”
Dr A.L. Srivastava is also inclined to accept the story of romance between Salim and Mihr-un-nisa. He has argued- “The main issues underlying this important episode are: firstly, whether Jahangir as a prince wanted to marry Mihr-un-nisa and was prevented from doing so by his father, and secondly, whether he had any hand in the murder of Sher Afghan.”
He says that as regards the first, the observation of Dr Beni Prasad that Akbar had no reason to forbid the marriage between the two does not stand the test of criticism because we know from Abul Fazl that Akbar did forbid the marriage between Salim and the daughter of Zain Khan Koka and agreed for it only afterwards while there was reason for him to forbid the marriage of Salim with Mihr-un-nisa as she was already engaged to Sher Afghan.
De Laet who had no reason to be biased against Jahangir clearly stated that Jahangir loved Nur Jahan while she was still a maiden. The later Muslim historians also supported his statement.
As regards the allegation that Jahangir had Sher Afghan murdered, Dr Srivastava says:
“There exists no definite and unimpeachable contemporary evidence, but at the same time there was no formulation of definite charge against Sher Afghan…. Moreover, the suddenness with which his end was sought to be encompassed, the method employed to secure the object and the rancour which Jahangir displayed against the victim together with his omission of a mention of Nur Jahan in that connection make the episode highly suspicious.”
He says that Mihr-un-nisa was appointed in the service of Salima Begum with a view that she would be able to allure Mihr-un-nisa to marry Jahangir and the marriage was postponed for four years in order to lull public suspicion. Thus, Dr Srivastava is more inclined towards the view of Dr Ishwari Prasad.
Character of Nur Jahan:
When Nur Jahan married Jahangir, she was thirty-four years of age. She was extremely beautiful even at that age. Besides, she was an educated, intelligent and cultured lady and was fond of poetry, music and painting. She wrote verses in Persian. She constructed a library which consisted of a large number of meritorious works. She had an inventive brain and devised new dresses, ornaments and styles of fashion and decoration.
At the time of her marriage with Jahangir, he prepared a very beautiful dress called Nurmahli which remained popular among the women of Harem for many years to come. She was interested in administration and had the capacity to tackle the relevant problems. She was courageous, patient, social, generous, religious and friend of the poor and oppressed.
She helped the poor and scholars and arranged marriages of hundreds of poor girls. She loved Jahangir and reduced the doses of his wine. Nur Jahan was highly ambitious as well. She participated in administration, interfered in the politics of her time, increased her influence and tried to keep the power of the state in her hands. Therefore, she influenced the history and politics of her time.
Influence of Nur Jahan on the History and Politics of her Time:
Nur Jahan increased her influence right from the time of her marriage with the Emperor. In 1613 A.D. she was elevated to the rank of Padshah Begum or the first lady of the realm. Her relatives were also promoted to higher ranks.
Of course, her father Itimad-ud-daula and her brother Asaf Khan were loyal and capable persons who got high offices of the state on their own merit, yet, there is no doubt that their remarkable rise was also due to her influence on the Emperor.
She started appearing with the Emperor in Jharokha darshan; her name was engraved on some of the coins and, later on, the orders of the Emperor were signed by her also. Thus, practically the administration was taken over by Nur Jahan and no important decision concerning the state could be taken without her consent.
Jahangir, who was gradually becoming accustomed to ease owing to age and indifferent health, was also not averse to delegate his authority to his intelligent and hardworking queen. He used to say that he had handed over kingship to Begum Nur Jahan in return of a sir of wine and half a sir of meat.
Nur Jahan’s political career may be divided into two periods. The first, from 1611-1622 A.D. when her father and mother were alive and kept a sobering influence on her ambitions. During this period, Nur Jahan and the crown-prince Khurram worked together. The second period was that of 1622-1627 A.D. Her mother, Asmat Begum died in 1621 A.D. and her father, Itimad-ud-daula died in 1622 A.D.
Therefore, she was devoid of sobering and beneficial influence of her parents while Jahangir gave her more liberty to control the administration due to his ill-health during this period. That resulted in her ambition of capturing the power of the throne in her hands even in case of death of her husband and, consequently, conflict with Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram).
Soon after her marriage, Nur Jahan formed a clique of her own called Nur Jahan Junta. It consisted of her mother, Asmat Begum, her father Itimad-ud- daula and prince Khurram besides herself. Each member of this clique was capable and occupied high offices in the state.
