Maryam Zamani – Still an enigma

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Jahangir’s mother and Guardian

This is a mystery that had endured for many a decade and every historian working on Moghul history and Agra has come up with their own twist to it. When I started on this topic some years ago, I believed I could get to the crux of the matter with some effort, but it proved to be so difficult to peel the onion, as they say.  I spent so much time and effort in this study, perusing countless articles and sources, finally reaching nowhere conclusively. Were Maryam Zamani and Jahangir’s mother the same person? Or was it that there were two people in the picture?  

Why is there so much of a problem in this case? Was it because Akbar had women of multiple religions in his harem? Did confusion in the mind of historians arise because Akbar had allowed his Hindu consorts to practice their beliefs and rituals? Did further complications arise when researchers connected the Portuguese, Hindu, Christian, Turkish and Armenian wives of Akbar to Maryam Zamani and Jahangir, proving nothing? Perhaps so. The other issue was that the translations of many of the primary sources are considered conflicting, doctored over time and inadequate by some experts.

Birth Of Jahangir
But it is a fact that the biological mother of Jahangir was never named in any record. Jahangir’s memoirs do indicate that that a lady of very high standing and titled Maryam uz Zamani was considered to be the Wali Nimat Begum. The Mughal times were replete with adoptions, godmothers, and nursing mothers, so it proved to be pretty difficult to figure out who could be the biological mother of Jahangir and who became the titular mother of Jahangir. From all studies, one thing is amply clear, that Maryam Zamani was definitely the titular mother of Jahangir.

Another issue was the palace of Mary (Maryam ki Kothi) or Mariam at Fathepur Sikhri which many attributed to Maryam Zamani. Many argue about the presence of pastors in that specific palace, the presence of the image of Mary, a + cross and so on and so forth, confounding the situation. Some others clarify that it was in actuality, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

So I decided to take a different route after having exhausted normally followed routes. Why not try a different method and just focus on Maryam uz Zamani, the so called queen mother? And thus I got back to the records which I had collected while researching the sinking of the queen mother’s ship Rahimi. At that time the identity of the queen mother was secondary, so I had not paused while repeating the oft stated belief that she was potentially Jahangir’s mother, the daughter of the Kachwaha Rajput. Now let us check what we know from British records.

We know that the queen mother was the owner or at least the patron of the ship Rahimi, one of the biggest, plying the seas between Surat and Mocha, carrying goods and approximately 1500 pilgrims for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. We know that she got miffed when British and later the Portuguese held her ship to ransom, and in turn with her powers in the Mughal court put the English and the Portuguese into no amount of trouble. All records state clearly that ship was somehow connected to the queen mother. The title Maryam uz Zamani is not used (This has however been inserted as a footnote by translators & late researchers). And interestingly she was perhaps never the titular owner of the Rahimi.

We also know that she was involved in the Indigo trade. Some English and VOC Dutch traders saw the potential behind exporting the much vaunted Bayana indigo to Europe, and this indigo was needed for cloth dyes as well as for the Dutch porcelain industry. Finch’s transactions record the indignant queen mother who took revenge on Hawkins when he usurped stock which was not meant for him. Most of the indigo crop came from a place called bayana and we note that Bayana was an area patronized by Maryam Zamani. She had built the water tank (a baoili or stepwell), a residence, the gardens at Ibrahimabad in Bayana, and guard posts on the route from Agra to Bayana, to protect the Indigo industry. These structures were built in 1612-13 (If she was from Amber in Rajasthan, she would have made some investments there, right, why Bayana?) and was also an occasional residence for Maryam Zamani, at a period when the indigo producing tracts in Bayana were doing well, trade in Indigo was brisk and the Dutch and English were the buyers. The Baoli has two gravestones which have not been identified and it is felt that one of these may even belong to Maryam Zamani.

All this points to the fact that she was a shrewd businesswoman and well respected by traders and in the Moghul court. She certainly had the powers to execute hukum’s /written orders (they were not strictly speaking farmans as some have noted) or edicts under her own seal and in those documents she terms herself ‘the Wali nimat Begam mother of King Nuruddin Jahangir’. Now Wali Nimat is a term that has been translated in differing ways. In Persian, which was the legal language of the Mughal court, it means ‘A benefactor, a generous patron’. The full sentence is ‘Wali Ni’mat walida I Jahangir badshah’ where it is clear that Maryam Zamani is the titular mother. Otherwise adding the adjective such as ‘generous patron of’ makes little sense, mother would have been enough and powerful.

