When we talk about the 17th century, the name that springs up the most is that of Mir Jumla. A survivor and great tactician, Mir Jumla’s story is one that deserves attention and great respect. Mir Jumla is the word for us when describing someone who started off from humble beginnings and climbed up to the pinnacle of success.
Mir Jumla’s hard work and perseverance paid off when he secured a job as a clerk under a merchant who dealt with the Kingdom of Golconda in Southern India. After learning the trade properly, he decided that his knowledge would serve him well not in Iran but in faraway India.
Thus, he travelled all the way to India, equipped with his knowledge of the trade. He tried his hand in the diamond business which boomed and earned him a massive fortune.
An extremely ambitious man and a visionary, Mir Jumla’s work had a deep impact and changed the whole demographic and geographic history of undivided Bengal from Dhaka to Assam and Cooch Behar. He helped change the very path of the Mughal Empire. It’s possible he gifted Emperor Shah Jahan the Kohinoor diamond but this cannot be verified as no written or verbal accounts exist of this, but many believe it to be the case.
An intelligent man, Mir Jumla was known to take right decisions at the right time which would put him in a good position in the future. This was also the case during the battle of succession between the sons of Shah Jahan where Mir Jumla decided it would serve him well to join forces with Aurangzeb instead of the three other brothers namely Dara Shikoh, Shah Shuja and Murad Baksh. He established himself as Aurangzeb’s mentor.
With his leadership skills, Shaista Khan’s irreplaceable intellect and governing skills and Emperor Aurangzeb’s undisputed military leadership, they changed the whole Mughal Dynasty, its path and way of doing things since its inception in India by Babar. From the son of a poor oil merchant of Iran to changing the whole history of Mughal India, Mir Jumla did what few could do and achieve.
He built up business relations with a merchant from Persia who used to supply horses to Golconda. Mir Jumla decided not to be a victim of his situation and to do something about it. In those days, India was considered to be the golden land of opportunities.
Thus, many people came to India to change their fortunes. So was the case of Mir Jumla who travelled all the way from Persia to Golconda in India. Golconda, which at that time was the centre of the diamond business of the world, changed the wheels of his fortune.
All diamond merchants from around the world came to Golconda. He personally started his own diamond business, amassed a massive fortune and success kneeled down to him. His massive fortune and reputation slowly made him close to the Qutub Shahi Empire.
When the opportunity for him to get close to the King of the Qutub Shahi Empire sprang up, even there he gave an example of his intelligence. He used his charismatic charm and intellect to grab their attention and got himself a very alluring project in Masulipatnam. Seeing his leadership skills and great efficiency, the King of Golconda made him the Prime Minister of Qutb Shah.
Stories suggest that Abdullah Qutb Shah did not purchase a single diamond without consulting with Mir Jumla first. Such was his place. Accounts written by English businessmen in the late 1630’s suggest that despite Mir Jumla being just the Prime Minister, he had a very vital role in the running of the whole Empire, be it the decision making or the administrative sector.
He earned all this with his own sheer hard work and skills. However, when war broke out, Mir Jumla declared himself as the King which made the King suspicious and he slowly started sidelining Mir Jumla.
One thing Mir Jumla absolutely excelled at was not mixing his business affairs with managing the state. He realized both were separate and required completely different kinds of attention but his influential post would act as an added bonus in his business. At that time, the diamond business was highly profitable all over the world and realizing this, Mir Jumla bought many mines in Golconda and set up a complete monopoly.
According to stories, it was said that at that time Mir Jumla had about 400 kilograms of diamonds in his possession. He also traded calico fabric and exported it to countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Persia and Arabia. Moreover, he had his agents stationed in these countries. From Burma he bought rubies, from Indonesia he imported spices and rice and thus an enormous network was created for his operations.
Mir Jumla’s enormous success, wealth and growing influence made Qutb Shah very uneasy and this strained their relationship. Realizing he was being eyed suspiciously and feeling threatened, Mir Jumla decided he would wrap up all his affairs in India and return to his homeland, Iran.
But what he did not realize was that his progress was being closely monitored with great admiration by the then Subedar of Deccan, Aurangzeb. Sensing the growing tensions between Qutb Shah and Mir Jumla, Aurangzeb saw this as an opportunity and asked Mir Jumla to work for the Mughal Empire.
Getting to know about this, Qutb Shah had Mir Jumla’s wife and children imprisoned in Golconda and despite being doubtful about Aurangzeb’s proposal at first, Mir Jumla sought Aurangzeb’s help and had his family freed from Qutb Shah’s imprisonment.
Mir Jumla’s feats, achievements and tales of great intelligence reached the ears of Emperor Shah Jahan back in Delhi. His name and story had spread everywhere like wildfire and he had become so famous that even the most important and reputed Governors of the Mughal Empire had come to see and receive him upon his arrival in Delhi. When he met Shah Jahan, he gave the Emperor a very precious diamond as a ‘nazrana’ and this diamond is considered to be the Kohinoor diamond which got stored in Shah Jahan’s treasury.
He got appointed as the Prime Minister and slowly his bond with Aurangzeb deepened and became an important part of the internal conflict that arose in the Mughal court. Somehow, the Emperor’s dearest son Dara Shikoh couldn’t bring himself to like Mir Jumla and eventually started suspecting that he had a deeper, more secret relationship with Aurangzeb than what met the eye and that it would spell danger for him in the near future.
Mir Jumla kept on working as a close aide of Aurangzeb from Delhi and during this time he received a letter from Aurangzeb where the prince expressed his confidence in Mir Jumla by calling him his protector and guardian. This made him closer to Aurangzeb and during the war of succession, Mir Jumla naturally chose sides with Aurangzeb and opposed Dara Shikoh.
He defeated Shah Shuja by actively fighting him during the battle between Aurangzeb and Shah Shuja during the war of succession. With the removal of Shah Shuja, the post of Subedar of Bengal remained deserted. Thus, at the age of 69 in 1660, Mir Jumla took office as the Subedar of Bengal.
Upon his arrival in Dhaka, he started on many development projects which included two big roads and many forts. Bibi Maryam Kaman and Mir Jumla pool still remind us of his great contributions to Bengal. In order to expand the Mughal Empire to the east, he invaded Cooch Behar and made the Raja of Cooch a subordinate of his.
After getting victory in Cooch Behar, he ordered his soldiers that no inconvenience should reach the population and told themnot to harass them in any way. This was a very big gesture from his side and afterwards from Cooch Behar he kept advancing towards Assam but trying to defeat Assam turned out to be a disaster.
The Mughal soldiers fell into a very dangerous situation and food stocks ran low resulting in two-thirds of the army dying. Despite half of his army gone, Mir Jumla made sure spirits ran high in his army and it must be said that very few could have achieved what one Mir Jumla achieved in one life.
Mir Jumla led highly adventurous life. It can be known from the writings of contemporary historians that despite coming from a very humble background he led a very extravagant and luxurious life. It is said that he used to present his clients with premium wine imported from Spain. Jean Baptiste, in her travel diaries, explained how important it is to live comfortably and live life to the fullest.
He was also a very skilled fighter, proof of which can be seen from his countless fruitful expeditions. During the invasion of Assam, which failed later on, he did not ever demand special treatment and had the same frugal food as his soldiers and this alone proves his quality of leadership. His contributions in Bengal’s history are indisputable. He was a business magnate of the 7th century and chief of the army as the Subedar of Bengal. We will always salute his achievements.