Muhammad Bairam Khan[3] (c. 18 January 1501 – c. 31 January 1561) was an important military commander, and later commander-in-chief of the Mughal army, a powerful statesman and regent at the court of the Mughal Emperors, Humayun and Akbar. He was also the guardian, chief mentor, adviser, teacher and the most trusted ally of Akbar.[4] Akbar honored him as Khan-i-Khanan, which means "King of Kings".[5] Bairam was originally called Bairam "Beg", but later became honored as 'Kha' or Khan.[6][7] Bairam Khan was an aggressive general who was determined to restore Mughal authority in India.[4] Two divans are attributed to him, one in Persian and the other in Chagatai.[citation needed]

Bairam Khan
Bairam Khan's submission.png
The submission of Bairam Khan, c. 1560.
Vakil of the Mughal Empire
In office
1556 – March/April 1560[1]
Succeeded byMunim Khan
Regent of the Mughal Empire
In office
1556 – March/April 1560
Personal details
Born(1501-01-18)18 January 1501[2]
Badakhshan, Timurid Empire
(present-day Afghanistan, China or Tajikistan)
Died31 January 1561(1561-01-31) (aged 60)
Patan, Sultanate of Gujarat
(present-day Gujarat, India)
Spouse(s)Jamal Khan's daughter
Salima Sultan Begum
ChildrenAbdul Rahim
ProfessionChief advisor of Akbar, Military commander and commander-in-chief of Mughal army and Mughal Statesman
Military service
AllegianceMughal Empire
Years of servicec. 1517/1518–March/April 1560
CommandsMughal Army
Battles/warsBattle of Ludhiana
Battle of Khanwa
Battle of Ghaghra
Siege of Sambhal
Battle of Kannauj
Battle of Machhiwara
Battle of Sirhind
Second Battle of Panipat
Battle near Gunecur (as the leader of a rebel faction of the Mughal Army)

Early life and ancestorsEdit

Bairam Khan was born in the region of Badakhshan in Central Asia, and belonged to the Baharlu Turkoman clan of the Kara Koyunlu confederation.[8][9] The Kara Koyunlu had ruled Western Persia for decades before being overthrown by their Ak Koyunlu rivals. Bairam Khan's father, Seyfali Beg Baharlu, and grandfather, Janali Beg Baharlu, had been part of Babur's service.[6] His great-grandparents were Pirali Beg Baharlu and his wife, a daughter of the Kara Koyunlu ruler Qara Iskander; Pirali's niece through his sister Pasha Begum had been one of the wives of Babur.[10] Bairam entered Babur's service at the age of 16 and played an active role in the early Mughal conquests of India.[11]

Service under HumayunEdit

Bairam Khan contributed greatly to the establishment of the Mughal empire under Humayun when he was entrusted with the position of muhardar (keeper of the seals) and took part in military campaigns in Benares, Bengal and Gujarat.[11] In 1540, during the Battle of Kannauj, he was captured by Sher Shah Suri's men, but later managed to make an adventurous escape, and rejoined Humayun at Sindh in July 1543.[12] He accompanied Humayun during his exile in Persia and helped conquer Kandahar before serving as its governor for nine years. In 1556, he played a leading role as a commander in Humayun's reconquest of Hindustan.[13]

As regent of AkbarEdit

At the time of Humayun's death at 27 January 1556, Bairam Khan was leading a campaign against Sikandar Shah Suri in Punjab (in present-day India) as the then Prince Akbar's ataliq (guardian) and sipahsalaar (commander-in-chief) of the Mughal army. To consolidate the Mughal Empire, Bairam Khan kept Humayun's death a secret, sending reassuring messages of his recovery and having Mullah Bekasi, a loyal cleric in Delhi (who looked similar to Humayun) dressed up in the imperial robes and make the usual daily appearance before the people from the balcony of the fort, till Akbar's coronation. He also secured the loyalty of his rival, Tardi Beg by appointing him as the governor of Delhi.[14]

On 14 February 1556, Akbar was crowned as the new Mughal Emperor and his first deed was to appoint Bairam Khan as Vakil (Prime Minister) and grant him the lofty titles of Khan-i-Khanan and sipahsalaar itizad-i-daulat qahira (commander-in-chief of the army, mainstay of victorious dominion). Under Bairam Khan's leadership, the Mughal army moved to Jalandhar, where they encamped for five months and managed to drive Sikandar Suri deeper into the Siwalik hills. However, the Mughals now had to face a far greater threat from Hemu, Vakil of Adil Shah Suri, the final ruler of the Sur dynasty.[15]

