Was Jahangir Responsible for the Murder of Sher Afgan?

In a previous post, we explored the events leading to the death of Ali Quli Beg Istajlu, famously known as Sher Afgan. When Jahangir received intelligence regarding the rebellious intentions of Sher Afgan, the governor of Burdwan in Bengal, he sent Qutb-ud-din Khan Koka to apprehend him and bring him to court. However, Qutb-ud-din tragically met his death at the hands of Sher Afgan in Burdwan. Subsequently, Sher Afgan was killed by Qutb-ud-din's forces.

However, some historians believe that Jahangir may have orchestrated Sher Afgan's death in order to marry his wife, Mihr-un-nissa, who later became known as Nur Jahan.

I. One theory suggests that during Akbar's reign, Jahangir fell in love with Mihr-un-nissa. Mihr's father Mirza Ghias Beg held a prominent position at Akbar's court. Mirza's wife, Asmat Begum, had access to the imperial harem and would often bring her beautiful daughter along on her visits. It was during one of these visits that Prince Salim, later known as Jahangir, saw Mihr-un-nissa and instantly fell in love with her. To avoid scandal, Akbar immediately married her off to the Persian official Sher Afgan.

There was no apparent reason for Akbar to oppose Salim's marriage to Mihr-un-nissa if they were truly in love. An example from Akbarnama illustrates this point, as Abul Fazl recounts how Akbar eventually agreed to Salim's marriage with the daughter of Zain Khan Koka. Akbar was initially against the marriage as Salim was already married to Sahibi Jamal, who was Zain Khan's niece. Abul Fazl records, "The Prince Royal became violently enamoured of the daughter of Zain Khan Koka, and meditated marrying her. His Majesty was displeased at the impropriety, but when he saw that his heart was immoderately affected, he, of necessity, gave his consent." This shows that Akbar was willing to consent to marriages based on love.

If Jahangir was truly unhappy with Mihr-un-nissa's marriage to Sher Afgan, it is unlikely that Akbar would have appointed Sher Afgan to serve Jahangir in his expedition against Mewar. Interestingly, the title of Sher Afgan was bestowed upon Ali Quli Beg Istajlu by Jahangir himself. Moreover, Sher Afgan had previously deserted Jahangir during his revolt against Akbar, but Jahangir later pardoned him and granted him the jagir of Burdwan upon his accession.

Mirza Ghias Beg, later known as Itimad-ud-daula, migrated to India from Persia and was given a position in the court of Akbar. By 1595, he had risen to the rank of a mansabdar of 300, then became the Diwan of Kabul, and subsequently the Diwan-i-Bayutat. Sher Afgan, who had also migrated from Persia, served under Akbar as well. It was for this reason that Akbar chose to arrange the marriage between Mihr-un-nissa and Sher Afgan.

II. When Jahangir proposed Mihr-un-nissa, she was already married to Sher Afgan or betrothed to him.

In this scenario, there would have been no reason for Jahangir to murder Sher Afgan, as it was customary for the emperor to have a woman divorced if he desired her, as seen when Akbar married the wife of Abd-ul Wasi. Moreover, during that time, it was nearly impossible for a woman to refuse the wishes of the emperor.

III. Qutb-ud-din was appointed to Bengal with the intention of murdering Sher Afgan.

Upon his accession, Jahangir appointed Raja Man Singh as the governor of Bengal. Bengal had a history of rebellion and uprisings dating back to the time of the Delhi Sultans. It seems that Usman Khan, an Afghan rebel, had engaged in secret negotiations with Raja Man Singh. According to Riyaz-us-Salatin, "As the war was protracted, and the extirpation of the Afghans was not accomplished, in that very year of accession, Raja Man Singh was recalled from office" in August 1606.

Baharistan-i-Shahi records that Qutb-ud-din harbored resentment and jealousy towards Sher Afgan. Qutb-ud-din informed Jahangir that all the people in Bengal, except Sher Afgan, had pledged allegiance to the emperor. Consequently, Jahangir ordered Qutb-ud-din to 'sever his head from his body and sent to the imperial court'.

Similarly, Charles Stewart's History of Bengal recounts a story where Qutb-ud-din was offended by Sher Afgan's failure to congratulate him on his appointment as the governor of Bengal. Qutb-ud-din summoned Sher Afgan to Rajmahal, but Sher Afgan, suspicious of treachery, refused to leave Burdwan. Qutb-ud-din reported Sher Afgan's defiance to Jahangir, who commanded that Sher Afgan be brought to court as a prisoner, or if necessary, be dealt with by force or stratagem.

IV. It is uncommon for an emperor to marry a widow.

Jahangir's marriage with Nur Jahan was not unusual. Akbar had previously married Salima Sultan Begum, the widow of his general Bairam Khan.

V. Jahangir did not mention his marriage with Nur Jahan in his Memoirs.

However, information from Tarikh-i Salim Shahi reveals the significance of Nur Jahan in Jahangir's life: "Itimad-ud-daula, it is almost superfluous to observe, is the father of my consort Nur Jahan Begum and of Asaf Khan, whom I have appointed my lieutenant-general, with the rank of a commander of five thousand. On Nur Jahan, however, who is the superior of the four hundred inmates of my harem, I have conferred the rank of thirty thousand ... As I had then no intention of marriage she did not originally come into my family but was betrothed in the time of my father to Sher Afgan, but after that chief was killed I sent for the Qazi and contracted a regular marriage with her."

The events leading to this marriage were quite intriguing. After the death of Sher Afgan, Mihr-un-nissa and her daughter Ladli Begum were brought to Jahangir's court at Agra, where her father Itimad-ud-daula held a high position. Jahangir placed her among the attendants of one of his step-mothers. Jahangir noticed her during the New Year's (Nauroz) festival in the 6th year of his reign and fell in love with her. They were married in May 1611, four years after Sher Afgan's death.

Lastly, we have the account of Haidar Malik Chadurah, who was an eye-witness of Sher Afgan's death and was present during the attack. After the death of Sher Afgan, Yusuf Khan Chak captured the fort of Burdwan and began to seek the remaining supporters of Sher Afgan:

"The residents of the palace had taken away Sher Afgan's widow, Mihr-un-nissa, daughter of Ghias Beg who held the honorific title of Itimad-ud-daula. She was brought to my home. I did not spare any moment in honoring and serving her. For forty days, that Bilqis of the time stayed in my house. Then Kishwar Khan (Shaikh Ibrahim), the son of Qutb-ud-din Khan, sent for her from Raj Mahal by dispatching trusted people. So I and all the brothers were in her company until we reached Raj Mahal. After performing the services worthy of her, I departed. When this chaste and pure lady was honored with her presence before the emperor for the first time, the representatives of the emperor described to him the true facts of the sacrifices of this slave and my brother Ali Malik."


History of Begum Nurjahan By Sugam Anand

The responsibility of the Emperor Jahangir for the death of Sher Afgan, the first husband of Nur Jahan Begam By Beni Prasad

The Legend of Padmini and Nurjehan By K.S. Lal

Jahangir and Nurjahan By Mohammad Yasin