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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Nishan of Sahibatuz Zamani Padshah Begam / Begam Saheb Jahanara with Scan of Original Persian Document


The present post is about an Imperial order given by the daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan / sister of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. I cannot share enough about Mughal Princess Jahanara with you. She simply fascinates me with the amount of hold she had over her father and brother as well as the common people! It is unbelievable that this hugely popular and enormously powerful woman has been so neglected in the annals of history that very few know of her or her importance in the Mughal empire today.

Background: Princess Jahanara


S.A.I. Tirmizi, Edicts from the Mughal Harem, Introduction, pp. 14-21, 28-32.

After the untimely demise of her mother, a barely 18 Jahanara assumed the mantle of the leading lady of the Mughal court as well as the role of the ‘matriarch’ of her family, taking care of her father and siblings. While Shah Jahan bestowed the titles of Sahibatuz Zamani (Mistress of the Age) and Padshah Begam on her, she was commonly called Begam Saheb.

Reference: For the title of Sahibatuz Zamani - Saqi Mustaid Khan, Maasiri Alamgiri, tr. J.N. Sarkar (Kolkata, 1947), p 213. For title of Badshah Begum - Manucci, Storia Do Mogor, tr by William Irvine (London, 1907), II, pg 127

Jahanara was granted:

1.       The jagirs of the villages of Achchol, Farjahara and the sarkars of Bachchol, Safapar, and Doharan. 
Reference: Rekha Mishra, Women in Mughal India (Delhi, 1967), p 64.

2.        The Paragana of Panipat (23 Julus, 1650-51) whose annual revenue was 1 crore dams!
Reference: Muhammad Saleh Kambu, Amal i Saleh ed Ghulam Yazdani III (Kolkata, 1939), p 109.

3.       The port of Surat whose revenue was granted to her for her expenditure on paan!
        Reference: Manucci, Storia Do Mogor, tr by William Irvine (London, 1907), I, pg 65

The diwan of her sarkar was Ishaque Beg Yazdi. He held a mansab of 1000 zat and 200 sawar in 1638-39. In the same year, he was given the title of Haqiqat Khan and appointed as Arzi Mukarrar. In 1681, Sayyid Ashraf was appointed her Miri Saman

Reference: For Arzi Mukarrar - Abdul Hamid Lahori, Badshahnama ed. Kabir al-din Ahmad and Abd al Rahim (Kolkata, 1868), I, part I, pp 104, 142. For Miri Saman - Saqi Mustaid Khan, Maasiri Alamgiri, tr. J.N. Sarkar (Kolkata, 1947), p 129.


Mansabdar literally means "rank-holder". Mansabdars governed the empire and commanded its armies. Mansabdari was basically a Persian concept that was prevalent even during the reign of the early Mughals. Akbar made the system more efficient. Zat referred to the rank held by a mansabdar. Those whose rank was 1000 (hazari) or less were called Amir. Those whose rank was above 1000 were called Amiral Kabir (greater Amir). Those whose rank was above 5000 were even called Amir-al-Umara (Amir of Amirs). Bhagwandas Das was an Amir-al-Umara in Akbar's court. Sawar referred to the number of armed cavalrymen maintained by a Mansabdar.  

Jahanara even presented khilats (honorific awards) to foreign ambassadors. 

Reference: Muhammad Saleh Kambu, Amal i Saleh ed Ghulam Yazdani III (Kolkata, 1939), p 188.

Dutch traders sought exemption from customs at Surat and Broach from her. She rejected this plea but allowed them to make a fixed annual payment of Rs 50,000 in lieu of all dues. She gave them permission to construct a building and repair boats and issued nishans to enable them to recover debts. 

Reference: The English Factory Records (1655-60), ed. W. Foster (Oxford, 1915), pp. 11-12, 15, 73-74.

She also intervened along with Dara Shikoh on behalf of Abdullah Qutb Shah of Golconda to save his kingdom from being annexed by Prince Aurangzeb.   
Reference: Aqil Khan Razi, Waqiati Alamgiri ed. Zafar Hasan (Delhi, 1946), pp. 10-11.