Taking advantage of the political instability in the Mughal Empire, Hemu swiftly took Gwalior, Delhi and Agra. Leaving behind a small force to keep Sikandar Suri in check, Bairam Khan moved the Mughal Army towards Sirhind and ordered Tardi Beg (who had been defeated by Hemu at the Battle of Tughlaqabad, near Delhi on 7 October 1556 and retreated) to meet the imperial army there. At Sirhind, differences arose between Bairam Khan and Tardi Beg as to what would be their military strategy in the future. Shortly afterwards, Bairam Khan had Tardi Beg executed for his cowardice during the Battle of Tughlaqabad, though there is some doubt as to whether these allegations were true as Tardi Beg was a senior official and a political rival of Bairam Khan and his execution certainly helped consolidate the authority of Bairam Khan.[16] Conveniently, Akbar was absent during the whole incident as he was out on a hunting trip. Tardi Beg's execution helped discipline the demoralised Mughal army.[17]

On 5 November 1556, the Mughals clashed with Hemu's army at the Second Battle of Panipat. After a fiercely contested battle, the Mughals were victorious. Hemu was captured and decapitated, either by Bairam Khan[18] or Akbar[19] and Delhi and Agra subsequently reconquered. After resting for a month at Delhi, Akbar and Bairam Khan resumed their campaign against Sikandar Suri, who had attempted to attack Lahore; he was driven back to the hill-fortress of Mankot (in present-day Jammu and Kashmir) where he waited for six months for Afghan reinforcements, to no avail. Disheartened, he finally surrendered to Akbar on 25 July 1557, where he was treated with clemency and given a fief in Bihar.[20]

Personal lifeEdit

Bairam Khan was a Shia Muslim and was disliked by some of the Sunni Turkic nobles.[21] Although a Shia, he attended Friday services in the mosque of a noted Sufi. He also promoted Sheikh Gadai, the son of Sikandar Lodi's court poet Jamali Kamboh, to the position of sadurat-i-mamalik (Chief Justice) in 1559.[8][22]


Gazetteer of Ulwur states:

Soon after Babar's death, his successor, Humayun, was supplemented by Sher Shah in 1540 A.D., later followed by Islam Shah in 1545 A.D. During the reign of the latter, a battle was fought and lost by the Emperor's troops at Firozpur Jhirka in Mewat, on which, however, Islam Shah did not lose his hold. Adil Shah, the third of the Pathan interlopers, who succeeded in A.D. 1552, had to contend for the Empire with the returned Humayun.[23]

In these struggles for the restoration of Babur's dynasty Khanzadas apparently do not figure at all. Humayun seems to have conciliated them by marrying the elder daughter of Jamal Khan, the nephew of Babar's opponent Hasan Khan Mewati, and having his minister, Bairam Khan, marry Jamal's younger daughter.[24] Bairam's other wife was Salima Sultan Begum, who married Akbar after his death.[25]


Towards his last years, relations between Bairam Khan and Akbar grew sour. The main reason was that Bairam Khan had begun to take several decisions without consulting the Emperor first, such as when he unilaterally dismissed his former favourite Pir Muhammad Khan, who was a senior Mughal official. Akbar felt jealous that a leash was kept on his private expenses while Bairam Khan's servants grew rich. He had also become increasingly irritable, and executed two of Akbar's favourite personal mahouts, one of which had not been able to restrain an imperial elephant, which killed one of Bairam Khan's animals, and the other had not been able to restrain his elephant which nearly overturned a small boat on which Bairam Khan was resting. After the final incident, Akbar decided that Bairam Khan could no longer stay in his position. In March or April 1560, Akbar told him that he could either retire and stay in the palace or go on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. He could take whatever land he wished so that his servants could send him remittances of the harvest annually.[26]


Rejecting the advice of his close friends and supporters he decided not to rebel, but later his political opponents Maham Anga and her son Adham Khan sent Pir Muhammad to trail him and 'pack him off to Mecca'. This insult goaded Bairam Khan to rebel,[27] and he turned back. Pir Muhammad retreated at the sight of Bairam Khan's deadly Turkoman horse archers. Akbar tried in vain to send another firman to Bairam Khan, ordering him to continue his pilgrimage. Bairam Khan left his family in the fortress of Tabar-e-Hind (in present-day Bathinda) and headed towards Jalandhar, intent on taking Lahore. Forced to fight his former mentor, Akbar sent his foster father Shams-ud-din with a strong vanguard to halt or slow down Bairam Khan's force while he followed with the main army. Near the village Gunecur, near Jalandhar, Shams-ud-Din stopped Bairam Khan's force. He tried to negotiate, but Bairam Khan remained adamant about fighting.

