Review: Ruby Lal’s ‘Empress- The Astonishing Reign Of Nur Jahan’
Bhubaneswar: Often called as the ‘Tiger slayer’ and ‘Empress among Emperors’, Nur Jahan was undoubtedly the most powerful female figure in the entire Mughal history. She was the twentieth and the most loved wife of emperor Jahangir and commands a special place which no other woman in Mughal dynasty could achieve. Nur Jahan enjoyed many powers and privileges which were unimaginable for most women in the medieval period. Besides, she was also the real power behind the Mughal throne for many years.
Four centuries ago, Nur Jahan was at the apex of one of the largest empires of the world. Born as Meher-un-Nissa on 31st May 1577, she was the daughter of a Persian noble Mirza Ghiyas Beg who had come to India during Akbar’s reign. After her wedding to emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan’s rise to power was swift. Though not an official ruler, she ruled the Mughal empire alongside her husband- dispensing justice, holding court and masterminding daring rescues. The empress also wrote poetry, designed gardens, buildings and clothings.
In 1611, at the age of 34, Nur Jahan became the 20th and most cherished wife of Jahangir, a moody, romantic and philosopher king. He was a lover of arts and fond of travelling. Jahangir was smitten by Nur’s political savviness and subsequently defied tradition by transferring his powers and duty to her capable hands. Encouraged by her husband, Nur issued her first legal document as a sovereign-becoming the only woman in the Mughal dynasty to rule openly and actively. According to legends, Jahangir was so infatuated by her personality that the fabled Islamic lovers Majnu and Laile paled next to her.
Historians and foreign travellers, including Sir Thomas Roe have mentioned that Nur would sit like a goddess in the imperial balconies and give jharokha darshan to the masses. Something which was done by Mughal emperors only. Furthermore, coins of the realm-signs of sovereignty- also bore her name alongside Jahangir’s.
Besides being an able administrator and a diplomat, Nur was known for her kind heart, compassion and generosity. She gave jewels, horses, elephants and cash to royal men and women and supported the wedding of 500 orphan girls. Her life history depicts that she was a bold, ambitious and a dynamic woman who challenged norms and broke them with impunity.
Lal’s ‘Empress-The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan’ is lucid and well researched. Her fascination with Nur’s story is visible in her account- narrating the birth, early life and eventual escalation of Nur Jahan to the apex of power. She tries to break free the popular image of Nur Jahan associated with exoticism and romance with Jahangir and shift the focus towards her achievments and abilities as an administrator.
Charting the life history of Nur Jahan, and placing her in the context of the pluralistic cultural space that Mughal India was, Ruby Lal puts together an impressive biographical account of the queen. The book gives readers a glimpse into the fascinating 16th century world, going back four centuries to rediscover an empress who broke all the rules, empowered woman and ruled sovereign with all the splendour and aura of the Mughal dynasty.