She was a certainly a person of high standing as certified by Hawkins for she was known to receive a jewel from every nobleman "according to his estate" each year on the occasion of the New Year's festival. Interestingly Hawkins refers only to Jahangir’s mother, not a Maryam Zamani.

We also know that while she had a residence in Agra, her home was at the village of Dahr near Lahore, where she spent her time and invested time and effort, also building gardens. We can see that Jahangir visited her repeatedly at Dahr for important occasions such as weddings and ceremonial weighing’s. This is stated in the contemporary Persian texts.
Maryam Zamani Mosque - Lahore
And of course we have the very famous Maryam Zamani mosque which she built in Lahore in 1614, one of the earliest mosques in Lahore which was built under her patronage (the inscription states- founded by Maryam Zamani, the Queen). The architectural style it seems, marks a transitional period between the two periods, i.e., Pathan and the Mughal with the gigantic domes taken from the old Pathan period mosques and the construction style for example, the gateways, the balconies etc. reflective of later Mughal architecture. For me, it is difficult to imagine a Rajput woman practicing Hinduism and living in Agra as Akbar’s wife, building a splendid mosque in faraway Lahore. We also know that there are no known records of temples or places of Hindu or Christian worship patronized or built by Maryam Zamani, thus making it somewhat clear that she was a serious practicing Muslim. Also it is clear, she took the wellbeing of thousands of Hajj pilgrims seriously, as well as the interaction with Mecca and trade there. Why would the daughter of Bihari Mall do that? One could argue that she took to Islam a 100% and was an overt believer, but we see little reason for her to do that as she had been allowed to practice her religion and live in peace and harmony by Akbar. It is also somewhat felt that many of these Hindu wives, for the purpose of marriage may have been given Islamic names for the record.

There is an intriguing reference that the title of Maryam Zamani was given to the lady posthumously (Monserrat). That does not sound quite correct for we do know that the title was used by Jahangir in his writings and the stones laid at the mosque in Lahore as well as the baoli in Bayana state her name. But it cannot be found in any contemporary accounts of Akbar, though we can find Mariam Makkany and the usage queen mother mentioned often in British and Dutch accounts. Perhaps those writers mistook one of Akbar’s wives to be Maryam Makani, who was actually Hamida Banu, Akbar’s mother and there was a similarity in the first name on both titles.

Then we have the so called tomb of Maryam Zamani in Agra, which has its own intrigue. She was not cremated after death. Instead, it is mentioned that Maryam Zamani was buried at Sikandra at the Lodhi garden. Now that again is a troubling subject because Jahangir did not build his revered mother a tomb of her own, but appropriated a garden and building used by Ibrahim Lodhi, which is quite strange and confounding according to many researchers.

Coming to nursing mothers, we know that Sheikh Bayazid (Moazzam Khan) was grandson of Sheikh Salem. And it was Bayazid's mother nursed Prince Salem (Jahangir) on the day of his birth.
Finally we know that Jahangir himself believed and mentioned that he was originally the son of one of Akbar’s consorts, not a regular wife of Akbar. The Tabaqat-i-Akbari Vol 2 states as follows - As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to Sikri, and left her in the house of the Shaikh; and he himself remained sometime in Agra, and sometime in Sikri. He gave the name of Fathepur to Sikri, and ordered the erection of bazars and public baths there.

Knowing this, how could we possibly comb through the 5,000 or so women in Akbar’s harem (and some 300 wives) as well as the palatial homes of many other royal ladies to get to the hidden persona of Maryam Zamani or for that matter Jahangir’s mother? It is made somewhat easier by the many hundred researchers who have traversed this route and have recorded their findings. I was fortunate in accessing and perusing many of them but decided sadly to forgo their conclusions as each came up with a different outcome.

