Nur Jehan was the daughter of a Persian immigrant, Mirza Ghiyas Baig of Tehran. Before becoming the beloved wife of the Mughal emperor Jehangir, she was the widow of a Mughal officer, Sher Afghan Quli Khan.
Mehr-un-Nisa, entitled Nur Jehan, was born when her parents were migrating to the Sub-continent in the 16th century. She received her early education in Quran and the Persian language and had a special flare for poetry.
Her father came to the Sub-continent during the time of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, and entered into his service. He rose rapidly by sheer merit. In 1607, Nur Jehan was brought to the court as royal ward. She was beautiful and highly intelligent and attracted Jehangir’s attention.
A good deal of fiction has gathered round this remarkable woman, obscuring her personality and role in the social and political life of this period. It is wrongly and widely believed that Jehangir murdered Sher Afghan, Nur Jehan’s first husband, because he wanted to marry Nur Jehan. In actuality, he died in a skirmish in 1607. The conqueror of the world, Jehangir fell in love with Nur Jehan and married her in 1611. He gave her the title of Nur Mehal, “Light of the Palace” and later Nur Jehan, “Light of the World”.
After marriage, Nur Jehan won Jehangir’s complete confidence. She carefully attended to the affairs of the state. Her father and brother became ministers and together they dominated the courts. A number of historians believe that Nur Jehan became the real power behind the throne and practically the sovereign of the Mughal Empire. For many years she wielded the imperial powers. She even gave audiences at her palace and her name was placed on the coinage.
Nur Jehan influenced a large number of brilliant soldiers, scholars and poets from Iran, who subsequently played an important role in the administration and in the development of the cultural life of Mughal Empire.
The decision to marry her daughter from her first husband, to Shah Jehan’s younger brother Shahryar, and her consequent support to his candidature to the throne caused Shah Jehan’s rebellion. Emperor Jehangir was captured by rebels in 1626 while he was on his way to Kashmir. Nur Jehan intervened to get her husband released. Jehangir was rescued but died on October 28, 1627.
Nur Jehan had a magnificent tomb erected over the grave of her husband. She retired from the world and lived a quiet and lonely life for 16 years after the death of Jehangir. She died in 1643, and is buried besides Jehangir at Shahdra, Lahore.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003