Empress Jodha Bai – Chief Consort of Jehangir

Jodha Bai

Jodha Bai

Jodha Bai was born on 13 May 1573 to Mota Raja Udai Singh of Jodhpur(marwar) and Rani Manrang Devi. Jodha Bai’s royal family were called Suryavanshi’s and they traced direct decendancy to Lord Rama and through him to Lord Surya. They originally ruled UP state of Kannauj. Jodha Bai also called Manmathi Lalji Bhaisa was grand daughter of Rao Maldeo a powerful marwar king of Rajputhana. Rani Manrang Devi was the daughter of Raja Askaram Bhimvrajot of Gwalior. She was also given title Taj Bibi Bilqis Makhani Begum Sahiba after her death in April 18th 1619 and was buried in Suhagpura (Agra).  Her only issue from emperor Jehangir was Prince Khurram(Shah Jahan). Jodha Bai was the third wife of Prince Salim and his Chief Consort from 1605 till 1615. She was the tenth daughter of Mota raja Udai Singh. Raja Udai singh and Akbar were friends from teenage times only. Jodha Bai’s dowry included 75 lakhs of silver coins a little less than the 2 crore silver coins given during Prince Salim’s first wife Man Bai’s marriage.

There is an interesting story of how Jodha Bai was married to Prince Salim. Akbar had personal issues to settle with Jodhpur royals as they refused to help Humayun when he was running to save his family from forces of Sher Shah Suri. Akbar attacked Jodhpur and Nagore fort and took Udai Singh as hostage to Agra fort to ensure his father Rao Maldeos good behaviour. Rao Maldeo died in 1562 and his younger brother Chandra Sen seized throne in absence of Udai Singh after farticide. In 1564 Akbar attacked Jodhpur again and defeated Chandra Sen and appointed Raja Udai Singh as the incharge. By 1581 he was promoted to the title of Raja and was crowned King of Jodhpur on 4th Augus 1583 and all the lands returned to his family by Emperor Akbar. Akbar became good friends with him when Udai Singh was an hostage and later joined imperial services in 1562 after his fathers death. In 1581 only Raja Udai Singh married his youngest sister born after his father Rao Maldeo’s death Princess Rukmavathi Lalji Bhaisa to Emperor Akbar(Akbar was 39 years, Rukmavathi  was 17 years). Once Prince Salim accompanied his step mother Rukmavathi Lalji Bhaisa to a wedding ceremony and there he saw Jodha Bai, her neice and his cousin(Hira Kunwari his mother’s aunty was married to Rao Maldeo the grandfather of Jodha Bai). Prince Salim conveyed his desire to marry Jodha Bai to his mothers and grandmother after returning from the wedding. Thus Prince Salim married Princess Jodha Bai on 26th June 1586.

The marriage was not an easy affair. Kalyan Das Rathore of Siwana threatened to kill both Mota Raja Udai Singh and Prince Salim if this marriage took place. Akbar had to send mughal imperial forces and attack Siwana where Kalyan Das died fighting the mughal army. Marrying a Rajputh Princess to a mughal was considered an humiliation and degradation to Rajputhana. Thus the marriage took place with lot of strife and objections. Jodha Bai and Prince Salim married in both Hindu and muslim rituals at Raja Udai Singh palace in Fatekpur Sikri.

Jagat Gosain

A young Jodha Bai (Prince Salim wife and Shah Jahan’s mother)

Jodha soon endeared herself to her husband and his family members by her wit, political acumen, courage in using weapons and even warfare. Once when Jehangir was on a hunt in forest when a tiger jumped at Jehangir who could not shoot it on time and Jodha Bai fired and killed the animal in an instant. Nur Jahan was also with Jehangir during that hunt. Jehangir was highly impressed with her hunting skills and rewarded her for saving his life. Salim’s favourite wife was Jodha Bai till Nur Jahan in 1611 arrived in his life and ensured he never again cared for any other wife again. Emperor Jehangir had a love for wine and opium from adult life only. That love for wine and opium destroyed his physical health to such an extent that by the time he was in late 20s he once collapsed in his palace. The physician warned him that if he continued drinking 20-30 glasses of wine a day he will not live many more months. From that day Prince Salim reduced his consumption of wine.