13 of Akbar’s more famous wives have been traced by historians. The first was Ruqaiya Begum and she was childless. The second was the daughter of Jamal Khan and the third was with Abdulla Khan’s daughter.  The fourth was with Bairam Khan’s widowed wife and Akbar’s cousin Salima Sultan Begum. He had four Rajput alliances and they were with the daughter of Bihari (Bhar) Mall of Amber, the niece of Rai Kiran Mall of Bikaner, the daughter of Rawal Har Rai of Jaisalmer and finally the daughter of the Raja of Dungarpur. There were many other marriages, such as the scandalous taking of Abdul Wasi’s beautiful wife (which I had written about earlier).  Then there was Qasima Banu daughter of Arab Shah, later Bibi Daulat Shad and finally the daughter of Naquib Khan. From all these wives, only one son survived, that was Salim who later on became known as the emperor Jahangir.

What is also clear was the amount of intense rivalry and intrigue in the Mughal courts and particularly between the wives at the harem. Not that it is surprising in any way, for it was common in every royal household what with the endowments and titles the girl's families expected from such matrimonial and consortia alliances. Everything depended on the relation the girl managed to keep with the monarch. They are known to have tried all the tricks of the trade, including opium, alcohol and so on. But that is not the topic, so let’s move on…

Noorudin Islam points out that the Tabakat page 281, vol II clearly mentions the mother was Salima Sultana. But I could not find any such reference other than the cryptic statement ‘As one of the consorts became enciente at this time, His Majesty took her to Sikri, and left her in the house of the Shaikh’. However it is true that Salima was in charge of Akbar’s Zenana and had mediated on Jahangir’s behalf. It is still a possibility that she was Maryam Zamani for Kaviraj Shyamal Das opines- Salimah Sultan was considered the guardian of Akbar's zanana, and all the children of Akbar and Jahangir were tended by her: it was for this very reason that she mediated on Jahangir's behalf, when he had fallen out with Akbar, and brought him to Court from Allahabad. Jahangir regarded her as his mother, and she in turn looked upon him as her son. She could in theory be therefore a strong contender for the identity of Maryam Zamani.

The learned Beveridge mentions - I still think the silence of all the leading historians remarkable. Neither Abu-l-Fazl, nor Nizamu-d-din, nor Badaoni, nor Firishtah nor Khafi Khan mentions Bihari Mall's daughter as Jahangir's mother. This cannot have been the result of bigotry; for Abu-l-Fazl, at least, was no bigot, and he and some of the others mention the marriage of Bihari Mall's daughter with approval. If they approved of the marriage, why should they not have approved of its resulting in the birth of a son? He however admits that the Tawarikh-i-Salim which he checked mentions that Jahangir married a daughter of Bihari Mall, and had by her his son Khusru.. But he adds - There is a curious statement in the Tawarikh-i-Salim (Price, p. 47), that Akbar had a son by Bibi Maryam who was placed under the care of Raja Bihari Mall, confounding the matter even further.

The book on the Kachhwahas makes their potential connection to Jahangir clear by quoting Jahangir himself - Tuzuk-i-jahangiri (p15)- I made Raja Man Singh who was one of the greatest and most trusted noblemen of my father, and had obtained alliances with this illustrious family, inasmuch as his aunt had been in my father's house (i.e. was his wife), and I had married his sister, and Khusrau and his sister Sultanu-n-nisa Begam, the latter of whom is my eldest child, were born of her. (Refeqat adds - Had Mansingh’s paternal aunt, i.e. Bharmall’s daughter been Jahangir’s mother, he would have mentioned it since he spoke highly of Mansingh). A table of births (Abul Fazl) also shows a blank against Jahangir, which was the custom if it was a concubine and not a noble (Note here that the table shows Hindu mothers as daughter of and none is mentioned as d/o Bhram Mall). A related fact is that Mansingh, developed an intense dislike for Jahangir towards his later days.

Now let us take a look at a contemporary work - which is the record left behind by Dutch trader
Francisco Pelsaert. This was a very enterprising young man, who lived in Agra during Jahangir’s time and played with super high stakes. He gambled with VOC money, and had connections with Mughal women of high standing. In 1618 he sailed for the east in the Dutch company's commercial service and two years later was posted to India as junior merchant. After travelling overland from Masulipatam to Surat, he was sent to Agra where he stayed for seven years, becoming a senior merchant. He lived in Agra during 1620-27 for all of seven years and should have been in the thick of things. He loaned money, he hobnobbed with suppliers and other traders, he embezzled money for himself in the process and he traded in Indigo, a matter close to the heart of Maryam Zamani. In 1626 he wrote an account of the Mogul Empire, which was translated from the Dutch by W. H. Moreland and P. Geyl, and published as Jahangir's India -The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert

