Friday, 16 September 2016


APRIL 2,1614- SEPTEMBER 16, 1681

Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.

Jahanara Begum Sahib (Urdu: شاهزادی جہاں آرا بیگم صاحب‎) (April 2, 1614 – September 16, 1681) was Shahzadi (Imperial Princess) of the Mughal Empire as the eldest surviving daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal.[1] She was also the older sister of her father's successor and the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. After Empress Mumtaz Mahal died from complications of giving birth to her fourteenth child, Jahanara became Padshah Begum of the Mughal Empire.


Jahanara's early education was entrusted to Sati al-Nisa Khanam, the sister to Jahangir's poet laureate, Tali Amuli. Sati al-Nisa Khanam was known for her knowledge of the Qur'an and Persian literature as well as for her knowledge of etiquette, housekeeping and medicine. She also served as principal lady-in-waiting for Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara's mother.[2]

Many of the women in the royal household were accomplished at reading and writing poetry and painting. They also played chess, polo and hunted outdoors. The women had access to Akbar's library, full of books on world religions and Persian, Turkish and Indian literature.[3] Jahanara was no exception. She was engaged in her daily game of chess with her father Shah Jahan when they first learned of Mumtaz Mahal's difficulty with labor. Jaharnara rushed to her mother's side but could do nothing to save her.[4]

Upon the death of Mumtaz in 1631, Jahanara, aged 17, took the place of her mother as First Lady of the Empire, despite her father having three other wives.[5] As well as caring for her younger brothers and sisters, she is also credited with bringing her father out of mourning and restoring normality to a court darkened by her mother's death and her father's grief.

One of her tasks after the death of her mother was to oversee, with the help of Sati al-Nisa Khanam, the betrothal and wedding of her brother, Dara Shikoh to Begum Nadira Banu, which had been originally planned by Mumtaz Mahal, but postponed by her death.

Her father frequently took her advice and entrusted her with charge of the Imperial Seal. In 1644 when Aurangzeb angered his father Shah Jahan, d office Jahanara interceded on Aurangzeb's behalf and convinced Shah Jahan to pardon him and restore his rank.[6] Shah Jahan's fondness for his daughter was reflected in the multiple titles that he bestowed upon her, which included: Sahibat al-Zamani (Lady of the Age) and Padishah Begum (Lady Emperor), or Begum Sahib (Princess of Princesses). Her power was such that, unlike the other imperial princesses, she was allowed to live in her own palace, outside the confines of the Agra Fort.[7]

In March of 1644,[8] just days after her thirtieth birthday, Jahanara suffered serious burns to her body and almost died of her injuries. Shah Jahan ordered that vast sums of alms be given to the poor, prisoners be released, and prayers offered for the recovery of the princess. Aurangzeb, Murad, and Shiastah Khan returned to Delhi to see her.[9][10] Accounts differ as to what happened. Some say Jahanara's garments, doused in fragrant perfume oils, caught fire.[10] Others accounts assert that the princess's favorite dancing-woman's dress caught fire and the princess coming to her aid was burnt herself on the chest.[11]

During her illness, Shah Jahan, was so concerned for the welfare of his favourite daughter, that he made only brief appearances at his daily durbar in the diwan-i-am.[12] Royal physicians failed to heal Jahanara's burns. A Persian doctor came to treat her and her condition improved for a number of months but then there was no further improvement until a royal page named Arif Chela mixed an ointment that after two more months finally caused the wounds to close. A year after the accident, Jahanara had fully recovered.[13]

After the accident, the princess went on a pilgrimage to Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer.

After her recovery, Shah Jahan gave Jahanara rare gems and jewellery and bestowed upon her the revenues of the port of Surat.[7] She later visited Ajmer, following the example set by her great-grandfather Akbar.[14]

Wealth and charity[edit]

Jahanara was very wealthy. In honor of his coronation, 6 February 1628,[15] Shah Jahan awarded his wife Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara's mother, 100,000 ashrafis, 600,000 rupees and an annual privy purse of one million rupees. Jahanara received 100,000 ashrafis, 400,000 rupees and an annual grant of 600,000.[16][17] Upon Mumtaz Mahal's death her personal fortune was divided by Shah Jahan between Jahanara Begum (who received half) and the rest of Mumtaz Mahal's surviving children.[18]

Jahanara was allotted income from a number of villages and owned gardens including, Bagh-i-Jahanara, Bagh-i-Nur and Bagh-i-Safa,[19] "Her jagir included the villages of Achchol, Farjahara and the Sarkars of Bachchol, Safapur and Doharah. The pargana of Panipat was also granted to her."[20] As mentioned above, she was also given the prosperous city of Surat.

