The Sick Princess – who is that??

Sick Princess by Nadeem Lahori

Some believe Prince Salim had 15 wives by the late 1590’s. As a result, many believe those wives are all shown here. But who is who? Maybe it’s a princess who was sick and then recovered? But why memorialize a scene of a sick and then recovering princess? Some believe the sick woman is Sahib Jamal, who died in 1599 (according to the Akbarnama, page 1133). Or could it be the prince’s first wife, ManBai (Shah Begum) who died in 1605? Could it be another wife? No other wife died around the time when the prince’s children were babies.

The baby is an interesting addition to the scene. Maybe the baby does not belong to the prince. If not, who’s baby is it? And why include it here if it is not his? I believe the baby does belong to Prince Salim, but which baby is it?

Three of his five sons were born before 1592 and would be too old to be the baby shown here. But what about the last two boys who were born in 1605 – Jahandar and Shahryar? If the prince had two infant sons at this time, why are they both not shown?

The Autobiography of Emperor Jahangueir, translated by Major David Price, Oriental Translation Committee, 1829

Seven of Prince Salim’s ten daughters died by 1596 before their second birthday (according to his own autobiography, pages 20-21). Two were born years before this and lived to be in their 60’s. One girl child was born of Jagat Gosain, in 1598 and died when she was five years old, in 1603. Could this be her? That would mean this painting is from 1599, and the sick princess is Sahib Jamal – but I don’t think so.

Once again, according to Prince Salim’s own autobiography, Sahib Jamal gave birth to a son who was named upon the prince’s accession to the throne in 1605 – Jahandar. If Sahib Jamal died in 1599, how did she give birth near 1605? I don’t think the sick princess is Sahib Jamal.

I like the idea that the sick princess is ManBai (Shah Begum) and the baby is Shahryar, being held by his mother Jagat Gosain. The painting would be commissioned in 1605 after ManBai, the prince’s first wife, dies in May of that year, but before Salim becomes emperor (in November).

From these inconsistencies (or possibly my admitted misunderstandings) in history I created many of the storylines of The Mumtaz Chronicles. What if the emperor thought Sahib Jamal died in 1599 but she was actually alive? What if the prince did not want the emperor to know about Sahib Jamal’s existence until the emperor died (in late 1605)? What if he wanted everyone to know that ManBai died slowly of an overdose surrounded by all her devoted sister-wives? And since Sahib Jamal’s identity needed to be hidden (for whatever reason), so would the appearance of her second son, Jahandar. Sons are usually revered and receive a lot of fanfare. Could this be why there is so little written about this son in the history books?

Maybe I am right or maybe I am wrong. Maybe the painting was commissioned to document an event that never really happened, or happened in a different way. What better way to get HIS story into the history books! I wonder what HER story would have been?

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