- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Viking (28 August 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067009062X
- ISBN-13: 978-0670090624
- Package Dimensions: 22.5 x 14.5 x 3.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #7,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan Hardcover – 28 Aug 2018
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With stern adoration and a steady hand, Ruby Lal has boldly recut the crown jewel that was Nur Jahan (Allan Sealy)
An outstanding book, not only incredibly important but also a fabulous piece of writing (Amanda Foreman, author of The World Made by Women)
What an extraordinary and detailed account of a remarkable woman-amazing! (Deepa Mehta, filmmaker and screenwriter)
The panoramic sweep of this extraordinary feminist history is matched by the exquisite storytelling (Namita Gokhale)
In filling in the details of Nur Jahan's life, Ruby Lal has not only written a revisionist feminist biography, but she has also provided a vivid picture of the Mughal court, with its luxuries, beauties, intrigues and horrors (The Economist)
Lal's intriguing biography, with its chronology of her relatively swift rise to power and even swifter descent, restores Nur Jahan to her full splendour (BBC)
A page-turning, eye-opening biography that shatters our impressions of India as established by the British Raj (Kirkus Reviews)
Ruby Lal's marvelous account of Empress Nur Jahan's life is as intriguing, inspiring, and relevant to us today in 21st century America, as it was to her times in 17th century India (Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran)
A new light on a neglected ruler: On Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan (Los Angeles Review of Books)
The rise and reign of a self-made Mughal queen (Guardian)
About the Author
Ruby Lal is an acclaimed historian of Mughal India. Her previous books are Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World and Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness. She teaches at Emory University and divides her time between Atlanta and Delhi.
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Nur Jahan was a daughter of a noble who had fled Persia to escape persecution. She was widow of a court official, who was implicate in a plot against Jahangir. Still Jahangir fall hard for her. She later proved to be a devoted wife, wise queen, shrewd politician and commanding strategist. Mughal Empire has a history of assertive royal wife and influential mothers and aunts but never a woman had taken complete charge of the empire in a de-facto sense. However, she was born to foreign parents and was not daughter of Mughal Empire but she had garnered enough power through official signs of sovereignty. Issuing orders was one of three exclusive privileges of Mughal rulers. It was also official sign of Islamic sovereignty. The other two being named in Friday prayers and striking of coins bearing monarch’s name. She was issuing orders in her own rights, which was similar to her husband farmans. The orders were against debt and revenue collection, land grants, military matters and criminal cases. Her name also began to appear in gold and silver coins. Jahangir for more and more times was indulging in his curiosity and admiration of the natural world. In other words, he was indulging in leisure activities that soon alienated him from day to day affair of the State. Its then his empress took in more and more matters of governance in her hand. Until Jahangir’s death, she shared a wonderful relationship with him. As per Mughal records, he mentioned her as a sensitive companion, superb caregiver, accomplished adviser, hunter and a diplomat. She was the backbone of Mughal Empire and ensured that her name recorded indelibly in public memory and history.
A struggle for power begins while Jahangir was still an emperor. In fact, it was a norm during those days. A family used to be polarized. Survival was dependent on whose side taken. Akbar had been disappointed with Jahangir. He saw the abilities in Jahangir son Khusrau to succeed him. After Akbar’s death, Jahangir still ascended into the throne. Khusraw rebelled against his father to secure the throne for himself. His rebellion was crush by Jahangir forces and was imprisoned, blinded and killed, though not everything on Jahangir’s order. Khusraw rebellions left Jahangir emotionally worried and he started getting concern about the dynasty future. Nur Jahan’s influence started increasing and soon her relatives occupied chief posts of the realm. Her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg and brother Asaf Khan occupied key portfolios. Asaf Khan’s daughter Mumtaz Mahal married Khurram, better known as Shah Jahan. Nur Jahan aligned on Khurram side and assured her husband that dynastic transition would be smooth. Both Nur Jahan and Khurram had a mutual respect for each other and both had a motive. She knew that Khurram being the most competent prince was the likely successor and he would someday be a key player in Mughal succession. She was probably also being shrewd about her own future. Nur Jahan along with Khurram, Ghiyas and Asaf Khan would be the new axis of order. Khurram too then rebelled which distressed Jahangir. With Khurram out of favour with Jahangir, Nur Jahan moved to further Shahryar’s fortune. Shahryar was Jahangir’s son and at the same time husband of Nur Jahan’s daughter from first marriage. Shah Jahan had known that his powerful stepmother would not back his imperial ambition. The rift between Shah Jahan and Nur Jahan was open. Shah Jahan has had support of his father-in-law, who was also brother of Nur Jahan. The influence and power was polarized and schism started developing between two factions.