Jahangir's mother owned a ship which traded between Surat and the Red Sea. Nur Jahan continued with a similar business trading in indigo and cloth trades. Later, Jahanara continued the tradition.[21] She owned a number of ships and maintained trade relations with the English and the Dutch.[22]

Jahanara was known for her active part in looking after the poor and financing the building of mosques.[23] When her ship, the Sahibi was to set sail for its first journey (on 29 October 1643), she ordered that the ship make its voyage to Mecca and Medina and, "... that every year fifty koni (One Koni was 4 Muns or 151 pounds) of rice should be sent by the ship for distribution among the destitute and needy of Mecca."[24]

As de facto Primary Queen of the Mughal empire, Jahanara was responsible for charitable donations. She organized almsgiving on important state and religious days, supported famine relief and pilgrimages to Mecca.[25]

Jahanara made important financial contributions in support of learning and the arts. She supported the publication of a series of works on Islamic mysticism, including commentaries on Rumi's Mathnawi, a very popular mystical work among in Mughal India.[26]


Together with her brother Dara Shikoh, she was a disciple of Mullah Shah Badakhshi, who initiated her into the Qadiriyya Sufi order in 1641. Jahanara Begum made such progress on the Sufi path that Mullah Shah would have named her his successor in the Qadiriyya, but the rules of the order did not allow this.[14]

She wrote a biography of Moinuddin Chishti, the founder of the Chishtiyah order in India, titled Mu’nis al-Arwāḥ, as well as a biography of Mullah Shah, titled Risālah-i Ṣāḥibīyah, in which she also described her initiation by him.[27] Her biography of Moinuddin Chishti is highly regarded for its judgment and literary quality. In it she regarded him as having initiated her spiritually four centuries after his death, described her pilgrimage to Ajmer and spoke of herself as a faqīrah to signify her vocation as a Sufi woman.[28]

Jahanara Begum stated that she and her brother Dārā were the only descendants of Timur to embrace Sufism.[29] However, Aurangzeb was spiritually trained as a follower of Sufism as well. As a patron of Sufi literature, she commissioned translations of and commentaries on many works of classical literature.[30]

War of Succession[edit]

The passing of Shah Jahan beside his daughter and caretaker Princess Jahanara. Painting by Abanindranath Tagore, 1902
Shah Jahan became seriously ill in 1657. A war of succession broke out among his four sons, Dara Shikoh, Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh.[31]

During the war of succession Jahanara supported her brother Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Shah Jahan. When Dara Shikoh's generals sustained a defeat at Dharmat (1658) at the hands of Aurangzeb, Jahanara wrote a letter to Aurangzeb and advised him not to disobey his father and fight with his brother. She was unsuccessful. Dara was badly defeated in the battle of Samugarth (May 29 1658) and fled towards Delhi.[32]

Shah Jahan did everything he could to stop the planned invasion of Agra. He asked Jahanara to use her feminine diplomacy to convince Murad and Shuja not to throw their weight on the side of Aurangzeb.[33]

In June of 1658, Aurangzeb besieged his father Shah Jahan in the Agra Fort forcing him to surrender unconditionally by cutting off the water supply. Jahanara came to Aurangzeb on June 10 proposing a partition of the empire. Dara Shikoh would be given the Punjab and adjoining territories; Shuja would get Bengal; Murad would get Gujarat; Aurangzeb’s son Sultan Muhammad would get the Deccan and the rest of the empire would go to Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb refused Jahanara’s proposition on the grounds that Dara Shikoh was an infidel.[34]

On Aurangzeb's ascent to the throne, Jahanara joined her father in imprisonment at the Agra Fort, where she devoted herself to his care until his death in 1666.[35][36]

