A Mughal tragedy

Parvez Mahmood tells the dreadful tale of Prince Khusrau and his doomed rebellion

A Mughal tragedy
Prince Khusrau, the eldest son of Emperor Jahangir, led a tragic life. For 19 years of his life, he was an adored prince of the household of Emperor Akbar the Great and vey nearly succeeded him as the padishah ahead of his father. But then, for the next 16 years, he was despised as a seditious son, blinded by his incensed father, incarcerated in chains and finally murdered by his vicious brother.

The sons of Emperor Akbar were a cursed brood. The Emperor had been crowned at the tender age of fourteen. His first marriage to a cousin was solemnised at the age of 9 but consummated later at maturity. He married Marrium-uz-Zamani Begum, now popularised as Jodha Bai, when he was twenty. In addition, he had several concubines. However, he did not have a surviving child till the age of 27 when Prince Salim – later Emperor Jahangir – was born in 1569. He had to seek divine intervention on the matter through the saint Sheikh Salim, who became the namesake of his son.

Emperor Akbar with grandsons, princes Khusrau and Khurram, standing behind him

Akbar subsequently had two more sons, namely Sultan Murad and Daniyal Mirza. However, these two died during his life, aged 28 and 31, due to opium abuse and excessive drinking.

The future emperor, Prince Salim, too was given to worldly pleasures. He had succumbed to the twin afflictions of drugs and drinking, besides contracting some 20 marriages and collecting scores of concubines as a prince. In addition he had unsuccessfully rebelled against his father – on the ill advice of his advisors, so he said later – but then prudently surrendered at Allahabad. He disobeyed royal orders repeatedly and became infamous for torturing opponents and murdering Abul Fazal, the trusted advisor and one of the Nauratans of his father. Akbar tried hard to reform him but to no avail. He was so distraught by this debauchery and treachery that he openly voiced the idea of renouncing Salim’s right to succession.
Jahangir spared Khusrau's life but condemned him to a terrible fate. He had his son blinded

Prince Khusrau was born in 1587 when his father was barely 18 years old. His mother was Manbhawati Bai, the daughter of Bhagwant Singh, the elder brother of Jodha Bai. He was everything that his father was not; sober, a proven field commander and free of many common vices. He neither drank, nor indulged in drugs – nor was he given to pleasures of the flesh. According to Edward Terry, a clergyman at the Mughal court, “He had a pleasing presence and excellent carriage, was exceedingly beloved of the common people, their love and delight.” Akbar wanted to appoint him his successor. The royal court was divided into two factions, one favouring the father, Salim, and the other his son, Khusrau. The tensions between her husband and son broke the mother down, who committed suicide six months before her husband’s coronation. To avoid strife, the royal court and household appointed Salim as the emperor when Akbar fell terminally ill.

Jahangir became Emperor in September 1605 but Khusrau had not fully reconciled to him. Jahangir kept his ambitious son near himself in Agra, if not as a prisoner then certainly on a tight leash. He did not confer any title on him, nor did he entrust him with the command of a province, which was a norm for the young Mughal princes. By April 1606, Khusrau had become desperate. The prospect of early coronation had exited the mind of the 18-year-old boy, provoking him to rebel against his newly installed father. Jahangir wrote in his Tuzuk: “I invariably found Khusrau pre­occupied and distracted. However much, in favour and affection for him, I wished to drive from his mind some of his fears and alarms, nothing was gained …”

Khusrau Bagh, Allahabad

On the night of the 6th of April 1606, Khusrau gathered his 350 loyal horsemen and rode out of Agra Fort on the pretext of visiting and paying respects at Emperor Akbar’s grave. He headed for the Punjab, hoping to rally support and troops, or perhaps to escape to Kabul and beyond. Disaffected Chughtai and Rajput clans and several frontier tribes flocked to his banner, as did some senior Akbar loyalists. About 50 kilometres outside Agra, Khusrau was joined by a band of horsemen coming from Badakhshan. They were hardy warriors but basically marauders – undisciplined and unreliable – and while marching to Lahore they indulged in loot, rape and plunder. In this way they ended up attracting a vile reputation to the whole expedition. Khusrau reached Lahore and laid siege to the fort with ten to twelve thousand men around him.

Jahangir had been informed forthwith about Khusrau’s departure from the Agra Fort. He was terribly upset and perturbed. For once in his life, he acted swiftly: summoning his close associates and ordering troops to be sent after his son.

When asked what should be done if Khusrau didn’t agree to surrender or to return to Agra, Jahangir uttered these profound words, “Kingship regards neither son nor son-in-law. No one is a relation to a king.”

He first sent out scouts to determine Khusrau’s direction of march and then, on daybreak, decided to give chase himself, entrusting Agra to the care of his second son, Mirza Pervaiz. Jahangir feared that Khusrau might join forces with Uzbegs of Samarkand and Bokhara or the Safavid Persians, to create an external threat for the empire.

Prince Khusrau

The distance from Agra to Lahore is 600 kilometres, as the crow flies. It was hot in the Indo-Gangetic plains with the usual temperatures that rise over 40 degrees Celsius. Jahangir was so preoccupied in forced marches that, in his words, he forgot to take his morning dose of opium. His advance guard reached Lahore in just 11 days and strengthened the defences before the arrival of Khusrau.

