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‘JODHA BAI’ (1542-1622)

‘Jodha Bai’ is the name under which in modern times the princess titled Mariam uz-Zamani Begum Sahiba has been known. She was born Rajkumari Hira Kunwari Sahiba, alias Harkha Bai or Karkha Bai, and the eldest daughter of the Raja of Amber, the Kacchwaha Rajput, Raja Bharmal. The kingdom was later known as Jaipur. She was the sister of Bhagwandas and the aunt of Man Singh I of Amber, who later became one of the ‘nine jewels’ in the court of her husband. She married the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar in 1562, and was the mother of Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir, Akbar’s heir and successor. She was Akbar’s third wife and the junior most of his three chief queens after Ruqayya Begum and Salima Sultan. She was 22 days older than her husband. On her marriage, the princess was given the title Mariam-uz-Zamani (‘Mary of the Age’). As a chief queen, she could issue royal orders in her own name. She built many gardens, wells and mosques around the kingdom. The mosque of Mariyam Zamani Begum stands at Lahore in her honour, while her tomb is near Akbar’s at Agra. She also owned and managed the ships that took pilgrims on the Haj pilgrimage. In 1613, her pilgrim ship the ‘Rahimi’ was seized by the Portuguese along with the passengers and cargo. In retaliation, Emperor Jahangir ordered the seizure of the Portuguese town of Daman near Goa. No contemporary text refers to her as Jodha Bai, and the origin of this name appears to be James Tod’s nineteenth century text, The Annals of Rajasthan. In writing that book, Tod often relied on hearsay or bardic songs, and he sometimes did not get it right. It is possible that she was confused with her daughter-in-law. In 1586, she got her son, Prince Salim (the future Jahangir), to her niece, Manmati (Manbhawati Bai, also called Jagat Gosain), who became the mother of Prince Khusrau Mirza (the future Shah Jahan). It is this queen who was also known as Jodha Bai. The controversy was in the news when some Rajput organisations protested Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha Bai (2008) for distorting history. However, in the 1960 film Mughal-e-Azam, the character of Mariam-uz-Zamani was called ‘Jodha Bai’ without sparking any protests.
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