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Jodhaa was Akbar’s begum, but was she?

Days before the release of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar, there’s more to the debate on the authenticity of the celluloid tale about a Rajput princess and the Great Mughal. Kumkum Chadha tells us more...
By Kumkum Chadha | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 12, 2008 02:26 AM IST

Days before the release of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar, there’s more to the debate on the authenticity of the celluloid tale about a Rajput princess and the Great Mughal.

A Rajput organisation in Rajasthan had recently contested Gowariker’s portrayal of Jodhabai in the film, arguing that the princess was, historically, Akbar’s bahu — Jahangir’s mother — and not his (Akbar’s) begum. Now, a Mughal historian of some standing has gone a step ahead and called into question Jahangir’s parentage, contesting his so-called “Rajput connection by birth” Kunwar Refaqat Ali Khan, author of The Kachhwahas under Akbar and Jahangir, a history of the Rajput dynasty to which Jodhabai belonged, says Jahangir was born of one of Akbar’s concubines, not Jodhabai.

Aligarh historian Shireen Moosvi agrees that had Jahangir’s mother been a Rajput, he is likely to have publicised the fact. Instead, says Moosvi, all that Jahangir writes in his autobiography is that all his siblings were born of concubines (khawas-e-gaan khidmatgaaraan).

Khan refutes the contention that Jahangir was born to Ruqiyya Begum, daughter of Mirza Hindal. “Jahangir’s mother was neither Ruqiyya nor Bharamal’s daughter (Jodhabai). He had no noble lineage from his mother’s side. If this were so his mother’s name would have been documented. In fact there is evidence available to the contrary,” he says.

Khan quotes a seventeenth century royal edict that bears the seal of “Wali Nemat Begum, mother of Nuruddin Jahangir, the Emperor”.
Moosvi agrees that there is nothing in Mughal historical sources to warrant the conclusion that Jahangir’s mother was Raja Bharamal’s daughter. Former UGC chief and author of NCERT’s medieval history textbook, Satish Chandra, however, says that evidence from Beni Prasad’s book on Jahangir and A. Todd’s history of Rajasthan suggests Jahangir’s was indeed born of a Rajput princess.

In the Commentary to Edicts from the Mughal Harem, S.A. Tirmizi, former head of the National Archives, points out: “Wali Nimat Begum appears to be the name of one of the wives of Akbar who according to the seal of this document was the mother of Jahangir. She also enjoyed the other covetous title of Maryam Zamani, as is evident from the unwan (title) of the hukm…It appears that Wali Nimat Begum was the name given to the daughter of Raja Bharamal after her marriage to Akbar and it was after the birth of Prince Salim (later Jahangir) that the honorific of Maryam Zamani was conferred on her”.

Khan, however, argues there is conclusive evidence that Jahangir was not related to Bharamal’s daughter. In his autobiography, Jahangir describes Bharamal’s daughter as being one “in the house” of his father. Were she Jahangir’s mother, references to her, says Khan, would not be so careless and irreverent.

Moosvi says: “Shahjahan took pride about having Rajput blood and publicised that his uncles were Rathors. Jahangir himself spoke of the loyalty of his Rajput wife Shah Begum (who was Bhagwan Das’s daughter) who gave up food when she heard that their son Khusrao had rebelled against Jahangir. If he could speak about his Rajput wife and her loyalty, would he have kept his mother's lineage under wraps?”

Clearly, there are several issues on which the experts don’t agree.

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