Tragic Life of the Daughter of an Unfortunate Father- “Princess Jani Begum” and “Prince Dara Shikoh”

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“Jani Begum” aka Jahanzeb Banu Begum (d. 1705) – the Mughal princess, was the daughter of Crown Prince Dara Shikoh and his consort Nadira Banu Begum and the granddaughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal. She was affectionately called Jani Begum.

Her father Dara Shikoh’s misfortune had spilled over her fate. Dara shikoh was killed by Aurangzeb in a power struggle between brothers following their father Shah Jahan’s illness. Her mother Nadira Bahu Dara Shokoh’s favourite wife had died previously, hence leaving Jani Begum an orphan.

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Representation of a Seraglio

On the very evening of Dara Shikoh’s death, his daughter was dragged to the seraglio, but later on Roshan Ara, Aurangzeb’s favourite sister, took Dara’s little daughter Jani under her care only to ill-treat her because Jani had always been particularly dear to Shah Jahan. Meanwhile, Jahan Ara intervened and asked Aurangzeb to let her take charge of the child. Aurangzeb was unable to deny his elder sister’s request, and agreed reluctantly. Jani, loved by her grandfather Shah Jahan and once adored by father Dara Shikoh, was eventually brought up by Jahan Ara aka Begam-Sahib after Aurangzeb had demolished the rest of her family. Under the tutelage of Jahan Ara Jani grew up to be a remarkably beautiful and cultured princess.

Shah Jahan had fallen gravely ill and soon after, there were tremors of forces of hatred, jealousy, deceit, treachery and a ruthless tussle for power in the Red Fort.

This was the same Red Fort that had once seen joy, festivity, laughter, mirth and happiness. In happier times when there was merriment in the markets and Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara Shikoh, was curious to learn, he used to steal away, under disguise, to the bazaar area and observe vendors of nuts, figs and peaches with a fortune teller beckoning from under a tent.

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Thirteen-year-old Dara Shikoh, used to walk past stalls selling pigeons and doves. He observed the astrologers and fish sellers in the market and even a troupe of tinsel-trimmed dancers winding their way through the din adding to the festivities.

Dara Shikoh – The unfortunate Moghul Prince

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Dara Shikoh

Dara Shikoh aka Padshahzada-i-Buzurg Martaba, Jalal ul-Kadir, Sultan Muhammad Dara Shukoh, Shah-i-Buland Iqbal (1615 – 16590 was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaj Mahal. His sincerity and intelligence had made him favoured as a successor by his father Shah Jahan and his sister Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib. But he was eventually defeated by his younger brother Prince Muhiuddin (later the Emperor Aurangzeb) in a bitter struggle for the imperial throne.

The reason for Dara’s defeat may be that he almost never left the safety of the Mughal court, whereas Aurangzeb was a skilled warrior — a fact that was evident in the battleground where Aurangzeb triumphed over his brother.

(Faruqui)
“Ultimately, it was nothing more or less than Dara’s ability to antagonise friend and foe alike, compared to Aurangzeb’s unequalled ability to paper over differences that enabled one prince to ascend the throne, while consigning the other to the grave,” Faruqui said.

Born as a prince but destined to doom

Dara Shikoh was born on 20 March 1615 at Sagartal near Ajmer. He was the answer to the ardent prayers of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who knelt down with folded hands at the tomb of the great Chishti saint Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti and prayed there for a son since all his earlier children had been daughters.

Dara’s is said to have a unique personality among the Mughal royal family. He was entirely distinct in all respects from other princes of the entire Mughal house since the establishment of the Mughal rule in 1526 till its ultimate extinction in 1764 or 1857. He had no liking for luxuries and sensual pleasures but had developed refined tastes in his life.

Dara had been taught by royal teachers and was well versed in Quran, Persian poetry and history. One of his tutors named Mulla Abdul Latif Saharanpuri was the one who inculcated in him the habit of reading and unquenchable thirst for knowledge. The Sufi leanings of his tutor had great influence over young Dara. Besides this, the influence of contemporary Sufi saints had played a significant role in shaping young Dara’s mind.

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A page from Majma-ul-Bahrain (a book on comparative religion by Muhammad Dara Sikoh) in the manuscripts collection at the Portrait Gallery of Victoria memorial,Calcutta.

The Prince

Dara was a gentle and pious Sufi intellectual and a paragon of Indian cultural synthesis. The defeat of Dara was in a sense, the defeat of liberal Indian ideas.