The crown-prince Khurram was married to Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal, daughter of Asaf Khan in 1612 A.D. He was given the right of sitting on-the right hand of the Emperor, awarded the title of Shah Jahan and promoted to the rank of 30,000 zat and 20,000 sawar.
Itimad-ud-daula received the rank of 7,000 zat and 7,000 sawar in 1619 A.D. while Asaf Khan received the rank of 6,000 zat and 6,000 sawar in 1622 A.D. Nur Jahan remained supreme in administration till 1622 A,D. with the help of these powerful members of her clique.
However, Prof. M. Nurul Hasan has expressed another opinion concerning the participation of Nur Jahan in the politics of her times. He has maintained that there were different groups of Amirs at the royal-court from the very beginning of the reign of Jahangir which were rivals to each other in grabbing power at the court. These rival groups, thus, existed before the marriage of Nur Jahan with Jahangir.
According to him Nur Jahan did not participate in politics for many years after her marriage with the Emperor and, in fact, had no group of her own between the period 1611 A.D. to 1620 A.D. She participated in politics only after the death of her father, Itimad-ud-daula because of the failing health of Jahangir.
In 1621 A.D., Ladli Begum, Nur Jahan’s daughter by Sher Afghan, was married to prince Shahryar. The prince was given the rank of 8,000 zat and 4,000 sawar. This marriage brought about a change in power-politics. The health of Jahangir was failing and he was not expected to live for long. Nur Jahan desired to keep the power of the state in her hands even after the death of her husband.
The ambitious and capable crown-prince Shah Jahan could not be a puppet in her hands after becoming the Emperor while incapable Shahryar could be one. Dr Beni Prasad writes- “The tender age (16), docile nature, feeble mind, and imbecile character of Shahryar marked him out as the proper instrument for a masterful lady.”
Therefore, Nur Jahan planned to put Shahryar on the throne after the death of Jahangir. Her mother and father had died by that time and there was nobody else to put a check on her misdirected ambitions. This resulted in the revolt of Shah Jahan.
Dr Beni Prasad has written that Shah Jahan’s own ambition and, thereby, disobedience to the Emperor was primarily responsible for his revolt. Yet, there is no doubt that the ambition of Nur Jahan was also very much responsible for the revolt of Shah Jahan which troubled the Emperor and weakened the empire in the later years of his reign.
Another noble of Jahangir, Mahabat Khan also revolted in 1626 A.D. and tried to finish the influence of Nur Jahan in the state by capturing the person of Emperor Jahangir. Mahabat Khan was loyal to the throne but was among those nobles who did not like the increasing influence of Nur Jahan in the state. Nur Jahan knew it.
Therefore, she put a check on his promotions though he was one of the ablest commanders of Jahangir. He, however, was the only one who was found fit to suppress the revolt of Shah Jahan and therefore, deputed to this task under the nominal command of prince Parwez. Mahabat Khan succeeded in suppressing the revolt of Shah Jahan.
That enhanced his prestige and brought him closer to prince Parwez. Nur Jahan could not tolerate it and decided to break his power and influence. It resulted in the revolt of Mahabat Khan and he succeeded in capturing the person of the Emperor. However, Nur Jahan’s manoeuvres succeeded and Mahabat Khan fled away for safety just after a month. Yet, his rebellion disturbed the last years of the reign of Jahangir.
Dr R.P. Tripathi has contended that Asaf Khan was primarily responsible for the revolt of Mahabat Khan. He manoeuvred it so that there remained no danger to the succession of Shah Jahan on the throne who was his son-in-law. Nur Jahan simply became pawn in his hands in the game of power-politics and lost a powerful commander, Mahabat Khan.
The view of Dr Tripathi is reasonable, yet, it cannot be denied that Nur Jahan too desired to break the power of Mahabat Khan in order to safeguard the succession of Shahryar to the throne.
Thus, the interference of Nur Jahan in the politics of the state resulted in two major rebellions during the last years of the reign of Jahangir which weakened the empire and harmed its prestige. If Nur Jahan would not have been interested in accession of her son-in-law, Shahryar, to the throne, the revolt of Shah Jahan would not have occurred and there was no question of the revolt of Mahabat Khan.
Thus, the interference of Nur Jahan proved harmful to the empire. This view is supported by Dr S.R. Sharma, Dr Saxena and Dr A.L. Srivastava. Dr Tripathi, however, has made her free from this charge while discussing the causes of the rebellions of Shah Jahan and Mahabat Khan.