Nur Jahan’s strategies begin to backfire after Shahryar developed Fox disease, which badly disfigured him. He lost his hair, beard, eyebrows and eyelashes. Her husband health was falling and son-in-law, she thought would succeed him was threatened by a disease. When Jahangir died, because of Asaf Khan’s initiative , son of Khusraw - Dawar Bakhsh became the new emperor. Asaf Khan did this for two reasons. The first reason was that Shah Jahan was away and it was a stopgap arrangement to secure throne for his son-in-law. The second reason was to counter claims of Nur Jahan, who wanted Shahryar as a king. Shahryar army clash with Asaf Khan’s forces and was defeated and captured. With husband gone, son-in-law captured and brother in opposing camp, none of Nur Jahan’s maneuvers worked. Shah Jahan was proclaimed as the new emperor on his return. In the power battle, Shah Jahan’s side used Dawar Bakhsh as a pawn. Shah Jahan had then ordered killing of all possible contenders for throne that includes both Dawar Bakhsh and Shahryar. After Jahangir’s death, these men galloped at an astonishing speed to restore old older and override Nur Jahan. Her rise to power had been relatively swift, her fall was even swifter.
Despite the enmity, Shah Jahan treated Nur Jahan well after she faced reverses. She was no longer active in governance. Rather she spent rest of her life in retirement and seclusion. Shah Jahan fixed an annual income of two lakhs for her expenses. She spend rest of her life in Lahore. She used to spend on the needy and poor people. The official historians during Shah Jahan’s reign deliberately removed Nur Jahan’ merits and extraordinary achievements from the Mughal history. Despite Shah Jahan’s chronicle describing Nur Jahan in a very disparaging tone and making her look trifle, her supremacy emerges undiluted. No one can sully her due standings in history.
Historians, travelers, poets and travelers require special mentions. So are the researchers, who had gone distance, to decipher meanings out of the different sources and collate together the events in a chronological order. One of the major sources is Jahangirnama, which contains extensive detail on government, provincial affairs, revenues, rewards and punishments. It also contains Jahangir’s insightful analysis of natural phenomenon, people, places and events. To write his memoir, Jahangir entrusted responsibility initially to Mutamad Khan and later Muhammad Hadi, who continued until Jahangir’s death. However, the court historians gave a biased account of their king. Still, there work provides wealth of information. To understand about socio-economic lifestyle prevalent during those times, one has to rely on other sources. Often travelers provided us with extensive and unbiased account on royal family, harem and society. Portuguese priests - Father Monserrate and Father Sebastien Manrique , administer in the government of British India - Mountstuart Elphinstone , British ambassador Thomas Roe, his accompany William Hawkins, author Della Valle, French physician Francois Bernier gave their own assertions about life in Mughal kingdom. The vivid descriptions helped nineteenth century and later historians to stich together a useful and informative dossier on the subject.
I came across an interview of the author. She replied in a childlike glee. She was sanguine about her work and gave replies with alacrity. There is a mixed feeling after reading this book. Harem life and Persian influence made interesting read. However, some topics like Nur Jahan first marriage and her parent arduous journey from Persia to India unnecessarily were stretched. Sometime it seems like authors on historical books takes some liberty. Usually many knows, regarding what are the rituals followed during a noble Muslim women marriage and what it undertakes to pursue a painful journey from Persia to India during those times. I do not doubt credence of the book but you cannot tell with surety whether the narrations are outcome of research. Still I believe as per my findings that you are unlikely to find such a comprehensive book on Nur Jahan. The rigor put by author is clearly visible. It is a readable narration with an engaging style, especially after couple of chapters.