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Past present: Emperor’s new names

Published Jan 01, 2011 11:52pm

Royal titles were an expression of the power and grandeur of Mughal emperors. These titles were adopted at the time of coronation or after some victory over an enemy. They were high sounding and rhythmic, and when announced by ushers (naqibs) they created an atmosphere of awe in the audience.

Amir Timur (1370-1405), the founder of the Timurids, usurped power from Chaghtai Khan, Tughlaq Timur (1359-70) and out of respect assumed the title of Amir rather than Khan, as was the practice among the Mongol rulers. He legitimised his rule not by seeking the recognition of the caliph, but by marrying the grand-daughter of Amir Kizghan, Aljaz Turkhan Agha, and by assuming the title of Gurgan (son-in-law). After him the Timurid rulers adopted the title of Mirza and not Khan or Padshah, which were the titles of the Mongol rulers.

Babur was the first Timurid ruler who, after his conquest of Kabul (1507), assumed the title of Padshah and asserted his superiority over the Chaghtai and other Timurid rulers. The assumption of the title Padshah was significant in that it differed from Sultan, which was the title of the Osmanlis, and Shah, which was the title of the newly founded Safavid dynasty. Hence this title distinguished Babur and his successors from his two powerful rivals, Osmanli and Safavids.

After his victory over Rana Sanga (1527) on the battlefield of Kanwaha, Babur assumed the title of Ghazi (warrior of the faith). Thus Babur was styled Zahir-al-Din (supporter of the faith) Muhammad Babur Padshah Ghazi. Humayun adopted the title of Nasir-al-Din (defender of the faith) Muhammad Padshah Ghazi. Akbar assumed the title of Jalal-al-Din (glory of the faith) Muhammad Akbar Padshah Ghazi.

Prince Salim, at the time of his coronation, adopted the title, Nur-al-Din (light of the faith) Muhammad Jahangir (seizer of the world) Padshah Ghazi. Shahjahan, on his coronation, assumed the high titles Abul-Muzaffar Sahib Qiran-i-Thani Shihab-al-Din (meteor of the faith) Shahjahan Padshah Ghazi. Alamgir, on his succession to the throne, adopted the title Abul Muzaffar Muhyi-al-Din (rejuvenator of the faith) Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir Padshah Ghazi.

To call out or write the name of the emperor was regarded as disrespectful. He was referred to by short titles like Zille-Illahi (shadow of God), Alam Panah (protector of the universe) and Jahan Panah (protector of the world).

All princes were called Sultan. Sometimes high titles were awarded to them as a reward for their achievements or to acknowledge their position at the court. Prince Khurram, after his victories in Rajputana and Deccan, was given the title of Shahjahan by Jahangir. During the later years of his reign, when Shahjahan had decided that his elder son Dara Shikoh was to succeed him on the throne, he gave him the title of Shah Buland Iqbal.

Princesses were also given titles by the emperor; under Shahjahan, Jahanara was given the title Begum Sahib. Alamgir gave her the title Badshah Begum and the title Shah Begum was given to his younger sister, Roshanara.

Queen Mothers had a high and respectable position in the palace. They were referred to by dignified titles. Akbar’s mother, Queen Hamida Banu Begum, was called Maryam Makani, Jahangir’s Maryam Zamani and Shahjahan’s Bilqis Makani.

Queens were also given titles. Mehru Nisa, after her marriage to Jahangir, was awarded the title Nur Mahal (light of the palace) and later on that of Nur Jahan (light of the world). Shahjahan’s favourite wife, mother of Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb and Murad, was called Mumtaz Mahal (the most distinguished in the palace).

These titles were reserved for the royal family. None of them was bestowed on any other nor was anybody allowed to assume them. Moreover, titles were awarded by the emperor in addition to the name. The royal titles indicated the privileged status of the emperor and the members of the royal family.