Born as a Hindu Rajput princess or 'Rajkumari', Mariam-uz-Zamani was Raja Bharmal's eldest daughter. Raja Bharmal was the then ruler of Amer or Jaipur and was the grand-daughter of Raja Prithvi Singh I of Amer. Raja Bhagwan Das of the region of Amer was the brother of Mariam-uz-Zamani. The Rajput queen was the aunt of Raja Man Singh I who reigned over Amer and occupied a significant designation in Akbar's court, was respected as one of the 'Navaratnas' of Akbar's court.
Early Life and Names
Mariam-uz-Zamani was the daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amer and Rani Champavati, the daughter of Rao Ganga Solanki. Her paternal lineage traced back to Raja Prithviraj Singh I and Apurva Devi, daughter of Rao Lunkaran of Bikaner. Her birth name remains undisclosed, though historical accounts have offered various suggestions. In one 18th-century genealogy, she is referred to as 'Harkhan Champavati.' Other names proposed by different sources include Harkha Bai, Jiya Rani, Maanmati Bai, Harika Bai, Hira Kunwari, Heer Kunwari, Shahi-Bai, and Shahi Begum.
In 1564, Akbar bestowed upon her the Muslim honorific name 'Wali Nimat Begum' after two years of their marriage. Furthermore, when their son Jahangir was born, Akbar honored her with the title 'Mariam-uz-Zamani.' This title is documented in contemporary Mughal chronicles, including Jahangir's autobiography, the Tuzk-e-Jahangiri. In addition to 'Mariam-uz-Zamani,' she held two other prestigious titles, 'Mallika-e-Muezamma' and 'Mallika-e-Hindustan.' Throughout her reign, she was commonly known as 'Shahi Begum.' Officially, she used the name 'Wali Nimat Mariam-uz-Zamani Begum Sahiba.' These names and titles encapsulate the early life and nomenclature of Mariam-uz-Zamani.
Marriage of Mariam-uz-Zamani
Mariam-uz-Zamani's marriage with Akbar inspired the Mughal emperor to obtain a wider view of all aspects of Hinduism and his Hindu subjects. On 6th February, 1562 Mariam-uz-Zamani or Heer Kunwari's hand was offered in wedlock to Akbar according to a political treaty at Sambhar close to Jaipur in Rajasthan. Thus she became the third and chief wife of Akbar after his first wife, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum and second wife, Salima Sultan Begum who was Bairam Khan's widow. During the initial phase of 1569, Akbar learnt that Mariam was expecting a child and immediately sent her to the humble residence of Sheikh Salim Chisti, a famous holy man who lived in Sikri. The prince Jahangir was born on 30th August, 1569 and was named 'Salim' after the holy man Sheikh Salim Chisti, who was greatly revered by Akbar.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's marriage to emperor Akbar was a significant development in history and depicted his religious tolerance. The concept of offering Hindu Rajput ladies in marriage to Muslim rulers started to be viewed with respect and admiration, post the marriage of Akbar and Mariam-uz-Zamani. His marriage with her bore testimony to the fact that Akbar made an attempt to be the Badshah of Muhammadans as well as Hindus, and that he viewed them as equals. Manbhawati Bai, the niece of Mariam-uz-Zamani who was also known as Manmati Bai married her son Salim on 13th February, 1585.
Akbar was a secular ruler and permitted his wife Jodha Bai to perform Hindu rites and rituals in the imperial palace, which even included his readiness in constructing a Hindu temple in the premises of the palace grounds for his wife. This was completely against the nature of any Mughal Sultan and he even took active part in her Puja. Mariam-uz-Zamani was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. Paintings of Lord Krishna and beautiful frescoes embellished the interior walls of the palace of Mariam-uz-Zamani.
Power Consolidation of Mariam-uz-Zamani's Family
Mariam-uz-Zamani's family experienced a remarkable elevation in status within the Akbar's court. The Rajas of Amber, owing to their close association with the Mughals, saw their wealth and influence soar. Their reputation for unmatched valor, unwavering devotion, and steadfast loyalty endeared them to Emperor Akbar. Among the twenty-seven Rajputs listed as mansabdars by Abu'l-Fazl, thirteen hailed from the Amber clan, with some ascending to positions rivaling imperial princes.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's father, Raja Bharmal, upon her marriage to Akbar, was promptly appointed commander of 5000 cavalry units, the highest noble rank attainable in the court. In 1585, her brother Bhagwan Das achieved the exalted position of commander of 5000 cavalry units, bearing the distinguished title of Amir-ul-Umra (Chief Noble). Man Singh I, his son, reached even greater heights as commander of 7000 forces, a unique distinction during Akbar's reign. Akbar affectionately referred to Raja Man Singh as "farzand" (son). Notably, out of Akbar's four hundred and sixteen Mansabdars, only forty-seven were Rajputs, their collective quotas amounting to fifty-three thousand horses.