Though she supported Dara Shikoh during the war of succession and dedicated her life to taking care of her imprisoned father, Aurangzeb still treated her as his “aapa” and accorded her utmost dignity and respect till the end. On the occasion of Eid in 1666 AD, he gifted her 1 lakh gold coins and increased her annual allowance by 5 lakhs to Rs 17 lakhs per annum.
Reference: Saqi Mustaid Khan, Maasiri Alamgiri, tr. Sarkar (Kolkata, 1947), p 36.

Due to her enormous influence in her father's court, she was sought after to solve political problems as well as the problems of the common people, such as securing subsistence grants. As a result, there are about 10 nishans issued by her that are known at present!!

Now we come to an early Nishan/order issued by Princess Jahanara in October 1632.

The Nishan of Princess Jahanara

Princess Jahanara used the invocations of Allahu Akbar and Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim during the reigns of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. The exact invocation on this particular nishan is not known to me at present. Similarly, Jahanara's seal generally carried the legend, Uliya i aliya Jahan Ara bint i Shah Jahan, though the seal on this particular nishan is illegible. The legend means "the exalted (among all the exalted ones) Jahan Ara, daughter of Shah Jahan." 

Jahanara continued to issue nishans during the reign of Aurangzeb too, though their scope was more limited.

Just like a hukm, the first 2 lines of a nishan are abbreviated to distinguish it from the parvanchas of ministers wherein all lines are of equal length. A nishan is similar to a farman/hukm, but of lower importance.  

Seal  -->  Illegible
Tughra -->  The nishan of the most exalted cradle of sublimity, Jahan Ara, daughter of His Majesty Shah Jahan Badshah, the valiant, Sahib Qiran I Sani


Only the hukms of Queen Mothers carry unwans. All other hukms and nishans carry tughras.

Be it known to the bold and brave, valorous and valiant, worthy of limitless favors, majesty of eminent nobles, Najabat Khan, honored and glorified by Her Highness’ {Princess Jahanara} sublime favors, that mauza Umrauli has been conferred upon the chaste Shaham Ana as inam by virtue of a royal sanad. It is incumbent upon that worthy of favors and bounties {Najabat Khan} to consider it obligatory to render help and assistance to the people of the above-mentioned lady {Shaham Ana} in all matters and to regard her as one of the dependents and servants of Her Highness {Princess Jahanara} and whenever the shiqdar {Shaham Ana} and her agent may wait upon him in case of straitened circumstances, he should give due attention and help and see that nobody is allowed to perpetuate atrocities and excesses upon her men and the riaya of that mauza. He should take such steps as may promote the prosperity of the riaya of the said mauza and none should be bold to interfere in their affairs. Taking every care in the matter, it should be considered peremptory. Written on 19 Mehr, 5 ilahi / 2 October, 1632 AD.

Original Nishan of Princess Jahanara in Persian

Persian Text of the Nishan of Princess Jahanara

English Translation of Nishan of Princess Jahanara

Reference: S.A.I. Tirmizi, Edicts from the Mughal Harem, Edicts of a Princess, pp. 82-83. 


1.    The original edict is preserved in the Victoria Memorial Museum, Kolkata, A. No. 1896.

2.    The seal is rectangular with a niche each in the middle, on the top and at the bottom.

3.    Sahib Qiran I Sani is a title of Shah Jahan and means “second lord of happy conjunction”.

4.    About Najabat Khan – Shah Jahan gave this title to Mirza Shuja, the 3rd son of Mirza Shahrukh of Badakhshan, who was born in India during the reign of Jahangir. Mirza Shahrukh had fled to Hindustan in 1584 after Badakshan was taken over by the Uzbeks. He joined Akbar's court as a noble. Mirza Shuja was also given a mansab of 2000 and appointed Faujdar of Kol in the 3rd Julus (3rd reigning year) of Shah Jahan. The following year, he was made Faujdar of Suba Multan and later Kangra. He passed away in the 7th reigning year of Aurangzeb.

