ʿABD-AL-RAḤĪM ḴĀN(-E) ḴĀNĀN B. MOḤAMMAD BAYRAM BEG ḴĀN ḴĀNĀN, distinguished general and statesman, patron of artists and poets. He was born at Lahore in 964/1556 (Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī II, p. 234) and was of the Bahārlū clan of the Qara Qoyonlū. In 1562, the year following his father’s assassination, he was brought to Akbar’s court, where he was raised. His teachers were Ḡāzī Khan Badaḵšī and Moḥammad Amīn Andeǰānī. In 981/1573 he accompanied Akbar in the campaign against Ḥosayn Mīrzā at Ahmadabad. He was appointed governor of Gujerat in 983/1576 and, after this and other services, reader to the king (mīr ʿarż) in 988/1580. Four years later he became the guardian (atālīq) of Prince Salīm (Maʾāṯer II, p. 105; Āʾīn-e Akbarī, tr., Blochmann, I, p. 355).

ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm returned to Gujerat and displayed his military skill at the battle of Sarkej, near Ahmadabad, in 992/1584. Disregarding the express royal command to await reinforcements, he attacked and routed the much larger army of Moẓaffar Shah. He thus earned the title ḵān ḵānān, with promotion to the rank (manṣab) of 5,000 (Šāhnavāz Khan, Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, p. 695; Ferešta, I, p. 265). After several years of further service in Gujerat, he was appointed vakīl in 998/1590. In 1591 he was given command of an expedition originally intended to conquer Qandahār. (See, however, Ṭabaqāt-e Akbarī, tr., II, p. 632.) He turned, instead, toward Sind, achieving its conquest in 1000/1592 and thus serving Akbar’s desire to increase his marine power (Ferešta, II, p. 323).

In 1594 ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm was dispatched to the Deccan to assist Prince Morād’s expedition. Lack of cooperation between the two caused affairs to proceed slowly. At the battles of Mandore and Āštī in 1005/1597, Ḵān Ḵānān gained a major victory over the allied Deccan forces under Sohayl Khan of Bijapur (Āʾīn-e Akbarī, tr., I, p. 335), only to be recalled to Agra the following year due to Morād’s complaint. After Morād’s death (1006/1598), he was appointed to command the imperial forces under Prince Dānyāl in another expedition to the Deccan (1007/1698-99). Ahmadnagar was taken in 1008/1599, and four years later ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm, still active in the Deccan, was made guardian of the prince, who by then had become his son-in-law.

In 1014/1605 Prince Salīm succeeded to the throne as the emperor Jahāngīr. He sent fresh troops to the Deccan under Prince Parvīz, but ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm performed poorly when his initiative was overruled by the inexperienced princes. (See Jahāngīr’s criticism, Tūzok-e Jahāngīrī, tr. A. Rogers and H. Beveridge, London, 1909-14, pp. 178-80.) Ahmadnagar was lost, and in 1018/1610 Ḵān Ḵānān was recalled to Agra in disgrace. But in 1021/1612 he was again selected, as the only person competent to deal with Deccan affairs, to head a southward expedition. Three years later he conquered Tilangana (northern Madras) and went on to defeat Malek ʿAnbar Ḥabšī of Ahmadnagar and regain the lost territories. In 1618 Ḵān Ḵānān’s son Amrallāh, at his direction, campaigned in Gondwana and consequently was raised to the rank of 7,000—the climax of the noble’s rank of manṣab (Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, p. 708).

In 1622, with the revolt of Prince Ḵorram (later Shah Jahān) against Jahāngīr, the fortunes of ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm began to decline. In trying to reconcile the two, Ḵān Ḵānān was suspected of double-dealing and incurred the wrath of both. He was placed under surveillance; and one of his sons, Dārāb Khan, along with the latter’s son, were executed by order of Mahābat Khan, the royal commander. In 1625, however, Jahāngīr restored ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm’s rank and title (Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, p. 713). He then directed ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm to lead the pursuit of Mahābat Khan, who had by that time rebelled against Jahāngīr. While still conducting field preparations, Ḵān Ḵānān became ill at Lahore. He died in Delhi in 1036/1627 at the age of seventy-one. He was buried near the tomb complex of Shaikh Neẓām-al-dīn Awlīāʾ. ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm’s mausoleum, once a large and imposing edifice, had fallen into ruin by 1849 (T. W. Beale, Meftāḥ al-tawārīḵ, Agra, 1849, p. 364) and was in still worse condition by 1919 (Bašīr-al-dīn, Vāqeʿāt-e dār-al-ḥokūmat-e Dehlī II, Agra, 1919, p. 702).

