Fascinating as Akbar’s life was, if a new work of history is to be believed then the most known woman in his life might have not existed at all, while the most important woman in his life might have missed the pages of history altogether. Luis de Assis Correia, the London-based writer who has been independently researching on Portuguese and Christians in India for the last several years and has produced six books till now, has just released his latest book, “Portuguese India and Mughal relations (1510-1735)”. The book dwells at length on the matrimonial alliance between Akbar and the Portuguese Maria Mascarenhas, a union which he maintains is conveniently missing from Mughal, Portuguese and English sources.
The story of Maria Mascarenhas, as narrated by Correia, starts when she along with her younger sister Juliana Mascarenhas embark on a journey from Lisbon to Goa in September 1558. “In that era it was the responsibility of the king of Portugal to take care of the orphans of noblemen killed in the service of the monarch, and girls of marriageable age were sent to the colonies,” writes Correia in his book. Somewhere on the way, however, the ship is captured by pirates, who take the two ladies to the court of Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Bahadur Shah in turn presents the two to the Mughal court. “The moment Emperor Akbar cast his eyes on 17-year-old Maria Mascarenhas he fell in love with her and could not resist the desire to make her his wife,” he says, adding that the emperor soon decides to marry her.
Why is the story of Akbar’s Christian wife absent in Mughal, Portuguese and English sources?
While substantial amount of the matter is available on Akbar’s harem, it is a wonder why Mughal sources are completely silent on this particular union. The most noteworthy document of Akbar’s reign, the Akbarnama written by Abul Fazl, makes no mention about her, nor is her existence acknowledged in the other great Mughal source, Al Badauni’s Muntakhab-ut-Tawarakh. “Given the strenuous relations between the Mughals and Portuguese, they would never dare to say that Akbar had a Christian wife,” says Correia.
When the Portuguese initiated trade practices in India in the fifteenth century, large parts of northern India was under Mughal rule and the Muslim power was trying its best to expand into the Deccan. The result of European contact with Mughals in the Deccan led to large scale clashes. The Portuguese capture of Goa under Afonso de Alburquerque in 1510 marked the beginning of the most difficult phase of Portuguese-Mughal relations. “Of all the European traders, the Portuguese were least liked by the Indians. Called ‘the Portuguese menace’ and associated by all Asians with a perfidious brutality,” writes historian Ellison B. Findley in her work on Mughal women and European traders. Given the relationship of antagonism shared between the Catholic Portuguese and the Muslim rulers, it is hardly a surprise that the fact of a Christian wife in Akbar’s harem is completely missing in both Mughal and Portuguese sources.
“The Portuguese killed as many as 50,000 Sunnis when they conquered Goa in 1510. They could never accept that one of their kind lived in a Mughal empire,” says Correia as he explains the reason behind the silence of Portuguese and Persian sources on this matter. However, there are two buildings near Agra- Maryam ki kothi and Roza Maryam, that bear testament to her existence.
The only documents that do contain evidence of Akbar’s marriage to Mascarenhas are those written in Dutch and French, which Correia has used extensively to substantiate his claim. As per him, the English too would never wanted to acknowledge a union between the Mughal ruler and the Portuguese, given the fact that the Portuguese were trading rivals of the English during this period and such an alliance would definitely be seen as hindrance to their economic interests.
Was the Rajput Jodha Bai actually the Portuguese Maria Mascarenhas?
Correia clarifies that Jodha Bai was definitely not the Portuguese woman he was referring to. However, he goes on to echo the findings of several other historians to claim this celebrated character never existed at all. Neither do Akbar’s memoirs have references to her, nor is she referred to by Jehangir as his mother “There was no mention of Jodha Bai in Akbarnama or Jehangir’s memoirs,” says Correia. Nor does her name appear in any of the Persian records of the period. The first person to mention about Jodha Bai is by historian James Tod in his Annales and Antiquities of Rajasthan. However, Jodha Bai according to Tod, was the mother of Shah Jahan and wife of Jehangir.
The only name that came close to being referred to as Jehangir’s mother was that of Maryam-uz-Zamani. Her name roughly translates as ‘Mary of age.’ However, Jehangir did not refer to her as his mother either in his memoirs. The only document that features her as Jehangir’s mother is S. Tirmizi’s book on letters on the royal ladies of the Mughals. Her identity, though, remains an enigma. While Correia believes that she was in fact Portuguese, there are other historians who believe in her being a Rajput.
Ellison B. Findly in her work, “The capture of Maryam-uz-Zamani’s ship: Mughal women and European traders,” referred to Maryam-uz-Zamani as “a Hindu princess from Amber who had married the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1562 as part of a political alliance between her father Raja Bihari Kachhwaha and her new husband. Maryam-uz-Zamani, the ‘Maryam of Eternity’ was now mother of the current emperor Jehangir.”
Was Jehangir half Christian?
Correia is of the strong belief that Jehangir had a Portuguese Christian mother, who was referred to as Maryam-uz-Zamani. “Growing up, Jehangir always wore a gold chain with a cross. He never took it off,” said Correia. He further went on to say that Jehangir always hung in his palace, images of Christ and the Virgin and was particularly friendly towards the Jesuits. “He used to spend one day a week in a Jesuit house in Agra,” explained Correia.
So attached was Jehangir to Christianity that the Jesuit missions in the Mughal court believed that he was on the verge of conversion. However, as per Correia, what stopped Jehangir from converting was the need to maintain a polygamous life as mentioned in Islamic law.