Published:  01:28 AM, 10 October 2019

The forgotten Mughal prince

The forgotten Mughal prince

Primogeniture is the right of succession belonging to the firstborn child, especially the feudal rule by which the whole real estate of an intestate passed to the eldest son. Alas, this was not the norm and culture of the Mughal Empire.

Had it been so, the never-ending tales of betrayals, bloodshed, and rebellions the empire is so famously known for would not have met the light of reality. Like all stories of successions at that time, the one of Mirza Nur-ud-din Beig Mohammad Khan Salim(later known as Emperor Jahangir) and Khusrau Mirza(Prince Khusrau) after Emperor Akbar is one of blood lust and deceit.

Akbar, son of Emperor Humayun, was perhaps the greatest Mughal emperor of all time. Despite starting his rule at the tender age of thirteen with just Kabul, Kandahar, Delhi and parts of Punjab, Akbar at the end of his forty-nine-year reign was ruling over almost the entire Indian Subcontinent. Although merciless in his quest to expand his kingdom, Akbar was equally diplomatic when it came to ensuring peace and longevity of his reign.

He promoted secularism by encouraging people of all religions in his court, abolished religiously biased taxes, and built churches and temples for people of different faiths. Akbar was probably the first Islamic ruler in India who sought stable political alliances through matrimony, famously during his conquest of Amber(Jaipur) when he accepted Rajput leader Bihari Mal's daughter's hand in marriage in exchange for his acceptance of Akbar's suzerainty. Such a ruler called for an equally qualified successor. However, the story of his progression is a dark speck in an illustrious sovereignty.

 Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim(later known as Emperor Jahangir) was born on 31st August, 1569, to Emperor Akbar and Mariam-uz-Zamani (Jodha Bai). Given how all of Akbar's previous children had passed away during infancy, his son was supposed to be a blessing in disguise, who would hopefully grow up to be an ideal and dedicated leader. However, Salim was anything but a ruler, let alone exemplary. The prince grew up to be an alcoholic, opium addict and a womanizer. Salim was first married to Manbhawati Bai (known after her marriage as Shah Begum). She soon gave birth to Salim's eldest son Prince Khusrau.

In contrast to Salim, Khusrau was a completely different shade. He was a prudent military commander, known to be a court favourite. He neither indulged in drugs nor drank. According to Edward Terry, a clergyman at the Mughal court, "He had a pleasing presence and excellent carriage, was exceedingly beloved of the common people, their love and delight." Khusrau had soon become Akbar's favourite grandson. In 1590 Akbar's health began to deteriorate. Distressed by the thought of his addicted son in charge of his empire Akbar began to see his successor in his dependable grandson.

After understanding Akbar's possible intentions Salim started becoming impatient and rebellious. The command being passed over to a grandchild while the father was still alive was unprecedented in Timurid traditions and invoked a sense of anger and humiliation in Salim. And thus started the dissent between the emperor and his two possible successors. Akbar soon started growing weary of his rebellious son. It was obvious that Salim was scheming for the throne. Akbar started suspecting that Salim had tried to assassinate him using poison.

Tensions took a turn for the worst when Salim started an armed rebellion against his father and started holding court himself in 1599. Prince Akbar had been occupied with a campaign in Deccan at the time. Salim's rebellion was immediately foiled by Akbar, but he was pardoned due to the influence of powerful court ladies, such as his grandmother Maryam Makani. In 1602 Salim had Akbar's close friend and advisor Abu Fazl murdered on the notion that he had been involved in advising Akbar about Khusrau's accession to the throne.

Soon afterwards the royal court started breaking down into two factions; One, in favour of Khusrau as the future emperor, backed by Man Singh, the King of Amber and Aziz Khan Khoka. The other half, consisting of Persian Nobles and religious devotees, called for Salim's transition to power, out of fear of growing Rajput influence. In 1604, Shah Begum, Khusrau's mother, and Salim's wife committed suicide after not being able to bear the ever-growing dispute and dissent between her husband and son.

