Maharani Man bai – A Life in waiting

Man bai or Shah Begum meaning “Kings wife” was first wife of Emperor Jehangir aka Prince Salim. Man Bai was born in 1570 and died on 16th May 1604. She was the daughter of Raja Bhagwan Das of Amer(jaipur) and his wife. She was younger sister of Raja Man singh the supreme commander in chief of Mughal army and King of Amer.  She was the neice of Marium uz Zamani Hira Kunwari and mother of Prince Salim. The marriage of Man Bai with Prince Salim was conducted in Amer palace(Jaipur) on 1th February 1585. This marriage was one of the grandest wedding witnessed ever even among royal mughals. Akbar himself went with his family and ministers and nobels to Amer for the wedding. The wedding took place both in Hindu and Muslim rituals. The dowry for Man Bai was fixed as 2 crore silver coins and many other gifts like horses, elephants, gold, silver and even servants both boys and girls. Even the Amirs who came with Akbar were given rich gifts. Akbar ordered gold and precious stones to be littered on the way entourage proceeds from amer to agra. People got tired picking the precious stones after the marriage ceremony passed through the path.

Bhagwan das said after marriage “My daughter is honour of your palace and we are your salves”.

Akbar replied “Your daughter is Queen of our palace and you are our great Lords”.

Man Bai was Emperor Akbars favourite daughter in law. Man Bai gave birth to two children elder daughter Sultan un Nissa Begum on 26th April 1586.Sultan un Nissa Begum remained unmarried all her life and built Khusrau Bagh in Allahabad where her mother Man Bai and brother Khusrau are buried. She could not live in peace as Nur Jahan made her life miserable because of her brothers rebellion. She spent her life till her late sixty’s caring for her brother Khusrau’s children as her own. Second son was Khusrau Mizra who was born on 6th August 1587. Khusrau Mirza was a favourite of his grand father Akbar and was supported by Akbar, Aziz Koka, Man singh and Abdul Rahim to be successor to Akbar. Khusrau was competing with his father Salim for throne and even called him Shah Bhai instead of father. Both Khusrau and Khurram were brought up in Akbar’s household rather than their father Salim’s. That made Khusrau hate his father and compete with him for throne. Akbar himself disliked Salim and gave preference to grandsons over his son Salim. That led to lot of bad blood between Salim and Khusrau which ended in Khusrau’s revolt and blinding.

Man Bai was very beautiful to look at and was highly devoted to her husband. But she is said to have had a fiery temper and any offence to her will she felt would flare up into big fights in harem.  She even fought with Salim on slightest offence. She had mental health issues and took up to heavy drinking and opium eating just like her husband Prince Salim. Prince Salim after 1592 was hardly in agra(or Lahore) house. But his family(wife and kids) stayed usually with royal family rather than husband. Hence Man Bai got lonely. Salim was always on campaigns, travelling to regions where he was governor or on rebellion. Remaining time he had friends for company. Man bai’s son Khusrau wanted to be next emperor supported by Man Singh and others. Man bai tried her best to counsel Khusrau but when he did not listen she killed herself by overdose of opium dose. She just got caught in crossfire between an husband and son both wanting to be emperor.

Jehangir’s description of event is given below

In  Jehangirnama, Prince Salim describes her death as following verses. “His mother, while I was prince, in grief at his ways and behaviour and the misconduct of her brother Madho Singh, and killed herself by swallowing opium (tirydq).’What shall I write of her excellences and goodness ? She had perfect intelligence, and her devotion to me was such that she would have sacrificed a thousand sons and brothers for one hair of mine. She constantly wrote to Khusrau and urged him to be sincere and affectionate to me. When she saw that it was of no use and that it was unknown how far he would be led away, she from the indignation and high spirit which are inherent in the Rajput character determined upon death. Her mind was several times disturbed, for such feelings were hereditary, and her ancestors and her brothers had occasionally showed signs of madness, but after a time had recovered. At a time when I had gone hunting, on Zi-1-lrijja 26th, 1013 1 (May 6th, 1605), she in her agitation swallowed a quantity of opium, and quickly passed away. It was as if she had foreseen this behaviour of her unworthy son. My first marriage and that at the commencement of my adolescence was with her. After Khusrau’s birth I gave her the title of Shah Begam. When she could not endure the bad conduct of her son and brother towards me she became disgusted with life and died, thereby escaping the present grief and sorrow. In consequence of her death, from the attachment I had for her, I passed some days without any kind of pleasure in life or existence, and for four days, which amount to 32 watches, I took nothing in the shape of food or drink. When this tale was told to my revered father, a letter of condolence of excessive kindness and affection reached this devoted disciple, and he sent me a robe of honour and the auspicious turban tied just as he had taken it off his head. This favour threw water on the flame of my grief and afforded complete quiet and repose to my unquietude and disturbance. My intention in relating these circumstances is to point out that no evil fortune is greater than when a son, through the impropriety”.

