Mumtaz Mahal – The Power behind throne

Mumtaz Mahal

Mumtaz Mahal

Mumtaz Mahal was one of the few wives of mughal emperors who got prominence place and power under their husbands rule. The only other empress who was more powerful under her husbands rule was Nur Jahan.  Amazingly, Nur Jahan was the sister of Mumtaz Mahals father, Asaf Khan. Under the rule of both Jehangir and Shah Jahan, Mirza Giyaz Baig family had a strange hold on the mughal throne. The entire family got powerful roles that included Asaf Khan becoming Prime Minister, Nur Jahan the empress and Shah Jahan the defacto ruler under Jehangir.  The Giyaz Beg family especially Nur Jahan is credited with saving Mughal empire during Jehangir’s rule. But in reality the family members started misusing the power the emperors gave them to such extent that blood baths followed  generation after generation in and after their periods. Both Nur Jahan and Mumtaz political and personal power games were responsible for the blood baths as much as the power hungry mughal princes.

Mumtaz Mahal was born in agra to Abul Hassan Asaf Khan better known as Asaf Khan. She was grand daughter of Persian refugee and Akbars accountant Giyaz Baig who rose to the position of Prime Minister later. Giyaz Baig family grabbed the opportunities provided to them with both hands and got into the good books of the emperor and his family quickly after coming to India. Giyaz Baig wife Asmat Begum was a good dress designer and tailor and the royal women used her services. Thus from childhood both Nur Jahan and Mumutaz had access to the royal family. It is said that Prince Salim was friends or smitten with Nur Jahan from childhood and many folklores exist of their childhood stories. But they cannot be confirmed historically as they are not mentioned in any mughal or historical books written in those times. Like Salim-Anarkali love affair this story too should be taken with a pinch of salt.

But the love story of Prince Khurram aka Shah Jahan with Arjumand Bano aka Mumutaz Mahal has been recorded in many books.  Mumtaz mother was Diwanji Begum daughter of a Persian nobel Khwaja Ghias ud ddin. Diwanji Begum had many children famous among them was Shaista Khan who was a commander of Aurangzeb army, who was attacked by Shivaji and lost his fingers in the fight.

Mumtaz Mahal was born on 27th April 1593 and was a year younger than Prince Khurram. In the year 1605, Prince Khurram saw Arjumand Bano in Meena Bazaar a annual fair for royal and rich ladies held outside agra fort every year. Prince Khurram fell in love with the brave girl who had dared to refuse to show him the items of her shop.  Nur Jahan aka Meherunissa was lady in waiting to Ruqaiah Begum the widowed Empress of Akbar. Since Giyaz Baig, Arjumand Bano’s grandfather was Prime Minister to Emperor Jehangir, her family had set up a stall at Meena Bazaar.  Prince Khurram who had a tiff with her became impressed by the young girls bravery to refuse him an item. He immediately ran to his father who was in Deewan e Aam and declared that he wants to marry Arjumand Bano.  Jehangir was amused at his young sons request. Prince Khurram was 13 years when this incident took place.

Later on in the year 1607, finally Jehangir betrothed Khurram to Arjumand Bano. Khurram was 15 years and Arjumand 14 years at time of their engagement. They married only in 30th April 1612, five years after their engagement. Nur Jahan had married Emperor Jehangir in 1611 and was instrumental in her neice getting married to Khurram. Jehangir looked not to favour Arjumand Bano as his favourite sons wife and kept postponing the marriage on one pertex or another. In the meanwhile he married off Shah Jahan to the Princess of Persia Kandahari Begum and Princess Manbhavati Bai of Jodhpur. Shah Jahan had daughters from both these wives. Both these wives were his cousin sisters and had great significance after Mumtaz’s death in his life. They were his constant companions after Mumtazs death and took care of him in imprisonment.  But during Mumtaz’s life time and after her death his eldest daughters from these two wives never got any significance. Shah Jahan married many wives after marrying Mumtaz but none got importance.

