Khurram and Arjumand
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.
Khurram was born on January 5, 1592 to the Emperor Jahangir and one of his concubines.
His family was a hostile one, constantly competing for the throne of the richest kingdom in the world that their father ruled.
Before Khurram was coronated as the ruler of the Moghul Empire, he had seen the deaths of his brothers Prince Khusrau, whom
Khurram himself had killed because of Khusrau's attempt to unseat Jahangir from the throne, and Prince Shariyar, who was killed
under the orders of Khurram's father-in-law, Arjumand's father, Asaf Khan. Arjumand Banu was born in 1598 (some put it at
1593) to Asaf Khan, the wazir to Jahangir, and one of his wives. 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 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.
His two other wives included a Hindu woman and a haughty concubine. Later on he would marry a Christian concubine from Armenia.
But everyone knew that Arjumand was his true love.
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. Afterwards there followed numerous miscarriages by Arjumand.
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.
Princess of Princesses
Jahanara grew up among
splendor 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 splendor 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, from the lowest concubines to her step-mothers. She
had a very good relationship with her brother Dara, who shared her love of the arts, but was hostile towards Raushanara and
Aurangzeb, both said to be in league with each other and very devious and disrespectful towards their mother, their father,
and even other minorities in the harem, such as the Hindu wife and Christian wife of Jahan. 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 Koran, which captivated Aurangzeb and led him into even more small mindedness towards other minorities and
peoples and ideas.
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.
Empress of Princesses
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. He had Dara and Murad executed and Shuja fled.
It is unclear how or where Shuja died. 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. And it is also said that Jahan had the hands of the carpenters who built the Taj Mahal
removed so they would never build a monument like it or greater than it ever again.
Shah Jahan died on October 22, 1666, at the age of 74, with Jahanara
at his side. He had left behind many masterpieces: The Taj Mahal , the grand palaces at Agra, the Red Fort, the restored palaces
at Fatehpur Sikri, and had commisoned the ostentatious peacock throne, a large dais erected as a platform with a
large overhead covering made entirely of countless jewels including diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc. In his
reign he led numerous war campaigns, including his ambitious work in the troubled Deccan territory and his successful restoration
of Qandahar back to the empire.
Jahanara returned to a changed court life after her father's death, ruled
over now by Aurangzeb, Jahanara's despotic bigot and chauvinist brother. In Aurangzeb's reign he had numerous luxuries
banned. The Nine Days Bazaar was banned. Harem women were forced into a more strict form of seclusion, including many
'revealing' forms of clothing banned and the dismissal of all Christian, Hindu, and non-Islamic women.
Aurangzeb made an exception to his reformations. He bestowed Jahanara
many titles which gave her licenses, many of which went against Aurangzeb's beliefs. He named her the Padishah Begum,
the highest title in the harem meaning 'lady emperor', and Sahibat al-Zamani, Mistress of the Age. Most importantly,
Jahanara continued to hold the title 'Begum Sahib'--a title normally only applied to women when they gave birth to a male
child for the emperor.
Jahanara lived a very active life as head of the harem. Besides seeing
to the running of the household, Jahanara continued to live an active personal life. She followed in her father's footsteps,
designing and building as she had done with her father when he was still alive. Her most famous structure, the Chadni Chowak,
stands in Shahjahanbad. A central bazaar, it stands at 40 yards wide and 120 yards long and housed 1,560 shops. Through the
center of the bazaar ran the Paradise Canal, lined with shade trees. An important place for trade, Chadni Chowak housed merchants
from across the continent. Not just the Chadni Chowak was built in Shahjahanbad. In 1650, Jahanara built a public bath south
of her bazaar at 180 feet long and 60 feet wide. In addition, Jahanara designed a caravanserai. A two-story building, the
caravanserai housed Persian and Uzbek merchants in 90 lavishly decorated rooms. A large courtyard dominated the center of
the hotel-like building, complete with canals and gardens.
Jahanara's most ambitious project was the Shiba Abad Garden, a
large enclosed space of 50 acres designed especially for the royal family. The Paradise Canal flowed into the Shiba Abad Garden,
watering countless trees, flowers, and fruit trees. A tower stood at each corner and ponds and summerhouses stood in the center
beside the canal. Connected to Jahanara's other accomplished buildings, the Shiba Abad was reserved especially for the royal
family and the harem.
Jahanara's private life is shrouded in mystery. An obvious patroness of
the arts, Jahanara was a skilled painter and poet who spent her days in seclusion away from the harem at Aurangzeb's court
composing lyrical poetry and music and painting. Her family life had deteriorated. Both her parents had died, along with her
siblings next to Aurangzeb and Raushanara. Aurangzeb, though he had bestowed many favors upon his older sister, was a chauvinist
and a despot. Raushanara was an equally hateable woman and grew jealous of Jahanara's liberties. At one point she asked Aurangzeb
to bestow the same titles and liberties upon herself, but Aurangzeb replied that he wanted to keep Raushanara in the harem
to raise his children.
Jahanara died on September 6, 1681, at the age of sixty-seven. Throughout
her life, Jahanara led a life that defied the strict codes of the Moghul Empire. A revered Indian figure today, Jahanara led
a life of art and goodwill towards others. Throughout her last years, Jahanara openly defied her brother, Aurangzeb's, racist
ways towards Hindus and other non-Muslims. Though she fought to stop the opression, it continues today between Pakistanis
and Indians. Though she never married, we can only wonder what other great accomplishments Jahanara would have complete if
she had done so (married), changing the Moghul Court forever.