May 24, 2013 | 11:42 AM (BD Time)
24 May, 2013 Friday
Poet and painter Princess Jahanara
In 1614, a daughter was born to a most romantic couple, Khurram, prince of the Moghul Empire, and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, the neice of the Moghul Empress, Mehrunnisa, known as Nur Jahan. The girl was a small dissapointment to the Moghul people as she would never be able to succeed to the throne, yet, Khurram and his wife adored their baby girl, and one day she would become the most powerful woman in all of India.
She most likely grew up in a suitable environment, perhaps even the harems at the palaces, as her aunt was the Empress.
Khurram first met his future wife at a court festival known as the Nine Days' Bazaar. At this nine day festival, the women of the harem may come out of seclusion and mingle with average people (heavily veiled of course). What is unique is that there was a sort of mock bazaar set up. The harem women ran the stalls at the bazaar, selling things such as turbans and chadors and instruments. Khurram met Arjumand at one of these stalls. The Empress Nur Jahan herself was helping the young Arjumand (daughter of Asaf Khan, the wazir of Zahangir) run her little shop and urged her neice to speak to the prince. The two fell in love immediately, and on May 10, 1612, when Arjumand was 14 and Khurram 20, the couple was married, making Arjumand his third wife.
Arjumand and Khurram celebrated their first child with Huralnissa, a girl born on March 30, 1613. She died when she was only 3, on June 14, 1616. A year after Huralnissa was born, and two years before she died, the couple celebrated their second child, Jahanara, born on April 2, 1614. Following Jahanara came the beloved first boy, Dara, born on March 30, 1615. Next came Shuja, another son, born on July 3, 1616, then another girl, Raushanara, born Spetember 3, 1617, then a boy, Aurangzeb, born November 3, 1618.
In 1620, Emperor Jahangir fell seriously ill. Nur Jahan, hoping to seal the family quest for power, married her daughter to one of Jahangir's sons by another queen, Shahryar. She wished for the couple to produce an heir to the throne if Jahangir died, which seemed very likely. Jahangir had always feared the Persians to the west, as the Persians feared the Moghuls to the east. With the present disputes in the Moghul courts, the Persians decided to take advantage and captured Qandahar, a Moghul possesion. When the dying Jahangir and Shahryar raised a rebellion against the Persians, Khurram openly denied them his assistance. A family rebellion exploded and he led his armies against his powerful father and Shahryar. However, he was defeated. Instead of being executed or being held for other treasonous acts, Nur Jahan dictated her orders that Khurram should relocate his family. And that Dara and Aurangzeb should be handed over as hostages.
Jahanara grew up among splendour in the middle of nowhere. She and her family lived in huge tents, ate and drank from plates and goblets of gold, and wore the most expensive chadors and kameez. The family had relocated to the Nizamshahi Territory in the Deccan, a wasteland and breeding ground for rebels, traitors, and criminals. However, on October 28, 1627, Emperor Jahangir died. Khurram took advantage of this opportunity and he and his family and their enormous entourage made their way to the royal compunds in Rajasthan, Fatehpur Sikri. A legend goes that Khurram faked his own death by drinking goat's blood and spitting it up very graphically to not attract attention and fear by other competitors to the throne. Only his closest accomplices, including Arjumand, knew he still lived. Jahanara had to live in despair for a few days thinking that the father she loved was dead. However, when the entourage reached Rajasthan, Khurram lifted himself out of his prye and became the Emperor of the Moghul Empire. He ordered all other competitors to the throne, including Shahryar, executed, had Nur Jahan brought to his palace to live under his surveillance as she was a powerful and ruthless woman, and set about to restore the royal compounds. He became Shah Jahan, "king of the world", Arjumand became Mumtaz Mahal, which can be roughly translated as "crown beauty of the palace", and Jahanara inherited the prestigous title of Begum Sahib, Princess of Princesses. Hence she became one of the most powerful women at court at the age of 14.
Shah Jahan set about to first restore Fatehpur Sikri. He re-did the entire harem apartments, which in itself was its own palace. Jahanara's rooms can still be seen today, though not in the splendour they were fitted to at the time. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds were scattered across the walls of her apartments, creating flowers designs. Various jewels were set into the floors and even into her large swimming pool. Niches were carved, setting candles across her rooms. Her rooms would have truly been a wonder, with candlelight shimmering among the rubies and diamonds and emeralds and sapphires, shimmering on the cool pool waters, and across the vast marble and jeweled floors.
Jahanara spent her days in the royal harem, the most protected and secluded places in the land. She spent her nights with her father and mother, painting, writing poems, and helping her father plan reconstructions of other palaces and monuments. Jahanara truly was a gifted young woman. She was known to her closest family simply as 'Janni'. She spent her days with all the women of the court. She had a very good relationship with her brother Dara, who shared her love of the arts. Of course the children were schooled, Jahanara included. The were taught by many tutors, including Mumtaz's secretary, Sati-un Nissa, nicknamed Sati. Many lessons were based on the Quran.
Jahanara spent her teenage years travelling all over the empire, visiting her father's many splendors with the court. The family visited the beautiful palace at Srinagar in Kashmir, where the harem often went for picnics on Silver Island on Lake Dal. And they also toured Jahan's masterpiece, the Red Fort, an ostentatious palace that rivaled any palace they had ever seen. The Nine Days Bazaar, which had simply died in Jahangir's later reign, even made a come back in Jahan's reign, which Jahanara took a part in.
However, tragedy struck the family in 1631. While giving birth to her 14th child, Mumtaz died on June 17. The child lived, the later Gauhara Begum. With the death of the empress, Jahanara became the uncrowned woman figure head next to her father. She took on many responsibilites, including all the responsibilities of operating the harem, from food to clothes to tutoring.
Jahanara planned weddings alike. She saw to Dara's betrothal to a begum, Nadira Banu, and planned out the wedding. While attending a garden party in 1644, Jahanara's heavily perfumed kameez, trousers, and pairhan, robes, caught fire. She became seriously sick and Jahan himself nursed his beloved daughter back to health, which took many weeks.
After almost 30 years as the lead woman in the empire, Jahanara took on another duty: to tend to her dying father. When Jahan fell ill, his four sons (Dara, Aurangzeb, Shuja, and Murad) broke into wars against one another to succeed their father. Aurangzeb triumphed. Although Jahan was still living, Auranzgeb declared himself the Emperor and had his father locked up in his palaces in Agra. Jahanara lived with her father for the rest of his life.
While in captivity, Jahan had to watch in seclusion as his most famous masterpiece rose into the sky. The Taj Mahal. It was begun in 1631, and not finished until 1648. Jahanara herself had even helped in its designing. The building was to serve as a tomb for Mumtaz, and later on for Jahan, so they would be with each other eternally. Legend says that Jahan had intended to build a black version of the Taj Mahal on the opposite side of the river that the Taj Mahal sat upon.
Shah Jahan died on October 22, 1666, at th
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