|Spouse||Sher Afghan Quli Khan (1594–1607)
Jahangir (m. 1611)
|Father||Mirza Ghias Beg|
|Born||31 May 1577
Kandahar, Mughal Empire
|Died||17 December 1645
Lahore, Mughal Empire
|Burial||Shahdara Bagh, Lahore|
Nur Jahan (Persian: نور جهان; Urdu: نور جهاں; Pashto: نور جہاں) (alternative spelling Noor Jahan, Nur Jehan, Nor Jahan, etc.) (31 May 1577 – 17 December 1645) born as Mehrunnisaa was Empress of the Mughal Empire. A strong, charismatic and well-educated woman, she is considered to be one of the most powerful and influential women of the 17th century Mughal Empire. She was the twentieth and favourite wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir who ruled the Mughal Empire at the peak of its power and supremacy. The story of the couple’s infatuation for each other and the relationship that developed between them has been the stuff of many (often apocryphal) legends. As a result of her second husband’s, the Emperor Jahangir's, serious battle with alcohol and opium addiction, Nur Jahan was able to wield a significant amount of imperial influence and was often considered at the time to be the real power behind the throne. She remains historically significant for not only the sheer political power she maintained (a feat no Mughal women before her had ever achieved) but also for her contribution to Indian culture, charity work, commercial trade and her ability to rule with an iron fist. She was the aunt of the Empress Mumtaz Mahal for whom the future Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal. Furthermore she is the only Mughal empress to have her name struck in silver coins.
Birth and early childhood 
Nur Jahan was born on 31 May 1577 in Kandahar. She was the second daughter and fourth child of the downtrodden and destitute Persian aristocrat Mirza Ghias Beg and his wife Asmet Begum. Hoping to improve his family’s fortunes, Ghias Beg chose to relocate to India where the Emperor Akbar`s court was said to be at the center of the growing trade industry and cultural scene. Half way along their route the family was attacked by robbers who took from them the remaining meager possessions they had. Left with only two mules, Ghias Beg, his pregnant wife, and their three children (Muhammad Sharif, Asaf Khan and a daughter whose name is unknown) were forced to take turns riding on the backs of the animals for the remained of their journey. When the family arrived in Kandahar Asmet Begum gave birth to their second daughter however the family was to impoverished they feared they would be unable to take care of the newborn baby. Fortunately along the way, the family was taken in by a caravan led by the merchant noble Malik Masud who would later assist Ghias Beg in finding a job in the service of Emperor Akbar. Believing that the child had signalled a change in the family’s fate she was name Mehirunnisa or ‘Sun of Womanhood’. Her father was appointed diwan (treasurer) for the province of Kabul and due to his astute skills at conducting business he quickly rose through the ranks of the high administrative officials. For his excellent work he was awarded the title of Itimad-ud-Daula or ‘Pillar of the State’ by the emperor. Using the benefits of his position Ghias Beg ensured that Mehirunnisa (the future Nur Jahan) would have the best education he could provide her with. Nur Jahan became well versed in Arabic and Persian language, art, literature, music and dance. The poet and author Vidya Dhar Mahajan would later praise Nur Jahan as having a piercing intelligence, a versatile temper and a sound common sense.
Marriage with Sher Afghan 
In 1594, when Nur Jahan was seventeen years old she married her first husband Ali Quli Istajlu (also known as Sher Afghan). Sher Afghan was an adventurous Persian who had been forced to flee his home in Persia after the demise of his first master Shah Imail II. He later joined the army and served under the Emperors Akbar and Jahangir. As a reward for his loyal service and faithful companionship to Akbar’s eldest son, the Prince Salim (the future Emperor Jahangir and Nur Jahan’s second husband) the emperor arranged for Sher Afghan to marry Mehirunnisa. In 1605, the couple was blessed with a daughter who they named Mehirunnisa (later at court she would be named Ladli Begum). Mehirunnisa – Ladli was the one and only child Nur Jahan would have. During this time Ali Quli Istajlu was bestowed the title of Sher Afghan or ‘Lion Killer’ after he saved Jahangir’s life when he was attacked by an angry tigress.
In 1607, Sher Afghan was murdered after it was said he had refused to obey a summons from the Governor of Bengal, took part in anti-state activities and attacked the Governor when he came to escort Sher Afghan to court. Some have suspected Jahangir for arranging Sher Afghan’s death because the latter was said to have fallen in love with Mehirunnisa and been denied the right to add her to his harem. The validity of this rumour is uncertain as Jahangir only married Mehirunnisa in 1611, four years after she came to his court. Furthermore, contemporary accounts offer few details as to whether or not a love affair existed prior to 1611 and historians have questioned Jahangir’s logic in bestowing honours upon Sher Afghan if he wished to see him removed from the picture.
