Nur Jahan (earlier known as Mehr-un-nisa) was the widow of Sher Afghan. After the death of her husband, she was married to Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1611. Her original name was Mehr-un-nisa. She was given the title of Nur Jahan and Nur Mahal after her marriage.
There are many romantic legends centering round Nur Jahan but modern researches have discarded most of them. The account of Mutamid-Khan, named Iqbal-Nama-i-Jahangiri has been found by modern scholars to be reliable in regard to the early life of Mehr-un-nisa. She was the daughter of a Persian immigrant, Mirza Ghiyas Beg who rose to high position during the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir. She was married to Ali Quli Beg Istajhi a Persian adventurer who was given jagir in Burdwan in Bengal in the beginning of the reign of Jahangir and given the title of Sher Afghan.
Sher Afghan was suspected of treasonable designs and Jahangir ordered the new governor of Bengal Qutb-ud-din Khan to send Sher Afghan to the imperial court and in the case of his disobedience to punish him. Qutb-ud-din summoned Sher Afghan to his camp at Burdwan and the latter came with two of his servants to meet the governor. When the troops of the governor surrounded Sher Afghan an affray began in which the latter was killed. But before death Sher Afghan had struck the governor Qutb-ud-din and one of his retainers fatally. Jahangir got Sher Afghan’s widow Mehr-un-nisa and daughter Ladli Begum taken to Delhi where he married Mehr-un-nisa in May, 1611.
Jahangir was forty-two and Mehr-un-nisa thirty-four at the time of their marriage. Mehr-un-nisa, now Nur Mahal and later Nur Jahan, kept excellent health and beauty.
Mughal Empress Nur Jahan was endowed with exceptionally strong intellect, quick understanding, a versatile temper and sound common sense. But the most important and dominant trait of her character was her indomitable ambition and domineering personality which led her to establish an unlimited ascendancy on Jahangir. She strengthened her position by appointing her father Itimad-ud-daulah and brother Asaf Khan to important positions in the court. She also got her daughter by her earlier marriage, married to Prince Shahryar, the youngest son of Jahangir. Asaf Khan’s daughter Arjumand Banu Begam was married to Prince Khurram, later Shah Jahan.
It must be noted that Itimad-ud-din, Nur Jahan’s father, was an able administrator and her brother Asaf Khan was a good financier and a diplomat and were very reliable and capable pillars of Nur Jahan’s party in the imperial court.
Mughal Empress Nur Jahan’s influence upon Jahangir was not at all unhealthy; in fact, she looked after the administration of her husband’s empire with care and devotion. Her influence on her husband personally was for the latter’s good. Excessive drinking to which Jahangir had given himself to, was considerably reduced due to Nur Jahan’s personal influence. Much of his administrative drudgery and anxiety had been relieved by her. She had definitely enhanced the splendor of the Mughal court and rendered every assistance to her husband in bestowing patronage to art and learning. She distributed charity in profuse quantity and patronized the women and extended protection to them.
All the same, the influence of Nur Jahan on Jahangir’s administration was not all for good. During the period of her personal ascendancy she was guided by an extra-ordinary ambition for power to retain which she of necessity resorted to party politics. She placed her near relations in important positions in the court and in order to perpetuate her authority. She sought to divert the inheritance from Prince Khurram to Prince Shahrayar, the youngest son of Jahangir, and her son-in-law (husband of the daughter by her earlier marriage). This interference in the affairs of the normal course of inheritance convulsed the empire in a civil war. Her too much indulgence in party-politics in order to maintain her supremacy, her disregard of the loyal services of some of the top-ranking officials, her suspicion of all those who either did not see eye to eye with her or ventured to spell out different opinion brought about an estrangement between herself and some of the most meritorious and devoted servants of the state. Mahabat Khan who was the Amir-ul-umrah and was one of the most capable and devoted servants of the state was driven desperation and rebellion by the imperious conduct of Nur Jahan.