By Tuhin A Sinha
If you took the Jodhabai-Akbar romance, as depicted in the movie at face value, you might be in for some re-thinking, post reading this article. For the romance, if it may be called so, wasn’t half as utopian. Neither was Jodhabai during her lifetime known as Jodha. Post her marriage to Akbar, she was Mariam uz- Zamani.
Akbar’s marriage with the daughter of Raja Bharmal, of Amber(modern day Jaipur) was quite unequivocally a device used for political acquisition. Hira Kunwari (Jodha’s maiden name) was married to Akbar on January 20, 1562, at Sambhar near Jaipur. She was Akbar's third wife. It will be interesting to note here that there is little clarity on the total number of wives that Akbar eventually had.
The fact that other Rajput kingdoms, subsequently, also established similar matrimonial alliances with Akbar, cannot be disproved. The law of Hindu succession has always been patrimonial, so the threat to lineage, in marrying their princesses for political gain, was pretty inconsequential.
History does not corroborate any instance of Akbar’s romance with Jodhabai in the real sense. Yet, there seems to be near unanimity over Jodhabai being referred to as Akbar’s favorite queen.
What then could have possibly led to Jodha being given this preference?
Jodha, it is said, was extremely gorgeous and dignified. But apart from her personality attributes, she gave Akbar what his other queens could not-an heir. Akbar's first queen was the childless Ruqaiyya Begum, and his second wife was Salima Sultan, the widow of his most trusted general, Bairam Khan.
A sense of desperation seemed to mark Akbar’s prayers at the dargah of the Shaikh Salim Chishti, which later led to the birth of his first surviving child Jahangir. Was Akbar’s affection for Jodhabai thus familial and borne out of a sense of gratitude?
Subsequently, Jodha is said to have enjoyed increased clout over political matters. She was Akbar’s only queen who could issue farman(official documents), which was normally the exclusive privilege of the emperor. Jodha used her influence to build gardens, wells, and mosques around the country.
It is also accepted that Jodha had the permission to worship in the Hindu way in her palace and continued to remain a devotee of Lord Krishna. Akbar’s fondness for Jodha only made him more accepting of Hindu rituals. That Jahangir, Akbar’s successor, too is appreciated as a liberal leader, perhaps only shows the indirect influence that Jodha might have made politically.
Having dwelt upon Jodha’s preferred status in Akbar’s life, Akbar’s subsequent marriages cannot be wished away. And this is where the soft romance between Akbar and Jodha gets mired in irony.
In all likelihood, Jodha, in the limited way that she could, gave Akbar a sense of belonging that his other women did not. In all probability, she reduced Akbar’s personal detachment and made him discover a side of his that had got dwarfed by his political ambitions.
Jodha’s tomb, which is situated just about a kilometer away from that of Akbar, lies in obscure abandonment, so much so that it is only natural for the less curious to give it a miss. Not unexpectedly, just like her tomb is but a shadow of Akbar’s, so might have been her being when she lived. More tellingly the ASI slab at the entrance of the tomb informs that the tomb is that of Mariam Zamani, a princess of Amber who married Akbar and later gave birth to Jahangir.
So was the Akbar-Jodha hyphenation indeed romance or was it another instance of virtue having been made out of necessity? Well, how one wishes our history was less ambivalent…