The rulers of Amer often were the recipients of manifold benefits from their close alliance with the Mughals and were awarded large reserves of power and wealth. Thus Kachwaha Rajputs of Amer greatly reaped the advantages of the marriage between Mariam-uz-Zamani and Akbar. One of the sons of Akbar, Prince Daniyal was also allowed to be adopted by Raja Bharmal's wife in Amer, as a gesture of honour towards the royal family.
Akbar's profound respect for Mariam-uz-Zamani's family was evident. He fostered an intimate relationship with the Amer clan, adopting Raja Bharmal's daughter Sukanya after the death of her fiancé in battle. To honor them, he visited Amer in 1569, experiencing their generosity firsthand. During this visit, Mariam-uz-Zamani, then four months pregnant, gave birth to Salim. Akbar's stay lasted a month and a half, marked by lavish gifts.
Furthermore, Mariam-uz-Zamani orchestrated the marriage of her brother Raja Bhagwan Das's daughter to Salim in 1585. Akbar personally participated, even carrying the palanquin of his daughter-in-law as a gesture of respect. The marriage gifts, valued at twelve lakh rupees, underscored the family's esteemed position. Man Bai, the bride, later became the mother of Akbar's cherished grandson, Khusrau Mirza, and was granted the esteemed title of 'Shah Begum.'
Life of Mariam-uz-Zamani
Mariam-uz-Zamani's life was characterized by a unique blend of cultural influences and deep personal connections. Her marriage to Akbar, initiated for political reasons, took on a profound personal dimension. At the insistence of Raja Bharmal, she retained her Hindu faith, and Akbar respected her religious practices, allowing her to perform Hindu rituals within the palace.
Their relationship evolved into an intimate and affectionate bond, with Akbar himself participating in her religious ceremonies. Mariam-uz-Zamani became Akbar's favored wife and was interred near him after her passing. Her devotion to Lord Krishna was evident in the palace commissioned by Akbar in the imperial harem, adorned with paintings and frescoes of the deity, as well as precious gems.
Her arrival at Akbar's court introduced the opulent Rajput fashion, characterized by sumptuous attire like the heavily adorned ghagra and tightly fitted choli. In time, her Rajput style influenced Mughal dress and etiquette, with textiles like bandhani appearing in royal paintings. Mariam-uz-Zamani's profound connection to Rajput culture and her vibrant attire left an indelible mark on the Mughal court, embodying the rich tapestry of her life.
Children of Mariam-uz-Zamani
Mariam-uz-Zamani bore witness to a complex and poignant chapter in the Mughal dynasty through the births and losses of her children. On October 19, 1564, after two years of marriage to Akbar, Mariam-uz-Zamani welcomed twin sons, Mirza Hassan and Mirza Hussain, into the world. However, tragedy struck as both infants passed away within a month of their birth, with Mirza Hussain's demise on October 29, 1564, followed by Mirza Hassan's on November 5, 1564. In recognition of her motherhood, Akbar honored her with the name 'Wali Nimat Begum' (Blessing of God).
Devastated by their loss, Akbar took Mariam-uz-Zamani on campaign with him and sought solace from Salim Chisti, a renowned Khawaja at Fatehpur Sikri. Salim Chisti assured Akbar that he would be blessed with three sons who would thrive.
Before the birth of their son Salim (Jahangir), Akbar and Mariam-uz-Zamani embarked on a barefoot pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif Dargah, praying for a son. In 1569, their hopes were realized as Mariam-uz-Zamani conceived again. She was sent to Fatehpur Sikri for her pregnancy, and Akbar, despite his royal duties, frequently visited to care for her. On August 31, 1569, Mariam-uz-Zamani gave birth to Salim, named in acknowledgment of his father's faith in Salim Chisti's prayer.
Akbar's joy knew no bounds, celebrating Salim's birth with feasts and festivities that lasted seven days. He ordered the release of prisoners and distributed largesses among the people. Despite eager anticipation, Akbar delayed visiting his newborn son based on astrological beliefs. After forty-one days, he finally met Mariam-uz-Zamani and Salim, marking the occasion with valuable jewelry and endearing gestures. Mariam-uz-Zamani was then bestowed with the high honorific title 'Mariam-uz-Zamani,' and her family's ranks and honor were elevated significantly.
Additionally, Mariam-uz-Zamani played a role in fostering Daniyal Mirza, entrusted to her maternal clan for care and protection. Her life was intricately woven into the fabric of the Mughal dynasty through the births, losses, and enduring legacy of her children.
Mariam-uz-Zamani as Empress
Mariam-uz-Zamani, as Empress Consort of the Mughal Empire, wielded remarkable influence over the course of history. Her exalted position in the imperial harem afforded her substantial power and privileges. Remarkably, her retirement from this role, following Akbar's passing, marked a decline in Rajput influence at the Mughal court.
