Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire
Empress consort of the Mughal Empire
Predecessor Bega Begum
Successor Saliha Banu Begum
Died 19 January 1626 (aged 83–84)
Agra, Mughal Empire (modern day India)
Burial Gardens of Babur, Kabul
House Timurid (by birth)
Father Hindal Mirza
Mother Sultanam Begum
Ruqaiya Sultan Begum (c. 1542 – 19 January 1626) was empress consort of the Mughal Empire from 1557 to 1605 as the first wife and chief consort of the third Mughal emperor Akbar.
She was also the longest serving Mughal empress, having tenure of almost fifty years.
Ruqaiya was a first cousin of her husband, and was a Mughal princess by birth. Her father, Hindal Mirza, was the youngest brother of Akbar’s father Humayun. She was betrothed to Akbar at the age of nine and married him at 14, but remained childless throughout her marriage. In later life, Ruqaiya raised (virtually adopted) Akbar’s favourite grandson Khurram (the future emperor Shah Jahan). As Akbar’s chief consort, Ruqaiya wielded considerable influence over him and played a crucial role in negotiating a settlement between her husband and her stepson, Jahangir, when the father-son’s relationship had turned sour in the early 1600s, eventually helping to pave the way for Jahangir’s accession to the Mughal throne.
She died just a year before her foster-son, Shah Jahan, acceded to the throne after a fratricidal struggle.
Hindal Mirza, presents young Akbar’s portrait to Humayun, during Akbar’s circumcision celebrations in Kabul, c. 1546 AD
Ruqaiya Sultan Begum was born into the Timurid dynasty as a Mughal princess, and was the only daughter of Mughal prince Hindal Mirza, the youngest son of the first Mughal emperor Babur from his wife Dildar Begum.
Ruqaiya’s mother, Sultanam Begum, was the daughter of Muhammad Musa Khwaja and the younger sister of Mahdi Khwaja, who was the brother-in-law of Emperor Babur, being the husband of his sister, Khanzada Begum. Ruqaiya was named after the Islamic Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad.
Ruqaiya’s oldest paternal uncle was the second Mughal emperor Humayun (who later became her father-in-law as well) while her most notable paternal aunt was the imperial princess, Gulbadan Begum, the author of Humayun-nama (“Book of Humayun”).
Ruqaiya, being the paternal granddaughter of Emperor Babur, was of Miran Shahi birth just like her husband Akbar. She was a descendant of the lines of the highest Central Asian aristocracy: Timur or Tamerlane the Great through his son Miran Shah, and Genghis Khan through his son Chagatai Khan.
Ruqaiya was thus, Akbar’s only wife who was his equal in birth and stature.
Marriage to Akbar
On 20 November 1551, Hindal Mirza died fighting valorously for Humayun in a battle against their half-brother, Kamran Mirza’s forces. Humayun was overwhelmed with grief upon the death of his youngest brother, who had expiated for his former disobedience by his blood, but his emirs consoled him by saying that his brother was blessed in having thus fallen a martyr in the service of the Emperor.
Out of affection to the memory of his brother, Humayun betrothed Hindal’s nine-year-old daughter, Ruqaiya, to his son Akbar. Their betrothal took place in Kabul, Afghanistan, shortly after Akbar’s first appointment as a viceroy in the province of Ghazni.
On their engagement, Humayun conferred on the imperial couple, all the wealth, army and adherents of Hindal and Ghazni, which was one of Hindal’s jagir, was given to Akbar, who was appointed as its viceroy and was also given the command of his uncle’s army.
During the period of political uncertainty following Humayun’s death in 1556, Ruqaiya and the other female members of the imperial family were staying in Kabul., Ruqaiya came to India and joined Akbar in Punjab, shortly after Sikandar Shah was defeated and had submitted to the Mughals.
She was accompanied by her mother-in-law Hamida Banu Begum, her aunt Gulbadan Begum, and many other female members of the imperial family. Ruqaiya’s marriage with Akbar was solemnized near Jalandhar, Punjab, when both of them were 14 years-old. About the same time, her 18-year-old first-cousin Salima Sultan Begum, married Akbar’s considerably older regent, Bairam Khan.
After resting for some four months in Punjab, the imperial family set out for Delhi. The Mughals were at last ready to settle down in India.
Fatehpur Sikri: Hujra-I-Anup Talao or the Turkish Sultana House, a pleasure pavilion attached to a pond, was used by Empress Ruqaiya
Ruqaiya became Empress of the Mughal Empire at the age of fourteen years following her husband’s accession to the throne in 1556. She remained childless throughout her marriage but assumed the primary responsibility for the upbringing of Akbar’s favourite grandson, Prince Khurram (the future emperor Shah Jahan).
Ruqaiya’s adoption of Prince Khurram signified her rank and power in the imperial harem as one of the special privileges of women of rank (in the Mughal Empire) was to care for ranking children not their own.
Just prior to Khurram’s birth, a soothsayer had reportedly predicted to Ruqaiya Sultan Begum that the still unborn child was destined for imperial greatness. So, when Khurram was born in 1592 and was only six days old; Akbar ordered that the prince be taken away from his mother, Jagat Gosaini, and handed him over to Ruqaiya so that he could grow up under her care and Akbar could fulfill his wife’s wish, to raise a Mughal emperor.