Prince Khusrau had never asked to be emperor nor had he ever intended on being a thorn in his father's path. The idea of the throne was something which had been concocted in his head by Akbar and his noble men for his desirable personality and administrative and leadership skills. He was a dependable prince, who was surrounded by unreliable family. Caught in the game of thrones between a bloodthirsty father and a deceitful brother, Khusrau became a pawn of the internal politics of Akbar's royal court. In reality, Khusrau only wanted to become emperor because he was told he would be a better one than his father.

After Akbar fell critically ill in September 1605, he arranged for a fight between an elephant owned by Salim, and one that belonged to Khusrau, to provide an omen about the succession. Salim's won leading to supporters on both sides almost coming to blows. Akbar finally passed away on 3rd October 1605 after a bout of dysentery and on his death bed named Salim as his successor. Salim ascended the throne in 1605 as Emperor Jahangir.

Khusrau was a young man of eighteen when Jahangir came to power. Now, more than ever, he was ready to see himself on his father's throne. With whispers about Khusrau's imminent rise to power, a paranoid Emperor Jahangir placed the prince and his wife under house arrest in the Agra fort. Khusrau left Agra on April 6th, 1606, with three hundred and fifty horsemen under the guise of visiting the tomb of Akbar at Sikandra. Hussain Beg joined him in Mathura with another three thousand horsemen. In Panipat, he was joined by Abdur Rahim, the provincial dewan of Lahore. When Khusrau reached Taran Taran near Amritsar, he received the blessings of Sikh Guru Arjan Dev.

Khusrau reached Lahore and laid siege with around ten to twelve thousand men around him. However, these were not all veteran soldiers. Most were pillagers and looters who had acquired an unpleasant reputation during their march. News of Khusrau's rebellion reached Jahangir in a flash. For the first time, the emperor acted swiftly, sending out scouts to determine Khusrau's direction of march and then on daybreak, engaging in the chase himself with the newly appointed governor Dilawar Khan, entrusting Agra to the care of his second son, Mirza Pervaiz.

When asked what should be done if Khusrau refused to surrender or to return to Agra, Jahangir uttered the famous words, "Kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law. No one is a relation to a king." The emperor and his men covered the 600km distance from Agra to Lahore in just 11 days, immediately securing its defences before Khusrau's arrival. Jahangir feared that Khusrau might join forces with the Uzbeks of Samarkand and Bukhara or the Safavid Persians, to create an external threat for the empire.

Having failed to storm the fort, Khusrau crossed the Ravi in an attempt to escape to Kabul but was soon caught north of the river. The rebels were struck down and routed in the monsoon rain, and Khusrau was taken prisoner trying to cross the Chenab. He was brought to Lahore before his father in chains, bested and defeated, and nowhere else to escape. Jahangir wanted a message to be sent and condemned his newly captured enemies to a terrible faith.

He ordered wooden posts to be set up for the rebels to be impaled through their bowels by the hundreds. Khusrau was compelled to watch the gruesome sight and listen to the agony of his supporters.

Despite the pleas from the members of his court, Jahangir's retribution for Khusrau was merciless, ordering his son to be blinded using a metal wire which would be poked into his eyes to cause excruciating pain. It has been said that Khusrau didn't utter a single word during this ordeal, once again highlighting his unrelenting character. Khusrau and his wife were again put under house arrest in the Agra fort palace.

Khusrau had received the blessings of Arjan Dev, the fifth guru of the Sikhs before his advances on Lahore. He was arrested by Jahangir and brought to Lahore on May 1606, accused of defaming the Hindu and Muslim religion, and most importantly, in aiding his rebel son.

The Sikhs were ordered a heavy fine of 200,000 rupees for the release of their spiritual leader. The Mughals also demanded to erase some lines of the Gurbani from the Adi Granth and ordered the Guru to convert to Islam, all of which he refused. Consequently, the obstinate Guru was brutally tortured for five days until he attained martyrdom. Sikh historians say that the enmity of Chandu Lal, the Hindu diwan of Lahore, who had a family quarrel with the guru, played a catalytic role in his arrest and death. Jahangir's penal actions marked the beginning of a long and bitter conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughal government.

