Sibling Rivalry

The fascinating story of blood thirsty rivalry between two crown princesses…

I know you must be wondering what’s the big deal about a little fighting here and there with your own brothers and sisters. You all fought as kids, got your parents to scold the ‘other one’, and while you smiled gleefully, your sibling secretly vowed to take their revenge. The matter was forgotten the very next day..

But have you ever thought of a scenario when your adorable little sibling goes on to harbour negative feelings for you, for as long as you both live? Sounds rather extreme? Well, this dramatic situation unfortunately came true for one of the lesser-known but  important figures of Indian history, Princess Jahanara.

Emperor Shah Jahan is a king best known for immortalizing love, for it was he who built the Taj Mahal for his beloved, Mumtaz Mahal. After her death she was survived by their seven children, of which four play an important part in the succession drama: Jahanara, Dara Shikoh, Roshanara and Aurangzeb. Soon enough, the eldest daughter, Jahanara, assumed the position of eminence her mother had enjoyed and received more than a fair share of their father’s love. (In fact there are rumours of more than filial love between the king and his daughter). This led to a bitter and lifelong rivalry between the two sisters-Jahanara and Roshanara. The feud between the two was best illustrated in the ‘war of succession’ that was to decide the next Mughal Emperor of India. While Jahanara extended her support to elder brother Dara, her sister championed the cause of younger brother Aurangzeb. In this manner, the two women engaged themselves in a bitter political battle within the walls of their palace that went on to dominate the larger part of their lives.

To add to their woes, both sisters fell for the love of the same man, Najbat Khan, a noble at the royal court. Although owing to Akbar’s decree that none of the women of the royal household were ever to be married (presumably because it would add further claimants to the throne), it did not prevent them from engaging in clandestine affairs. And eventually it was Jahanara who won the battle for Najbat’s love.

But as they say, Jahanara had won the battle and not the war. Even though the throne was ordained to pass to Dara, Aurangzeb was not a man without ambition. He revolted and demanded his share of the kingdom. It was only through Roshanara’s timely information that Aurangzeb averted certain death as a part of a conspiracy. He then imprisoned and later executed Dara on the insistence of Roshanara. The reason behind the murder of Dara was fear…Roshanara had betrayed both her father and brother in order to help Aurangzeb. If, at any point, Dara regained power, he would certainly get her murdered. This made her use all her influence over Aurangzeb to get Dara killed. Once Aurangzeb emerged successful, it was again the ruthless Roshanara who sent Dara’s head to their father in a box as a gift. Imagine the shock the old king had when he opened this gift within his confinement at the Agra Fort!

After the accession of Aurangzeb, Jahanara devoted herself to look after her imprisoned father, while Roshanara, the new king’s beloved sister, now assumed greater responsibilities in the royal household.

The difference between the two sisters is evident even in their graves. While Jahanara is buried in a simple tomb in the Nizamuddin Dargah complex in New Delhi, Roshanara, a shrewd woman, poetess and, above all, the most beloved sister of Aurangzeb has been put to rest in the exquisite and expansive Roshanara Bagh in North Delhi.

To think it all began with sibling rivalry!

Roshanara Bagh
Roshanara Bagh, where the Princess Roshanara lies buried
Roshanara Bagh
Inside the beautiful pavilion at Roshanara Bagh
Jahanara's Grave, The hollow receptacle on the grave
The humble open grave of Princess Jahanara at Nizamuddin Dargah

(This piece has been researched and contributed by Sanchita Srivastava, a history student at Delhi University and an avid writer)

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Love it! A great explanation of this fascinating part of history. I knew the story but not the details of sibling rivalry!

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Ken. Deeper you go, dirtier the details become… you might also like this link I stumbled upon yesterday:

      1. The book sounds great from that review – I shall have to try and get hold of it!

  2. THIS, this is exactly why I love visiting Delhi. History hits you smack in the face, in the middle of busy roads. 🙂

    Thank you for posting this. I got interested in Jahanara and Roshanara after reading Indu Sundaresan’s The Shadow Princess, and I would love to visit the princesses’ graves. I already know it will give me goosebumps, knowing that I will be standing at a place where figures from history now lie, lifeless.

    1. wanderfool says:

      Awesome…didn’t know about this book, will look it up.

      1. Well, it is part of a series by Indu Sundaresan. This is the third book in the series really, the first two being The Twentieth Wife and A Feast Of Roses. I read The Shadow Princess first, and it is the only book from the series I have read so far. I appreciate it all the more now that I have been to Delhi and actually seen the places mentioned in the book.

        All 3 books are set in the Mughal era, and I have heard loads of good things about each one of them. I personally found The Shadow Princess fascinating; it was my first brush with historical fiction, and I started exploring more of the genre after this. I have a feeling you will love the books, given the Delhi lover and the lover of history that you are. 🙂

        1. wanderfool says:

          Oh yes, it certainly sounds like a book I need to grab quick! Going to look up the whole series…
          By the way, did you have a good time at Delhi? What all did you manage in 3 days?

          1. @Wanderfool

            Have fun reading the series! 🙂

            My trip got extended. So, I’m still in Delhi. Part sightseeing, part being at a relative’s home, and part work. Managed to see a few things, still a few left to go. :))

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