Ruqaiya even oversaw Khurram’s education, for she, unlike her husband, was well educated. The two shared a close relationship with each other, much like the relationship that Akbar had shared with Khurram, who, in the words of Jahangir “always recommended him [Khurram] to me [Jahangir] and frequently told me there was no comparison between him and my other children.
He [Akbar] recognized him as his real child.Jahangir also noted in his memoirs that Ruqaiya had loved his son, Khurram, “a thousand times more than if he had been her own [son].”Khurram remained with her, until he had turned almost 14. After Akbar’s death in 1605, the young prince was then, finally, allowed to return to his father’s household, and thus, be closer to his biological mother. Later, Ruqaiya also brought up Khurram’s first child, a daughter, Parhez Banu Begum, who was born to his first wife, the Safavid princess Kandahari Begum.
Despite not bearing children, Ruqaiya was always kept in high regard by her husband. She remained his sole chief consort from the time of their marriage in 1557 until his death in 1605. Ruqaiya was thus, the most senior lady in the imperial harem and at court during her husband’s reign as well as in his successor’s (Jahangir) reign.
This was primarily due to her exalted lineage, being Mirza Hindal’s daughter, a Mughal princess as well as Akbar’s first and chief wife.
The Empress also took an active part in court politics and wielded considerable influence over Akbar. She played a crucial role (along with her cousin and co-wife Salima Sultan Begum) in negotiating a settlement between her husband and her step-son, Salim (Jahangir), when the father-son’s relationship had turned sour in the early 1600s, eventually helping to pave the way for Salim’s accession to the Mughal throne.
In 1601, Salim had revolted against Akbar by setting up an independent court in Allahabad and by assuming the imperial title of “Salim Shah” while his father was still alive.He also planned and executed the assassination of Akbar’s faithful counselor and close friend, Abu’l Fazl.
This situation became very critical and infuriated Akbar so much that no one dared to petition for Salim. In the end, it was Ruqaiya Sultan Begum and Salima Sultan Begum who pleaded for his forgiveness. Akbar granted their wishes and Salim was allowed to present himself before the Emperor. The prince was finally pardoned in 1603 through the efforts of his step-mothers and his grandmother, Hamida Banu Begum.
Akbar, however, did not always pardon a wrong doer and sometimes his decisions were irreversible. Once, Ruqaiya and her mother-in-law, Hamida Banu Begum, by their joint effort could not secure pardon for a Sunni Muslim who had murdered a Shia in Lahore purely out of religious fanaticism.
During Jahangir’s reign, Ruqaiya and Salima Sultan Begum played a crucial role in securing pardon for the powerful Khan-i-Azam, Mirza Aziz Koka, who would’ve surely been sentenced to death by Jahangir had not Salima interceded on his behalf.
Apart from her own palace at Fatehpur Sikri, Ruqaiya owned palaces outside the fort in Agra, near the Jamuna river, a privilege given to Mughal princesses only and sometimes to empresses who were kept in high esteem; Ruqaiya was both.
In 1607, Ruqaiya made a pilgrimage to the Gardens of Babur in Kabul and for the first time, visited the mausoleum of her father Hindal Mirza, as well as those of her other ancestors.She was accompanied by Jahangir and Prince Khurram.[In the same year, Sher Afghan Khan, the jagirdar of Burdwan died and his widowed wife, Mehr-un-Nissa (later Empress Nur Jahan) was summoned to Agra by Jahangir to act as lady-in-waiting to his step-mother, the Dowager empress Ruqaiya.
Given the precarious political connections of Sher Afghan before his death, his family was in great danger and therefore for her own protection, Mehr-un-Nissa needed to be at the Mughal court in Agra. Ruqaiya, having been the late Emperor Akbar’s principal wife and being the most senior woman in the harem, was by stature and ability, the most capable of providing the protection that Mehr-un-Nissa needed at the Mughal court.
Mehr-un-Nissa was flattered to have been brought with her daughter into Ruqaiya’s service, for even though she had relatives at court, such as her father Mirza Ghias Beg. Her husband had gone down in ignominy and she could have rightly expected only the worst.] It was under Ruqaiya’s care, then, that Mehr-un-Nissa was able to spend time with her parents and occasionally visit the apartments where the emperor’s women lived.
Mehr-un-Nissa and her daughter, Ladli Begum, served as ladies-in-waiting to the Empress for four years while earnestly endeavoring to please their imperial mistress.The relationship that grew up between Ruqaiya and Mehr-un-Nissa appears to have been an extremely tender one and there is every indication that the former treated the latter as her daughter. The Dutch merchant and travel writer, Pieter van den Broecke, described their relationship in his Hindustan Chronicle: “This Begum [Ruqaiya] conceived a great affection for Mehr-un-Nissa [Nur Jahan]; she loved her more than others and always kept her in her company.
Inside the Gardens of Babur, located in Kabul, Afghanistan
Ruqaiya died in 1626 in Agra, at the age of eighty-four, having outlived her husband by more than twenty years. She was buried on the fifteenth level in the Gardens of Babur (Bagh-e-Babur) in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Gardens of Babur is the final resting place of her grandfather, Emperor Babur, as well as that of her father, Hindal Mirza. Her tomb was built by the orders of her foster-son, the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Jahangir speaks fondly of Ruqaiya in his memoirs and while recording her death in it, he makes note of her exalted status as Akbar’s chief wife.