The prince was also a great poet amongst contemporary intellectuals. His Diwan known as the Iksir-i-Azam is extant which is described as “incomparable and heart-pleasing” by his spiritual guide Mulla Shah. The author of Khazinat-ul-Asfiyat remarks about his poetry that “his poetry is like the ocean of unitarianism, flowing out of his pearl scattering tongue; or like the sun of Monotheism, rising from the horizon in the manner of his luminous opening verse (matla’)”.

Dara’s genius was also reflected in other fields such as fine arts, music and dancing. He patronized these artistic pursuits. His interest was also reflected in paintings. He demonstrated his genius by drawing many paintings which could be compared with those by professional artists of his time. His album which he presented to his wife, Nadira Bano, was later deposited in the royal library.

Marriage of Dara

On 1 February 1633, Dara was married to his first cousin, Nadira Banu Begum, the daughter of his paternal uncle Sultan Parvez Mirza. Both Dara and Nadira were devoted to each other, so much so that Dara never contracted any other marriage after marrying his cousin Nadira. The couple had eight children, of whom two sons and two daughters survived to adulthood. One of them was Jani Begum.

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The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the marriage procession of his eldest son Dara Shikoh.  Mughal-Era fireworks and bamboo rockets were utilised to brighten the night.

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Brooklyn Museum – The Nuptials of Dara Shikoh and Nadira Begum

Once Prince Dara Shikoh had taken seriously ill, some say poisoned by his younger brother Aurangzeb. The royal Hakim learned that the medicine required was available at a hospital set up by Guru Har Rai Ji (1630-1661 A.D.).

Emperor Shah Jahan wrote a letter repenting his past hostility against the House of Guru Nanak and requested forgiveness. Thereafter, the Royal Hakim went personally to the Guru Sahib and requested for the medicine. Guru Sahib gave him the rare medicine required for the treatment and also sent a pearl which was to be ground into fine powder and taken with the medicine.

Prince Dara Shikoh was cured.

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Guru Har Rai Ji giving the royal physician a medicine for Dara Shikohs cure.

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Dara Shikoh Cured

On 10 September 1642, Shah Jahan formally confirmed Dara as his heir, conferring upon him the title of Shahzada-e-Buland Iqbal (“Prince of High Fortune”) and promoting him to command of 20,000-foot and 20,000 horses.  In 1645, he was appointed as Subadar (governor) of Allahabad. He was promoted to a command of 30,000-foot and 20,000 horses on 18 April 1648, and was appointed Governor of the province of Gujarat on 3 July.

As his father’s health began to decline, Dara received a series of increasingly prominent commands. He was appointed Governor of Multan and Kabul on 16 August 1652, and was raised to the title of Shah-e-Buland Iqbal (“King of High Fortune”) on 15 February 1655. He was promoted to command of 40,000-foot and 20,000 horse (roughly equivalent to general) on 21 January 1656, and to command of 50,000-foot and 40,000 horse on 16 September 1657.

His popularity amongst the masses, his being favoured by Shah Jahan as heir apparent and progressive elevation of status and titles in the empire lead to serious discontent amongst his brothers, more so Aurangzeb.

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Dara Shikoh with his army

The Death of Dara Shukoh

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Captive Dara

As an aftermath of the power struggle for the throne, Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb’s army and he fled to Sindh and sought refuge under Malik Jiwan, an Afghan chieftain, whose life had been saved by the Mughal prince several times from the wrath of Shah Jahan. However, Malik betrayed Dara and turned him (and his second son Sipihr Shikoh) over to Aurangzeb’s army on 10 June 1659.

Dara was imprisoned and brought to Delhi, and was paraded through the streets of the capital in chains, seated on a filthy elephant. Dara’s fate was sealed owing to the political threat he posed as a prince popular with the common people. Hence, nobles and clergy, were called by Aurangzeb in response to the perceived danger of insurrection in Delhi. Dara Shikoh was declared a threat to public peace and an apostate from Islam.

He was assassinated by four of Aurangzeb’s henchmen in front of his terrified son on the night of 30 August 1659.

“Jani Begum” aka Jahanzeb Banu Begum

Jani was totally void of bitterness and hatred despite her tragic life and death of her father-Dara Shikoh. She did not believe in the doctrine of ‘eye for an eye’. She constantly upheld Babar’s example, who had laid down his own life for his son Humayun, rather than remember those who had butchered and tortured their own brothers and kinsmen. “It is for Allah to judge them” she said, “I shall not let their thoughts or actions disturb me.” 

