Early Life

Nur Jahan was born Mehr-un-Nissa on 31 May 1577 in Kandahar, present-day Afghanistan. She was born into a family of Persian nobility and was the second daughter and fourth child of the Persian aristocrat Mirza Ghias Beg and his wife Asmat Begam.

Young Nur Jahan
Young Nur Jahan

The family feared they would be unable to take care of the newborn baby. Fortunately, merchant noble Malik Masud caravan took the family to India. He would later assist Ghias Beg in finding a position in the service of Emperor Akbar.

Her father Ghiyas Beg began his career in India. Mughal emperor gave him mansab of 300 in 1577. Thereafter emperor appointed him diwan (treasurer) for the province of Kabul.

Due to his astute skills at conducting business he quickly rose through the ranks of the high administrative officials. The emperor awarded him the title of Itimad-ud-Daula or ‘Pillar of the State’.

As a result of his work and promotions, Ghias Beg was able to ensure that Mehr-un-Nissa (the future Nur Jahan) would have the best possible education. She became well versed in Arabic, Persian, art, literature, Music and Dance.

The poet and author Vidya Dhar Mahajan would later praise her as having a piercing intelligence, a volatile temper and a sound common sense.

Nur Jahan First Marriage

In 1594, Nur Jahan married her first husband Ali Quli Istajlu (also known as Sher Afgan Khan). She was only seventeen years old.

Sher Afgan was an adventurous Persian who came to india after the demise of his first master Shah Ismail II. As a reward for his loyal service, Akbar arranged Nur Jahan’s marriage with Sher Afgan.

The couple had only one child together, a daughter, named Ladli Begum, who was born in 1605.

Prince Salim succeeded the Emperor Akbar who died in 1605. He took the regal name Jahangir.

In 1607, Royal troops killed Sher Afgan as he refused to obey summons from the Governor of Bengal. He took part in anti-state activities and attacked the governor when he came to escort Sher Afgan to court.

After her husband Sher Afgan was killed in 1607, Nur Jahan and her daughter, Ladli Begum, were summoned to Agra by Jahangir to act as ladies-in-waiting to his step-mother Ruqaiya Sultan Begum. The relationship that grew between Nur Jahan and Ruqaiya appears to have been an extremely tender one.

Second Marriage

In 1611, while shopping with her patroness, Empress Ruqaiya, Nur Jahan met again the Emperor Jahangir at the palace meena bazaar during the spring festival of Nowruz. Jahangir proposed her immediately and they were married on 25 May of the same year.

Jahagir and Nur Jahan
Jahagir and Nur Jahan

Nur Jahan was thirty four years old at the time of her second marriage. She would be Jahangir’s twentieth and last legal wife.

To honour his new beautiful and faithful wife, Jahangir gave her the title of ‘Nur Mahal’ (“Light of the Palace”) upon their marriage in 1611 and ‘Nur Jahan’ (“Light of the World”) five years later in 1616.

Jahangir’s affection and trust of Nur Jahan led to her wielding a great deal of power in affairs of state. Jahangir’s addiction to opium and alcohol made it easier for Nur Jahan to exert her influence. For many years, she effectively wielded imperial power. People recognized her as the real force behind the Mughal throne. She sat alongside her husband on the jharoka to receive audiences, issued orders. He oversaw the administration of several jagir (land parcels), and consulted with ministers.

Emperor accused her father of embezzlement and the brother of treason. Her fortunes took a turn for the better when she married Jahangir.

Empress Of India

Nur Jahan was able to convince her husband to pardon her father and appoint him Prime Minister. She placed various members of her family in high positions throughout the court and administrative offices. Jahagir appointed her brother Asaf Khan as grand Wazir(minister).

She adopted Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s second son, Prince Shah Shuja, upon his birth in 1616. Jahagir gave her new responsibility due to his affection for her.

Nur Jahan arranged for her daughter Ladli to marry Jahangir’s youngest son Shahryar. Furthermore, to ensure her continued connections to the throne and she married her niece Arjumand Banu Begum (Mumtaz Mahal) to marry Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan).

The two weddings ensured that one way or another, the influence of Nur Jahan’s family would extend over the Mughal Empire for at least another generation.

Nur Jahan’s courage, bravery and administrative skills would come in handy throughout her reign. She as had to defend the Empire’s borders in her husband’s absence and deal with family feuds and rebel uprisings. The war of succession brought on by the failure of Jahangir to name an heir before he died on 28 October 1627.

Prince Khurram resented the influence Nur Jahan held over his father. Khurram was angry with Nur Jahan as he has to play second fiddle to her favourite Shahryar, his half-brother and her son-in-law.

Fall from Power

In 1622 Prince Khurram raised an army and marched against his father and Nur Jahan. Jahangir’s forces quelled the rebellion. Jahagir forced the prince to surrender unconditionally. Although he was forgiven for his errors in 1626, tensions between Nur Jahan and her stepson would continue to grow underneath the surface.

In 1626, the rebel captured Emperor Jahangir who was on his way to Kashmir. The rebel leader Mahabat Khan had hoped to stage a coup against Jahangir.

Nur Jahan intervened to get her husband released. She ordered the ministers to organize an attack on the enemy in order to rescue the Emperor.

Soon Nur Jahan realized her plan has failed. She  surrendered to Mahabat Khan. Mahabat Khan placed her in captivity with her husband. Unfortunately for the rebels, Mahabat Khan failed to recognise the creativity and intellect of Nur Jahan as she soon was able to organize an escape and raise an army right under his very nose.

Later Jahangir died on 28 October 1627. Jahangir’s death sparked a war of succession between his remaining competent sons Prince Khurram who had proclaimed himself Shah Jahan and Prince Shahryar.

Fall from Power

Nur Jahan was afraid that if Shah Jahan was made emperor she would lose her influence in court. Nur Jahan chose to side with Shahryar. She believed that he could be manipulated much more easily.

During the first half of the war it appeared as though Shahryar and Nur Jahan might turn out to be the victors. However, Asaf Khan bretrayed Nur Jahan and Shahryar. Asaf Khan was jealous of his sister’s power and sided with Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan was married to Asaf Khan’s daughter Mumtaz Mahal.

While Asaf Khan forced Nur Jahan into confinement, Shah Jahan defeated Shahryar’s troops and ordered his execution. In 1628, Shah Jahan became the new Mughal emperor.

Later Life

Nur Jahan spent the remainder of her life Confined in a comfortable mansion in Lahore with her daughter Ladli. Shah Jahan granted her an annual amount of 2 Lac rupees.

During this period she oversaw the completion of her father’s mausoleum in Agra. She started building mausoleum in 1622 and is now known as Itmad- ud- daulah’s tomb.

Nur Jahan died on 17 December 1645 at age 68. Her family buried her at her tomb in Shahdara Bagh in Lahore, which she had built herself.

Nur Jahan’s desire of being close to her husband even in death is visible in the proximity of her tomb to that of her husband, Jahangir’s. Her brother Asaf Khan’s tomb is also located nearby.

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