Aurangzeb-The love-less Mughal Emperor

All excerpts…….portraying an ancient affection…….. of Emperor Aurangzeb



Aurangzeb was the third son of the emperor Shah Jahān and Mumtāz Maḥal. He grew up as a serious-minded and devout youth, wedded to the Muslim orthodoxy of the day and free from the royal Mughal traits of sensuality and drunkenness. He showed signs of military and administrative ability early; these qualities, combined with a taste for power, brought him into rivalry with his brothers.



Shah Jahan survived his confinement given by Aurangzeb by nearly eight years and the disgraceful manner of his burial will ever remain a stigma on this unscrupulous son. Aurangzeb’s advent to the throne in his father’s life time was not welcomed by the people of India.

Aurangzeb’s reign lasted until about 1680; he was a capable Muslim monarch of a mixed Hindu-Muslim empire and as such was generally disliked for his ruthlessness but feared and respected for his vigour and skill. When Aurangzeb died after a reign of nearly 49 years, he left an empire not yet moribund but confronted with a number of menacing problems. The failure of his son’s successors to cope with them led to the collapse of the empire in the mid-18th century.

But despite the derogations on his name there was another facet of his personality, which exhibited love, care, tenderness and passion………

Aurangzeb in a love-affair with Zainabadi


Courtesan in Wait

When Aurangzeb was the governor of the Deccan, he was on his way to Aurangabad [his head­quarters]. On arrival at Burhanpur, he stopped over to meet his maternal aunt-Saliha Banu, the daughter of Asaf Khan. She was married to Saif Khan, the Governor of Burhanpur. Saliha Banu had invited Aurangzeb to Burhanpur.

As it was the house of his aunt, not much care was taken to remove the women of the harem out of his view, and the prince entered the house without announc­ing himself. Zainabadi, whose original name was Hira Bai, was standing under a tree, holding a branch with her right hand and singing in a low tone.

Immediately on seeing her, the prince unable to control himself, sat down there, and then fell down at full length on the ground in a swoon. The news was carried to his aunt. Running barefooted [to the place] she clasped him to her breast and began to wail and lament. After 3 or 4 moments the prince regained consciousness.

How­ever much she inquired about his condition, asking, ‘What malady is it? Did you ever have any attack of it before?’ the prince gave no reply at all but remained silent. The joy of the entertainment and hospitality was destroyed, and the affair turned into mourning and grief. It was midnight when the prince recovered his speech, and said, “If I mention my disease, can you apply the remedy?” When his aunt heard these words, she in extreme gladness gave away propitiatory alms (tasadduq), made sacrifices (qurban), and said, “What do you talk of remedy? I shall offer my life itself [to cure you].”

But when the prince revealed the whole matter to her, on hearing it, she (almost) lost her consciousness and became tongue-tied, not knowing what to answer. At last the prince said, “You have uselessly shown all this tenderness in inquiring after my health. When you are not giving a reply to my words, how can you cure me?” The aunt replied, “May I be your sacrifice! You know this wretch, (viz., Saif Khan); he is a bloodthirsty man, and does not care in the least for the Emperor Shah Jahan or yourself.

On merely hearing of your request (for Hira Bai) he will first murder her and then me. Telling him (about your passion) will do no other good than this that I shall have to sacrifice my life. But why should the life of that poor innocent girl be destroyed for no offence?” The prince replied, “Indeed, you have spoken the truth. I shall try some other device.”

After sunrise he came back to his own house, and did not eat anything at all. Summoning Murshid Quli Khan, who was the prince’s subordinate and diwan of the Deccan, he discussed the case in detail with him, as he was his trusted confidant of secrets.

The Khan said, “Let me first despatch him (i. e., murder Saif Khan), and if afterwards anybody slays me, there will be no harm, as in exchange of my blood-price, the work of my saint and spiritual guide (i. e., the prince) will be achieved.” The prince replied, “Indeed, I know that you are so ready to sacrifice your life for me. But my heart does not consent to making my aunt a widow. Besides, according to the Quranic Law, one cannot undertake a manifest murder with knowledge of religious law.

You should speak [to Saif Khan], relying on God [for success].” Murshid Quli Khan set off without any grumbling and told everything to Saif Khan, who replied, “Convey my salam to the prince. I shall give the answer of this to his maternal aunt.” That very moment he went to the women’s apartments and told [his wife], “What harm is there in it? I have no need for [Aurangzib’s] Begam, the daughter of Shah Nawaz Khan. Let him send me Chattar Bai, his own concubine (haram), that she may be exchanged [with Hira Bai].”

And immediately afterwards he sent the aunt in a litter to the prince; when she objected saying that she would not go, he insisted, “Go quickly, if you love your life.” So she had no help but to go and tell everything to the prince, who was highly pleased and cried out, “What of [giving him] one [inmate of my harem]? Immediately take with yourself in the palki in which you have come both of them, as I have no objection!”

