Mirza Nur-ud-din Beig Mohammad Khan Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir (Persian for “conqueror of the world”, was the fourth Mughal Emperor who ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627. Much romance has gathered around his name (and the tale of his illicit relationship with the Mughal courtesan, Anarkali, has been widely adapted into the literature, art and cinema of India.
He set the precedent for sons rebelling against their Emperor fathers, and was much criticised for his addiction to alcohol, opium, and women. He was thought to allow his wife Nur Jahan too much power, and her continuous plotting at court is considered to have destabilised the empire in the final years of his rule. The situation developed into open crisis when Jahangir’s son, Khurram, fearing he would be excluded from the throne, rebelled in 1622. Jahangir’s forces chased Khurram and his troops from Fatehpur Sikri to the Deccan, to Bengal and back to the Deccan, until Khurram surrendered unconditionally in 1626. The rebellion and court intrigues that followed took a heavy toll on Jahangir’s health.
He died in 1627 and was succeeded by Khurram, who took the imperial throne of Hindustan as the Emperor Shah Jahan.
Nur Jahan was one of the most influential women of her day. As favorite wife of the powerful Mughal emperor Jahangir, she found herself uniquely positioned to brilliantly utilize her skills in administration, politics, economics, and culture.
Nur Jahan was born into an aristocratic Persian family who had immigrated to India. All reports say that she was a remarkable beauty and it perhaps is not surprising that Jahangir married her within two months. He first gave her the title Nur Mahal which he changed in 1616 to Nur Jahan, or “Light of the World.”
At the time of her marriage Nur Jahan was considered middle aged. She was a widow of a man who had lost favor with the emperor, and was only one of many other wives and concubines of the emperor, with whom he had children. Yet within nine years, Nur Jahan acquired all the rights of sovereignty and government normally due the emperor, becoming virtually in charge of the whole empire until the emperor died in 1627.
The key to her success was Jahangir’s addiction to both drugs and alcohol and his adoration of Nur Jahan above everyone else in his vast zanana (women’s quarters within the court). Jahangir needed Nur to help maintain his health and help him rule.
She controlled all promotions and demotions within the royal government. She took special interest in the affairs of women, giving them land and dowries for orphan girls. She had coins struck in her name, collected duties on goods from merchants who passed though the empire’s lands, and traded with Europeans who brought luxury goods from the continent.
Given her ability to obstruct or facilitate the opening up of both foreign and domestic trade, her patronage was eagerly sought, and paid for. She herself owned ships which took pilgrims as well as cargo to Mecca. Nur Jahan also ruled the Emperor’s vast zanana which housed hundreds of people including Jahangir’s wives, ladies -in-waiting, concubines, servants, slaves, female guards, spies, entertainers, crafts people, visiting relatives. eunuchs, and all the children belonging to the women. Poetry contests were held, and favorite female poets from beyond the court were sometimes sponsored by the queen, such as the Persian poet Mehri.
Both Jahangir and Nur Jahan were devotees of the elegant and sophisticated Mughal artistic style, the Taj Mughal being one example.
Nur Jahal enjoyed the height of her power when she was surrounded by loyal men which included members of her own family. Struggles between Jahangir’s sons for power, however, slowly chipped away at her reign. The ultimate winner was Jahangir’s third son, Shah Jahan, who later built the beautiful Taj Mahal for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
By this time Nur Jahan’s influence was weak. Shah Jahan had been allied with Nur Jahan through most of his father’s reign, but when she swung her support to others he rebelled. An old and trusted general, Mahabat Khan, disgusted with the direction of court politics, and particularly the role of a Nur Jahan, joined the rebellion. “Never,” he said,” has there been a king so subject to the will of his wife.”
Nur’s cleverness could not save her, and upon Shah Jahan’s succession to the crown, he had her confined. Her imprisonment ended her influence at court, and she spent the last years of her life in exile in Lahore. Here she spent a quiet time living with her daughter until her own death in 1645. Her tomb lies in Lahore next to Jahangir’s. Both she had erected along with the gardens that surround them.