Hamida Banu Begum : Akbar’s mother was a collector of books!

Apart from the wives and daughters of the Mughal Emperors, the matriarchs of the family played a critical role in establishing and keeping the Empire intact.

#TheseMughalWomen: Dildar Begum – junior wife of Babur, the mother of Gulbadan Begum & Humayun's stepmom- is most remembered for her role in convincing Hamida Banu to marry Humayun bit.ly/2IT5rPA ! Click To Tweet

Contrary to the many myths, education was quite important to Mughal Women. While Gulbadan Begum became the first to pen a memoir (Humayun’s biography), and would inspire future generations; Hamida Banu Begum collected manuscripts (which would later be inherited by Jahangir).

Here’s a glimpse into some books owned by Hamida Banu Begum. Take a look!

A Ramayana that belonged to Hamida Banu Begum

Hamida Banu Begum commissioned her own Ramayana way before the iconic commission of the Mewar Ramayana. The Sanskrit text was first translated into Persian at Akbar’s behest; he then commissioned more copies for distribution amidst his other courtiers.

Vibhisan meets Rama | Reitberg Museum

The Ramayana-version owned by Hamida Banu is said to highlight selective portions of the original translations.

The Supernatural Messenger | Khalili Collection

Historians have also mentioned that Hamida might have felt drawn to Sita, given their experiences of exile. An interesting observation there!

Ram, Sita, Lakshman bid farewell | Khalili Collection

To us, it seems only fitting that Akbar would be as curious about other cultures – it’s a trait he definitely gets from his mother.

According to the records, Hamida Banu asked to see the Ramayana (the above picture is from the same Ramayana) even while on her deathbed.

The Divan-i-Hijri : a book of poems

Now at the British Library, this book of poems contains praises of Akbar authored by a court poet,  Khvajah Hijri. What mother wouldn’t want a copy of that!


The manuscript is calligraphed using the nasta’liq script. The image on the right has Hamida Banu’s seal – you can identify it as the one with a petal-shaped outer rim. Take a closer look at the seal and a later one on the British Library blog.

There’s also another manuscript at the Rampur Raza Library bearing her seal. But not much information is available about this one!


It is also believed that the ‘Third’ Akbarnama was meant for Hamida Banu Begum

While the first Akbarnama (now at the V&A) was owned by Akbar, this third one was probably for Hamida Banu Begum. The second edition (at British Library & Chester Beatty Library Dublin) might have been created to commemorate the tragic assassination of Abu’l Fazl.

The Arrival of Humayun in the city of Lahore | 1595-1600

According to scholar Linda York Leach’s investigations*:

1) the text of the third Akbarnama is written in the conservative naskh script as opposed to the nasta‘liq used on the other two copies.  Naskh is a script that Hamida is thought to have preferred. 

2) the third Akbarnama features a number of scenes centre on women and their activities, depicting them with unusual animation and intimacy, and showing scenes from the zenana that would have appealed to Hamida. 

3) several paintings such as the one above, depict her husband Humayun in the context of much greater warmth, tenderness and drama than his portrayals in the other Akbarnamas.

*Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

And thus, she credits the third Akbarnama to Hamida Banu Begum’s ownership.

Hamida Banu Begum : beyond Books

Hamida Banu Begum was quite active in court too, as Akbar’s political advisor. Her efforts ensured a cordial relationship between Iran and Hindustan during her husband and son’s rule.

The above image, recounts a famous episode called ‘The Child Akbar recognizes his mother’ – head to Instagram to read more about the painting. Akbar’s bond with his mother went beyond the books. And while Hamida might have found herself identifying with Sita’s adventures in exile, Akbar went ahead and rechristened her Maryam-Makani. Christian paintings from Europe had quite the impact on Akbar and he saw nothing less than Mother Mary in Hamida Banu.

Hamida Banu was a wonderful companion to her husband, and a loving mother. Her courage in difficult times (she traversed through the rough terrains with minimal resources at a time when she was pregnant) definitely reflects in Akbar too; she was a source of inspiration then, and she remains one today.

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  1. Wonderful to read about the ladies of the Moghul Empire and their stories with very interesting information.

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