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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Jahanara - Padshah Begum or Sufi Fakeera...

Hi Friends,

This is my first post on a historical character on this blog. I hope you all like it!

This is about Jahanara, the beautiful and talented daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan, who had the world at her feet and was the beloved of all, yet love eluded her all her life. She spent her life devoted to God and her father. This is the story of the lonely princess who was perhaps the wealthiest woman of her time in the Mughal empire, yet lived like a fakeera and was buried in a simple, grass-covered grave. 

Recently identified as Princess Jahanara. The painting is attributed to the painter Lalchand (1631-33 A.D.). One of 2 portraits of the same lady in an album presented by Prince Dara Shikoh to his wife, Nadira Banu Begum (1641-42). 

Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, became the First Lady of the Mughal Empire when barely 18, after her mother’s death, though there were other begums of Shah Jahan. She occupied this position with grace and dignity in the courts of 2 emperors, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. She was also a motherly figure to her siblings and was loved by all.

Initiation to Sufism

Jahanara shared an interest in mysticism with her brother Dara Shikoh. He was just a year younger to her. She was initiated into the Qadiriyya Sufi order by Mulla Shah Badakhshi with the help of Tawakkul Beg and her brother. Dara had been introduced to Sufism by the great Sufi mystic Mian Mir on a visit to Lahore.  On a visit to Kashmir, Jahanara came in contact with Mulla Shah, the spiritual successor of Mian Mir, who taught her the benefits of meditation.
Mian Mir and Mulla Shah

Here is a detailed account of her initiation written by Jahanara herself:

Through the intermediary of my brother, Prince Dara Shikoh, I announced my true beliefs (to Mulla Shah) and asked him to be my spiritual leader, and he performed my initiation according to the noble rules of his Brotherhood. The first time I set eyes on the venerable figure of the master, from the cabinet in which I was hiding, when he paid a visit to my father the emperor when he was staying in Kashmir, and when I heard the pearls of wisdom falling from his mouth, my belief in him grew a thousand times stronger than before, and heavenly ecstasy seized my very being. The next morning, with the master’s permission, my brother initiated me into the mystical exercises, which consisted of reciting the litany of the Qadiri Dervishes and the order of Mulla Shah.

In order to complete this pious endeavour, I went to the prayer room of my palace and remained seated there until midnight, whereupon I said the night prayers then returned to my quarters.  I then sat down in a corner facing Mecca, and concentrated my mind on the picture of the master, whilst at the same time keeping a description of our Holy Prophet before my eyes. Whilst occupied with this contemplation, I reached a spiritual state in which I was neither asleep nor awake. I saw the holy community of the Prophet and his first disciples with the other holy ones; the Prophet and his four companions (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali) were sitting together, surrounded by a number of important associates. I also noticed Mulla Shah. He was sitting near the Prophet, his head resting on his foot, whilst the Prophet said to him, “Oh, MUlla Shah, for what reason have you enlightened this Timurid girl?

When I came to my senses again, my heart opened out like a rose bud under the impact of this sign of God’s grace. Full of immense gratitude, I threw myself down before the throne of the Absolute. I was filled with unspeakable happiness but had no idea how to give expression to all of the joy in my heart. I made a vow of blind obedience to the master, saying to myself, “Oh What exceptional good fortune, what unheard of happiness he has vouchsafed to me, a weak and unworthy woman! I bring thanks and endless praise to the Almighty, the unfathomable God, who, when my life seemed all set to be wasted, allowed me to devote myself to the quest for Him, who granted me my longed-for goal of unification with Him, and who has immersed me in the ocean of truth and the spring of mystical knowledge!
I nurtured the hope that God would allow me to tread this path, which is comparable to the sirat, with firm steps and invincible courage. God be praised for allowing my soul to experience the greatest pleasure of all, that of being able to think of Him. God be praised for giving me, a poor woman, through the special attention of the holy master, the gift of full apprehension of the Absolute, as I have always wished with all my heart. For anyone who does not possess knowledge of the Absolute is not a full human being, he is one of those of whom it is said: “They are as the animals, in fact even more ignorant” (Sura 7:178).

Every human being who has achieved this highest form of happiness, will, solely by virtue of this fact, become the highest and noblest of beings. His individual existence will merge into the Absolute, he will become a drop in the ocean, a mote in the sun, a particle of the whole. Achieving this state, he is beyond death, beyond future tribulations, beyond heaven and hell. Whether man or woman, he is always the perfect being. That is the Grace of the God, “which He gives, to whom He will” (Sura 5:54).    

