By Gabby Storey
Born in the late 15th century, Maham’s family and parentage is speculated, with some source pointing to her descent from Timirud dynasty or noble family in Khorasan. Whatever her background was, it was no apparent deterrent to marrying the emperor.
She married Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in 1506, in Herat. Though she was Babur’s third wife, she became his chief consort, acting as a political advisor in many circumstances. They had at least five children together, though only one, Humayun, survived infancy.
As chief consort Maham took an interest in the raising and education of all the children of Babur’s harem, as well as accompanying her husband on campaign. She became the first empress of the Mughal Empire by Babur’s side.
The chroniclers differ in their opinion of Maham and her capabilities: some label her intelligent and astute, and thus the reason why she was chosen as chief consort. Others state that she was moody and spoiled, indulged by Babur.
Regardless of this, Maham and Babur had a successful co-ruling partnership until his death in 1530. As empress dowager, Maham played an active role in Humayun’s reign upon his accession as Mughal Emperor. She organised several extravagant feasts and events.
Maham died four years after her husband in April 1534. She was buried in Agra, likely alongside Babur. Her life demonstrates the competition between consorts for the attention of the monarch and the power that consorts could wield if favoured.
Gulbadan Begum, The Humayan Nama, ed. Deanna M. Ramsay and trans. Annette S. Beveridge http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00litlinks/gulbadan/index.html
Harbans Mukhia, The Mughals of India (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004)
Ruby Lal, Domesticity and power in the early Mughal world (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Subhadra Sen Gupta, Mahal: Power and Pageantry in the Mughal Harem (Delhi: Hachette India, 2019).