5.      Each pargana had a shiqdar who was its revenue collector and also maintained law and order there.

6.      A mauza was an administrative district that could contain one or more villages. It was a revenue collection unit within a pargana. (Did you know that in Assam, the head of a mauza was called a mazumdar?)


Jahanara issued this nishan to Najabat Khan to inform him that the mauza of Umrauli had been given as inam to Musammat Shaham Ana by virtue of a royal order. She clearly instructs him to ensure that nobody is allowed to perpetuate atrocities and excesses upon that lady’s men and the inhabitants of that village.” Further, he should help the lady and her people in all possible ways, by considering the lady as one of the servants of Jahanara herself.

The importance attached to Najabat Khan can be seen in the very opening sentence of the nishan where he has been showered with fulsome praise. 

Another point worth pondering is that the mauza was granted to a woman. This indicates that a woman could also hold land / property in those days in her own name. Quite remarkable, isn't it?

Musammat is similar to "plaintiff" / "defendant" in court proceedings today.


From the farmans of Maryam Makani Hamida Banu, Mariam-Uz-Zamani and Jahanara, we can see that the queen mothers, queen consorts and princesses went all out to promote the welfare of the raiyat. There are other farmans of the Mughal ladies that show that these ladies were keen to augment the revenue of the empire by encouraging the cultivation of land lying fallow. 

However the Zamindars usurped the revenue and withheld payment whenever an opportunity presented itself. We saw how Zamindar Suraj Mal usurped the revenues of the jagir of Mudabbir Beg in the pargana of Chaupala, in sarkar Sambhal. { LinK : Farman of Mariam-Uz-Zamani Begum }

Zamindars and jagirdars in general tried to extract as much revenue as possible from the peasants who were sometimes reduced to penury and forced to revolt. Some Zamindars even cheated the empire by not remitting the revenue collected into the Imperial Treasury. 

This is the reason why we see that the farmans are forced to clearly indicate that no one should "perpetuate atrocities on the defendant" or "go against the spirit  of the farman", in the interest of the defendant. Sometimes, multiple farmans had to be issued for the same case, as even the royal orders were ignored at times. For instance, the farman of Hamida Banu was issued as a reminder after no action was taken on the farman of Akbar for granting land to Vithaleshrai of Mathura.  { Link : Farman of Hamida Banu Begum }

Such instances indicate that increasingly, Zamindars and the peasants were cut off from the Mughal governing class and were discontented, especially starting from the later years of Shah Jahan's reign. The revolts gathered momentum during Aurangzeb's rule, resulting in the agrarian crisis that was one of the foremost reasons for the slow collapse of the Mughal empire.  

Reference: S.A.I. Tirmizi, Edicts from the Mughal Harem, Introduction, pp. 35-36.

Last post: When Akbar Rode a Horse to STOP a Forced Sati Practice

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous section of history_geek's blog.

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  1. Beautiful Post Radhika. This order of Jahanara Begum speaks ITSELF about that lady. A humble and level headed person at heart. No doubt, she was respected as "Begum 'Saheb' Jahanara" by the masses. This series of posts on Farmans by these Mughal ladies unravel a new side of the personalities who resided in the Mughal Harem. Such a beautiful aspect of history. As i have said before, from behind the veil, these ladies were a huge force.
    Personally, i have a lot of respect for some Mughal ladies like Hamida Banu, Mariam Zamani, Jahanara Begum, and the daughter of Aurangzeb - The Sufi Poetess Princess Zeb-un-Nissa Begum. Such stellar personalities developed in those time. Wish to know more about them. TFS. Kudos to your efforts. :)

  2. Awesome awesome post Abhay and Radhika.

    You have fulfilled my wish of wanting to learn more about the achievements of the ladies of the Mughal sultanate, with this post.

    The 'nishaan' of Princess Jahanara, beloved daughter of Shah Jehan is proof enough to show the importance and powers enjoyed by this smart lady during those times. Even a rigid personality like Aurangzeb accorded her respect and acknowledged Jahanara's political prowess. Ten known 'nishaans' were issued by her, wonder how many of her accomplishments have gone unknown over time.

    Thanks again for sharing yet another priceless piece of information.

