Ruqaiya Sultan Begum

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum (alternative spelling: Ruqayya, Ruqayyah) (c. 1542 – 19 January 1626) was empress consort of the Mughal Empire from 1557 to 1605, being the first wife[2] and chief consort[3][4][5] of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar. She was also the longest serving Mughal empress, having a tenure of almost fifty years.[6]

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
Shahzadi of the Mughal Empire
Padshah Begum
Tenurec. 1557 – 1605
PredecessorBega Begum
SuccessorSaliha Banu Begum
Bornc. 1542
Died19 January 1626(1626-01-19) (aged 83–84)[1]
Agra, Mughal Empire
HouseTimurid (by birth)
FatherHindal Mirza
MotherSultanam Begum

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.[7] She died just a year before her foster-son, Shah Jahan, acceded to the throne after a fratricidal struggle.

Family and lineageEdit

Hindal Mirza, presents young Akbar's portrait to Humayun, during Akbar's circumcision celebrations in Kabul, c. 1546 AD[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] Ruqaiya was named after the Islamic Prophet Muhammad's daughter, Ruqayyah bint Muhammad.[1]

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").[11]

Ruqaiya was a descendant of Timur or Tamerlane the Great through his son Miran Shah,[1] like her husband Akbar.[12]

Marriage to AkbarEdit

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 amirs consoled him by saying that his brother was blessed in having thus fallen a martyr in the service of the Emperor.[13]

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.[14][15] 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.[15][13]

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.[16] In 1557, 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.[17] After resting for about four months in Punjab, the imperial family set out for Delhi. The Mughals were at last ready to settle down in India.[17]


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).[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

Ruqaiya even oversaw Khurram's education, for she, unlike her husband, was well educated.[21] 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."[22] 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]."[4] 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.[20] Later, Ruqaiya also brought up Khurram's first child, a daughter, Parhez Banu Begum,[23] who was born to his first wife, the Safavid princess Kandahari Begum.[24]

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[25] and at court during her husband's reign as well as in his successor's (Jahangir) reign.[26] 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.[25]

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.[7] 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.[27] He also planned and executed the assassination of Akbar's faithful counselor and close friend, Abu'l Fazl.[28] 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.[27]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31][32]

Dowager empressEdit

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.[33] She was accompanied by Jahangir and Prince Khurram.[23] 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.[34] 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.[25]

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.[35] 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.[25]

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.[34] 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."[25]


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.[36]

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.[37][3]