Jani was so sweet, and so free from hatred and malice that even Aurangzeb eventually came under her spell and could not help loving her.

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On 3 January 1669, she was married to her first cousin, Prince Muhammad Azam, the eldest son of her uncle, Aurangzeb and her aunt, Dilras Banu Begum. The marriage ceremony was arranged in her palace by Jahanara Begum, amidst the most lavish and grand celebrations.  Their marriage proved to be extremely happy. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp and show. Jahan Ara did not possess much because of her captivity but she left all her personal belongings – clothes and jewellery – to Jani.

Jani soon became her husband Mohammad Azam Shah’s trusted companion and confidante as well as his favourite wife. She was greatly loved by him. She was also her father-in-law, Aurangzeb’s best loved daughter-in-law.

She gave birth to Azam’s eldest son on 4 August, 1670. He was named ‘Bidar Bakht’ by his grandfather. Aurangzeb, throughout his life showed marks of exceptional love to these two and to their eldest son, Prince Bidar Bakht, who was a gallant, discreet and ever successful general. Aurangzeb, used to constantly lavish gifts on all three of them. Bidar Bakht was his grandfather Aurangzeb’s favourite grandchild in his old age.

After her marriage, Jahanzeb played multifacetted roles in her husbands’s household. She was militarily well trained and active. The princess maintained harmonious household relations in the princely household. Her skill at this came to the fore in the winter of 1702, when a disagreement between Azam and his chief huntsman and koka Mir Hedayatullah occurred, whilst the men were on a hunt. Azam was furious and he immediately threw his koka out of his household. However, Jani persuaded her husband to forgive Mir Hedayatullah and after a few days, Mir Hedayatullah joined Azam’s household in his old position.

Jani, had to witness the pain of having her son Bidar Bakht fall out of favour with her husband Azam. But using wisdom she had tried to ease out the differences.

Azam was a brave soldier. Jani Begum always accompanied him to the battlefield. Once when fighting in Deccan Azam’s life was in real danger. Aurangzeb himself ordered him to come back. But Azam sent word, saying, “Mohammad Azam, his two sons and Begum will not retreat from this post of danger so long as he is alive. After my death His Majesty may have my corpse removed for burial. My followers may stay or go as they please.”  On hearing this, Aurangzeb sent a relief force. But it was Jani who saved his life by following him on elephant with Anirudh Singh, a brave soldier, whom she called her son.
They were victorious in the battle as a result of their combined effort.

The entire city rejoiced and welcomed Azam upon his return to the Red Fort with Jani.
In third week of February 1707, in an attempt to prevent a war of succession, Aurangzeb, separated Azam and his younger step-brother, Kam Baksh, whom Azam particularly loathed. He sent Azam to Malwa and Kam Baksh to Bijapur.

But a few days before his death he wrote farewell letters to Azam. The next morning, Azam who had tarried outside Ahmednagar instead of proceeding to Malwa, arrived at the imperial camp and conveyed his father’s body for burial at his tomb at Daulatabad. After Aurangzeb’s death Azam became the next Emperor, succeeding the throne on March 14, 1707. 

Azam Shah had proclaimed himself Emperor and seized the throne. In the political struggles following the disputed succession, he and his son Prince Bidar Bakht were defeated and killed on 8 June 1707 at the Battle of Jajau  by his step-brother, Prince Muhammad Mu’azzam aka Bahadur Shah I, who succeeded their father Aurangzeb to the Mughal throne.

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Although the reign of Azam lasted barely three months. Jani , though an empress queen longer was nevertheless loved and revered by all as long as she lived.

Death of Jani Begum

Jahanzeb died in 1705 owing to an abscess in the right breast. The French doctor Mons. Martin had proposed that the princess should be examined by one of his female relatives then living in Delhi (evidently an Indo-Portuguese Christian woman) who was skilled in surgery (haziqa). Thereafter, he would be able to prescribe medicines according to her report. But the princess refused to be examined by a woman who drank wine, lest her body should be defiled by her touch. The disease lingered on for two years and she eventually died in great pain. Upon her death, Azam was filled with great sorrow and despair which darkened the remainder of his life.

With this ended the saga of turbulent lives of a father and his daughter-the Mughal royals-Prince Dara Shikoh and Jani Begum. Though popular amongst the masses, they were both victims of battle of succession, treachery, betrayal and ultimately death of self and loved ones.

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(Compiled and edited version from different sources)

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