But his health was failing by the time he was in late 30s he had heart attack, asthama and also other health issues. This helped Nur Jahan to get a grip on administration and she removed all old ministers and commanders and put her loyal men especially family members to those positions. She also very cunningly ensured that Jehangir was taken away from family members he liked or loved that included his wives like Jodha Bai, childhood friends Mahabhat Khan etc. Jodha definetly was no push over but Nur Jahan succedded in ensuring Jehangir hand over all power to her. By 1615 Nur Jahan had completely taken over the administration and even Jehangirs mind. Jehangir who anyway was unwell and had not much interest in politics was too happy to hand over his responsibility to Nur Jahan and enjoy his wine and meat.

Nur Jahan truly made all his other wives life miserable with her cunning political plays, she only seems to have hastened Jodha Bai’s death at young age of 46 years. Jodha Bai seemed to have taken Jehangir’s disinterest in her life after Nur Jahan’s arrival a bit seriously only. Her marriage life was not full of roses as anyone thought it would be because Prince Salim loved her immensely.  Jodha had powerful relations backing her in mughal family and court, Prince Salim mother Maharani Hira Kunwari was her grand aunt in relation from maternal side,  Maharani Rukmavathi Lalji Bhaisa one of the top ten wives of Akbar was her own father Udai Singh’s sister, Raja Bhagwan das was her uncle(paternal aunty’s husband), Man Singh was her brother in law and cousin brother(he married her sister), Man Bai, Prince Salim’s first wife was her cousin sister, many of other Rajputh wives of Akbar like Raj Kunwari and Nathi Bai were her auntys in relation. She had so many people who were out there to support her both in mughal court and mughal family that her life looked like a bed of roses. Also many kings and emperors in relation were her maternal uncles like Sher Shah Suri, Muhammad Bahadur Shah, Haji Khan, Daulat Khan, Maharana Pratap etc. But her life was filled with tragedies of great propotions.

She lost her first child a baby daughter named Begum sultan in 1590. In those days a wife’s importance was based on her ability to give birth to a male child. For 7 years after marriage she could not give birth to a baby boy. This distressed her greatly. Man Bai and other wife of Jehangir had already given him two male heirs. But Jodha Bai despite being a favourite of Prince Salim could not give him a male heir. Man Bai had become a favourite of Akbar by giving birth to Salim’s eldest Khusrau already.  This made her insecure and she did lots of worships in various temples and fasted to pray for a son. She even undertook the strenuous journey of walking from agra to Ajmer Sharif on bare foot with Prince Salim to pray for a son (like Akbar had done). Finally her only surviving child her baby son was born in 1592 and named Prince Khurram(Shah Jahan).

In the meanwhile, Prince Salim was usually away from agra and family either he was governor of Ajmer or sent on wars with Persia or Maharana Pratap, rajpuths etc. During Akbar’s time 21 wars were fought between Maharana Pratap and Akbar and majority of the time it was Prince Salim commanding the army. Only 3-4 times Murad, Man Singh or other commanders commanded the army against Maharana Pratap. Prince Salim being away from family(wife and kids) took a toll on his wives. His kids got highly influenced by other relatives than their own father and these relatives sowed seeds of hatred in heart of kids against their own father Salim.  Like Khusrau was closer to Man Singh, Aziz Koka, Abdul rahim and Akbar and Khurram  was closer to Akbar, Ruqaiah and Nur Jahan his maid caretaker than to his mother Jodha Bai or Salim. Man Bai drowned her worry of being away from husband Salim and Khusrau(as he lived in Akbars household) by taking to heavy drinking.