After the death of their father, Jahanara and Aurangzeb were reconciled. He gave her the title, Empress of Princesses and she replaced Roshanara as First Lady.[37]

Jahanara was soon secure enough in her position to occasionally argue with Aurangzeb and have certain special privileges which other women did not possess. She argued against Aurangzeb's strict regulation of public life in accordance with his conservative religious beliefs and his decision in 1679 to restore the poll tax on non-Muslims, which she said would alienate his Hindu subjects.[38]


Jahan Ara's tomb (left), Nizamuddin Auliya's tomb (right) and Jamaat Khana Masjid (background), at Nizamuddin Dargah complex, in Nizamuddin West, Delhi.

Jahanara had her tomb built during her lifetime. It is constructed entirely of white marble with a screen of trellis work and open to the sky.[39]

Upon her death, Aurangzeb gave her the posthumous title: Sahibat-uz-Zamani (Mistress of the Age).[40] Jahanara is buried in a tomb in the Nizamuddin Dargah complex in New Delhi, which is considered "remarkable for its simplicity". The inscription on the tomb reads as follows:

بغیر سبزہ نہ پو شد کسے مزار مرا کہ قبر پوش غریباں ہمیں گیاہ و بس است
Allah is the Living, the Sustaining.
Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.
The mortal simplistic Princess Jahanara,
Disciple of the Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti,
Daughter of Shah Jahan the Conqueror
May Allah illuminate his proof.
1092 [1681 AD]



JAHANARA, a historical novel translated from the French language, is based upon the memoirs of the Mughal princess, written in Persian. Yane Guillaume who had spent several years in India and Afghanistan has brought her imagination of fabulation and sense of history into full play. Written in an elegant style and translated by the Indian scholars felicitously, it abounds in picturesque imagery, chromatic landscapes and poetic flourishes.

A first-person narrative, it has all the charm that characterises a long confessional poem. Jahanara, being a poet of considerable weight, has put her muses to good use, and the poetic prose of the novelist has a matching metaphorical richness and elegance.

The historical novel is a time-honoured genre, and requires great skill to work out its dialectic and aesthetic. Since various skeins are to be woven to effect a striking pattern, the narrator can often slip into solipicism, philosophically speaking. That’s why Henry James, the great American novelist and theorist, was averse to the use of the first person in a novel which he considered the ultimate form of artistic expression. These caveats, notwithstanding, Jahanara remains a work of great virtuosity and power.

Jahanara is 67, just a couple of years away from her cease when she begins to tell her tempestuous story in a reflexive mode. Memories of a childhood in royal palaces, humming with harem politics, intrigues, familial feuds, princely philandering and furtive scenes of love, dalliance and sex, give Guillaume a platform from where to launch her crowded narrative.

If the palace scenes are gripping in their luxuriant frames, the scenes of battles, sieges, marches, of caparisoned elephants and of the royal howdahs studded with jems and gold are equally splendid and colourful. Both the glory in arms and the trauma of defeats and tragedies en route heap upon the reader’s imagination to carry him along the effortless flow of the narrative. In between, we find the portraits of the monarchs and princes, of the queens and princesses emerging gradually to become compelling, each in its own way. The pressure of art creates a dense and compact picture, and this kind of aesthetic economy remains in place for the rest of the narrative.

The fabulous, romantic story of Jahangir and of Nur Jahan with whose stunning beauty and endless charms the Emperor remains infatuated, is meant to serve as “a prelude to the swelling theme” (Shakespeare’s words in Macbeth) of this novel — the theme of dynastic crises, manipulations, murders and usurpations. It’s really a tortured tale of the two contenders for the throne in the end, though at the commencement of the long struggle, it’s chiefly a narrative with two pivotal protagonists, the Emperor Shah Jahan and his rebellious, bigoted son, Aurangzeb, described as “the white serpent” by Jahanara throughout this novel. Meanwhile, Nur Jahan fades into obscurity and isolation.

Guillaume, however, turns, once again, to the royal harem where queens and princesses, concubines and courtesans, slave girls and hand-maidens — and the watchful enuchs and Negro guards are seen enacting their own muslin dramas. Scenes of orgies of sex and concupiscence, of reckless profligacy and drunkenness, involving princes and the victims of their lasciviousness, are, then, a story within a story. It’s the hedonistic side of the Mughals, and little is spared where their empire of appetite is concerned. This is an imperium at work behind the veils, matching the Mughal predators’ unappeased hunger for more and more territories.