The aunt sent a report of the facts to her husband by means of an eunuch. Saif Khan said, “Now no cover is left [for me to take refuge in],” and mounted and sent the Bai to the prince without delay.


A lady with a Hookkah

Zainabadi, who was beloved by Aurangzib before his accession, had been, it is said, in the Khan’s harem as his concubine. One day the prince went with the ladies of his harem to the garden of Zainabad Burhanpur, named Ahu-khanah [Deer Park] and began to stroll with his chosen beloved ones.

Zainabadi, whose musical skill ravished the senses, and who was unique in blandishments, on seeing a fruit-laden mango-tree, in mirth and amorous play advanced, leaped up and plucked a fruit, without paying due respect to the prince’s presence.

This move of hers robbed the prince of his senses and self-control. With shameful importunity he procured her from his aunt’s house, and became infatuated and given up to her, in spite of all his severe countenance and temper­ance and pure training in theology.


According to Manucci “Aurangzib grew very fond of Zaniabadi Begum, now one of the dancing-women in his harem, and through the great love he bore to her he neglected for some time his prayers and his austerities, filling up his days with music and dances; and going even farther, he enlivened himself with wine, which he drank at the ins­tance of the said dancing-girl.


The story goes that one day she offered him a cup of wine and requested him to drink it. All his professions of reluctance and entreaty were disre­garded. Then the poor prince was (at last) about to drink it, when that sly enchantress snatched away the cup (from his hand) and said ‘My purpose was to test your love and not to embitter your mouth with this wicked and unlucky liquor!’

This love-affair proceeded to such lengths as to reach Shah Jahan’s ears. Dara Shukoh, who loved not Aurangzib, made capital of this incident to slander his brother to the Emperor, saying, ‘See the piety and abstinence of this hypocritical knave! He has gone to the dogs for the sake of a wench of his aunt’s household.’


The dancer died young. She is buried at Aurangabad close to the big tank. On the day of her death the prince became very unwell; in extreme agitation he rode out to hunt. Mir Askari (Aqil Khan), who was in attendance, secured a private audience and remonstrated, ‘What wisdom is there in resolving to hunt in this (disturbed) state?’ The prince replied, (Verse)

‘Lamentation in the house cannot relieve the heart,

In solitude alone you can cry to your heart’s content.’

Aqil Khan recited the following couplet [of his own composition] as apt for the occasion:

‘How easy did love appear, but alas how hard it is!

How hard was separation, but what repose it gave to the beloved!’

The prince could not check his tears, but committed the verses to his memory, after vainly trying to learn the modest poet’s name.

Aurangzib made a vow never to drink wine again nor to listen to music. In after-days he was accustomed to say that God had been very gracious to him by putting an end to that dancing-girl’s life, by reason of whom he had committed so many iniquities, and had run the risk of never reigning through being occupied in vicious practices.”

By the way- Akbar made it a rule that the concubines of the Mughal Emperors should be named after the places of their birth or the towns in which they were admitted to the harem. (Waris’s Padishahnamah, 45b). Hence we have ladies surnamed Akbarabadi, Fathpuri, Aurangabadi, Zainabadi, and Udaipuri. Zainabad is the name of a suburb on the bank of the Tapti opposite Burhanpur. In Inayetullah’s Ahkam our heroine’s tomb is mentioned, though her name is wrongly spelt Zainpuri.

Now, when did the episode happen? Aurangzib was twice subahdar of the Deccan, viz, 1636—1644 and 1653—1657. It was only during the second of these periods that this Khan-i-Zaman, Murshid Quli Khan Khurasani (M.U. iii. 493), and Mir Askari served in the Deccan. Therefore, the date seems to have been 1653 at the earliest, when Aurangzib was 35 years old and the father of six children; he was not exactly a passionate youth who might consider the world well lost for love.

Notes—There are many mistakes in the above account.

Saif Khan, who had married Malika Banu (not Saliha), the eldest sister of Mumtaz Mahal, was removed from the governorship of Khandesh at Shah Jahan’s accession (1628) and never again employed there.

Malika died on 25th August, 1641. Her husband, Saif Khan Mirza Safi died in Bengal in May, 1640

The following version of the episode given in the Masir-ul-umara , seems to be the correct one:—

Mir Khalil, (successively surnamed Muftakhar Khan, Sipahdar Khan, and Khan-i-Zaman), a son-in-law of Asaf Khan, was sent to the Deccan as Chief of the Artillery in the 23rd year of Shah Jahan, 1649—50. In 1653, he became commandant of Dharur. It was only in Aurangzib’s reign that he became subahdar of Khandesh [July 1681. Died July 1684].


Excerpts from:


ii) English translation of AHKAM-I-ALAMGIRI ascribed to Hamid-ud-din Khan Bahadur)

iii) A Life of Aurangzib and Historical Notes By JADUNATH SARKAR, M.A.

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