Rukmavathi Lal Bhaiji was a Princess of Jodhpur(called Marwar then) a powerful Rajputhana kingdom. Princess Rukmavathi was daughter of King Rao Maldeo and his cocubbine Tipu. Akbar married Rukmavathi in 1581 (he was 39 years and she was 15 years old at time of marriage). Marwar rulers are called Suryavanshi’s because their leniage can be traced to Lord Rama and through him to Lord Surya himself. The Jodhpur royal family used to rule Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh for many centuries till Muhammad Ghori defeated Raja jai Chand in 1192 and they had to leave. They roamed the plains of Ganges in Gujarath and Rajasthan before settling in Rajputhana.
Rukmavathi was also the sister of Motta raja Udai Singh of Jodhpur whose daughter Jodha Bai (or Jagat Gosain later after convering to Jainism) was married to Prince Salim(who became Jagat Guru after accepting Jainism) and was his chief consort after he became Emperor Jehangir. Jodha Bai was Emperor Jehangirs chief consort (also known as Malika e Khas, Chief Queen) from 1605 when he became emperor till 1615 (when Nur Jahan became his favourite and Chief Queen ). Jodha Bai was Malika e Hindustan till her death in 1619.
Rukmavathi had powerful connections and was related to powerful emperors and Kings of those times. Indeed among all of Akbars wives she was the only one who had powerful brother in laws. Her brother in laws included
- Emperor Sher Shah Suri (her elder sister Lal bai was married to Sher Shah Suri in 1544)
- Badshah Muhammad Shah (Her elder sister Kankavati was married to him)
- Haji Khan of Ajmer (Her elder sister Ratnavati married him)
- Khan Muhammad Daulat Khan (Her elder sister Jasoda bai married him in 1532)
- Maharana Pratap (Her elder sister Phool Kanwar was married to him)
- Bhagwan Das (Her elder sister was married to him)
Further to this Rukmavathi’s neice Jodha Bai was chief consort of Prince Salim and his third wife and mother of next emperor Shah Jahan(Prince Khurram). Princess Rukmavathi ensured that Emperor Jehangir also married Shah Jahan to Rukmavathis grand neice (Jodha’s brothers daughter). Rukmavathi’s great grand neice was married by Shah Jahan to dara Sikoh and was his top three wives too. Rukmavathi’s elder sister was Phool Kunwar the one of the two chief consort of Maharana Pratap. Bhagwan das, brother of Hira Kunwari (mother of Salim) was also married to an elder sister of Rukmavathi and hence her brother in law. Raja Man Singh was her nephew in relation. Hence Rukmavathi had a close family relationship with powerful men of those times.
The circumstances that led to her marriage to Emperor Akbar was intruiging. When Sher Shah Suri attacked Delhi, Humayun was betrayed by his three younger brothers and his wife and kids were captured in a night raid by the Afghan general in Dausa, West Bengal. His daughter Aqiqa was brutally abused and killed by Sher Shah Suri’s forces and her body was thrown into river and not returned for final rites to Humayun. When Humayun faced defeat he ran to Marwar(Jodhpur) and asked refuge for few months as his wife was pregnant which was refused by Rao Maldeo because he did not want to displease Sher Shah. Hence Humayun sought refuge in Umerkot till Akbar was born. Humayun lost his elder son Al Aman due to hunger while running from Sher Shah in Rajputhana desert. When Akbar became emperor he attacked Marwar in 1561 and captured both Jodhpur and Nagore fort not only to expand his empire but to settle old scores. Maldeo tried to please Akbar by sending him many gifts through his second son Chandra Sen but that did not placate Akbar at all for two decades. Finally Mota Raja Udai Singh, Rao Maldeo’s elder son managed to placate Akbar and Akbar appointed Udai Singh as King of Jodhpur instead of younger brother Chandra Sen who had occupied the throne after his fathers death by committing farticide. Raja Udai Singh married his youngest sister Rukmavathi to Akbar in 1581(Akbar was 39 years, Rukmavathi was 15 years old) and then later on his daughter Princess Jodha Bai to Prince Salim in 1586(Jodha Bai was 13 years of age and Salim was 17 years of age at time of marriage).
Rukmavathi was one of the top 36 chief wives of Akbar and among his top 10 wives and had many powers. She was very close both to Akbar and Jehangir. Some incidents show how close Rukmavathi was to Akbar and Jehangir. Tulsi das was a great poet who lived in times of Akbar. Akbars commander and adopted son Abdul Rahim Khan e Khana(known as Rahim Das the great poet) was a great friend of Tulsi Das and Kabir das. When Akbar entrusted the education of his sons to Abdul rahim , he appointed hindu priest from Kashi to teach about Hindu religion to Akbars sons. Also he requested Tulsi Das to teach Ramayana to the Princes. Tulsi das work was translated into Persian for the Mughal princes and library. Akbar had good relation with Tulsi das, he visited his ashram in 1590s and its recorded in mughal books and paintings.
When Salim was Governor of Ajmer he revolted against Akbar and settled in Allahabad fort in 1599. In those times Prince Salim family(wife and kids and siblings etc) were in agra fort with Akbar and family. Prince Salim went to meet Tulsi Das often in his ashram as he was known to him from childhood. Initially Akbar ignored Salims folly for few years. But someone informed Akbar that Tulsi Das was instigating Prince Salim to revolt against him as he was meeting him often. Emperor Akbar invited Tulsi Das to agra and accused him of supporting Prince Salim’s revolt and why he should not be punished. Tulsi das said that he only spoke to Prince Salim as a teacher about personal things and nothing political was ever discussed between them. Abul Rahim Khan e Khana and Kashi Priest requested Akbar to let Tulsi Das as they can vouch for his innocence but Akbar refused to budge. No ones wise counsel had an effect on Akbar’s mind. Princess Rukmavathi was known for her gift of gab and fearlessness in mughal harem. Her neice Princess Jodha Bai also had this quick wit and gift of gab that endeared Prince Salim to her. Princess Rukmavathi intervened on behalf of Tulsi Das and told Akbar to let go him and argued on his behalf. Akbar finally realized his folly and let tulsi Das go back to Kashi. When Prince Salim who was away returned to Allahabad and heard about Tulsi Das being summoned to agra court by Akbar and being questioned, seeds of revolt and misunderstanding between him and Akbar were more strengthened.
