A Coup during Mughul Era-an Empress rescues an Emperor

Mahabat Khan aka Zamana Beg- Nur Jahan and Jahangir – all in the saga of a historical high drama of the early sixteenth century………….

Mahabat Khan – Originally known as Zamana Beg, had proved himself as a capable General and Jahangir honoured him by conferring the title – Mahabat Khan, with a ‘mansab’ of 3000.

Mahabat Khan felt under Nur Jahan’s influnce, Jahangir had neglected him for 12 years, he felt frustrated and neglected and revolted in 1626………………….

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Handmade painting of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Empress Nur Jahan of India

Empress Nur Jahan

Jahangir was under the emotional and administrative tutelage of his Shah Begum, the beautiful Persian Empress Nur Jahan (Light of the World), who was the one who wielded the real power. She was one of the most enigmatic and interesting Empresses in Indian history. She was an articulate manipulator of the masses and depicted as a schemer who took advantage of Jahangir’s addiction to intoxicants to control and hold the reigns of power.

But there were other facets of this exceptional empress. She was known for her administrative genius, her exquisite aesthetic sensibilities, and her benevolence toward the poor and downtrodden, especially women.

“The power (of women), it is true, is sometimes exerted in the harem; but, like the virtues of a magnet, it is silent and unperceived. Nur Jahan stood forth in public; she broke through all restraints and custom, and acquired power by her own address, more than by the weakness of Jahangir.”

(Alexander Dow, a perceptive observer of the Mughal court).

Emperor Jahangir

Jahangir, was made of a psychological mould different to Akbar. He had looks that were more Indian, with angular Rajput features moulded into smooth rounded mongoloid features of his ancestors.

With a wheatish complexion, he dressed opulently in public. ‘Clothed or rather laden with diamonds, rubies and pearls and other precious varieties…………’ (Sir Thomas Roe).

But, the emperor was given to intoxicants. This led to weak administration, revolts and Coup.

Mahabat Khan

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Mahabat Khan Khan-e-Khanan Sipah-Salar Zamana Beg Kabuli

Mahabat Khan aka Mahabat Khan Khan-e-Khanan Sipah-Salar Zamana Beg Kabuli, born Zamana Beg) (died 1634), was a prominent Mughal general and statesman, perhaps best known for his coup against the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1626.

Mahabat Khan was the son of Ghayur Beg Kabuli who began his career in the army of Mirza Muhammad Hakim, the Mughal ruler of Afghanistan, and upon the death of Mirza Hakim in July, 1585, he migrated to India with his family, and entered into the service of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.

Zamana Beg aka Mahabat Khan rose rapidly through the ranks of the Mughal army. He commenced his military career in the personal forces of Crown Prince Salim (who later went on to become Emperor Jahangir). Proving his worth to the crown prince, he was soon made an officer in charge of 500 men.

Upon Jahangir’s ascent to the throne in 1605, he was granted the honorific title ‘Mahabat Khan,’ and was promoted to the rank of commander of 1,500 men, and ‘bakhshi’ (treasurer) of the emperor’s private privy purse.

Mahabat Khan rose to prominence in 1623, when he was made commander of the Mughal forces sent to defeat the unsuccessful rebellion of Prince Khurram (who later went on to become Emperor Shah Jahan) in the Deccan. For his loyal service, he was recognized as a ‘pillar of the state’, and was ultimately promoted to chief commander of the Mughal army, with a personal force of 7,000 men.

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Jahangir weighing Prince Khurram in gold and silver

with Mahabat Khan and KhanKhana watching

Nur Jahan’s Concern

But this success instigated the jealousy of Empress Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan. They were worried about the rising power of Mahabat Khan.

To be rid of Mahabat Khan, Nur Jahan made him “Governer of Bengal” which was far from the the Mughul capital at Lahore. Furthermore, Nur Jahan had him charged with disloyal conduct and ordered him to return to Lahore to face trial .

As a result of Nur Jahan and Asaf khan’s continuous conspiracy against him, Mahabat Khan decided to take action, and so in 1626, he lead a coup against Jahangir, with Rajputs siding him.

The imperial Imprisonment and Rescue

Meanwhile, Jahangir and his men were preparing to head to Kabul , and were encamped on the banks of the River Jhelum. Mahabat Khan and his forces attacked the royal encampment, and successfully took the emperor hostage. Nur Jahan , however, managed to escape. Letting Nur Jahan escape, was the beginning of Mahabat Khan’s failure.

Mahabat Khan declared himself emperor of India at Kabul , but his success was short-lived. Mahabat Khan’s brief reign lasted approximately 100 days.

Nur Jahan , with the help of nobles who were still loyal to Jahangir , came up with a plan to free her husband. She surrendered herself to Mahabat Khan, and once reunited with her husband, put her plan into action. She had Jahangir convince Mahabat Khan that he was satisfied with the current arrangement, as it had freed him from her clutches. Jahangir won over Mahabat Khan’s confidence by informing him that Nur Jahan had planned to poison him the help of Abu Talib’s wife, grand daughter of KhanKhana.

Mahabat Khan believed that he had won over the former emperor, failing to realize that Jahangir was in fact siding with Nur Jahan . Consequently, he decreased the Rajput guards that he had placed around Jahangir , and prepared to return to Lahore with the captive emperor and Nur Jahan. Asaf Khan, son of Danyal and Abu Talib, were also imprisoned but Mahabat Khan gradually released them with conditions.

Meanwhile, Nur Jahan arranged for an army to meet them en route to Lahore, with the help of her eunuch Hoshiyar Khan; Nur Jahan is said to have personally jumped in the waters of Jhelum (river) and supervised the battle herself. She had with her the infant daughter of Shahryar-son of Jahangir and husband of her daughter Ladli Begum. The child was shot in the arm by an arrow and Nur Jahan herself was injured.

In the ensuing battle, Nur Jahan’s forces were victorious, and Jahangir was freed from captivity. In the battle, as estimated, nearly 3000 Rajputs were killed in this battle and others were wounded heavily.

Following his unsuccessful coup, Mahabat Khan fled to the Deccan. There, Prince Khurram convinced him to surrender himself to Jahangir.

However, with the death of Jahangir shortly thereafter in the October 1627, Mahabat Khan was able to go unpunished.

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Emperor Shah Jahan

Upon Prince Khurram’s rise to the throne as Emperor Shah Jahan, Mahabat Khan was appointed governor of Ajmer. He was later transferred to a post in the Deccan, where he died in 1634.

Mahabat Khan’s Death

His body was carried back to Delhi, where he was buried on the ground of the shrine of Qadam Sharif. Upon his death, his eldest son, Mirza Amanullah, was awarded the title ‘Khan Zaman’, while his second son, Luhrasp, was granted his late father’s title, ‘Mahabat Khan.

The Empresses have gone, the Emperors have long gone, the revolts have perished, but the stories remain to be told and re-told over the ages…………….

Sources

  • The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians: The Muhammadan Period

By Henry Miers Elliot

  • The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture

By Annemarie Schimmel

  • Nur Jahan and Her family

Chandra Pant

  • Morley’s Catalogue
  • Indian Hist (Opt)

Reddy

  • Royal Mughal Ladies and Their Contributions

By Soma Mukherjee

  • The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719

By Munis D. Faruqui

  • Emperors of the Peacock Throne: The Saga of the Great Mughals

By Abraham Eraly

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