He mentions the following in his book, while describing Agra - Beginning from the north, 8 there is the palace of Bahadur Khan, who was formerly king of the fortress of Asir (5 kos from Burhanpur) . Next is the palace of Raja Bhoj, father of the present Rai Ratan, Governor of Burhanpur 4 (rank 5000 horse). Then come Ibrahim Khan (3000 horse); Rustam Kandahari (5000 horse); Raja Kishan Das (3000 horse) ; Itiqad Khan, the youngest brother of Asaf Khan (5000 horse); Shahzada Khanam, sister of the present king, who was married to Muzaffar Khan (formerly King of Gujarat) ; Goulziaer Begam, this king's mother; Khwaja Muhammad Thakaar (2000 horse); Khwaja Bansi, formerly steward of Sultan Khurram (the translator adds a footnote - This should represent Guljar Begam, but the name of Jahangir's mother is not elsewhere recorded, her official title was Maryam-uz-Zamani, which Pelsaert gives below as "Maryam Makani”.

Going on to describe the fort he says - There is little or no room within the Fort, it being occupied by various princely edifices and residences, as well as mahals, or palaces for ladies. Among these is the palace of Maryam Makani, wife of Akbar and mother of Jahangir, as well as three other mahals, named respectively Itwar (Sunday), Mangal (Tuesday), and Sanichar (Saturday), in which the King used to sleep on the day denoted by the name, and a fifth, the Bengali Mahal, occupied by ladies of various nations. Internally then the Fort is built over like a city with streets and shops, and has very little resemblance to a fortress, but from the outside anyone would regard it as impregnable.

We can see that the use of a term Maryam Zamani is missing and Palseart persists with Maryam Makani, who was actually the mother of Akbar, but what is glaring is the fact that he gave a proper name to Jahangir’s mother and that she had a Haveli at the edge of Agra and that another ‘mother’ potentially Maryam Zamani, had a palace within the Red Fort. Considering that Palseart was known to be very correct with his facts, it is clear that Jahangir’s mother was one Gulzar (Gulizaror Goulziaer) Begam.

Could that be one of the Gulizar Begam’s in the court and Zenana of Akbar, i.e. the two well-known women? One was the sister of Mirza Kamran, Akbar’s cousin, and the other was Kamran’s (unmarried) daughter, the latter being the one who went on a hajj with Gulbadan Begam (who wrote the Humayun Nama). Assuming that the elder Gulizar could be Maryam Zamani does draw some merit, since Kamran Mirza had intimate connections with Lahore. As we discussed previously, Maryam Zamani built a mosque in Lahore and had a house in the village of Dahr near Lahore. But we are not sure that she lived within the fort, all we know from Palseart’s writings is that she had her own haveli.

So we are left thus with three contenders, all staunch Muslims, for the godmother position. Salima Sulatan, Ruqayah Sultana Begam and the elder Gulizar Begam. One of the three above was Maryam Zamani who went on to build the mosque in Lahore and the baoli at bayana, as well as contribute liberally and be a patron of many charities. Now Salima and Ruqayah were Akbar’s wives, so they had their own quarters within the fort. The person who lived outside in a haveli could thus be the Gulizar Bagam.

According to Jehangir, Maryam Zamani passed away in 1623 (9th May 1623 "On this day news came from Agra that Her Highness (Hazrat) Maryam-uz-Zamani, by the decree of God, had died). Now we know that Salima passed away in 1613 and her body was laid to rest at the Mandarkar Garden in Agra. Ruqayah sultana passed away in 1626, and she was buried on the fifteenth level in the Gardens of Babur (Bagh-e-Babur) in Kabul, Afghanistan. If you cross those two out based death dates, the only remaining senior person who could have been Jahangir’s godmother or stepmother is Gulizar, the sister of Kamran and the wife of the late Yadgar Nasir Mirza. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the other two women cared very much for Jahangir.

The business transactions conducted by the royal women from inside the Zenana or around were done through multiple layers and involved many other persons. Who therefore was the queen mother referred to by the traders and how about the fact that Maryam Zamani owned a ship Rahimi and traded with the English and the Dutch? As such the real owner of the ship was Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, Salima Sultana’s step son. Rahim was also a ‘Navaratna’, an honored poet in Akbar’s court. It is only conjuncture that the queen mother was the real owner working behind him. Perhaps Salima Sultana was that person, not Maryam Zamani, and it is not mentioned so to my knowledge by Hawkins or others.