Ḵān Ḵānān was a handsome man of short stature and medium build. He was eloquent, quick-witted, resourceful and efficient; even when Ḵān Ḵānān was a youth, Akbar used to consult him in political affairs (Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī II, p. 106). As a general Ḵān Ḵānān was intrepid; many of his victories were the result of quick decision and crafty maneuverings. His statesmanship in the Deccan, over a period of about twenty-eight years, bore similar characteristics, though his inclination to amicable settlements twice led to accusations of treachery from affected members of the royal house. He was said to be able to converse with Europeans in their own language (ibid., II, p. 592; Tūzok-e Jahāngīrī, tr., p. 471). In religious outlook he was a liberal Sunnite, kindly disposed to both Shiʿites and Sufis. Ḵān Ḵānān composed verse, in Persian, Turkish, and Hindi (even inventing a new meter, barva, in the latter language); he could intertranslate Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. In 998/1589, at Akbar’s direction, he translated the Bābornāma from Turkish into Persian with the title Vāqeʿāt-e Bāborī.

In keeping with his high state, Ḵān Ḵānān was a generous patron, maintaining many poets, painters, calligraphers, and bookbinders. “Without his deep love for specific fine arts and his boundless generosity, the stream of poets and artists who came from Iran to seek their fortune in India would surely not have been so large” (A. Schimmel, Islamic Literatures of India, Wiesbaden, 1973, p. 26). Among Ḵān Ḵānān’s most famous protégés was the Nīšāpūrī émigré Naẓīrī, whose qaṣīdas in praise of his patron are quoted in Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī. ʿAbdal-Bāqī has written notes on 103 such poets, giving extracts from their verses in 1,470 pages of Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī III. Most celebrated among them are ʿOrfī, Naẓīrī’s brother Šaraf, Nawʿī, Šekībī, Anīsī (who was Ḵān Ḵānān’s army paymaster and a daring soldier), Faḡfūr, Voqūʿī, Ḥayātī, Ḥaydar Moʿammāʾī, ʿAršī, Malek Qomī, and Ẓohūrī (the last two belonged to the court of the Deccan). Besides their regular salaries, which in some cases rose to 50,000 rupees a year, Ḵān Ḵānān favored them with generous grants on the occasion of marriage, festival, or pilgrimage (ibid., pp. 492, 520). Naẓīrī once requested to see 1,000,000 (1 lakh) rupees; he was not only shown the pile but also ordered to carry it home (Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, p. 708). The staff of Ḵān Ḵānān’s library consisted of ninety-five accomplished scholars and craftsmen—for example, ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm of Herat and Behbūd b. Mīr ʿAlī, calligraphers; Mīān Nadīm, illustrator; Moḥammad Ḥosayn, bookbinder; Moḥammad Amīn Ḵorāsānī, gilder and illuminator. Some received annuities of 4,00 silver coins. Among Ḵān Ḵānān’s painters were Ebrāhīm and Mādho, who represented the Iranian and Indian schools.

To academicians, the poor, dignitaries, and ascetics in Khorasan, Mecca, and Medina Ḵān Ḵānān sent gifts and generous sums which won hime wide renown. Among the beneficiaries were the physicians Ḥakīm Moḥammad Bāqer, Jebrīl, Moḥammad Amīn, Moḥammad Nafīs Mašhadī, and Ḥāḏeq (Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī III, pp. 31, 65, 1962). Mīrzā ʿAlī Qabčakī, Mawlānā Oṣūlī, Moḥammad Moʾmen (musicians), Moḥammad Ṣāleḥ (gunmaker), Ebrāhīm (jewel polisher) also enjoyed his patronage (ibid., p. 1682).

ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm had six sons, all of whom predeceased him: Īraǰ Šāhnavāz Khan (d. 1028/1619), Dārāb, executed in 1035/1625, Raḥmāndād (d. 1029/1620), Amrallāh, Ḥaydar-qolī, and Qārān. His wife, Māh Bānū, sister of Ḵān-e Aʿẓam Mīrzā ʿAzīz, also predeceased him, dying at Ambela in 1005/1596-97 (Akbarnāma II, p. 612). Of his daughters the accomplished Jānān Begom married Prince Dānyāl in 1007/1599; another daughter married Amīr-al-dīn b. Jamāl-al-dīn Īnǰū.


See especially ʿAbd-al-Bāqī Nevāhandī, Maʾāṯer-e Raḥīmī I and III, Calcutta, 1925, 1931 (description and excerpt in Elliot, History of India VI, pp. 237-43).

Šāhnavāz Khan Awrangābādī, Maʾāṯer al-omarāʾ I, pp. 693-713.

Āʾīn-e Akbarī, tr. I, pp. 354-61.

Mīrzā Neẓām-al-dīn Aḥmad, Ṭabaqāt-e Akbarī, tr., Calcutta, 1936, II, pp. 249-50.

Šeblī, Šeʿr al-ʿaǰam III, Lahore, 1947, pp. 701-71.

M. Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims, Montreal, 1967, pp. 356-59.

Y. Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī, Montreal and London, 1971, pp. 42-43, 81.

M. Mahfuzul Haq, “The Khan Khanan and His Painters, Illuminators and Calligraphists,” IC 5, 1931, pp. 621-30.

Pandit Vanshidar, “ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm Khan Khanan and His Hindi Poetry,” IC 24, 1950, pp. 123-33.

(N. H. Zaidi)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: July 14, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 141-143

Cite this entry:

N. H. Zaidi, “'Abd-Al-Rahim Kan Kanan,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 141-143; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abd-al-rahim-kan-kanan (accessed on 16 January 2014).