How Nur Jahan and Jahangir Met

Mihr-un-nnisa Khanum was the youngest daughter of Mirza Ghiyasud-din Muhammad, or shortly, Mirza Ghias Beg, a Persian noble, who had migrated to India and entered the service of Akbar. Due to his dexterity and diligence, he rose to the office of Diwan of Kabul and subsequently Diwan-i-Bayutat by 1595. Mihr-un-nnisa was extremely beautiful. She was well-educated and well-versed in music, dancing, poetry and painting.

This post is about some famous legends on how Nur Jahan and Jahangir met.


One day prince Salim was invited to a party at the house Itimad-ud-daula. When the public entertainment was over, wine was brought for the chief guests.

It was the first time that Mihr-un-nnisa seeing the prince. She became so passionately enamoured of him. Her ambition aspired to the conquest of the prince. She sung — he was in raptures; she danced — he could hardly be refrained to his place. When his eyes seemed to devour her, she, as by accident, dropt her veil; and shone upon him with all her charms.

Salim knew that she had been already betrothed by her father (or his father?) to Sher Afgan, a Turkoman nobleman of rank at court, and famous for his courage and strength. He applied to his father Akbar, who refused to commit such an injustice. And Mihr-un-nnisa became the wife of Sher Afgan.

Sher Afgan had married Mihr-un-nnisa with the knowledge of the prince's intimacy with her, but cared little for the latter's enmity.

Salim was greatly affected by her marriage with Sher Afgan. During his father's lifetime, Salim not dared to make any open attempts to revenge himself. Some courtiers who worshiped Jahangir, took advantage of his worst passions, and threw disgrace on Sher Afgan. Disgusted by all this, Sher Afgan left the court of Agra. He retired with his wife to Bengal where he obtained from the governor the superintendency of the district of Burdwan.

Years passed. Akbar died and prince Salim ascended the throne under the title of Jahangir. Now there was no one who could prevent his will and pleasure. He made plans to remove his rival from the scene. He recalled Sher Afgan to the court at Delhi.

Jahangir received Sher Afgan graciously and conferred new honours upon him. Sher Afgan thought that time had erased the memory of his wife from the emperor's mind. But he was mistaken!

Jahangir could not, however, in open, put his rival to death, in order to deprive the latter of his wife. So he tried to destroy his rival by some stratagem.

As per the plan, a day was fixed for tiger hunting, in the forest of Nidarbari. Jahangir, attended by Sher Afgan and several thousands of his officers, marched to that place. He assembled the nobles and called aloud, "Who among you will advance singly and attack this tiger"?

They looked on one another and finally turned their eyes towards Sher Afgan. He remarked thus, "To attack an animal with weapons is both unmanly and unfair. God has given to man limbs and sinews as well as to tigers; he has added reason to the former to conduct his strength". Other nobles objected this and said that men were inferior to the tiger in strength; and he could overcome only with steel. "I will convince you of your mistake", Sher Afgan replied. Throwing down his sword and shield, he advanced towards the tiger unarmed.

Jahangir, who was happy in his mind, made a show of dissuading him from the enterprise. But, Sher Afgan was determined.

After a long struggle between Sher Afgan and the tiger, to Jahangir's surprise, the great warrior was able to lay the animal dead at his feet, though he himself was severely wounded.

Thus the fame of Sher Afgan increased. However, Jahangir's attempts against Sher Afgan's life did not stop there.

Sher Afgan had scarcely recovered from his wounds, when he came to pay his respects at the court. He was caressed by the emperor.

A trap was being prepared for him. Jahangir ordered one of his elephant drivers to attack his rival and trodden him to death, when he next come to the court.

When Sher Afgan was carried in his palanquin to the court, he saw an elephant in his way. The bearers got frightened, who threw the palanquin and fled to save their lives.

Sher Afgan somehow managed to rise and drawing his sword, cut off the elephant's trunk with one blow.

When Jahangir saw this sight from the window of his palace, he felt shame and astonishment.

After reaching the palace Sher Afgan related the particulars to Jahangir. Jahangir once again praised the strength and valor of Sher Afgan, but didn't give up his designs.

Six months passed. Sher Afgan obtained permission to retire to Rajmahal, the capital of Bengal, with his wife.

Qutb-ud-din Khan Koka, the governor of Bengal, was aware of the emperor's designs against the life of Sher Afgan. In order to gain the favour of the emperor, he hired forty assassins to murder Sher Afgan.