This account of Jahanara’s introduction to the path of spiritualism that will ultimately lead to a merger of her soul with the Almighty, by His Grace, is written so beautifully that I cannot find any more words to describe or explain it. What is incredible is that the description of the union with God is universal across all religions and communities.

Spiritual Experiences and Risalas

Jahanara wrote many risalas on mysticism and spiritualism. She had a few spiritual visions

Her risala-i-Sahibiya describes her spiritual visions and experiences. In a way, she seemed to carry forward the legacy of Ali Akbar and Akbar. Princess Zeb-un-nisa, Aurangzeb’s daughter also wrote similar poetry. The Mughals, it seems, were an eclectic mix of warrior blood and Sufi mysticism.

Jahanara herself wrote that “of all the descendents of Timur, only we two, brother and sister, were fortunate enough to attain this felicity. None of our fore-fathers ever trod the path in quest of God and in the search of the truth. My happiness knows no bounds, my veneration for Mulla Shah increased and I made him my guide and my spiritual preceptor...

In 1644, Jahanara was badly burnt in an accident and upon recovery, went on a pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif, in the tradition of her family. Later, she wrote a biography of the great Sufi saint of Ajmer, Hazrat Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti. This book was called Munis-ul-Arwah – a play on the title of one of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti’s own work, Anis-ul-Arwah. She compiled the latter work from multiple sources, including her brother Dara’s treatise, Safinat al-Awliyah.  

Devoted as she was to her father, Jahanara seemed to feel superior to even him in spiritual knowledge. One example of this was given earlier. Here is another example from Munis-ul-Arwah:

It should be known to everyone that the guiding master Khvaja Mu’inuddin Muhammad [Chisti] (may almighty God protect his secret) was a sayyid, and without doubt was among the offspring of the prophet. There is no disputing this. When the ruler of the age… Shah Jahan (may God preserve his realm), my glorious father, did not have information about the origins of the guiding master, he investigated the matter. I told him repeatedly that the master was a sayyid but he did not believe me until one day he was reading the Akbarnama and his auspicious eyes fell on the part of the where Shaikh Abu al-Fazl describes briefly the reality of the guiding master being a sayyid. From that day on this fact that was clearer than the sun was revealed to the king, shadow of God.”   

Note:  Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti founded the Chisti order of Sufis in India. Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar, also known as Baba Farid, belonged to this order. The great Hazrat Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya was the disciple of Baba Farid. The Qadiriyya silsila or Sufi sect was established in India by Shaba Nayamatullah Qadiri in the 15th century. But it was originally founded by Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani of Baghdad Sharif, whom even Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chisti considered as a guru. Dara and Jahanara belonged to this Qadiriyya sect

Padshah Begum

Jahanara was also a highly influential political figure in the courts of her father, Shah Jahan, and her brother, Aurangzeb. She was given many titles including Padshah Begum and Sahibat-al-zaman (“Mistress of the Age”) by her father, after her mother, Mumtaz Mahal’s death in 1631.

In 1644, after her recovery from the fire accident, she was given the port of Surat. She also owned a ship, Sahibi, which took Haj pilgrims to Mecca from Surat and also transported cargo between the two cities. She became extremely wealthy through the revenue she collected from the port and her shipping business. She was also given an annual allowance of 1 million rupees.

She used this money to build the Jami Masjid in Agra (1648). She also built a mosque cum religious centre dedicated to Mulla Shah in Srinagar (1650). She even laid out the Chandni Chowk in Shahjahanabad.

She remained single all her life and cared for her father even in prison till his death. At his death, she wished to take his body for burial the next day morning so that people could pay their respects to him and she also wished to donate gold asharfis to the poor. But her wish was not granted and Aurangzeb ordered the body to be taken for burial at night itself.

Return to the Court
However, Aurangzeb took her respectfully from Agra to Delhi after their father’s demise and restored to her, her titles, her annual allowance (increased) and the position of the First Lady of the empire. He gave her a splendid house to live in where he would have long conversations with her

So it seems that Jahanara had good survival skills too, in addition to her spiritual side!  She was able to establish her influence over Aurangzeb too and overcome the domination of Roshanara.