As for Maryam Zamani’s tomb, it is unlikely this had anything to do with any Rajput wife of Akbar, perhaps it was indeed Gulijar Begum’s tomb and for that matter, Maryam’s tomb could be one of the two at the Baoli in Bayana where it is believed Maryam Zamani spent her final years.

And how about the Mariam palace in the Fathepur Sikri? That is another intriguing story which we will discuss another day.

As always, this is an open discussion based on various resources I perused. More research is needed to conclusively determine the facts, which I doubt will happen considering that most people seem comfortable identifying Bharm Mall’s daughter to be Jahangir’s mother.

A few of the references perused

The story of Akbar’s Christian Wife - Rev H Heras
Mughal marriages, A politico-religious and legal study- Ansari Zahid Khan (Pakistan Historic society journal)
Maryam Zamani’s baoli at Bayana – A note – Rajiv Bargoti
Farman of Maryam Zamani, mother of Emperor jahangir – Khan Sahib Zafar Hassan
Jahangir’s India - The Remonstrantie of Francisco Pelsaert WH Moreland
Edicts from the Mughal harem – SAI Tirmizi
Akbar the greatest Moghul – SM Burke
Waterworks of Mediaeval Bayana – Natalie Shokoohy
Maryam Zamani mosque - the earliest dated Mughal period mosque at Lahore – Saeed Tahir
ShahJehan – Fergus Nicoll
Akbar’s Queen Mary - HS Hoston
The topography of the Mughal empire as known to the Dutch - Joannes De Laet ( Tr-E Lethbridge)
East India Company records 1602-1613
Early travels in India – 1583-1619 Ed William Foster
The female missionary intelligencer May 1, 1868 (Tomb of Mariam Zamani)
History behind the terracotta paintings – Md Noorul Islam
The Kachhwahas under Akbar and Jahangir – Kunwar refaqat Ali Khan
Identity of Jahangir’s mother- Aparna Chattopadhaya (Journal of Indian History 68-71, 1192)
The Mother of Jahangir - H. Beveridge and reply by Kaviraj Shyamal Das
The Tuzuk Jahangiri

Pics – Maryam Zamani mosque (courtesy Dawn 13-05-2015 ) 


  1. Soorya Narayan

    Yet another gem of investigative Historical work . Thank you Maddy Sir

  1. Maddy

    Thanks soorya
    glad you liked it

  1. Unknown

    Although massively late, I am so glad I stumbled upon this amazing historical piece, absolutely brilliant!
    I was wondering where exactly do you think this association of the Hindu Princess of Amer being the mother of Jahangir came about?
    Was there a specific traveller's account, or some other treatise?
    Would love to know your opinions on it!

  1. Maddy

    Thanks, unknown,
    I am not sure, nor have I worked on that part of the tale other than what I mentioned here. But I feel that some of the early British writers stressed the possibility.

  1. Maddy

    Come to think of it, James Tod writing his voluminous Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan was perhaps the first to touch upon Jodh Bai connections, around 1832 or thereabouts. Then there is Arthur Vincent Smith writing in 1917 about Akbar, who stated - At Deosa, midway between Agra and Ajmer, he received Raja Bihar Mall, the chief of Amber or Jaipur in Rajputana, who offered his eldest daughter to Akbar in marriage. The court made only a brief stay at Ajmir and returned by forced marches to Agra, leaving the heavy camp equipage to follow. The marriage was celebrated at Sambhar. Man Singh, nephew and adopted son of Raj Bhagwan Das, the heir of Raja Bihar Mall, was taken into the imperial service, and rose ultimately to high office. The bride subsequently became the mother of Jahangir. Her posthumous official title, Maryam-zamani (or -uz zamani), ' the Mary of the age ', has caused her to be confounded sometimes with Akbar's mother, whose title was Maryam-makani, ' dwelling with Mary '. The dust of Akbar's first Hindu consort lies in a fine mausoleum situated near Akbar's tomb at Sikandara. The building has been restored by judicious measures of conservation. Note - The daughter of Raja Bihar Mall probably conformed more or less to the Muslim religion, certainly she received a Muhammadan title and was buried in a Muhammadan sepulchre..