Jahangir soon felt remorse for his son's punishment and asked the royal physicians to restore his sight. With their treatment, Khusrau was spared complete blindness. Despite nursing, his eyes were still essentially useless. Amongst the never-ending pain and suffering, Khusrau found repose in his wife, the daughter of the all-powerful Mirza Aziz Koka. In Khusrau's blind world where no light permeated, his wife was his only beacon, who not only refused to leave him, but took care of throughout his years as Jahangir's prisoner. Together as husband and wife, they formed a bond so strong, songs about it would have been written for decades had Khusrau made it to the throne. But Khusrau's troubles were far from over.

A decade after his rebellion, Khusrau's popularity had remained unwavered. Jahangir's favourite son from Jagat Gosain, Khurram( later known as Emperor Shah Jahan), who was growing impatient to become the next emperor was fearful of Khusrau's popularity and Jahangir's growing affection for his son and grandson Dilawar Baksh. During the Deccan rebellion, Jahangir had requested Khurram to take care of the revolts. Khurram in return for his services demanded the custody of his brother Khusrau. Although Khurram claimed that it was for the safety of his father as he feared another rebellion by his usurper brother, it was obvious that the prince was taking all necessary steps to clear his path to his father's throne.


At that time Jahangir's final wife Nur Jahan was the one pulling the strings at court. Smitten by her beauty, intelligence and love, the emperor had more or less given over all control of his life to his wife. She was the mastermind behind his decisions, whispering her ideas into his ears in bed, and the emperor acting accordingly in court. In an attempt to retain control over her empire and her volatile son Khurram, Nur Jahan asked for Khusrau's hand for her daughter from her first marriage Ladli Begum.

The offer was simple; Accept and live a life of luxury and freedom, one where she would throw in her weight for his succession of Jahangir, or refuse and be handed over to his brother Khurram, at whose hands his death was guaranteed. But the prince shocked both Nur Jahan and her brother and his then custodian Asaf Khan when he refused. In a time of polygamy, Khusrau refused to forsake his wife who had stood by his side when no else had. Regardless of being offered a retreat from his life of despair, he refused to spoil the sanctity of the bond he had formed with his wife. Angered by the unshakable prince, Nur Jahan stopped the thwarting of his transfer to Khurram, and Khusrau was soon in his brother's custody.

The ill-fated prince finally met his end in January 1622. Although no properly backed account exists, the most popular one is that a servant of Jahangir's named Raza Bahadur attempted to enter Khusrau's chambers in the middle of the night. When Khusrau refused him entry, Bahadur broke the door and rushed in with his accomplices and attacked the prince. Khusrau screamed out to wake his servants and despite his partial blindness, fought bravely but to no avail. He was strangled to death and his bed rearranged afterwards to make it appear as if his death was natural.

Khusrau's body was temporarily buried in Burhanpur and on January 19th Emperor Jahangir was told that his son had died naturally of colic pain. Enraged, Jahangir ordered his body to be exhumed and sent to Allahabad. A mausoleum was built over his grave next to his mother's in a place now called Khusrau Bagh.There were outcries throughout the empire that the famous prince had been murdered in cold blood. There were calls of vengeance against the slayers of the people's favourite. The wheels of a movement that proclaimed Khusrau a martyred saint soon started spinning and shrines were built wherever his body had rested on its way to Allahabad.

A confused Jahangir ordered his son Khurram to appear in court. As difficult as it was for him to forgive Khusrau's rebellion, he had nonetheless grown fond of his son near the end. Khurram openly refused his father's command and started yet another rebellion for the throne in the Mughal empire.

Khusaru was a proficient prince, but he was surrounded by highly ambitious and deceitful family like Nur Jahan, Khurram, Jehangir etc. Although pushed to centre stage by Akbar himself, he could not continue his support for his grandson near his end. Loved by his people, Khusrau was made to pursue something which would have never been his. Maybe the lesson to learn here is that military men might win you battles, but diplomacy and politics will win you a throne. Khusrau might have been the most talented commander in Akbar's army, but it was his inability to win the fights in Akbar and Jahangir's court which cost him his life and throne.


The writer is Chairperson of Siddiqui's International School and treasurer of Bangladesh English Medium Schools' Assistance Foundation (BEMSAF)

---Riffat Ahmed

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