Jodha Bai, the queen who wasn't
Depending on your age, you would associate Jodha Bai with Durga Khote or Aishwarya Rai.
Durga Khote made a royal but very motherly Jodha Bai with her dimpled cheeks and cuddly appearance in K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam while Aishwarya Rai in Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodha Akbar, with her designer jewellery and ethereal looks was, of course, the quintessential queen.
We have no historical reference to judge the two portrayals since in reality Akbar had no wife called Jodha Bai.
Harems abound, not queens
The harem was like a well-run, well-organised department of the Mughal administration and Akbar had made the rule that all the wives and concubines would be named after the city of their birth to avoid confusion of similar names. So a Jodha Bai would typically be from Jodhpur, but Akbar's Rajput wife, as shown in the movies Mughal-e-Azam and Jodha Akbar, was from Amer (later, a part of the kingdom of Jaipur) and thus could not be called that.
Jodha wasn't Akbar's queen.
In fact, her name is said to have been Harka Bai/Hira Kunwar, she was the daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amer and she was given the title "Mariam-uz-Zaman" or Mary of her age by Akbar.
We also don't know if she was Prince Salim's mother or not (Salim ascended the throne as Jahangir). Most historians are of the opinion that Jahangir was born of a concubine and that is why, though he gives a very candid description of his life in his memoirs, The Tuzuknama or Jahangirnama, Jahangir never once mentions the name of his mother, even though he gives the names of many of his and his father's wives.
These are the references to his mother (who remains unnamed) in his memoirs:
"When my mother came near the time of her delivery, he [Akbar] sent her to the Shaikh's house that I might be born there."
When he mentions “Maryam-zamānī”, he refers to her deferentially but not as his mother:
“On Sunday, the 26th of the above-mentioned month was held the marriage feast of Parwīz and the daughter of Prince Murād. The ceremony was performed in the house of Her Highness Maryam-zamānī.”
The name Jodha Bai as the wife of Akbar is mentioned by Col James Tod in his book Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan. In a 1920 edition of the book, the editor William Crooke, quoting Ain-i-Akbari, clarifies that the princess of Jodhpur was married to Jahangir, not Akbar. The princess of Marwar (Jodhpur) was the daughter of Raja Udai Singh and her name was Jagat Gosain/Manmati and she was given the title of Bilqis Makani.
Playwright Imtiaz Ali Taj, on whose play Anarkali the film Mughal-e-Azam is based, had clarified that it was historical fiction but none of the filmmakers bothered to research further.
Sultan Raziya, the monarch from Mehrauli
Another historical character who has suffered greatly is Raziya. As the first and only female sovereign of Delhi, she deserved much more attention than history gave her. To add insult to injury, most references that we find of her are of her fictitious love affair with someone who was her mentor and probably a father figure.
The stories of her alleged romance with him are a relatively recent concoction. No contemporary historian mentions it. Yet, that is how we remember her.
Kamal Amrohi in his film Razia Sultan not only showed her as more amorous than majestic, he also did not write her title properly.
She was vehemently opposed to being called Raziya Sultan as she felt that was the title given to a daughter or a consort. She was Jalâlat ud-Dîn Raziyâ the monarch of Delhi, appointed heir-apparent by her father Sultan Iltutmish who felt that she was worthier than twenty of his sons. It was a bold decision taken by a far-sighted king.
Yet, after Iltutmish’s death, the Turkish nobles put her brother Ruknuddin Firoz on the throne in April 1236. His reign was short-lived, as he was more inclined towards worldly pleasures than looking after matters of the state.
Raziya appeared one Friday at the Jami Masjid (congregational mosque) in Mehrauli, known today as the Qutub Complex, in the red clothes of a plaintiff and appealed to the people of Delhi gathered there. They had already experienced her statesmanship when Iltutmish had appointed her governor during his Gwalior campaign and, so, they put their weight behind her.
Whenever we do think of Raziya Sultan, it's the image of Hema Malini that flashes before our eyes.
Khwaja Abdullah Malik Isami, in his Futuhas Salatin (1349-50), writes that she dressed herself in the garment worn by the aggrieved, and showed herself to the people assembled for the Friday prayers and, in the name of her father, appealed for help against the intrigue of Shah Turkan (Ruknuddin Firoz’s mother and de facto ruler).
The sight of her and her powerful words profoundly affected the people assembled there. This led to another radical step: an agreement between Raziya and the people of Delhi. lsami tells us that Raziya even entered into an agreement with the people to the effect that “she was to be given a chance to prove her abilities and if she did not prove to be better than men, her head was to be struck off”.
She was crowned the Sultan of Delhi in October 1236. Coins were struck in her name Sultan-ul-Azam Jalatat-ud duniya wa din, Maikat-ul bint Iltutmish us Sultan Mihrat Amir-ul-Momineen (the great Sultan, the glory of the world and the faith, the queen, the daughter of Sultan Iltutmish, the beloved commander of the faithful).
The khutba or Friday sermon was read in her name and even the Caliph of Baghdad accepted her as the ruler of Delhi. Later she adopted the title of Nusrat Amir-ul-Mu'minin (helper of commander of faithful, that is, Caliph).
She discarded female attire and the veil for the male royal dress. Raziya rode unveiled. Her administrative capabilities were never in doubt, and she ruled wisely and well. She had controlled the Turkish nobles by using the strategy of pitting them against each other.
She was destined to be great but her shortcoming, as Minhaj-us-Siraj writes in 1400 AD, was: "She was endowed with all the qualities befitting a king, but she was not born of the right sex."
Her undoing was that she refused to be a puppet in the hands of the Turkish slave nobles who held very important posts in the Delhi Sultanate. She appointed the Abyssinian slave Malik Yaqut as Amir-e-Akhur or commander of the horses — an important post as the Sultans were forever expanding or defending their boundaries.
This signalled that the Turkish slave nobles may not be able to manipulate her and one of the nobles, the governor of Tabarhinda (Bhatinda) Malik Altuniya, rebelled against her.
She rode out against him at the head of her army to Tabarhinda and was captured.
Malik Yaqut was killed in the battle and her brother Bahram Shah was raised to the throne of Delhi in April 1240 AD by the Turks.
Not one to give up, she struck a political alliance with Malik Altuniya and married him, and was thus released from captivity.
She marched back to Delhi against her brother Bahram Shah, with Malik Altuniya at the head of his army. They defeated her, and she was killed in October 1240. Today, Raziya lies buried in a nondescript corner of Old Delhi in a simple stone grave.
Whenever we do think of Raziya Sultan, it's the image of Hema Malini and a soot-coloured Dharmendra that flashes before our eyes.
I just wish that those not from a historical background would realise that there is a difference between history, historical fiction, comics and films.