Book Review: New insight into the life of Nur Jahan hitherto neglected

22nd Feb 2019
Book Review: New insight into the life of Nur Jahan hitherto neglected

Empress. Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan. By Ruby Lal. Nortons.
2018. HB. £22.99

Historian Ruby Lal uncovers the rich life and world of Nur Jahan, wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir hitherto disregarded. She gives new insight into the lives of women and girls in the Mughal Empires. Lal reveals Nur’s talents and authority. The author does full justice to Nur’s biography.

Nur Jahan was born on a roadside near Kandahar in modern-day Afghanistan, and whose parents were liberals influenced by poetry and mysticism. In 1611, thirty-four-year-old Nur Jahan, daughter of a Persian noble and widow of a subversive official became the twentieth and most cherished wife of the Emperor Jahangir. While other wives were secluded behind walls, Nur ruled the vast Mughal Empire alongside her husband and governed in his stead as his health failed and his attention wandered from matters of state. “Nur Jahan was the only woman ruler in the long dynasty of India’s great Mughal.” (p4)

An astute politician and devoted partner, Nur led troops into battle to free Jahangir when he was imprisoned by one of his own officers. She signed and issued imperial orders, and coins of the realm bore her name. Nur was also a talented dress designer and ingenious architect, she innovated the use of marble in her parents’ mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna River, the building that inspired her stepson’s Taj Mahal.

“Between 1614 and 1627, Nur Jahan served as Jahangir’s co-sovereign, a decisive player in courtly and succession politics, and a commanding strategist. She defended her subjects against oppressive landlords and otherwise championed social justice. At the height of her power in the 1610s and 1620s, princes and courtiers sought her advice and followed her commands; she had the faith and trust of her husband.

In 1626, when Jahangir was taken prisoner by a rebellious nobleman, it was Nur who led her imperial troops to rescue him.” (p8) Europeans like British Ambassador to Jahangir’s court, Thomas Roe and Peter Mundy, a merchant with the British East India Company, seemed to be “bewildered” by the phenomenon of Nur Jahan and could not accept that she reached such a high position because of her talent.

“She hadn’t inherited an empire, as had Queen Elizabeth I of England, crowned 20 years before Nur’s birth, nor was she exactly a favourite, the familiar adviser-minister figure they knew, a staple of European courts but always been a male. They couldn’t quite wrap their minds around a woman’s coming to power because of her own talents.” (p9)

Lal says the more deeply she investigated the life and times of Nur Jahan, the more clearly she saw that the reasons for her rise were “intriguingly complex and that neither the popular legends nor conventional scholarly works fully tell her story.”

The book has a fascinating and captivating account of Nur’s rise to power and her fall and intrigues in the Mogul court. The author’s account of a powerful and remarkable woman at a time when strong women were ignored by history gives it an interesting read. It is a uniquely important work which needed to be written. I highly recommend this book.

Ahmed J Versi

Leave a Comment

What is 6 + 14 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)

Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

Latest Tweets