In 1593 Akbar requested Salim to go on a expedition to Deccan (South India) but Salim refused. So Akbar sent Prince Daniyal on the expedition but Daniyal was a young and immature at war fields faced defeats and also got heavily addicted to drinks. So Akbar sent Salim on expedition to Rajputhana in 1596 again after Maharana Pratap and went to Deccan himself. During Akbars time, Mughals and Maharana Pratap’s army met in battle almost 21 times and majority of these times Prince Salim was involved in these wars. Prince Salim got bored of going to these futile wars and stopped at Ajmer and set up his base there and refused to go to any war with Mahrana Pratap. For a year or so he enjoyed his time in Rajputhana with his childhood friends like Mahabat Khan(Rajputh) and Qutubuddin Koka(Sheikh Salim Chisti’s grandson) and Karan Singh(his cousin brother) etc. Finally someone suggested him that if he loots the treasury of agra fort he can declare himself a independent ruler as Akbar is away in Deccan. Prince Salim went back and camped in outskirts of agra. The inchage of agra fort closed its gates refusing Prince Salim and his friends entry into the fort. Prince Salim camped outside agra city, the situation got really tensed for weeks. Finally Hamida Banu and Princess Rukmavathi and Salima Begum decided to go and meet him and find his reasons for camping outside agra with a huge army. When Salim heard his grand mother and step mothers are coming to meet him, he refused to meet them and went in boat to Allahabad and told his army to come later. Thus a potentially explosive situation was handled cleverly by the mughal women. This also shows how Prince Salim revered and respected his grandmother and step mothers and felt guilty facing them after his revolt. Apart from Salima Begum only Maharani Rukmavathi went to meet Prince Salim in Allahabad fort to bring reconciliation between her husband Akbar and son Prince Salim. This shows that apart from Salima Begum, even Maharani Rukmavathi had huge influence on Prince Salim’s decisions be it political or personal.
Emperor Jehangir pardoned Shakti Singh (of mewar) brother of Maharana Pratap for helping Maharana Pratap escape from battle field of Haldighatti by giving his horse and killing two mughal commanders who were following his elder brother because Princess Rukmavathi requested him to do so. Princess Rukmavathi’s one elder sister was married to Maharana Pratap and another to Shakti Singh of Mewar(Udaipur, Chittorgarh). Prince Salim mother Hira Kunwari and Rukmavathi were first cousin sisters as Hira Kunwari aunty(Bharamal’s sister) was married to Rao Maldeo. Rukmavathi was not only active in politics but also built gardens in agra and other places. It is said that Prince Salim was so close to Princess Rukmavathi that he incurred warth of Akbar by pardoning Shakti Singh once for helping Maharana Pratap.
The same closeness with Princess Rukmavathi led to once Prince Salim returning a Princess of Mewar with full honours (a daughter of Maharana Pratap) when she was captured by the Mughal forces during heights of the war between Mughal and Mewar forces in jungle rather than leverage it as his commanders suggested in 1580s.
This same closeness with Princess Rukmavathi and Jodha Bai stopped Emperor Jehangir from launching an attack on Maharana Karan Singh of Udaipur (Karan Singh’s grand mother(step) Roop Kanwar was sister of Princess Rukmavathi) when Prince Khurram took shelter there at height of his revolt with Mugahl Empire at Udaipur(Prince Khurram’s first wife was the grand neice of Rukmavathi and neice of Jodha Bai). Prince Salim had major issues with his mother Hira Kunwari’s Amer family in later years once he revolted against Akbar and hence he grew quiet close to the Jodhpur royals. Rukmavathi and Jodha Bai had major roles to play in developing his close relation with Jodhpur royals. Rukmavathi was his favourite step mother apart from Salima Begum and Rukmavathi was also his mother Hira Kunwari’s first cousin sister. Hence Prince Salim trusted her and his favourite wife Jodha Bai’s advice completely.
Princess Rukmavathi along with Princess Jodha held sway of the Jodhpur dynasty over the politics of Mughal Empire by their closeness to Akbar and Jehangir. Mota raja Udia Singh was Akbar’s childhood friend he only gave him the affectionate title “Mota raja”. Akbar was very fond of both Rukmavathi and Jodha Bai apart from Man Bai because they were all born and brought up in front of his eyes. Mota Raja Udai Singh was taken an hostage in Akbar’s court and then in his services for long till 1583 after which he became independent ruler of Jodhapur. Mota raja Udai Singh had palace in both Fatekpur Sikri and Agra. Although Rukmavathi did not give him an heir or any children yet both Akbar and his son Salim listened and respected her advice and wise counsel and adhered to it. Prince Salim was just 3 years younger to Princess Rukmavathi. This relation continued in future with Jodhpur Princesses marrying Mughal Princes and Emperors like Shah Jahan, Dara Sikoh and Fraukshiyar in later times too. But none had an influence that Maharani Rukmavathi or Empress Jodha Bai had over empire politics and emperors decision making in later times.