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NUR JAHAN (1577–1645)


Nur Jahan was a Mughal empress and power behind the throne of Jahangir. The Princess Mehr-un-nissa was given the title Nur Mahal (Light of the Palace) on her marriage to Jahangir, and this was subsequently changed to Nur Jahan (Light of the World). Jahangir’s marriage to her was the turning point in Mughal rule. She began to enjoy greater influence and authority on her promotion to the status of Padshah Begum (the chief Queen) in 1613. In that capacity she became the head of female society in the capital and the mistress of the imperial household. Dominating and power-loving as well as generous and liberal, she secured an unrivalled ascendancy over Jahangir’s mind. He first gave her the title Nur Mahal which he changed in 1616 to Nur Jahan, or “Light of the World.” Jahangir repeatedly said that he had bestowed the sovereignty on Nur Jahan and he only ‘required a seer of wine and half a seer of kababs’ for his own needs. She often appeared before the people to dispense justice and transacted business in the open. Coins were issued in her name, and all royal orders were countersigned by her. Within a few years of her marriage Nur Jahan organised a faction of her own and took the reins of government into her own hands. This party consisted of her parents and relatives, who were soon raised to high positions. The main pillars of the caucus who ruled the empire for four years were Nur Jahan herself, her father Itimaduddaula, her brother Asaf Khan and Prince Khurram, her son by Jahangir, later to be known as Shah Jahan.

During this period Nur Jahan tried to raise Khurram to the pinnacle of prestige and glory. He was tipped to be the next king, but in 1620 Ladli Begum, the queen’s daughter from her first marriage to Sher Afghan, was betrothed to Shahryar, youngest son of Jahangir and a potential rival to Khurram. Nur Jahan had a change of heart, and soon began to back Shahryar and reduce Khurram’s influence. This drove Khurram to rebel against her and a prolonged civil war followed, which ended with Shah Jahan’s accession to the throne. Nur Jahan was pensioned off to live in retirement in Lahore till her death. The tomb of Nur Jahan is in Lahore, near the tomb of her husband Jahangir, along the river Ravi. She commissioned it herself, probably at around the same time as Jahangir’s tomb was built. The scheme is similar to Jahangir’s tomb, although Nur Jahan’s tomb is about half the size.

Nur Jahan’s matchless beauty and unrivalled accomplishments helped her in influencing her husband. She was responsible for the invention of Itr or essence of roses and devised many new fashions and ornaments, most of which remained in vogue till the austerities of Aurangzeb’s reign put an end to them. She was highly educated and was fond of poetry and music, and composed many verses in Persian. Believing in the Shia faith, she yet had a very universal outlook.
 
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