Renowned for her charismatic and adventurous nature, Mariam-uz-Zamani possessed a high-spirited disposition and a penchant for the extraordinary. She earned unreserved respect from diverse communities, known for her virtues of tolerance and unwavering philanthropy. On every festive occasion, regardless of religious affiliation, she generously contributed from her privy purse to charitable causes.
Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, in Akbarnama, extolled her intellect and tact, referring to her as an auspicious lady whose forehead radiated the light of chastity and wisdom. Another contemporary account labeled her a 'great adventurer.' Significantly, Mariam-uz-Zamani played a pivotal role in shaping Akbar's commitment to secularism. Her influence was instrumental in Akbar's quest for a divine religion that transcended religious boundaries.
Akbar honored her with opulent palaces in Fatehpur Sikri, Mandu, Lahore, and Agra. Her residence in Agra, the Jahangiri Mahal, remains a testament to her Hindu heritage. In Fatehpur Sikri, Jodha Bai Mahal showcased Rajasthani architecture and was adorned with paintings of Lord Krishna, gemstones, and frescoes. This palace also featured a temple and a Tulsi math for her prayers. In Mandu, the Nilkanth Temple, commissioned by Akbar in 1574, served as a cherished retreat for Jahangir, where he celebrated birthdays with his mother. Mariam-uz-Zamani was a patron of numerous towns, holding significant jagirs. Her bond with her hometown, Amber, was evident in her frequent visits, even during campaigns. When her brother, Bhopat, fell in the Battle of Sarnal during the Gujarat campaign, Akbar sent Mariam-uz-Zamani to Amber to convey condolences to her parents.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's Relationship with Salim
Mariam-uz-Zamani's relationship with her son, Jahangir, was marked by deep reverence and affection, as evidenced by Jahangir's memoirs and historical accounts. Jahangir, in his writings, paid utmost obeisance to his mother, referring to her with titles like "Hazrat Mariam-uz-Zamani," "Her Majesty," or "my exalted mother," reflecting his profound love and respect.
In 1607, when Jahangir planned a visit to the Gardens of Babur, he personally arranged for his mother and select harem ladies to accompany him. He described this event with great pride, highlighting his acts of obeisance and prostration before "Hazrat Maryam-Zamani." Jahangir's reverence extended to carrying her palanquin on his shoulders, a gesture that underscored his exceptional regard for her.
During a plague outbreak in Agra in January 1618, Jahangir eagerly anticipated his mother's arrival from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri. He expressed the hope of always being under her protection and affectionate care.
A foreign traveler to the Mughal court, noted that Jahangir's affection for Mariam-uz-Zamani was exceptional. Jahangir demonstrated his love and duty toward her through various gestures of respect and affection. Mariam-uz-Zamani also played a pivotal role in hosting important royal events and functions at her palace, including Jahangir's weighings, birthday celebrations, his marriage to the Amer princess, and other significant ceremonies. Their relationship was marked by mutual respect and profound familial bonds, leaving a lasting legacy in Mughal history.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's Relationship with Khusrau Mirza
Following the death of Emperor Akbar in 1605, Mariam-uz-Zamani assumed a protective role for Khusrau Mirza, displaying her influence and concern for the prince's well-being. Alongside Salima Sultan Begum, Shakr-un-Nissa Begum, and other sisters of Emperor Jahangir, she successfully secured a pardon for Khusrau upon Jahangir's ascension to the throne. This act of clemency averted potential harm to the prince.
A Christian missionary present at the Mughal court observed Nur Jahan's ambitious efforts to gain control over Khusrau, a powerful contender for the throne. However, Mariam-uz-Zamani resisted Nur Jahan's influence and attempts to take charge of the prince. Despite Nur Jahan's feigned tears and maneuvers, she failed to gain control over Khusrau, thanks to Mariam-uz-Zamani's protective stance.
In 1616, Mariam-uz-Zamani wrote a heartfelt letter to her son, Jahangir, expressing grave concerns about Khusrau's safety. She foresaw that if Khusrau were placed under the control of Nur Jahan and her faction, they might seek to eliminate him, potentially setting a dangerous precedent of fratricide for the Mughal dynasty. Jahangir, swayed by the pleas of his mother, sisters, stepmothers, and siblings, wisely refrained from entrusting Khusrau or Prince Khurram to Nur Jahan.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's foresight and protective instincts played a crucial role in preserving Khusrau's life and preventing further turmoil within the Mughal Empire, serving as a cautionary tale against the dangers of dynastic infighting, as later seen in the rivalry between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh.
