During the Mughal era (16th – 19th century) the practice of commissioning monuments received a fillip through the efforts of Bega Begum with the construction of Humayun’s Tomb. This first colossal monumental mausoleum in Islamic India can be considered an early masterpiece that was to decisively influence the design of the later Taj Mahal, the high point of Mughal architecture.

Unlike many emperors, Humayun did not plan his own tomb for the simple reason that he did not expect to die so soon and suddenly at the age of 55, after a fall down the stairs of his library in the Purana Qila. It was in response to the evening – maghrib – call for prayer on January 24, 1556 that Humayun got up from his seat on the terrace and hastily started descending the staircase. His robe got caught in his foot and he came tumbling down. He died two days later. What makes his death more tragic is the fact that the aazan had been given by one Miskin earlier than the scheduled time, disturbing the emperor who, as a keen astronomer, was scanning the heavens for the planet Venus.

The task of erecting a monument to his memory was left to Bega Begum or Haji Begum, his first wife, with monetary support from her stepson, Akbar. The mausoleum, whose architect was a Persian, Mirza Ghayak, was unique in the sense that it later served as the model for Shah Jahan to build the Taj Mahal. Besides, this, Humayun’s Tomb is also the last resting place of many of the emperor’s successors – princes and princesses – including Dara Shikoh, whose headless body was interred there after his execution on the orders of Aurangzeb.

Humayun, following in the footsteps of his father, Babar, also had more than four wives. He was married to Bega Begum at an early age. Then Chand Bibi and Shad Bibi joined his harem. There were others too like Mah-Chehak Begum, Gunwar Bibi, Gul-Barg Barlas, Maywa-Jan and Shahnam Agha. Akbar was very fond of Haji Begum, though his love for Hamida Banu, his own mother, was naturally intense. It is interesting to note that the title of Mariam Makani was given by Akbar to his mother, because he regarded her as the epitome of innocence. And Mariam, as we know was the name of the mother of Christ of which the anglicised version is Mary. It shows the love and respect he had for her.

Hamida Banu was only 13 when Humayun saw her and fell in love at first sight. He was old enough to be her father but then love knows no bounds. Hamida was too young to respond and just giggled at the man who kept following her with his eyes. It was after his defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri that a dejected Humayun had gone to meet his half-brother Hindal at Lahore. His meeting with Hamida took place at a dinner hosted by Hindal’s mother, Dildar Begum. The girl’s pretty face and liquid eyes attracted Humayun who had had a dream earlier in which a sufi saint, Zinda Pir, had predicted that the emperor would marry a girl from his tribe who would give birth to one of the greatest rulers of the world. Hamida happened to be the great-granddaughter of the pir. But she refused to marry him. It was a very depressing experience for a man who had just lost an empire. What made it worse was that Hamida even declined to meet him again. But with the help of Hindal and Dildar Begum a number of meetings were arranged and the girl, finally realising the worth of the man who was courting her, gave her consent.

From there the story is a well-known one, Humayun was on the road again as Hindal, fearing an attract by Sher Shah, advised him to leave. It was in the desert of Sindh that he sought shelter with the Rana of Umarkot and it was there that Hamida gave birth to a son. When the Rana became hostile Humayun was a fugitive again, and leaving the infant with his wife and trusted followers, he fled to Persia.The journey back to Delhi was a long one, Bega Begum had been captured by Sher Shah after the Battle of Chausa while Chand Bibi and Shad Bibi had presumably been drowned. Sher Shah treated Bega Begum with respect. As a matter of fact he is said to have ordered that “no Moghul woman is to be enslaved or killed but sent to Haji Begum’s pavilion.” That was in 1539. But it seems that Humayun did not like Bega Begum very much. His sister Gulbadan Begum records that on the eve of the Battle of Chausa the Begum had told the emperor that he was giving her a raw deal. This so infuriated Humayun that he asked her to make a written apology and also promise that she would never make similar complaints in future.

Haji Begum is supposed to have been left behind when Humayun fled after his second defeat at the hands of Sher Shah. But some say that she was escorted back to his court by Khawas Khan, a nobleman attached to the Afghan chief. Perhaps her only fault was that she was too domineering and Humayun’s other wives, and also concubines, resented this. But her love for Humayun was great because she was the one who supervised the building of her husband’s tomb. Not only that, she brought 300 Arabs from Mecca to pray for the emperor’s soul. And hence the name Arab-ki-Sarai for the enclosure near the tomb. Incidentally, the dome of Humayun’s tomb is modelled after the dome of Taimur’s mausoleum in Samarkand.

Haji Begum died in 1581 and was mourned by Akbar who escorted her body to Humayun’s mausoleum, where she was buried. Hamida Banu Begum died in 1603 and was laid to rest in a crypt in Humayun’s tomb, the emperor accompanying her body to Delhi from Agra. Two years later Akbar himself died but to his dying day he missed Mariam Makani who, though his mother, was less than 15 years older than him and could have easily passed off as his elder sister.

TEXT: Based on THE HINDU – Mausoleum that Humayun never built (28/4/2003) & Wikipedia






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