Despite having a much smaller army, Bairam Khan gave a tough fight to his adversary but was eventually defeated. However, Bairam Khan managed to retreat with the majority of his force to Talwara (in present-day Punjab, India). The names Bairu-da-van and Hajipur have survived today as landmarks where Bairam Khan once camped around Talwara, reminiscent of once Mughal Imperial hunting grounds in Mughal maps.[citation needed] Here, he finally decided to surrender, and was treated by Akbar with immense respect. Akbar gave him the options of staying in the court as his personal adviser, picking a jagir of his choice, or continuing his pilgrimage. Bairam Khan chose the last option.[28][29]


Bairam Khan is assassinated by an Afghan at Patan, 1561, Akbarnama

While traveling through Gujarat he was assassinated on 31 January 1561[30] at Sahastralinga Tank, a religious site near Anhilwad Patan, by a group of Afghans led by Mubarak Khan Lohani, whose father had been killed while fighting with the Mughals at the Battle of Machhiwara in 1555. According to the Akbarnama, the group of Afghans had apparently come to pay their respects to him, so he allowed them to come closer. Thereupon, Mubarak stabbed him with a dagger in the back with such force that the point came out of his chest, and another Afghan struck him on the head, fatally wounding him. Bairam Khan passed away saying the takbir. His corpse was later found by a group of locals, who buried him at the tomb of a nearby Sufi saint.[31]

His son and wife managed to escape to Ahmedabad, where they stayed for several months before Akbar heard of their plight and had them escorted to Agra. Bairam's wife, Salima who was also the cousin of Akbar, married Akbar after his death. Bairam's son, Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, became an important part of Akbar's administration and was one of the nav-ratans (nine gems) of Akbar's court.[32]

In popular cultureEdit

Behram Khan, a 1946 Indian Hindi-language film by Gajanan Jagirdar (who also starred in the titular role), is based on the life of Bairam Khan and his role in the founding of the Mughal Empire.[33]

He was portrayed by actor Yuri Suri in the 2008 Indian historical epic Jodhaa Akbar by Ashutosh Gowariker.

Other notable portrayals include by Naved Aslam in the television series Jodha Akbar (2013–2015) which aired on Zee TV and by Shahbaz Khan in Sony TV's Bharat Ka Veer Putra – Maharana Pratap (2013–2015).


  1. ^ Chandra, Satish (2005). Medieval India : from Sultanat to the Mughals (Revised ed.). New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications. p. 95. ISBN 9788124110669.
  2. ^ The Indian Historical Quarterly. Vol. 25–26. Calcutta Oriental Press. 1949. p. 318. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
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  10. ^ Ray, Sukumar (1955). Ancestry and early life of Bairam Khan. Indian History Congress - Proceedings of the Sixteenth Session. Indian History Congress. p. 249.
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  25. ^ Haidar, Mansura (2004). Indo-Central Asian Relations: From Early Times to Medieval Period. Manohar. p. 323. ISBN 978-81-7304-508-0.
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  30. ^ Bose, Mandakranta, ed. (2000). Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-19-512229-9.
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  32. ^ Collier, Dirk (1 March 2016). The Great Mughals and their India p. 149. Hay House, Inc. ISBN 9789384544980 – via Google Books.
  33. ^ Bairam Khan at Bollywood Hungama


  • Ansari, N.H. (1989). "BAYRAM KHAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. IV, Fasc. 1. pp. 3–5.
  • Schimmel, Annemarie (1980). Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. BRILL. ISBN 978-9004061170.

Further readingEdit


  • Singh, Damodar (2003) Khan-i-Khanan Bairam Khan: a political biography Janaki Prakashan, Patna, India, OCLC 54054058
  • Shashi, Shyam Singh (1999) Bairam Khan : soldier and administrator (Series Encyclopaedia Indica volume 58) Anmol Publishing, New Delhi, India, OCLC 247186335
  • Streusand, Douglas E. (2012). "Bayrām Khān". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830.
  • Pandey, Ram Kishore (1998) Life and achievements of Muhammad Bairam Khan Turkoman Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly, India, OCLC 5007653.
  • Ray, Sukumar (1992) Bairam Khan Institute of Central and West Asian Studies, University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan, OCLC 29564939.


  • Agravāla, Sushamā Devī (1994) Bairamakhām̐ aura usake vaṃśaja kā Mugala sāmrājya meṃ yogadāna Rāmānanda Vidyā Bhavana, New Delhi, India, OCLC 34118191, in Hindi. (Contribution of Bairam Khan, 1524?-1561, Mogul nobleman, to the Mogul Empire.)
  • Devīprasāda, Munśī (2001) Khānakhānā nāmā Pratibhā Pratishṭhāna, New Delhi, India, ISBN 81-85827-89-3, in Hindi. (On the life and achievements of Bairam Khan, 1524?-1561, ruler in the Mogul Empire and Khane Khana Abdul Rahim Khan, 1556–1627, Braj poet.)


External linksEdit