Thus ended Man Bai’s life at the very young age of 34 years. The politics, the intrigues of the mughal family and harem were too much for Man Bai to handle. In the 1590s, there was a major tension between Akbar and Salim once. The reason was younger son Prince Daniyal’s marriage to an hindu widow. Prince Daniyal had saved a young hindu widow and fell in love with her. He was young in his early 20’s and asked permission to marry this young hindu girl. Akbar obviously would not accept such proposals for his son. Daniyal became adamant and it was Prince Salim who helped him at that time. This angered Akbar to a large extent and both were at logger heads. Prince Salim was away on campaigns to Rajputhana at that time. At that time once Man Bai and Jodha Bai went to attend a wedding of their relative in Rajputhana. Man Bai along with Jodha Bai risked anger of Akbar and went to meet Prince Salim in his war camp. This incident showed how much Man Bai cared and loved Prince Salim that she went all way to Rajputhana just to meet him on his war campaign trail.

That is why Prince Salim waxes elequoent to her in his memories saying ”What shall I write of her excellences and goodness ? She had perfect intelligence, and her devotion to me was such that she would have sacrificed a thousand sons and brothers for one hair of mine.”

Whether Man Bai was mentally not well (heridetary as Salim says in Jehangirnama) or became addicted to wine and opium etc but a major reason for that must be the mughal harem culture and the mughal men be it her son Khusrau, her husband Salim or her brothers Madhav Singh and Man Singh or may be even Akbars policy of pitting son against father for the throne.  She seemed to be one who cannot accept insubordination and had high idealism of whats right and wrong. She also was highly loyal to her husband and hence could not come to terms that her son with help of her brothers was challenging her husband to the mughal throne. Above that her married life did not seem so happy and ideal, she had other wives and women with whom she had to compete for her husbands love and affection. Basically her idea of life, love, loyalty did not meet the standards of the 16th century that too a mughal harem where loyalty shifted based on who was in power or could be in power in future. She also seems not to know the art of being pleasant and diplomatic on face while being manipulative and playing games behind that was an essential criteria to survive in the mughal harem. That led her to take the extreme step of ending her own life with high dose of opium mxed with wine.

Here its important to know Man Bai was highly addicted to wine and opium etc from very young age in her 20s only. Why did Man Bai very powerful Queen on mughal harem and court kill herself is truly a mystery? What did she not have everything that most others never had in mughal royalty(other than Ruqaiah and Salima or Hira Knuwari). She was favourite daughter in law of Akbar, she was favourite wife of Salim, her mother in law was her maternal aunty Hira Kunwari, Man Singh and Bhagwan Das her brother and father were powerful men in mughal court, her son Khusrau was heir to throne yet she looked very unhappy in life.  She had so many powers she had seal which she could use to issue farmans, Salims entire house hold was in her control or she took care of Salims family. But her husband was mostly away on wars or rebellion from home so she was definetly lonely. Add to that Khusrau was brought up in Akbars house hold than hers. Further the politics in mughal court and harem frustrated her mostly. Thats why she took to drinking and opium eating. If Salim could have tried to give her mental support she could have been happier but he himself was highly addicted to wine and opium and going to war at young age had made him to depressed or mentally sick. In 16th century mentral health was not a known or great topic. So when both husband and wife are mentally depressed and the politics at both home(mughal harem) and work place that is mughal court is so drastic it can drive anyone to have suicidal thoughts sometimes. People who are addicted do not usually know or have idea of reality. May be that is why Man Bai took decision to end her life at such young age. Even her husband Salim collapsed from heavy drinking at age 28 years and was told he had 6 months to live if he did not stop drinking. Imagine drinking 20 glass of pure wine without water for almost a decade every day plus opium addiction. It was miracle that Salim took a decade to collapse actually. It just shows that as a warrior he was so strong in health that his body could take 20 glasses of wine everyday for a decade. Man Bai also drank heavily and consumed opium for more than a decade before her suicide.  Once Salim got to know Man Bai was drinking heavily and called her to come to Kabul fort (he was on campaign to Persia) to explain to her drinking so much was bad for health. Someone whose highly addicted to drinks like Salim will call and advice another person his wife to not drink, such advice was never taken seriously. Man Bai too never took his advice and continued drinking like before.

When salim returned from hunt that day Man Bai was dead. When Salim saw that she died he was shaken up, may be guilty too. He went into mourning and not drinking or eating for four days. She was buried in Khusrau bagh(named later) in Allahabad. Salim was in Allahabad at that time. That time he was in direct competition with Khusrau his elder son for mughal throne. A few weeks later he went back to agra to his family. Akbar was unwell and Salim thought it wise to stay close to seat of power. On his death bed, Akbar called Salim and anointed him next emperor by giving him the sword and his head gear. He made all ministers swear loyalty to Prince Salim. He died the next day on 27th October 1605.

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