The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 6 Gardens of the Plains Lahore

Romance of Akbar and Nur Jehan

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It was at Akbars City of Victory [Fatehpur Sikri], during one of those fetes-a Paradise Bazaar-when the strict Court relaxed its regulations, that the young Prince Selim, as he was then called, first saw the daughter of his fathers Persian minister. He was quite a boy, playing with some favourite pigeons, when he came across the little Mihr-an-Nissa (Queen of Women), sitting forlorn on the edge of a garden fountain, deserted doubtless in the excitement of the mock fair where all the prettiest of the nobles wives and daughters were acting as traders, bargaining with the Emperor and the Begams in the most approved bazaar style. Azizam Bibi, the little girls mother, one may be sure was chief among them all, selling for its weight in gold the attar of rose which she is said to have invented. So the children were forgotten. And the boy, growing tired of his pigeons, gave them to the little girl to hold while he ran away after some fresh distraction. Returning presently he found one of the pigeons gone, and angrily enquired how had it escaped ? 'Like this,' said the child, throwing the other pigeon up into the air with a scornful turn of her graceful, bangle-ladened little arms. This was a fine way to defy the spoilt Heir of India; and Selim was furious. But he very quickly changed his mind, for a playmate of such grace and spirit was not one to be lost sight of. Then as the old song tells,-'Love flitted from the listless hand of Fate,' and it was not long before Prince Selim was imploring his father to let him have the rebellious little maiden as his wife. Mihr-an-Nissa, however, was already promised by her own father to a young soldier nobleman, and Akbar would not force any man to break his word. In vain the Prince stormed and sulked; the future Nur-Jahan, even then showing signs of the beauty and intelligence for which she was afterwards so famous, was packed off without more delay with her soldier-bridegroom to an estate in Bengal given to them by the Emperor. It seems that this youthful fancy of Jahangirs was a real case of love at first sight; and fond as he undoubtedly was of his father, he never forgave him for thus thwarting his boyish wish. Long after, when he came to the throne, one of his first actions was an attempt to recover the Lady of the Doves. But her husband, Sher Aikan, was an honest gentleman, not to be bribed by any Emperor. So a quarrel was forced on him, he was treacherously murdered, and his wife carried off to the Court. Here Jahangir was baulked again, defeated by just that very quality which appealed so irresistibly to his weak, self-indulgent nature. He had killed her husband and Nur-Jahan would have none of him. Not the least curious part of the story is the fact that Jahangir, who must have really loved her, after trying to soothe and win her by all means in bis power, finally accepted the situation; and Nur-Jahan, supporting herself by her artistic skill in painting and embroidery, remained at Court in attendance on Jahangirs Rajput mother. Then after six long years she relented, perhaps moved with pity for the man who had lost all control over himself, and was fast losing his Empire as well. Who shall say ? Few women could resist a constancy like his. Nur-Jahan was thirty-seven when at last she consented to re-marry, after which; for more than twenty years, she virtually ruled India.