An Historical Mother from the Mughal Empire

A writer of historical fiction has a Smörgåsbord of story options that extends even beyond the pale of imagination. Truly has it been said that fact is stranger than fiction.

So far, my own writing focuses on fictional characters in historical times, not on historical characters, per se, although I believe that may change in future novels. Nonetheless, I get the same pleasure from a good read about a historical figure that I do from novels. And because I am an archaeologist at heart, I enjoy finding people that are on the obscure side, folks that require a little deft work with trowel and brush. The indistinct, half-buried lines of their lives is both a challenge and a spur to the imagination.

Since today is Mothers Day, I thought I’d resurrect a historical mother whose story is intriguing and obscure: Mah-i-Kuchuk Begum Sahiba, also rendered as Mah Chuchak Begum.

Historical mothers

There are no images of Huyaman’s fifth wife, but this is Nur Jahan, the wife of a later Mughal emperor.

What series of events is it that brings a 16th Century Indian girl from a point of painful shyness, to being Empress consort of the Mughal court, to open rebellion and successfully leading an army into the field against the emperor’s forces?

When Mah Chuchak first met the Mughal Emperor, Humayun, she was too shy to reply. He had to ask her for her name twice before she could speak it. After that, the emperor’s half-sister, Gulbadan, interceded on the girl’s behalf to complete the introductions. Humayun was smitten and seven days later took Mah Chuchak as his fifth wife.

She had four daughters and two sons with the emperor, and her eldest son, Muhammad Hakim Mirza, was made the governor of Kabul when he was only three years old. When Huyamun died he was succeeded by his son from another wife, Akbar-e-Azam.

Mah Chuchak pronounced herself the independent ruler of Kabul. When the new emperor sent his general, Munim khan, with an army to reclaim the city, Mah Chuchak led her troops into battle and defeated him at Jalalabad.

She reigned in Kabul until she was murdered by Shah Abdul Maali, a man she had given refuge to when he escaped from a prison in Lahore. In fact, she extended such kindness to the man that she married her daughter Fakhr-un-nisa Begum to him. The treacherous Maali got his, however, when he was killed by Mah Chuchak’s son, Mirza.

And so the murder round-robins went amongst the ancient houses of the rich.

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