The story of spunky chit of a girl who refused to meet an Emperor, albiet without a crown is the stuff that fairy tales are made of.Hamida Banu was 14 years old when the 33 year old Humayun Badshah met her in Pat, a town in Sehewan in the kingdom of Thatta in 1541. He was on the run having been defeated by Sher Shah Suri in the battle of Kannauj. He had lost the kingdom his father Babur had established in India. He along with his half brother Hindal took refuge with Shah Hussain the Sultan of Thatta in Sind.
After many days on the go through perilous and desolated deserts they had found some peace. His stepmother Dildar Bano, Hindal’s mother gave a banquet in his honour and one of the guests invited was the beautiful Hamida. Hamida’s father Sheikh Ali Akbar, a Persian sufi more popularly known as Mir Baba Dost was Hindal’s spiritual preceptor and the family was there was a close bond between them.
As soon as Humayun saw Hamida Bano he asked Dildar Bano, “Who is this?” He was mesmerised by her beauty and livliness and asked if she was bethrothed. On hearing that she was not he expressed a desire to marry her.
Mirza Hindal was affronted. Not as some stories and texts say because he was in love with her but because of concerns of the family name.
“I look on this girl as a sister and child of my own. Your Majesty is a King and Heaven forbid there should not be a proper alimony (meher), and so a cause of annoyance should rise.”
An emperor on the run may not have enough resources to give a meher, the amount the husband has to give to his wife at the time of the nikah. Humayun assured him that he would ensure that he would give a meher befitting his royal status and their family name.
Thus began a royal wooing. Humayun tried to woo Hamida, but she would have none of it. A much older man, ousted from his own empire was probably not the prince of her dreams. On top of that she must have suspected that an emperor even if without an empire must be imperious. She wanted a companion.
Gulbadan Begum, Humayun’s younger sister and author of Humayun Nama writes, “On another day he came to my mother, and said: ‘Send someone to call Hamida Bano Begam here.’ When my mother sent the message, Hamida Bano Begam did not come, but said: ‘If it is to pay my respects, I was exalted by paying my respects the other day. Why should I come again?’
Another time his Majesty sent Subhan Quli, and said: ‘Go to Shah Husain Mirza and tell him to send the Begam.’ The Mirza said: ‘Whatever I may say, she will not go. Go yourself and tell her.’ When Subhan Quli went and spoke, the Begam replied: ‘To see kings once is lawful; a second time it is forbidden. I shall not come.’ On this Subhan Quli went and represented what she had said. His Majesty remarked: ‘If she is na mahram, we will make her mahram.’”
This young lady was not to be swayed by royal protocol or show.
This continued for forty days. Finally Dildar Bano went the young girl and asked her, “After all you will marry someone. Better a king who is there.”
The young girl immediately replied, “Oh Yes! I shall marry someone; but he shall be a man whose collar my hand can touch and not someone whose skirt it does not reach!”
Dildar Bano advised her and perhaps she testified that her step son was no autocrat for Hamida Bano agreed and in September 1541 Humayun a keen astrologer took the astrolabe in his hand and chose a propitious hour and summoned Mir Abul Baqa and ordered him to solemnize the marriage.
He gave her 2 lakhs as meher as befitted his royal status and the title of Maryam Makani ( dwelling with Mary) in recognition of her innocence and piety.
Though Hamida had been apprehensive of being just another addition to a royal harem, the 15 years that she would be wedded to Humayun, were mostly spent together and in close companionship. Love must have been further nurtured in these hard conditions for she never once left hos side.
While still on the run a year later they were blessed with a son in Umerkot where they had taken refuge with the Rajput king Rana Prashad. The child born on 15th October 1542 was named named according to Humayun’s dream.
After his defeat in Kannauj, Humayun headed for Lahore. There in a state of utter dejection he had had a vision in which a venerable man in green clothes holding a staff, had said, “Be of good cheer. Do not grieve,” and gave his staff into Humayun’s hand. The most high God will give you a son whose name will be Jalauddin Mohammed Akbar.”
When Humayun asked him his name he replied, “ The Terrible elephant (zinda fil) Ahmed of jam. “ He added , “Your son will be of my lineage.”
Sheikh Ahmed e Jami was a 11th century Persian sufi saint. Hamida Bano was his descendant.
Humayun personally cast Akbar’s fortune and predicted greatness for the baby.
In December 1543 they were once again on the run and she made the perilous journey from Sindh with Qandhar as their destination. But in the course of that journey Humayun had to ‘take hasty flight from Shal-mastan, through a desert and waterless waste’. She went with him leaving her infant son behind with trusted servants and Humayun’s brother Askari. She was reunited with him in Kabul after two years.
Hamida Bano remained steadfast by her husband’s side and accompanied him to Persia. There were no comforts or luxuries with meager provisions and no personal attendants on the journey but even in these dark days Hamida was not only his companion but a source of inspiration.
After an exile of fifteen years Humayun regained the throne of Delhi but he was not destined to rule for long. He died a year later and Akbar ascended the throne. Akbar was only thirteen at the time and recognizing his mother’s acumen and intelligence were often sought her advise.
Her life as a wife lasted for only fifteen years and she lived for fifty after Humayun. She is buried in one of the side chambers of the tomb of her husband in Delhi, built by his eldest wife Bega Begum or Haji Begum.