If we find the royal seed scattered promiscuously on the one hand, we see the grand armies in awesome action, on the other. All manner of sexual depravities, from formications to incest show the deep Freudian “fixations” of the Mughal offspring and their “by-blows”. However, Guillaume does not get down into “the shaggy undergrowths” after the style of the modern psychological novelists, and is content to keep the narrative on the descriptive level. So far as the princesses are concerned, their illicit affairs are understandable, for Emperor Akbar, otherwise a God-fearing ruler, had prohibited the marriage of royal princesses for fear of dynastic ambitions of sons-in-law. This cruel and dangerous firman could not but create tragic and disasterous consequences.

Jahanara, a humanist and broad-minded person in deep despair — turns now to mysticism, and to a life of the spirit and of the imagination. Her dreams of love soon became oppressive enough to make her brood continually over her two first loves — Najabat Khan, the commander-in-chief of the Mughal armies, and later, a young Persian steward of her household. Both these loves are soon nipped in the bud, and all she is left with are the ashes of those nubile dreams. She is just beginning to feel like a girl tuning into a woman with the needs of the body becoming compelling.

And then in “a vision” during her sleep, she sees the Prophet Mohammed, though she cannot hear the voice clearly. The message, nonetheless, she feels, is from Allah Himself, telling her to regard his created creatures on earth as worthy of love, irrespective of their religion, creed or colour. This is a decisive moment of her life, and now for salvation and peace of mind, she follows her brother, Dara, who had earlier turned towards the Sufi saints like Mian Mir. Dara had in his spiritual quest even written a book called Paths of Truth.

The most painful period of her troubled life begins when soon enough her aged father, Emperor Shah Jahan forces her into a sexual relationship with him, for in his young daughter he finds the image of his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal. In sheer pity and love, she does submit to this ugly assault on her dignity. In reality, this is an act of displacement and perverted nostalgia. Meanwhile, Aurangzeb, a Machiavellian of the deepest dye, full of vile thoughts, masquerading as a pious Muslim and wrecking the lives of his own brothers and sisters to further his evil designs, succeeds in poisoning the atmosphere around, and overthrows his own father to become the emperor of the vast empire. He captures his brother Dara, parades him in chains in the streets of Delhi, arousing a feeling of revulsion amongst the capital’s citizens who have all along adored Dara for his sterling qualities of character, for his visionary philosophy.

Now, the deposed emperor and his favoured daughter Jahanara are imprisoned in the Agra Fort, and humiliated in all possible ways. These seven long years, spent in imprisonment, are spent by both in an uneasy silence, precipitated by their mutual sense of sin and guilt. Their fate, they know, is sealed, and to dispel the resultant darkness, Jahanara spends most of her time in prayers, in writing poems and her memoirs.

As for Aurangzeb who assumes the name of Alamgir or “One Who Holds the Universe”, his true character now becomes transparent when “the White Serpent” razes several hundred Hindu temples to the ground, imposes the Jazia tax on them, forbids music and dance as vices condemned by the Muslim divines and theologians. He is set upto a course of fanatical lines of thought, and puts all those to the sword whom he considers “infidels”.

And it’s thus that he commits a most heinous crime when he treacherously calls the Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur, to Delhi and beheads him in Chandni Chowk when he is found pleading the cause of Kashmiri Brahmins. It’s a pity, Guillaume disposes of this horrendous event in a page or so, for the banner of revolt which the Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, unfurls, and a relentless war he wages against the Mughal armies, results in giving a disasterous damage to this empire of loot and aggrandisement.

The concluding paragraph of the novel sums up the entire world-view of Jahanara:

“Dara, you were right, our Sufi masters were right, Mohammed and Buddha were right, Christ was right, and these words inscribed at the entrance of Fatehpur Sikri by my great grandfather, Akbar, resound in any memory” ‘The world is but a bridge, cross it without pausing, without building a shelter.... Pass your life in prayer, the rest lies in the domain of the unfathomable.”

