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Mahabat Khan and the Rajputs; A rebellion that seized Mughal empire for 100 days

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Engineer by profession & explorer by passion; History buff, knows about Kings and kingdoms particularly Rajput history; Part time writer

Zamana Beg, originally from Shiraz (Persia), was a loyal and most trusted General of Jahangir, he was honoured by Jahangir with the title ‘Mahabat Khan’ and a mansab of 3000. He gradually rose in stature at the imperial court after successfully defeating prince Khurram and curbing his coup attempt in 1623-1624. However he was a staunch critic of the growing power of Noor Jahan and her being the controller of the decisions at the imperial court. It lead to animosity between the two and somehow Noor Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan, persuaded Jahangir to make Mahabat Khan, the general of Bengal, far away from the Mughal capital at Lahore.

Treachery of Mahabat and its consequences

Representational image of War elephants

While being the Governor of Bengal, he failed to send the promised number of elephants captured in Bengal; he also began holding back a huge amount of revenue from the imperial treasury. Despite this misbehavior, Jahangir turned to Mahabat Khan in 1625 and asked him along with prince Parvez to march to Deccan and relieve the Mughal forces that were defeated by Malik Ambar at Ahmadnagar and Burhanpur. While Mahabat Khan was away, Jahangir already angry about the missing revenues and elephants, was further irked to learn that Mahabat had married his daughter to the descendant of an eminent Sufi, without first asking him for the customary imperial blessing. Jahangir sent for Mahabat’s son-in-law and publicly dishonored the young man by binding his hands to the neck and taking him bareheaded to the prison in Lahore. Jahangir directed to confiscate the gifts and cash that Mahabat had given to his son-in-law and deposit them in treasury. He further ordered Mahabat’s daughter, to appear in court.

Rajputs’ vow to help Mahabat Khan

While Mahabat was in Deccan, unaware of the incidents that happened in the court, Jahangir called him back in the early 1626 and commanded him to appear at the court with the revenues and elephants he owed. After he summoned Mahabat, Jahangir set off on a journey to Kabul accompanied by Nur, Asaf, Shahryar, Ladli, the inner circle of royal women, servants and soldiers. Mahabat en route to north from Deccan, found that the emperor had arrested his son-in-law and ordered his daughter to appear in court- acts that he considered a vile attack on his daughter’s reputation and his ownEnraged by the act, he stopped to gather troops in Rajasthan, there he met the Rajput nobles who were close allies to him and told about the dishonour of his daughter.

“She is our daughter and as long as we live, we do not send her” 

said the Rajputs.[3]

Outbreak of rebellion against Jahangir

Representational image of Rajput vs Mughal war

Mahabat along with an army of approx. 6,000 men where 4,000 were Rajputs, and the rest were Indian muslims, Afghans and Mughals, marched towards Lahore, from there they moved towards Kabul. Jahangir along with his men and Noor was camping on the banks of river Jhelum on his way to Kabul in March 1626, where suddenly Mahabat Khan along with his 4000 Rajputs arrived. Rajputs surrounded the camps while Mahabat solicited Jahangir and asked for redress of his grievance. Rajputs chivalrously but ill-advisedly allowed Noor to cross the river, where she met Asaf Khan in his tent and planned for the rescue of Jahangir. Next day, Asaf khan along with his troop decided to rescue Jahangir but as the boat bridge were burned down by the Rajputs, imperial army chose ford to cross the river. As they struggled towards the bank, they meta firm array of around 700 Rajputs with their armoured war elephants. Around 2000 Mughal soldiers were slained by the Rajputs and 2000 had drownedtheir bodies mingling with the carcasses of horses and elephants, in the chilling, swirling, blood-flecked waters. Asaf Khan and other fled to the safety of a stout fortress.[1] Noor had participated in the attack where she had been caught in a storm of arrows and Rajput throwing spears, which lacerated her elephant’s tough hide. Seeing the bloody chaos and upon learning that her brother had fled, she surrendered to Mahabat but insisted to join Jahangir in captivity. Within days, Asaf khan was also captured and took into prison.

Deceit with the Rajputs

Although taking Jahangir and his close aide under his captivity, Mahabat was still a loyal subject to Jahangir. He took the charge of Mughal affairs, told Jahangir what to do and pushed Noor to the sidelines. Mahabat became the virtual power and his rule lasted for about 100 days, though he never took the throne. Rajputs had done, what they had vowed to do; but now they fell out among themselves and had lost their confidence on Mahabat. One day when some of the Rajput had left their camp for hunting, Noor deceitfully ordered her loyal men (Ahadi archers) to attack them. In the attack around 900 Rajputs were killed, several of them were close associates of Mahabat, whom he was said to “love more than his own offspring”Mahabat set out to join the battle, but changed his mind halfway. Fearing that he might be killed in the fray, he returned to the safety of his compound. On return to Lahore from Kabul, Noor Jahan arranged for an army to meet them, with the help of her eunuch Hoshiyar Khan. On Noor’s advice Jahangir convinced Mahabat that he wished to see Noor’s cavalry and asked him to march ahead with his own soldiers, to avoid any kind of scuffle between Noor’s army and Rajputs. Seeing the opportunity as Mughals over-numbered Rajputs, they cowardly attacked Mahabat and his men from both the sides in which 3,000 Rajputs were killed and others were heavily wounded. Mahabat fled to Deccan and remained unpunished with the death of Jahangir shortly thereafter.

Rebels shrouded in obscurity

The Rajputs who survived the attack were settled in the forests of Gorakhpur by Mahabat Khan with the help of Raja Natth Mal of Majhauli.

Those who had once shaken the plinth of Mughal empire were now living in such an obscurity that their unparalleled glory lost in time.

References: –

[1] A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal by Diana Preston, Michael Preston.

[2] Kings and Queens of India by Anu Kumar.

[3] Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan by Ruby Lal.

[4] A Comprehensive History of India: Comprehensive history of medieval India by Pran Nath Chopra, B.N. Puri, M.N. Das

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Engineer by profession & explorer by passion; History buff, knows about Kings and kingdoms particularly Rajput history; Part time writer
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