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ a b c Gulbadan, Begum (1902). The History of Humāyūn (Humāyūn-Nāma). Translated by Beveridge, Annette S. Guildford: Billing and Sons Ltd. p. 274.
  2. ^ Burke, S. M. (1989). Akbar, the greatest Mogul. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. p. 142.
  3. ^ a b Jahangir, Emperor of Hindustan (1999). The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India. Translated by Thackston, Wheeler M. Oxford University Press. p. 437. ISBN 978-0-19-512718-8. Ruqayya-Sultan Begam, the daughter of Mirza Hindal and wife of His Majesty Arsh-Ashyani [Akbar], had passed away in Akbarabad. She was His Majesty's chief wife. Since she did not have children, when Shahjahan was born His Majesty Arsh-Ashyani entrusted that "unique pearl of the caliphate" to the begam's care, and she undertook to raise the prince. She departed this life at the age of eighty-four.
  4. ^ a b Jahangir (1968). Henry Beveridge (ed.). The Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī: or, Memoirs of Jāhāngīr, Volumes 1-2. Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 48. She was Akbar's first and principal wife, but bore him no children. She long survived him.
  5. ^ Lal, Ruby (2005). Domesticity and power in the early Mughal world. Cambridge University Press. p. 205. ISBN 9780521850223.
  6. ^ Her tenure, from c. 1557 to 27 October 1605, was 48 years
  7. ^ a b Faruqui, Munis D. Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Cambridge University Press. p. 148. ISBN 9781107022171.
  8. ^ Laura E. Parodi and Bruce Wannell (November 18, 2011). "The Earliest Datable Mughal Painting". Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  9. ^ Balabanlilar, Lisa. Imperial identity in the Mughal Empire : Memory and Dynastic politics in Early Modern South and Central Asia. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-84885-726-1.
  10. ^ Faruqui, Munis D. (2012). The Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Cambridge University Press. p. 251. ISBN 1107022177.
  11. ^ Alam, Muzaffar (2004). The languages of political islam : India 1200 - 1800. London: Hurst. p. 126. ISBN 9781850657095.
  12. ^ Findly, p. 11
  13. ^ a b Erskine, William (1854). A History of India Under the Two First Sovereigns of the House of Taimur, Báber and Humáyun, Volume 2. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. pp. 403, 404. ISBN 9781108046206.
  14. ^ Mehta, Jaswant Lal (1986). Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. p. 189. ISBN 8120710150.
  15. ^ a b Ferishta, Mahomed Kasim (2013). History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India, Till the Year AD 1612. Cambridge University Press. p. 169. ISBN 9781108055550.
  16. ^ Gulbadan, Begum (1902). The History of Humāyūn (Humāyūn-Nāma). Translated by Beveridge, Annette S. Guildford: Billing and Sons Ltd. p. 56-57.
  17. ^ a b Eraly, Abraham (2000). Emperors of the Peacock Throne : the saga of the great Mughals. Penguin books. pp. 123, 272. ISBN 9780141001432.
  18. ^ Robinson, Annemarie Schimmel (2005). The Empire of the Great Mughals : history, art and culture (Revised ed.). Sang-E-Meel Pub. pp. 149. ISBN 9781861891853.
  19. ^ Findly, p. 97
  20. ^ a b Faruqui, Munis D. Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9781107022171.
  21. ^ Rahman, Tariq (2002). Language, ideology and power : language learning among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India. Oxford University Press. p. 483. ISBN 9780195796445.
  22. ^ Findly, p. 50
  23. ^ a b Sarker, Kobita (2007). Shah Jahan and his paradise on earth : the story of Shah Jahan's creations in Agra and Shahjahanabad in the golden days of the Mughals (1. publ. ed.). Kolkata: K.P. Bagchi & Co. pp. 10, 187. ISBN 9788170743002.
  24. ^ Findly, p. 98
  25. ^ a b c d e Findly, p. 32
  26. ^ Nath, Renuka (1957). Notable Mughal and Hindu Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries A. D. Inter- India publications. p. 58.
  27. ^ a b Findly, p. 20
  28. ^ Richards, J.F. (1995). Mughal empire (Transferred to digital print. ed.). Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780521566032.
  29. ^ Mukherjee, p.130
  30. ^ Findly, p. 122
  31. ^ Lal, K.S. (1988). The Mughal Harem. Aditya Prakashan. p. 45. ISBN 9788185179032.
  32. ^ Misra, Rekha (1967). Women in Mughal India, 1526-1748 A.D. Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 76.
  33. ^ Findly, p. 121
  34. ^ a b Mohammad Shujauddin, Razia Shujauddin (1967). The Life and Times of Noor Jahan. Caravan Book House. p. 25.
  35. ^ Findly, p. 87
  36. ^ Ruggles, Fairchild (2011). Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 194. ISBN 9780812207286.
  37. ^ Jahangir (1968). "Gift to Ruqayya Begam". In Henry Beveridge (ed.). The Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī: or, Memoirs of Jāhāngīr, Volumes 1-2. Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 48. A garden in Agra had been left by Shah Quli Khan Mahram, and as he had no heirs I handed it over to Ruqayya Sultan Begam, the daughter of Hindal Mirza, who had been the honoured wife of my father. My father had given my son Khurram into her charge, and she loved him a thousand times more than if he had been her own.
  38. ^ Lamb, Harold (1935). Nur Mahal. Doubleday, Doran & Co. ISBN 978-1299983229.
  39. ^ Sundaresan, Indu (2002). Twentieth wife : a novel (Paperback ed.). New York: Washington Square Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780743428187.
  40. ^ Sundaresan, Indu (2003). The Feast of Roses: A Novel. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743481960.
  41. ^ Podder, Tanushree (2005). Nur Jahan's daughter. New Delhi: Rupa & Co. ISBN 8129107228.
  42. ^ Maheshwri, Neha (July 11, 2013). "Lavina Tandon replaces Smilie Suri in Jodha Akbar? - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  43. ^ Agarwal, Stuti (July 4, 2013). "Malikaa's cast revealed". The Times of India. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  44. ^ "Characters".
  45. ^ Maheshwri, Neha. "Lavina Tandon and Poorti Agarwal: Two Ruqaiyas on TV - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  46. ^ Tiwari, Vijaya (14 October 2014). "Maharana Pratap: Krip Suri and Falak Naaz as grown-up Akbar-Rukaiya in the show". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 July 2016.


  • Findly, Ellison Banks (1993). Nur Jahan: Empress of Mughal India. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195360608.