Marriage with Jahangir 
In 1605, the Emperor Akbar died and was succeeded by his eldest son Prince Salim, who took the regal name Jahangir. After her husband Sher Afghan was killed in 1607, Nur Jahan and her her daughter Ladli were summoned to court by Jahangir to act as ladies-in-waiting to his stepmother, the Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum. Ruqaiya had been the late Emperor Akbar’s first and most beloved wife and was the most senior woman in Jahangir’s harem. She was the daughter of Prince Hindal Mirza and therefore, Emperor Babur's granddaughter.
In 1611, Nur Jahan met the Emperor Jahangir at the palace meena bazaar during the spring festival of Nowruz which celebrated the coming of the new year. Jahangir grew so infatuated by her beauty that he proposed immediately and they were married on 25 May of the same year. Nur Jahan was thirty four years old at the time of her second marriage and she would be Jahangir’s twentieth and last legal wife. To honour his new beautiful and faithful wife Jahangir gave her the titles of ‘Nur Mahal’ or ‘Light of the Palace and ‘Nur Jahan’ or ‘Light of the world’. Jahangir’s affection and trust of Nur Jahan led to her wielding a great deal of power in affairs of state. Jahangir's addiction to opium and alcohol made it easier for Nur Jahan to exert her influence. For many years, she effectively wielded imperial power and was recognized as the real force behind the Mughal throne. She sat alongside her husband on the jharoka to receive audiences, issued orders, over saw the administration of several jagir (land parcels), and consulted with ministers. She even decreed Nishan which was a privilege reserved only for male members of the royal family. Nur Jahan remained loyal and faithful to Jahangir even after his death.
Family advancements and consolidating power 
After Sher Afghan’s death Nur Jahan’s family was again found in a less than honourable or desired position. Her father was at that time, a diwan to an amir-ul-umra, decidedly not a very high post. In addition both her father and one of her brothers were surrounded by scandal as the former was accused of embezzlement and the latter of treason and plotting to kill Jahangir. Her fortunes took a turn for the better when she married Jahangir. The Mughal state gave absolute power to the emperor, and those who exercised influence over the emperor gained immense influence and prestige. Nur Jahan was able to convince her husband to pardon her father and appoint him Prime Minister. To consolidate her position and power within the Empire, Nur Jahan placed various members of her family in high positions throughout the court and administrative offices. Her brother Asaf Khan was appointed grand Wazir (minister) to Jahangir. Furthermore to ensure her continued connections to the throne and the influence which she could obtain from it, Nur Jahan arranged for her daughter Ladli to marry Jahangir`s youngest son, Shahryar and her niece Arjumand Banu Begum (later known as Mumtaz Mahal) to marry Prince Khurram (the third son of Jahangir and the future Emperor Shah Jahan). The two weddings ensured that one way or another, the influence of Nur Jahan's family would extend over the Mughal Empire for at least another generation.
Mughal Empress 
Nur Jahan possessed great physical strength and courage. She often went on hunting tours with her husband, and on more than one occasion shot and killed ferocious tigers. Nur Jahan’s courage, bravery and administrative skills would come in handy throughout her reign as she as had to defend the Empire’s borders in her husband `s absence and deal with family feuds, rebel uprisings, and a war of succession brought on by the failure of Jahangir to name an heir before he died on 28 October 1627.
Tensions between Nur Jahan and Jahangir`s third son, Shah Jahan, had been uneasy from the start. Shah Jahan resented the influence Nur Jahan held over his father and was angered at having to play second fiddle to her favourite Shahryar, his half-brother and her son-in-law. When the Persians besieged Kandahar, Nur Jahan was at the helm of the affairs. She ordered Shah Jahan to march for Kandahar, but he refused. There is no doubt that Shah Jahan's refusal was due to her behaviour against him. As a result of Shah Jahan’s refusal to obey Nur Jahan’s orders, Kandahar was lost to the Persians after a forty-five-day siege. Shah Jahan feared that in his absence Nur Jahan would attempt to poison his father against him and convince Jahangir to name Shahryar the heir in his place. It was this fear which forced Shah Jahan to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians. Shah Jahan raised an army and marched against his father and Nur Jahan. Although Shah Jahan was forgiven for his errors in 1626 tensions between Nur Jahan and her stepson would continue to grow underneath the surface.
In 1626, the Emperor Jahangir was captured by rebels while on his way to Kashmir. The rebel leader Mahabat Khan had hoped to stage a coup against Jahangir. Nur Jahan intervened to get her husband released. Nur Jahan ordered the ministers to organise an attack on the enemy in order to rescue the Emperor; she herself would lead one of the units by administering commands from on top of a war elephant. During the battle Nur Jahan’s mount was hit and the soldiers of the imperial army fell at her feet. Realizing her plan had failed Nur Jahan surrendered to Mahabat Khan and was placed in captivity with her husband. Unfortunately Mahabat Khan failed to recognise the creativity and intellect of Nur Jahan since before he knew it she was able to organise an escape and raise an army right under his very nose.