Meanwhile a great tragedy struck Jodha Bai too. After 7 years of prayers, fasting and tears finally she gave birth to a son Prince Khurram on 5th January 1592. When Prince Khurram was born the court astrologer predicted that Prince Khurram fame will be more than Akbar and Prince Salim. When Ruqaiah Begum, his first wife heard of this she asked her husband to hand over Prince Khurram to her for upbringing. Already Akbar had started getting wary of Salim and he agreed to hand over 6 day old baby under Ruqaiah Begum’s care. Thus Jodha Bai’s only hope her son was taken away from her and brought up in Akbar’s household. Prince Khusrau Salim’s elder son was already being brought up in Akbars household and called Salim Shah Bhai (Prince brother) instead of father. Now Prnce Khurram too was taken away from Salim’s household. That caused great wedge in Akbar and Salim’s already strained relationship. Ruqaiah was highly possessive of Prince Khurram and restrained meeting time of Khurram with Jodha Bai. Further tragedy struck a lonely Jodha Bai, her baby daughter, her last child died in 1597 soon after birth.

In year 1597 Prince Salim who had just returned from campaigns of five years was being forced to again go on campaign to Deccan. He resisted it, but finally Akbar forced him to go on campaign to Rajputhana in 1599. Prince Salim started his rebellion in Ajmer and this lasted till 1604. In 1605 after Akbar’s death Prince Khurram was returned to his fathers household. He started staying with his mother-father at age 14 years. But by then he could not establish the close bond a child and mother had and was closer to Ruqaiah Begum only for many more years. Add to that Nur jahan was his nurse maid as a kid so he was close to Nur Jahan too after her marriage to Jehangir. Jodha felt isolated by both husband and son and Nur Jahan’s cunning polity started having impact on her health. Jehangir who himself was not in great health left the empire work in hands of Nur Jahan and Prince Khurram after 1615.

By 1617-18, Nur Jahan started playing political games to consolidate her powers after Jehangirs death. She first proposed that her daughter Ladli Begum marry Prince Khurram which was opposed strongly by Arjumand Bano(Mumtaz Mahal) and Prince Khurram told her for him Ladli Begum was like a sister and hence rejected proposal.  Then she asked Prince Khusrau(who was in prison and blinded) to marry her daughter(From first marriage) and said that he will get fredom from prison and become emperor  and he too refused. Finally she married Ladli Begum to Jehangir’s youngest son Shariyar and started grooming him to be next emperor. When Prince Khurram realized Nur Jahan’s games, he was highly unimpressed. For decades he had respected her and sided with Nur Jahan against his mother Jodha Bai only to be betrayed by Nur Jahan. But it was too late as his mother Jodha Bai died a year after only in 1619 at young age of 46 years. This death shook Prince Khurram badly and he mourned her for many days. He was so broken by her death that Jehangir took him to his palace to console him out of grief. Thus ended life of Empress Jodha Bai, Chief Consort of Emperor Jehangir from 1605-1615 and his Chief Queen till 1619. She was buried in Sughagpura, mughal gardens in agra. This tomb and garden was blown up by British in 1832. Her tomb was never traced back or shifted as Mughals were arch rivals of British and also in first war of Independence.

Thus ended an Empress lonely and tough life, being away from an ambitious rebel husband for long years as a young married woman, a son and only child snatched away from her womb  at tender age of 6 days to fulfil an emperors(Akbar) chief consorts(Ruqaiah) wish to raise a future emperor (Shah Jahan), an chief consort position snatched away after few years of happiness and bliss with husband for a new rival in harem(Nur Jahan) who made her life tough with political and machivellian games, a son who considered a foster mother Ruqaiah as his own and favoured his fathers favourite wife Nur Jahan for his future political ambitions. Her life can only be compared to another of her contemporary Man Bai, her husband Salim’s first wife in terms of the tragedy and fortune reversals. She had everything going for her, her husbands favourite, a heir to boast of, an Empress and chief consort position and yet in reality had nothing truly. She died a lonely death at a very young age of 46 years when many mughal princess and begums actually lived longer than the Emperor/Princes.

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