Nur Jahan

Idealised portrait of Nur Jahan (c. 1725). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Born in 1577 near the present-day Kandahar, Afghanistan, Nur Jahan’s parents Ghiyas Beg and Asmat Begum originally named her Mehrunnissa, meaning Sun of Women. In 1594, she married Persian adventurer Ali Quli Khan Istajlu, with whom she had one daughter, Ladli. After Istajlu’s execution, Mehrunnissa and Ladli were brought to Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s court in 1607.

Shortly after, on 25 May 1611, Mehrunnissa married Jahangir and was given the title Nur Mahal, meaning Light of the Palace, later becoming Nur Jahan, Light of the World. She was his favourite of his twenty wives. She was fluent in many languages, wrote poetry and prose, and played a variety of musical instruments. She declined to observe parda, the practice of veiling and physically separating the harem from the outside world.

Portrait of Nur Jahan holding a portrait of Jahangir (1627). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Soon after their marriage, Nur Jahan became co-sovereign with Jahangir over the Mughal Empire (almost all of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and large parts of northern and central India) before gaining all authority when Jahangir abdicated in 1622. In 1627, after Jahangir’s death, Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan took power, at which point Nur Jahan retired from public life and lived in seclusion at Lahore, Pakistan, until her death in 1645. She is buried with Jahangir.

Nur Jahan helped spread Persian influence in the Mughal Empire and introduced new clothing materials and styles. She created the Gardens of Nishat and Shalimar with Jahangir and designed Nur Mahal Sarai at Jalandhar, the Moghul Gardens of Kashmir and Agra, and her father’s tomb at Agra, largely seen as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Though she was never crowned, she is the only queen whose name was struck on a coin next to the emperor’s and was the first queen to have her signature on the royal seal.

Recommended Reading

Muhammad Zia-ud-Din, “Role of Nur Jahan: The Mughal Empress of India,” Pakistan Perspectives 17.1 (2012): 184-195

Ruby Lal, Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018).

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