A beautiful book to be pondered and cherished as a minor classic.


In history, Mumtaz Mahal is an indelible name associated with the queen for whom the Taj Mahal was built. Few, however, know the woman she was, Arjumand Bano, mother of 14 children. Of them, Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb are prominent for their succession battle won by the latter, but her daughters, Jahanara and Roshanara, have quietly been relegated to the fading family tree.

Indu Sundaresan’s Shadow Princess deals not with the empress but her daughters. It attempts to undo what history’s ruthless editors cut out. The novel is the third work of fiction in the Taj Mahal trilogy by Sundaresan, first two being The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses.

Mumtaz, pregnant with her 14th child, dies in the opening of the book. Fifteen-year-old Jahanara emerges as the woman in charge. It is the lot of the favoured eldest daughter to now head the harem, guide her awkward brothers and stand by an inconsolable father. King Shah Jahan’s two other wives hope to get a hold of the zenana reins. They plan to fight the eldest daughter for what they believe is rightfully theirs only to realise that the battle is already lost. “How could a daughter take the place of a wife?” they think, as does the rest of the kingdom.

Aggrieved Shah Jahan mulls handing over his kingdom to one of his sons. Jahanara’s word assumes great importance as she is closer to the king than any of her siblings. The princess watches the court polarise around two teenaged sons Dara and Aurangzeb. She can’t help siding with Dara while her sister Roshan stands with Aurangzeb.

Roshan resents the status that has come unsought to her elder sister. Jahan, on the other hand, is overwhelmed with the changes in her life and lacks the tact to win Roshan to her side. The wedge so drawn runs deep through their lives and widens over the years.

When a distressed king is unable to stand up during his traditional appearance before the people, Jahanara shoves her brothers to stand by their father’s side and prevents a political disaster. She wins the king’s necklace and trust after the jharoka incident. Order is restored at the court as the king abandons the plan of retirement and the harem gets a new Padshah Begum, Jahanara.

The dead queen had intended her eldest daughter to marry a court amir Mirza Najabat Khan. Unfortunately for Jahan, her mother died before she could convey her desire to the king. The young princess loses her heart to the amir the moment she sees him. While the princess may have all the kingdom at her feet she is unprepared for competition from her own sister for a suitor.

The king, on the other hand, is in no mood to loose either of his daughters to marriage. So while Jahan must organise a grand wedding for her brothers Dara, Shuja and then Aurangzeb, she must also make peace with her own spinsterhood. But the most powerful women in the court are not so easily tamed. A lovelorn Jahan takes her favourite eunuch as her lover after Najabat stops answering her letters. Later, still longing for Najabat, she orders a man from her personal orchestra to teach her how to make love.

Over the years while Jehan stand steadfast by her father’s side, Dara and Aurangzeb emerge as men ready to battle out the throne. Aurangzeb being the more strong-willed and enjoying support of the court, while Dara powered by the blessings of his father and a powerful sister.

As the king begins to take women of the court to his bed, rumours about his liaisons with his daughter are dispelled and Najabat returns to Jahan’s side. Curtailed by the will of the king, a clandestine affair blossoms between the two and an unmarried Jahan is soon pregnant. The king ignores his beloved daug-hter’s defiance and Jahanara sets off to the fort of Ajmer to deliver her child, calling her visit a pilgrimage.

Considerable research has gone into the making of this novel. While Sundaresan has historic facts in order, the story-telling needs much more conviction. The reader, time and again, finds himself disbelieving the author. A dying queen in the middle of the 14th delivery is described as a woman of immeasurable beauty. Similarly, a simple girl of 15 years hidden behind the veil suddenly comes to wield immense power over her father and the court. The story lacks imagination. While the author links the dots of history well, she is unable to breathe life into them.

 The Taj Mahal, meanwhile, appears now and then, its details sounding dreary and detached from the story.

The story however, has a poignant end. While the princes slay each other for crown, Jahan stays loyal to her father spending nine years with him in prison. As the king breathes his last she steps out of Agra fort to become Padshah Begum of Aurangzeb’s harem, brin-ging the stamp of legitimacy to the crown of the brother whom she so vehemently opposed.

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