Shortly after being rescued, Jahangir died on 28 October 1627. Jahangir’s death sparked a war of succession between his remaining competent sons Shah Jahan and Shahryar. Jahangir's eldest son Khusrau had rebelled against the Emperor and was blinded as a result. He was later killed during an uprising in Deccan. Jahangir’s second son, Parviz, was weak and addicted to alcohol. Afraid that if Shah Jahan was made emperor she would lose her influence in court, Nur Jahan choose to side with Shahryay who she believed could be manipulated much more easily. During the first half of the war it appeared as though Shahryay and Nur Jahan might turn out to be the victors however the two were betrayed by Nur Jahan’s brother. Asaf Khan was jealous of his sister’s power and sided with Shah Jahan. While Asaf Khan forced Nur Jahan into confinement Shah Jahan defeated his brother’s troops and ordered his execution. In 1628, Shah Jahan became the new Mughal emperor.
Nur Jahan spent the remainder of her life confined to a comfortable mansion with her daughter Ladli. During this period, she paid for and oversaw the construction of her father's mausoleum in Agra, known now as Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, and occasionally composed Persian poems under the assumed name of Makhfi. Nur Jahan died on 17 December 1645 at age 68. She is buried at Shahdara Bagh in Lahore, Pakistan in a tomb she had built herself. Upon her tomb is inscribed the epitaph “On the grave of this poor stranger, let there be neither lamp nor rose. Let neither butterfly’s wing burn nor nightingale sing”. Her tomb was not too far way from the tomb of Jahangir. Her brother Asaf Khan's tomb is also located nearby. The tomb attracts many visitors, both Pakistani and foreign, who come to enjoy pleasant walks in its gardens.
Social and cultural contributions 
As a result of her high standing position within Jahangir’s court and exceptional intellect Nur Jahan was not only a major contributor to Mughal polity but also influenced many cultural and social aspects within the Empire. She was not only a beautiful woman who could stand her ground in the male dominated world of politics but a beautiful singer, dancer, poet, architect, designer and trader.
Nur Jahan was an avid lover of poetry and was a generous patron to poets like Talib Amuli and Qasim Khan. She often held poetry readings in her own home and entertained guests with poems she had composed herself for various occasions.
She enjoyed creating buildings and other displays of architecture, especially luxurious gardens that would help to beautify the cities in which she lived and passed through. She built gardens at Lahore and Nursarai which she had filled with fountains, waterfalls and all types of vegetation. She is responsible for the construction of her father and Jahangir’s mausoleums.
For centuries after Nur Jahan’s death, men and women could still be found wearing clothing and designs inspired by the late empress. Nur Jahan designed several new kinds of dresses of lace and brocade. The most famous of her dress designs was the Nur Mahali. The Nur Mahali was an inexpensive wedding dress. The average person could wear perfume because Nur Jahan had invented a way in which the different scents could be extracted and distributed at much lower prices.
Aside from her strength, bravery and beauty Nur Jahan was a charitable women. It is said that she paid out of her own pocket for the dowries of over five hundred poor women. She was a collector of rare books and bought over the Diwan of Mirza Kamran to use as her own personal library. Using her own fleet of ships she traded with various foreign companies in indigo and cloth.
Nur Jahan in popular culture 
- Novelist Indu Sundaresan has written two books revolving around the life of Nur Jahan, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of the Roses
- Nur Jahan's Daughter by Tanushree Podder also provides an insight into the life and journey of Nur Jahan from being a widow to the Empress and after, as seen from the perspective of her daughter.
- Many poems have also been written on her life.
See also 
- Nath 1990, p. 64
- Gold 2008, p. 148
- Chandra 1978, p. 4
- Nath 1990, p. 66
- Nath 1990, p. 66
- Mahajan 1970
- Nath 1990, p. 67
- Nath 1990, pp. 71–72
- Chandra 1978, p. 45
- Nath 1990, p. 58
- Nath 1990, p. 72
- Chandra 1978, p. 46
- Nath 1990, p. 73
- Gold 2008, p. 150
- Mahajan 1970, p. 140
- Chandra 1978, p. 27
- Nath 1990, p. 79
- Mahajan 1970, p. 141
- Nath 1990, p. 83
- Chandra 1978, p. 72
- Gold 2008, p. 151
- Nath 1990, p. 101
- Chandra 1978, p. 15
- Nath 1990, p. 95
- Chandra 1978, pp. 115–119
- Gold, Claudia (2008). Queen, Empress, Concubine: Fifty Women Rulers from Cleopatra to Catherine the Great. London: Quercus. ISBN 978-1-84724-542-7.
- Mahajan, Vidya Dhar (1970). "Jahangir". Muslim Rule in India (5th ed.). Delhi: S. Chand. OCLC 33267592.
- Nath, Renuka (1990). Notable Mughal and Hindu women in the 16th and 17th centuries A.D. New Delhi: Inter-India Publ. ISBN 9788121002417.
- Pant, Chandra (1978). Nur Jahan and Her Family. Dandewal Publishing House. OCLC 4638848.
Further reading 
- Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India, by Ellison Banks Findly, Oxford University Press US. 2000. ISBN 0-19-507488-2.excerpts online
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