The Hidden Kingmaker Of The Mughal Empire
When the first trailer of Disney Hotstar’s ‘The Empire’ dropped, many assumed it to be another lookalike of Game of Thrones. But this series definitely defies the speculations with its incredible narration and cinematography. Drashti Dhami plays Khanzada Begum, Babur’s elder sister, who in the series is portrayed as a witty and intelligent lady who goes against anything to maintain her loyalty for her blood. Her character is strong, fierce, and yet is very emotional. But not many people know about this hidden Kingmaker of the Mughal Empire.
The story of Khanzada Begum is in itself a tale of love, heartbreak, betrayal, and the lust for reign.
Khanzada Begum, a Timurid princess who is the epitome of valor and sacrifice.
‘na talwar se na aag se, jung jeet-te hain dimaag se’
Infusing this idea, Khanzada Begum was one of the brains behind the major decisions of the Mughal Empire. Born in 1478 in Andizhan, Ferghana, as the eldest daughter of Umar Sheikh Mirza, she was a Timurid princess with mixed roots from Mongols and Timur. Khanzada was thus, a descendant of Genghis Khan from her maternal side and a descendant of Timur from her paternal side.
She was elder to the Mughal King Babur and the duo had a close relationship from the beginning. She played an important role in Baburs’s life and was responsible for many of his decisions that proved fruitful for the Empire. During 1500, the rivalry between Babur, and the Uzbeks was at its most intense. Shaybani Khan Uzbek first took control over Fergana when Babur was at war with Samarkand. When Babur, aged 14, conquered Samarkand, Shaybani Khan turned his eyes. He besieged Samarkand from outside for more than six months.
During this time, the kingdom was losing its revenue and starvation spread among the locals. At this time, Shaybani Khan sent a message to Babur, proposing that if he would let her sister, Khanzada, marry Shaybani he would resolve the conflict and let Babur and the rest of his family leave unharmed.
Babur was first hesitant, but Khanzada agreed to his demands. He left Khanzada with Shaybani and left Samarkand with his remaining family. Through this time Babur did his best to gather an army and rescue her sister back. But in Samarkand, Khanzada was playing her own game. During her life with Khan, she’d be slandered, humiliated, and even beaten. Later, she fell for Shaybani and the duo married. Khanzada and Shaybani never had a child and the rumor of her being pregnant was also not true. Khanzada did show Shaybani that she loves her but the reality was different. Khanzada from the heart was always at her brother’s side.
Khanzada laid the foundation of the great Mughal Empire
As mentioned in Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul – Raiders of the North, when Babur sieged Samarkand from outside, Khanzada was the one who helped him know a secret passage inside the kingdom. In fact, she decided to build this passage for smooth trade, so that the kingdom won’t starve. However, the actual intention behind building the passage was to provide Babur an opportunity to directly attack the kingdom from inside.
Later, Shaybani divorced Khanzada because he learned about her betrayal. Shaybani in the end was defeated and Khanzada helped Babur hold the crown of Samarkand. Later, on Khanzada’s advice, he married the princess of Kabul and thus securing a new state under his name. Khanzada’s second marriage took place with Muhammad Mahdi Khwaja at an unknown date. Babur conferred on his sister, the honorable title of ‘Badshah Begum’, the first lady of his Empire.
Khanzada returned to Babus as a woman of great valor and sacrifice, who did everything to prove her commitment to Babur and her family. In the series, it is portrayed that the brain behind crowing Humayun as the heir was also Khanzada who wrote his name in the ‘Baburnama’ after Babur’s death. Thus, Khanzada plays a crucial role in establishing Mughal Empire in India.
Khanzada didn’t have any children but when she was married to Mahdi, she took charge of his younger sister, Sultanam Begum, when she was two years old. Khanzada loved her deeply and also arranged her marriage with her nephew, Prince Hindal Mirza, the youngest son of Babur. The marriage feast that she prepared was known as the ‘Mystic Feast’, and the affair was attended by several imperial and royal guests as well as high-ranking court officials. It was the biggest marriage feast ever organized for the children of Babur.
Khanzada Begum died in 1545 at Qabal-chak, when she was on her way with Humanyun to Qandahar. The doctor’s remedies were futile as she had been suffering from a high fever for three days and died on the fourth. She was first buried in Qabal-chak but after three months, her remains were taken to Kabul and buried in the Gardens of Babur.
In the ‘Baburnama’, Babur credits his sister with the safeguarding of the regime and the family’s life and honor.