Political Influence of Mariam-uz-Zamani
Mariam-uz-Zamani held significant political influence in the Mughal court, an exceptional position for a royal consort. Her role extended beyond the ceremonial, and she actively participated in court matters:
Freedom of Expression: Mariam-uz-Zamani had the privilege to attend court sessions and express her views on political matters. She demonstrated her courage by challenging Emperor Akbar's decisions when necessary.
Religious Influence: Her Hindu faith influenced Akbar's religious practices. He stopped eating beef and refrained from onions, garlic, and keeping a beard, aligning with Hindu dietary and grooming preferences.
Secularism: Under her influence, Akbar promoted secularism, embracing diverse cultural and religious practices. He ordered everyone in the court to stand during her Hindu wives' evening prayers, honoring their traditions.
Cultural Impact: Mariam-uz-Zamani's marriage to Akbar marked a shift toward Rajput cultural ethos. The reorganization of Akbar's imperial harem reflected this transformation.
Sun Worship: She may have influenced Akbar's reverence for sun worship, as her family clan emblem was Lord Surya (sun).
Interventions: Mariam-uz-Zamani played a diplomatic role, intervening in political decisions. She dissuaded Akbar from sending Salim on a military expedition, as well as convincing him to revoke orders of Salim's house arrest.
Wealth and Status: Mariam-uz-Zamani was one of the wealthiest and most distinguished women of her time. She received valuable gifts from nobility worldwide and had an extensive financial network.
Military Rank: She held the highest military rank, commanding 12,000 cavalry units, an honor at par with the emperor.
Farman Issuance: As one of the senior-most women in the imperial harem, Mariam-uz-Zamani had the authority to issue official documents and edicts known as Farman.
Philanthropy: She used her wealth to fund various projects, including gardens, wells, mosques, and developments across the countryside. Additionally, she was involved in the Hajj department since Akbar's reign.
Decline of Rajput Influence: Mariam-uz-Zamani's retirement, along with the passing of Jagat Gosain, led to a decline in Rajput influence at the Mughal court.
Mariam-uz-Zamani in Trade
It is believed that Mariam-uz-Zamani was an intelligent businesswoman who was involved in global trade in silk, spices and other materials, hereby gaining a handsome fortune which surpassed that of European kings. She even was the owner of ships which transported pilgrims to and from Mecca, the sacred Islamic city. She was said to be the only Mughal queen who possessed a 12, 000 strong cavalry and every nobleman rewarded her with a jewel on the festival of New Year. She was permitted the right to issue the royal 'farman' or official documents like the other Mughal ladies namely Nur Jahan, Hamida Banu Begum, Nadira Banu, Mumtaz Mahal and Jahanara Begum.
Mariam-uz-Zamani as Patron of Art and Architecture
Mariam-uz-Zamani left an indelible mark as a prominent patron of art and architecture during her time. Her contributions to Mughal architecture included the construction of the Begum Shahi Mosque, one of the earliest examples of Mughal architecture in Lahore, Pakistan. This mosque, built during the early period of Jahangir's reign, reflects her architectural patronage and is known as the Begum Shahi Mosque, bearing her name in honor of her contributions.
In addition to the mosque, Mariam-uz-Zamani sponsored a remarkable public work such as a baoli, or step-well, situated near the old district of Brahambad in Bayana. Although only the baoli remains today, it shows her commitment to public infrastructure. The step-well, constructed around 1612 during Jahangir's reign, was celebrated for its grandeur, with Jahangir himself acknowledging its impressive construction at a cost of 20,000 rupees.
Mariam-uz-Zamani also played a significant role in the development of gardens and structures around the tomb of her late husband, Emperor Akbar. She was buried alongside him in this garden, which stands as a tribute to her devotion. Furthermore, she commissioned the construction of the entrance to the Lahore Fort, known as Masjidi Darwaza, which has since been corrupted into Masti Darwaja (Masti Gate).
Both the Begum Shahi Mosque and the baoli featured inscriptions attesting to her patronage, marking the architectural landscape with her legacy. The Begum Shahi Mosque is particularly renowned for its exquisite frescoes, showcasing impeccable technique and a diverse range of subjects, including the earliest dated Iranian motifs in Mughal architecture.
Death of Mariam-uz-Zamani
Mariam-uz-Zamani died in the year 1623 and was the only wife of Akbar who had been buried near him. A step well or 'Vav' was built on the orders of Emperor Jahangir according to her last wishes. Series of stairs lead one to her underground tomb chamber which was built on Tantpur Road which is presently known as Jyoti Nagar. Though she maintained her religion of Hinduism throughout her life, she had been buried following Islamic customs, very close to her husband Akbar's mausoleum. Currently, the Archaeological Survey of India or ASI maintains the tomb. The mosque of Mariam-uz-Zamani was erected by Jahangir, her son and today it is situated in Lahore, Pakistan.