The assassins entered his house and hid themselves in the writing chamber which was within the sleeping room at the distance of a narrow passage.

In the night, as usual, Sher Afgan and his family went to bed. When they thought he was fallen asleep, some of the assassins prepared to plunge their daggers into Sher Afgan's body. At that time, an old man among them, touched by remorse, cried aloud. "Hold! have we not the emperor's orders? Let's behave like men. Forty shall fall upon one, and that one asleep!". "Boldly spoken", said Sher Afgan, starting that instant from his bed. He seized his sword and went towards one corner of the room. The assassins attacked him, but in a few minutes many of them laid at his feet soaked in blood. Half of them managed to escape.

Sher Afgan thanked the old man for his warning. After inquiring about who had hired the assassins, dismissed him with handsome presents.

Sher Afgan now thought it appropriate to retire to Burdwan and he set out for that place with his family. But Qutb-ud-din Khan, on pretence of setting the affairs of the capital, made a tour of the dependent provinces along with a great retinue. In his route he came to Burdwan. He had the secret orders from Jahangir to dispatch Sher Afgan.

When Sher Afgan heard that Qutb-ud-din was coming to Burdwan, he came out to meet him on horseback attended by only two followers. Qutb-ud-din received him with great kindness. They rode on for some time side by side, and their conversation turned upon indifferent affairs. At last as they were about to enter the city Qutb-ud-din called for his elephant of state. He mounted the elephant under a pretence of appearing pomp in the city of Burdwan.

Sher Afgan sat on horseback while he mounted, but one of Qutb-ud-din's pikemen struck his horse, and began to drive him before them. He was enraged at this insult and drew his sword. Seeing the followers of Qutb-ud-din with their swords ready drawn to attack him, he concluded at once that there was a design against his life. He spurred his horse upon the elephant and killed Qutb-ud-din. He now turned his sword on the other officers and five of them fell by his sword. The first that fell by his hands was Aiba Khan Chak.

The remaining chiefs formed a circle around him and began to shot arrows and fire muskets from a distance. His horse fell under him and expired.

Seeing the superior number of the guards, the unfortunate hero proposed them to come forward one by one to single combat. But, he got no response. He was at this time severely wounded. When he saw his approaching fate, he turned his face towards Mecca, and threw some dust over his head by way of ablution. He then stood firmly to meet his fate. Six balls and several arrows perforated Sher Afgan's body before he fell. His enemies didn't dare to come near till they saw him in his last agonies. Then they rushed in and cut him to pieces.

The governor who succeeded Qutb-ud-din, sent Mihr-un-nnisa to Delhi. She was graciously received by Jahangir's mother. But Jahangir was so much affected by the death of Qutb-ud-din that he made a vow that he would never see the woman who had been the cause of Qutb-ud-din's death. He ordered to shut her up in one of the worst apartments of the harem, and allowed only fourteen anas [two shillings] for the subsistence of herself and her attendants.

Mihr-un-nnisa could not tolerate this harsh treatment. She always hoped for an opportunity of reviving the emperor's former love. She turned her attention to fashion designing and invented new designs in tapestry and embroidery, painting silks with exquisite delicacy and creating beautiful ornaments for women. By this means she became famous and also got a considerable sum of money. With the money she beautified her apartments and clothed her attendants in the most richest manner. In this situation she continued for four years, without having once seen the emperor.

The fame of her beauty, talents and accomplishments reached the ears of Jahangir. One day he suddenly entered her apartments and was struck with amazement seeing the elegance and magnificence. Mihr-un-nnisa was dressed in a plain white muslin, while her attendants were attired in rich brocades.

She received Jahangir with the usual salam. For some time, two of them were in silence. On recovering from his confusion, he sat down on the sofa, placing her by his side, inquired, "Why this difference between the appearance of Mihr-un-nnisa and her slaves?" She very shrewdly replied, "Those born to servitude must dress as it shall please those whom they serve; these are my servants, and I reduce the burden of bondage by every indulgence in my power: But I that am your slave, o emperor of the moguls, must dress according to your pleasure and not my own." In spite of the sarcasm, Jahangir, greatly pleased, took her in his arms; and the next day a magnificent festival was ordered to be prepared, for the celebration of his nuptials with the widow of Sher Afgan.



Alexander Dow's History of Hindostan.

