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