Throughout Indian history, there have been many strong women who have defied societal norms that bound them and contributed to the development and prosperity of this great nation. These women become an inspiration for generations to come. One such woman is Nur Jahan.
Nur Jahan was named Mehr un Nissa when she was born. Later, she married Mughal Emperor Jahangir and became the Empress. She assumed the role of Padshah Begum or the chief consort and had a lot of influence as a wife. She also helped her husband to properly rule and administer over the great Mughal Empire.
Mehr un Nissa was born on a fateful night of May 1577 in Kandahar which is a part of present day Afghanistan. Her family were Persian nobles who had a lot of influence. Both her father Mirza Ghias Beg, and her mother Asmat Begum were from noble families that were famous and revered.
But unfortunately, due to adverse circumstances, Mehr un Nissa’s family had to flee from her home in Persia. During that time her mother was pregnant with her. Her father decided to start a new life and chose India to be the destination to do that.
He had heard that Emperor Akbar was a magnanimous ruler, and his empire was full of splendour and prosperity. During the journey, they fell into a lot of troubles.
Fortunately, they found the assistance of nobleman Malik Masud in Kandahar, where Mehr un Nissa was finally born. Mehr un Nissa literally means ‘Sun among women’ and she was named so because her father believed that her birth brought him and his family good fortune. Malik Masud helped them throughout the journey and even helped Mehr un Nissa’s father get the position of Diwan of Kabul under Akbar’s administration.
Mehr un Nissa’s father was from a learned and noble family and was quite skilled. Through his talents, he quickly got promoted and soon achieved the title of ‘Itimad-ud-Daula’. Thus, Itimad-ud-Daula’s father was able to regain his family’s prosperity and stature.
Being learned himself, he made sure that his children would get the best education available during that time. Consequently, Mehr un Nissa learned various arts and subjects. She was a bright child and was quite interested in learning new things.
When she was only 17 years of age, Mehr un Nissa was married to Ali Quli Istajlu who was popularly known as Sher Afgan Khan. Khan was a Persian warrior who had fled his home due to unfavourable circumstances. Later, he joined Emperor Akbar’s and server under him.
He was quite courageous and brave. He served loyally. As a reward, it was Emperor Akbar himself who arranged the marriage between Sher Afgan Khan and Mehr un Nissa. In 1605, Mehr un Nissa gave birth to a girl child and named her Ladli Begum.
As fate would have it, just after two years, Sher Afgan Khan died. There is a controversy as to his death. Some suggest that he was killed after he took part in anti-states schemes.
Others say that it was Jahangir who had him assassinated because he had fallen deeply in love with the beautiful Mehr un Nissa. But, there is no credible source to prove either of these speculations.
The year on 1605 witnessed the death of one of the greatest rulers India has ever seen. Emperor Akbar breathed his last, making way for his son, Prince Salim, to succeed his father. After his accession, he took the title of Jahangir. Later in 1607 after Sher Afgan Khan was killed, Mehr un Nissa was appointed as the lady- in- waiting to Emperor Akbar’s wife, Dowager Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum.
She travelled to Agra to assume this responsibility. While acting as the lady- in- waiting to Dowager Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum, Mehr un Nissa became close to the Empress. She and her daughter served the Empress with all their efforts, because they were grateful to her.
They served her for four year. It is said that Dowager Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum loved Mehr un Nissa the most and always kept her close to her.
While visiting the famous Meena bazaar one day, Mehr un Nissa met with Emperor Jahangir. This was the beginning of a new romance. Emperor Jahangir immediately fell in love with the beautiful Mehr un Nissa. While some scholars suggest that Emperor Jahangir was already in love with her when she was 17 and could not marry her due to opposition from his father, this is the more accepted view.
Consequently, Jahangir immediately asked for her hand in marriage and they married in the same year. Mehr un Nissa was 3 years old at the time of her second marriage with Jahangir. Such a marriage was scandalous and unheard of.
But, love breaks all barriers. Mehr un Nissa became Jahangir’s 18th legal wife and the last. It was Jahangir who gave Mehr un Nissa the title of ‘Nur Mahal’ or ‘Light of the Palace’ in 1611. Recognising her wit and talent, Jahangir gave her a lot of powers to deal with the administration of the Empire.
She oversaw the working of the Empire and it was she who led it towards prosperity. Many recognised her as the real power behind the throne.
Using her power, she had her family members to high positions in the administration. She did this to consolidate her political position. The intelligence and cleverness have been appreciated by many. Soon, her father became the Prime Minster while her brother became the grand Wazir.
She was also instrumental in arranging the marriage between her daughter from her first marriage Ladli Begum and the youngest son of Jahangir. She also arranged the marriage between her niece and prince Khurram. It was her niece who later came to be known as the ever famous Mumtaz Mahal.
She became the first Indian Empress to have coins minted in her name. This showed her power and stature in the Empire. She was not only skilled in arts of administration and politics; she was also a great hunter.
It was she who properly ruled, administered and defended the great Mughal Empire in the absence of her husband. Nur Jahan is remembered for many feats. She rescued her husband in one occasion, and raised armies in others. She was a force to be reckoned with.
In 1627, Jahangir died without naming an heir. This led to numerous tensions and feuds over succession. The two major claimants to the throne were Jahangir’s third son Prince Khurram (Later, Shah Jahan) and Prince Shahryar, Nur Jahan’s favourite.
Nur Jahan supported Prince Shahryar, and wanted him to succeed. Due to her support, Prince Shahryar would have become the next Mughal Emperor if it wasn’t for Nur Jahan’s brother’s betrayal. Her brother’s daughter was married to Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan confined Nur Jahan and defeated the forces of Prince Shahryar. Later, he executed him. In 1628, Shah Jahan assumed the throne of the Mughal Empire.
For the rest of her life, Nur Jahan was confined, but in comfort and luxury. She spent the remainder of her life with her daughter Ladli Begum and composed Persian poems. She died in 1645. She rests in her tomb in Shahdara Bagh, Lahore.
Nur Jahan left a great legacy behind. She was a powerful and independent thinking woman. Though life gave her a lot of tragedies, she made the most of them and triumphed over them. She defied the rules of the society and stood up for what she believed in.
Her courage, wit, power and talents are an inspiration to all. She will be remembered all throughout history as an independent woman who braved all odds. After all, she was the silent ruler of the great Mughal Empire.