Rambles And Recollections of An Indian Official By William Henry Sleeman

Wanderings of a Pilgrim: In Search of the Picturesque, During Four and Twenty Years in the East : with Revelations of Life in the Zenana By Fanny Parks

The History of Bengal: From the First Mohammedan Invasion Until the Virtual Conquest of that Country by the English, A.D. 1757 By Charles Stewart


Above story is told in the 'History of the Punjab' also, though with some differences. According to this version of the story, Asmat Begum, the mother of Mihr-un-nnisa, was in favor with Mariam Zamani, mother of prince Salim. She used to visit the royal lady accompanied by her daughter. Mihr-un-nnisa used to perform singing and dancing in the harem. She had a thousand charms, a thousand attractions; One day, while she was dancing, prince Salim entered the royal apartment, and the eyes of the two met. They fell in love. But she was already engaged to Ali Quli Beg, a Persian official at the court. Salim had met Mihr-un-nnisa several times at her mother's house and and found opportunities of romance. His behaviour so much annoyed Asmat Begum that she spoke of it to Mariam Zamani, and, through her the matter reached the ears of Akbar. Salim vowed to marry her and petitioned his father to annul her engagement with Ali Quli Beg. But, Akbar could not commit such an injustice, and managed to keep Mihr-un-nnisa out of the prince's sight. He also recommended her mother to marry her to Ali Quli at the earliest. Deeply in love with prince Salim, Mihr-un-nnisa, had no voice in her own destiny. She warned her parents that, by refusing the marriage, they would incur the wrath of Salim, who was cruel in his revenge. She also pleaded that his whole happiness depended on this marriage, as did hers. She pointed out that she had no fear of Jodh Bai, prince Salim's principal wife, and that she would mold Salim like wax in her fingers. But all in vain! She was married to Ali Quli, and was taken away to Burdwan.

Salim was deeply affected by her marriage with Ali Quli. There follows Akbar's death, Jahangir's accession, and his unsuccessful attempts to murder Ali Quli, by means of the tiger, elephant and forty assassins. According to this story, Jahangir, apparently pleased with the supernatural strength displayed by Ali Quli Beg, conferred upon him the title of Sher Afgan.

Since none of his plans worked out, Jahangir appointed his foster brother Qutb-ud-din Khan as governor of Bengal on this condition that he should induce Sher Afgan to divorce his wife, and, in case of his refusal, putting him to death. Sher Afgan rejected the proposal to divorce his wife and left the palace. After some time, Qutb-ud-din went to meet Sher Afgan at his jagir. Suspecting treachery, Sher Afgan waited on him with a dagger concealed in his dress. Qutb-ud-din renewed the subject of divorcing Mihr-un-nnisa and high words passed between them. And Sher Afgan plunged his dagger into Qutb-ud-din's body. The wounded Qutb-ud-din, called out his guards, on which Pir Muhammad Khan (perhaps Aiba Khan Chak) charged Sher Afgan and dealt him a blow with his sword on the head, but Sher Afgan returned it so dexterously that his assailant was killed on the spot. The guards rushed forward against Sher Afgan and there follows a similar kind of description of Sher Afgan's death.

After the murder of Sher Afgan, Mihr-un-nnisa was sent to Agra.On her arrival at the court, Jahangir offered her marriage. But, she was so deeply affected by the death of her brave husband, that she turned a deaf ear to it. This disgusted Jahangir, and for four years he took no notice of her. Mihr-un-nnisa remained neglected in the harem as an attendant of Jahangir's mother. The story is almost similar till Jahangir came to meet her. On a New Year's day Jahangir entered the harem and chanced to see her, his old love. Her view in plain muslin acted like magic on Jahangir and flame of love was rekindled in his heart. He instantly threw round her neck the necklace he wore and their marriage took place in 1611.


So what do you think? Are these great stories for making movies?

Also Read:

How Died Sher Afgan, Husband of Nur Jahan

Was Jahangir Responsible for the Murder of Sher Afgan?

Nur Jahan's Marriage with Jahangir - A Dutch Account

It seems that the fiction writers were not aware of some important things:

1. It was Jahangir who conferred on Mirza Ghiyas Beg the honourable title of Itimad-ud-daula.

2. It was Jahangir himself who gave Ali Quli Beg Istajlu, the title of Sher Afgan and this happened before his accession, when he was prince.

3. It was Jahangir who gave Sher Afgan the jagir of Burdwan in Bengal.

4. Sher Afgan was also a Persian.


Images are from the 1967 Hindi movie 'Noor Jehan' starring Meena Kumari as Noor Jehan, Pradeep Kumar as Prince Salim / Jahangir and Sheikh Mukhtar as Sher Afgan.