Having failed to storm the fort, Khusrau crossed the Ravi in an attempt to escape to Kabul. Jahangir’s forces caught him on the north of the river. Fighting in heavy pre-monsoon rain that turned the battlefield into a mud soup, the rebels were routed. Khusrau was taken prisoner trying to cross the Chenab close to Wazirabad. He was brought to Lahore before his father at the Kamran garden, now an island in the Ravi, with his hands tied and chains on his legs; in the words of Tuzk-i-Jahangiri, “after the manner and custom of Chingiz Khan.” One of the leaders of the rebel forces was sewn in an ox-hide and the other in an ass-hide and taken around the city. Jahangir then gave an extraordinary punishment to the rebel soldiers. He ordered wooden posts to be set up on both sides of the road from the Kamran garden to the city and ordered the rebels to be impaled (through their bowels) by the hundreds, while Khusrau was compelled to watch the grisly sight and listen to the screams and pleas of those who had supported him. The poor wretches died on the stakes, some lasting three days.
The options were clearly laid out before him; the crown - or at least freedom and a luxurious life - versus death in case of refusal. Khusrau, however, stood firm and refused the offers

Jahangir spared Khusrau’s life but condemned him to a terrible fate. He had his son blinded. Some court advisors pleaded with the Emperor to spare the Prince but Jahangir was adamant and had wires inserted into his eyes causing excruciating pain. Khusrau was put into chains and thrown in a dungeon.

From Lahore, Jahangir travelled to Kabul and then back to Agra. He took Khusrau with him during these travels; always in chains. For a few days, he allowed the chains to be removed and to let his son appear before him to offer respects but finding him melancholy, discontinued the practice. Probably the Emperor wanted his son to show remorse for the rebellion but Khusrau didn’t betray any contrition for his acts.

In his Tuzuk, Jahangir mentions Khusrau in a tender manner only a few times, once when allowing him to visit a garden in Kabul and then on the birth of his children. He hasn’t even mentioned that he had had him blinded. He makes a cryptic one-line remark about receiving news of death of Khusrau due to colic pains, displaying neither sorrow nor grief. If he suspected that Khusrau had been murdered by the younger brother Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan), as he must have with all the intelligence reportss available to him, he chooses not to mention it. The Emperor neither forgot nor forgave the rebellion of his son, and, to be fair to him, Khusrau, too, neither reconciled to his father nor repented for his insurrection.

Khusrau being brought before Jahangir as a prisoner

In the year 1616, when Khusrau had been a prisoner for a decade, his fate took another tragic turn due to palace intrigues and scheming by the powerful Noor Jahan, Jahangir’s favourite consort. By then, Khusrau had slightly recovered his eyesight and was only partially blind. It had been rumoured at the time of his blinding that the person inserting the wires in his eyes had deliberately caused recoverable damage.

Noor Jahan had won over complete trust of the drug-addicted, pleasure-loving Emperor and was running the Empire from behind the curtains. She became the only Mughal queen to have coinage struck in her name. She wanted her influence to extend beyond Jahangir’s life. Her daughter Mihr-un-Nissa Begum by her first husband Sher Afghan Khan had reached puberty, and she wanted her to be the consort of the future emperor. She contrived behind the scenes and influenced Jahangir to transfer the custody of Khusrau to her elder brother Asaf Khan so that she could have her daughter married to Khusrau. Jahangir in his memoirs mentions handing over Khusrau to Asaf Khan ‘due to certain considerations’ without elaborating further. Noor Jahan had planned that she would ultimately force Jahangir to restore Khusrau to the status of heir-apparent and have him installed as the emperor when the time came. Interestingly, Asaf Khan’s daughter Mumtaz Mahal, who is buried in Taj Mahal, was married to Shah Jahan. The stage was set for another tragedy.

Khusrau had been married to the granddaughter of the respected Mai Anga, the foster mother of Emperor Akbar. He had at least two other wives as well but had grown very close to his first wife during his captivity. When approached by Asaf Khan with the marriage proposal on behalf of Noor Jahan, he refused. Khusrau’s wife urged him to consent to the marriage but he stood firm. The options were clearly laid out before him; the crown – or at least freedom and a luxurious life – versus death in case of refusal. Khusrau, however, stood firm and refused the offers. Noor Jahan subsequently married her daughter in 1621 to Prince Shaharyar, the fourth son of Jahangir, who was then barely 16 years old.

Khusrau, on an elephant, watches his supporters being impaled

Khusrau was then given to the custody of Shah Jahan who had been appointed as the Governor of the Deccan and was stationed at Burhanpur. It is said that on a late January night in 1622, a slave of Shah Jahan entered the room of Khusrau and strangled him to death. Jahangir was informed that he had died due to a stomach ailment. In his Tuzuk, he mentions that, “At this time a report came from Khurram that Khusrau, on the 8th* (20th) of the month, had died of the disease of colic pains (qulanj), and gone to the mercy of God.”

Khusrau was briefly interned at Burhanpur before his mortal remains were transferred to be buried in one of the three sandstone mausoleums standing in a row at the Khusrau Bagh in Mohallah Khuldabad (Paradise), Allahabad. The second mausoleum is the final resting place of Khusrau’s mother, Manbhawati Bai. The third mausoleum was earmarked for his sister Nisar Begum but she is not buried there. A fourth mausoleum, known as Bibi Tamolan’s, erected a few tens of meters away, bears no headstone – indicating that it is also empty.

One imagines the Mughals couldn’t figure out how to treat their living progeny but knew well how to bury them in style when dead. They constructed grand mausoleums, some of them spare, just in case…

The Khusrau rebellion had devastating and long-lasting side effects. One was the fratricidal wars of succession, complete lack of trust amongst the members of the royal household and incomprehensible cold-blooded murders amongst the princes that played a major role in the weakening and ultimate dissolution of Mughal rule. The second was that of transforming the Sikhs from a sedentary peaceful scattered group to a militant outfit, struggling against the Muslims in general and the Mughals in particular. These are, however, tales that need to be told another time!

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and can be reached at parvezmahmood53@gmail.com

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com