  3. Thanks Radhika Shows the importance of women in Mughal Shahenshahs' lives. All seem to have someone or other who were very important and had substantial influence in their lives be it mothers wives daughters or sisters

  4. Amazing post, Radhika! Just as informative and compelling as the previous one about MUZ's farman :)

    To a layman, such orders and documents might mean nothing. In fact, even the ladies who issued them might haven's thought these hukms/farmans will generate so much interest but these seemingly little things give an insight into the true history and expose the reality which is mostly glossed over in the 'namas. The lack of checks on Zamindars and corruption in the empire is evident here. Also, the level of power the ladies commanded in the realm is visible too. Both these aspects are barely addressed in the official accounts of Mughals.

  5. another jewel in 'tis blog's crown. v hv 2 history geeks now. ur efforts r splendid. n dey challenge d distorted image of medieval era. aftr reading 'tis blog i cn say wid guarantee royal women wer vry talented. n dey exercised powers in der spheres of influence as sav has said above.

  6. Hi Everyone

    Thanks for your gracious comments!

    The types of nishans issued by Jahanara are simply amazing.

    She issued nishans to Raja Jai Singh, who was much sought after by the Mughals. For instance, one nishan lauds his actions in curbing the rebellion in pargana Kaman Pahari between Delhi and Agra and asks him to proceed to the royal court in 4 months, as Shah Jahan was engaged in Kandahar. Indeed Shah Jahan appointed Raja Jai Singh to control the turbulent tribes of the said pargana, upon his return from Kandahar in 1650 AD. After this accomplishment, Jai Singh's rank was increased to 5000 zat and 5000 sawar.and the pargana of Hal Kaliyana, which yielded a revenue of 70 lakh dams, was assigned for their upkeep.

    But she was also clear about the powers of the Emperor and never overstepped her limits. She received arzdashts from Raja Budh Prakash of Sirmur along with valuable gifts, requesting her to plead his case with Aurangzeb for settling his dispute with the Raja of Srinagar. He also requested her to get farmans issued for imprisonment of zamindars and tahwildars of Sondha for their misconduct. But across 6 nishans issued to him, she declined to intervene in this matter and made it explicitly clear that such serious matters should be represented directly to the Emperor. 6 years after he death, Raja Budh Prakash finally approached Aurangzeb, who dispatched a force to help him in recovering his parganas, which had been seized by the Raja of Srinagar. The latter also surrendered the fort of Bairath Kalsi to Raja Budh Prakash.

  7. Radhika,
    Great post as usual.! Jahanara was my fvrt. also. But after reading about other Mughal ladies,in this blog, I am at loss to decide who is the most fvrt.:) Radhika, did this ladies also write their naamas? it would be intriguing to know how they felt abt their fate being at the highest office, but lonely.:( Not married to to the men of their choice. Many of them poured their heart out thru their poetry. Others also must hv confided in somebody or other. Thanks fr the scan.

  8. Geeta,
    As far as i know, the ladies did not write their OWN biographies. Because such books were written to record the "history of rule" of their Emperors, not exactly the personal lives. But surprisingly, ladies in reign of Aurangzeb were good at such things. They were good patrons of many activities.
    Some ladies whose accounts are very common are - That of Gulbadan Begum..

  9. True, Geeta - it's lonely at the top - the daughters really had a raw deal most of the time. :(

    Even Dara Shikoh's wife issued farmans / edicts and their love story is also beautiful. :) I can't decide who is my favorite - all are equally talented. But if forced, then it would be Zeb, closely followed by Jahanara. :)

  10. Really? Radhika, I did not know of this Farmaan. Which wife of Dara?, the ordinary one, Ranadil or any other one? What is it about? Actually, Dara himself was not in a position to issue any order na?

  11. Geeta,
    There were hierarchies of such Imperial Orders. Like, "Farmans" and "Hukms" were among the orders of highest authority, followed by Nishans etc.
    Dara also might have issued such orders according to his position. Even i am eagerly waiting for Radhika's reply. But, that wife should not be RanaDil. Lets see. :)