Once Mumtaz married Shah Jahan in 1612 she slowly started establishing her influence over him. Just like her aunty Nur Jahan who dominated Jehangirs decision making process, Shah Jahan also blindly trusted Mumtaz in both person and professional advice. Initially Mumtaz was on good terms with Nur Jahan and with her help established total dominance over her husbands household. His other wives were sidelined and his children from other elder wives were also sidelined completely. Mumtaz told Shah Jahan that to avoid blood shed like in other generations that he must have children only from her and not his other wives. His younger wives were not allowed to have children, to the extent there were rumors that some pregnant wives and cocubbines had pregnancy aborted. Mumtaz would give them a juice that caused miscarriage. Thus she ensured that her children had no competition from other wives kids. Asaf Khan and Nur Jahan openly supported her in her endeavours.

Mumtaz and Shah Jahan had 14 kids in 19 years of marriage among whom only 7 survived. Mumtaz also constantly travelled with Shah Jahan on his official tours and wars although she was frequently pregnant. Now whether this was out of love and devotion to him or a strategy to ensure he never got close to other wives is a matter to ponder. Whoever got close to Shah Jahan be it wife or coccubbine was either warned off or eliminated. One famous wife who was eliminated was Gulara Begum whom Shah Jahan was very fond off and married despite her being a commoner. Thus Mumtaz held sway over her husbands life and mind completely just like her aunty Nur Jahan did over Jehangir. But seeing the hatred Nur Jahan got for openly ruling in court and public, Shah Jahan told her to stay away from court. That would not be required as Mumtaz died within 3 years of Shah Jahan becoming emperor

But when she found her aunty forcing Shah Jahan to marry her daughter Ladli Begum, the differences arose between Nur Jahan and her. Shah Jahan was already against Nur Jahan because he felt she was poisoning his father Jehangir mind against him. Also, he was scared his younger brother Sharyar would be given the throne because of Nur Jahan in future. Sharyar was Nur Jahan;s daughter from Sher Afghan, Ladi Begums husband.  Shah Jahan had refused to marry Ladli Begum saying he considered her as sister from childhood. Shah Jahan was the most capable son and heir to Jehangir anointed by him only as early as 1608. After Khusraus rebellion and blinding, Jehangir felt Shah Jahan was his most capable successor and showered him with titles and even Punjab Subah which was given only to future emperors. Nur Jahan was alaramed and did not want her power to be curtailed after Jehangirs death, so she started plotting against Shah jahan and succeeded to make Jehangir against his beloved son. Mumtaz to fell out with Nur Jahan and Asaf Khan although sided with Shah Jahan covertly, he remained in court acting loyal to Jehangir and Nur Jahan. In 1622 Shah Jahan rebelled against Jehangir and was defeated and submitted in 1626. But deep below tensions and power games remained between Shah Jahan and Nur Jahan till Jehangir death in 1627.

Mumtaz and her father Asaf Khan were instrumental in ensuring Shah Jahan becomes next emperor by defeating Nur Jahan’s manuovers. Shah Jahan is even rumoured to have killed his elder brother Khusrau in his custody in Deccan and is also blamed for the mystery death of Parvez his other elder brother in Deccan again. But Nur Jahan also may be having an hand in Parvez death as he was a challenger to throne after Jehangir death.  Asaf Khan eliminated many other remaining male members of mughal royal family that included Jehangirs sons Sharyar and Jahandhar and Khusraus sons. Thus the blood bath had reached grave propotions in Shah jahan’s time only.

Mumtaz dominated Shah Jahan and could order him around without him taking exception to it. Take the case of Amar Singh Rathore, a brave Rajputh. When Amar Singh killed Salabhat Khan in court for insulting him in front of Shah Jahan, Shah Jahan got scared and left the court. But Mumtaz refused to let him inside harem till Amar Singh was dead. So Shah Jahan went back and ordered Amar Singh death.  Amar Singhs own brother killed him on Shah Jahans orders. Even today at agra fort there is an Amar Singh gate in his honour.

Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur on 17th June 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child, a daughter. Shah Jahan went into seclucion and mourning for many weeks and aged considerably at her death.  Shah Jahan lost interest in administration and other official affairs for a long time. It was his daughter Jahanara who took care of court and son Dara Sikoh who took care of empire affairs at that time. Mumtaz wish that Shah Jahan must have only children from her to avoid blood shed in future for throne did not get fulfilled. A farticide that easily was the worst in several generations and unheard of in Indian subcontinent for centuries was carried out by Aurangzeb to grab power even as Shah Jahan was alive.

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