Ruqaiya Sultan Begum was Akbar’s first and chief consort. She served as the Empress of the Mughal Empire for 49 years, playing a vital role in each generation of rulers born into the Mughal family.

Granddaughter of the first Mughal Emperor, niece of the second, wife of the third, supporter of the fourth in his succession and foster mother of the fifth- Ruqaiya Sultan Begum was indeed the only daughter and empress in the entire realm who had a major influence in the Mughal Empire. No other woman has held a place as important as that of Ruqaiyya Begum in the history of the Mughal Sultanate. A name so important and crucial, her life journey is strong and interesting.  Let’s have a glimpse from a chapter of Ruqaiya Sultan’s life including her transformation from a shahzadi to an Empress and further beyond.

The Early Days

Ruqaiya was the granddaughter of Babur, making her a Timurid princess and so she was the direct descendant of the highest Central Asian aristocracy- that of Genghis Khan through his son Chagatai Khan and Timur, the Great through his son Miran Shah. She was the only daughter of her father Hindal Mirza and mother Sultanam Begum.

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Hindal Mirza, sits before his elder brother, Emperor Humayun

Hindal was only married once and so his dedication towards his wife and daughter was obvious. He was the youngest and the most favored son of the Mughal Emperor Babur. Hindal was Humayun’s half brother. At the age of 19, he was considered as a favorable contender for the Mughal throne by the imperial counsel who strongly despised Humayun as an Emperor. Hindal however, pledged to be on Humayun’s side till his death at an early age of 31, against his brother Kamran Mirza. In 1551, when Hindal died in a battle aiding Humayun, Ruqaiya was just nine.

The Apparent Marriage

Following the death of her father in 1551, her paternal uncle and the then Mughal Emperor Humayun, arranged for her marriage with his son Jallalaudin or Akbar, the future ruler.

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He bestowed all the wealth of his late younger brother, Hindal, onto the young couple including the province of Ghazni, Hindal’s jagir. Akbar was also given the entire army. After 5 years, at the age of 14, Ruqaiya became the Padshah Begum after her husband’s accession to the Mughal throne.

The Divine Connection:  Ruqaiya-Akbar

No matter how many marriages Akbar had all his life and no matter how many concubines he had in his harem, Ruqaiya was always his most favored wife and remained his principal consort till the very end. Ruqaiya was not only Akbar’s wife but a friend, companion and cohort right from the very early on in his life. Her position and status in the heart of Akbar was always superior and greater than any other woman in his life. No, not even Jodha unlike illustrated in the movies and serials Jodha Akbar. Akbar only loved Ruqaiya through his life.

Akbar’s love, care and profound affection for his chief wife came to the forefront in his middle age, when he acknowledged that had he been wiser before in his life, he wouldn’t have married more than once. He even repented marrying other wives apart from his chief consort, Ruqaiya, and even in that era went ahead in recommending monogamy. Akbar, however, all his life never married out of love but either due to political alliance or out of courtesy (his second wife was Bairam Khan’s wife). Secondly, Ruqaiya was also childless; this also made him marry another woman to seek an heir for the Mughal Empire.

Being a Mother

Ruqaiya was childless all through her life. Although she gave birth to a girl and twins – Hussain and Hassan, none survived. This was her main grief and only drawback. However, Akbar’s love for her never diminished and so when Prince Khurram (later Shah Jahan) was only six days old, Akbar ordered him to be handed over to Ruqaiya so she could take care of him as a mother.

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Prince Shah Jahan, son of Akbar

 

Ruqaiya took care of Khurram’s education and assumed all the prime responsibilities of the upbringing of her grandson Khurram, the future Mughal Emperor – Shah Jahan. They both shared a close relationship. That is why; we see Khurram’s father and Ruqaiya’s step son mentioning that Ruqaiya’s love for Khurram was thousand times more than the love of her own son. Her relationship with Jahangir too was very cordial and so in his autobiography, we find him speaking fondly of her.

Role in Administration

Being Akbar’s favorite, The Empress always played an integral part in court politics and had foremost political control over Akbar. This perhaps is depicted in the early 1600s, when Ruqaiya played a major role in settling conflicts between Jahangir, her step son and Akbar, her husband. Apart from her role in the court, she also possessed trading ships of the Empire to carry out various overseas trades. Being an empress of high esteem, she even had palaces outside apart from her own palace at Agra and Fatehpur Sikri.

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Hujra-I-Anup Talao or the Turkish Sultana House, a pleasure pavilion attached to a pond, was used by Empress Ruqaiya

The Final Term

Ruqaiya died at the age of 84 in the year 1626 and was buried next to her grandfather, Babur and father, Hindal Mirza in the Gardens of Babur, presently in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her tomb was built by her grandson and foster son, who by then had become the 5th Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan.

By Deepti Verma

Also See:
Aurangzeb’s Policies Towards Hindus
Jodha Akbar Review

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Image Source: By anonymus (ArtDaily.cm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons