Gifts for a princess

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Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) and Arjumend Begum (Mumtaz Mahal), was born in April 1614 A.D. According to Francois Bernier, who was in India during the war for succession between Shah Jahan’s sons, wrote in his Travels in the Mougal Empire, “Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan, was very handsome, of lively parts and passionately loved by her father. Shah Jahan reposed immense confidence in his favourite child. She watched over his safety and no dish was permitted upon the Royal table, which had not been prepared under her observation.” Bernier had never seen Jahanara. He wrote what he heard from the courtiers.

Jahanara, who also wrote poetry, was well versed in Persian and Arabic. She was greatly influenced by Sufism, like her brother Dara Shikoh. When still in her teens, she was forced by circumstances to bear the enormous responsibility of bringing back her father out of a long mourning following her mother’s death during childbirth.

Besides managing household work, she helped her father in matters of the state as well. She received large allowances and was honoured with the title of Badshah Begum (Queen of Queens), by her father. Thus becoming the first woman in the Mughal hierarchy, in spite of Shah Jahan having more than one surviving wives. Native rulers sent presents to her, along with their arzdasts (requests sent by hand), to plead their cases before the Emperor.

After Aurangzeb got rid of his brothers, imprisoned his father and usurped the Mughal throne, it was presumed that Jahanara would sink into oblivion since she had openly sided with her favourite brother Dara Shikoh. The new Emperor clearly saw the difference between his two sisters and though Roshanara had sided with Aurangzeb, it was Jahanara, who came back into prominence. Aurangzeb gave her the title of Sahibat-al-Zamani (lady of the era). She was even allowed to argue with the Emperor, a privilege none other had. He listened to her advice, but did not necessarily always follow.

The native chiefs again started approaching her for favours, sending presents and arzdasts. The hill chiefs of Siri Nagar (Garhwal), Kumaon and Sirmaur also wrote to her.

Raja Budh Prakash, alias Mahi Prakash, who ruled Sirmaur from 1659 to 1678, had developed a special association with her, charming her by sending her simple earthly gifts consisting of aromatic medicinal herbs, musk, honey, exotic hill birds and animals, which probably suited her Sufi temperament more than precious gifts sent to her by the other wealthier and more powerful native chiefs.

In response to Budh Prakash’s arzdast, a letter in Persian signed by her dated 7th Jamad-ul-Sani, 13th Julus (13th year of Aurangzeb’s accession) reads,

“Chosen from equal ranking contemporaries, in the service of Islam, Raja Budh Prakash, be it known, that written request, during these days, along with some birds, animals and baskets of pomegranates, details of which were written separately, arrived at our sublime abode and reached us after finding them worthy of our auspicious glance. Regarding your request for pleading your case before the ruler of the earth and the sky, refuge of all the beings (The Emperor). Our advice, which shows the right path to the world. May it be known because the Emperor, under whom kings of the world take shelter, is on a tour at Akbarabad, and we are here. Therefore, the delay. Be assured, our thoughts are with you and your matters”.

She again wrote on 11th Shaval, 14th Julus, “Your request, along with gifts consisting of halila zard (terminalia chebula, yellow harar), turush anaar (punica granatum, sour pomegranate), mushk nafan (pods of musk), murg zareen (western tragopan or monal) and nirbiri (delphinium denudatom, larkspur), arrived at our pious abode. These further entered the high-ranking veiled chambers and were graced by our pious eyes. Procure one more murg zareen and send it to us. As a favour, from our regal chambers, a khillat (Robe of Honour) is being sent to you as a reward. May it glorify you. Consider me to be your benefactor”.

Another letter dated 21st Rabi ulsani, 18 Julus confirms, “Your request along with musk nafan and chanwars (fly whisks) were graced by our divine eyes.”

Letter dated 25th Moharram, 23rd Julus informs, “…that request, along with baaz (falcon) and shehad (honey), were presented before us to be graced. The falcon is yet juvenile, therefore, we have procured another one in exchange. The taste of honey was delicious and pleasing`85it is good you informed the Emperor about the activity of Raja of Siri Nagar (Garhwal). It has also been confirmed, as you had written regarding the negligence on the part of daroga Abdur Rehman (Mughal officer managing ice pits) responsible for sending dirty, unfrozen ice. Complaint regarding non-payment of full wages to the labourers has also been confirmed. Therefore, a farman has been sent to the daroga to make the balance payment and enhance the wages of the labourers engaged. If found negligent like in the previous year, the consequences will not be good for him”.

The Raja of Sirmaur used to send ice to the Mughal court from his own ice pits also. Hence was known as ‘Burfi’ Raja (Raja of Snow). Though cordial towards the Raja, Jahanara did not directly order the Mughal officers. When the Sirmaur Raja sent a complaint regarding some people, who, in connivance with the Mughal officer of the Sadhaura area (now in Haryana), escaped after collecting revenue, which belonged to Sirmaur, refused to directly intervene. She suggested that the matter should be referred to the Emperor. Similarly, when the Raja complained to Jahanara regarding the confiscation of his bordering area by the Raja of Garhwal, she wrote, “whatever we had to say regarding this has been brought to the notice of the Emperor. Therefore, the Emperor has ordered the Bakshis (Mughal Army Officers) that an enquiry may be made and the guilty punished. The Raja of Garhwal had written to the Emperor and has also made a statement in front of the Bakshis, personally that he has not encroached any of your area. The said area had belonged to him from generations and it was you, who had forcibly taken possession. When he found an opportunity, he re-annexed the area, in your absence. Therefore, till the officers send their final report, nothing can be done. As for sending a force to your help, it is not possible presently due to the demand of reinforcement at Kabul and Deccan.” Dated Jamad-ul-Awal, 21st Julus.

According to a folk ballad sung in parts of the Simla region and compiled by H. A. Rose, ICS in the Indian Gazetteer 1908, page 299, Chronicles of Raja Mahi Prakash, the Sirmaur Raja was at Desu ki Dhar, near Simla, fighting against the confederation of almost all Simla hill chiefs, except Busahar, Kumarsain and Ritesh. On being refused by the Raja of Keonthal (Junga), Anup Sain, to give his daughter, Sheetla, in marriage to him, taking advantage of the situation, the Raja of Garhwal had advanced and captured the fort of Birat and Kalsi (now in Uttarkhand). Later, the Raja was able to win the Keonthal princess in marriage and, as Aurangzeb’s ally during an attack on Garhwal, recaptured the lost area. (The farmans have been taken from the book Taarikh-e-Riyasat Sirmaur by Ranzor Singh of Sirmaur).

Raja Budh Prakash died at Nahan in 1678. Three years later, Jahanara passed away at 67 in 1681. Her simple grave is within the Hazrat Nizamuddin’s tomb complex in Delhi. Epitaph on her grave reads:

“He is the living, the sustaining
Let none cover my grave except greenery
For the very grass suffices as a tomb cover
For the poor annihilated Faquir
Jahanara disciple of the Lord of Chisties
Daughter of Shah Jahan, the warrior
May God illuminate his proof.”

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