May be this was because, unlike Roshanara, Jahanara remained simple and fakeer-like till the end. No wonder, she was also known as fakeera

Jahanara the Fakeera's Tomb

Her tomb, near Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah, is simple, covered with grass (as per her wish) and without a roof. The epitaph says:

He is the Living, the Sustaining.
Let no one cover my grave except with greenery,
For this very grass suffices as a tomb cover for the poor.
The annihilated fakeera Lady Jahanara,
Disciple of the lords of Chisti,
Daughter of Shah Jahan the Warrior

(May God illuminate his proof). 

Jahanara's Grave

You are all free to discuss and share your views here.

You can read more about Princess Jahanara at Jahanara : Her Father's Daughter

This topic was posted under the Miscellaneous Topics section of history_geek's blog. 

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  1. Awesome Post Radhika. The most minute beautiful details of this revered lady have been included here. I have taken a glance right now. Will read again, to be back with more inputs.


  2. Thanks so much Radhika for this very informative Post.

  3. Thanks so much Radhika for such a detailed post, What a beautiful lady inside and out! She must have been a giant of her age and the fact that she was a woman makes me so proud.
    Radhika both she and Aurangzeb were both pious and committed to their faith. Yet contrast her with her absence of bigotry and Aurangzeb .......:(

  4. radhika dear- most beautiful post. i m in different world aftr 'tis surprise sufi treat by u. my homage 2 jahanara begum. d post made me write dese lines -

    Aashiqi se milega aey zaahid

    Bandagi se Khuda nahi’n milta - See more at:
    Aashiqi se milega aey zaahid

    Bandagi se Khuda nahi’n milta… - See more at:
    Aashiqi se milega aey zaahid

    Bandagi se Khuda nahi’n milta… - See more at: se milega aey zahid bandagi se khuda nhi milta

  5. Dear Iqra, Translate please

  6. preeti - dese lines r in arabic origin . jahanara begum reminded me of 'tis.

    zahid means selfless person in arabic

    it z a advice 2 a selfless person tat - oh selfless man u will get khuda only vn u love him but not by worshiping him.

  7. Wow how lovely and profound. Thanks for sharing Iqra

  8. Hats off for an excellent post on Jahanara Begum, Radhika :-h
    She led a simple spiritual life but was also skilled in political matters. That she commanded Aurangzeb's respect and admiration, speaks highly of her personality.

  9. Radhika dear, u transported me to The Other World frm where I reluctantly returned.She seems to me like a lotus in the muddy pond.It may be her simplicity that might hv made Aurangzeb love her eventhough she sided with Dara n would not leave her father whom he hated most. After reading her feelings I don't think the story of her affair with the commoner as shown in the movie is true.
    She seems to me as the epitome of beauty, inner as well as outer, good nature, as well as good governance, in a way, much like Jodha.Genes must hv worked:)
    2 silly qstns, Radhika, 1. what is Risala 2 What is meant by he was Saiyyed?

    Btw, Thank u so much fr introducing such a gem of a lady!

  10. What a noble, quote, so true!

  11. Geeta,

    Risala is a Arabic term. It means the "hidden messages" which are only brought to you by a messenger who is supposed to be sent by the Almighty to you, so that the messenger(basically teacher in this case) can take you to God.
    Saiyyeds are said to be the descendants of the Prophet Mohammad Sahab.

  12. Thank u Abhay. Now I undersand it better.. How beautiful1

  13. Geeta and Abhay

    Thanks Geeta for liking this post. Somehow I am always drawn more towards the women than the men, no matter how accomplished they may be :) Women always have it tougher and if they still manage to leave their footprints in the shifting sands of time, it is nothing short of a miracle.

    Geeta, Jahanara was a woman of contradictions. I do not wish to spoil your image of her. She was everything you think her to be and more. Yet, she was also fond of her drink and it is rumored that she had lovers. I am not judging her because she could not marry anyone because of the family she was born into. She was human too. :(

    Abhay, thanks for answering Geet'a Qs. :)

  14. Preeti

    True. I agree.

  15. @Everyone,

    Thanks for liking this post! :)

    I had earlier posted on Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Nasiruddin Chiragh-i-Dilli in the comments section of a post by Abhay on the actual age of old Delhi:

    Do read that too. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya was a great mystic and Jahanara was buried near his dargah only. :) Nasiruddin was his disciple.

  16. Radhika, that u r more inclined towards women, I can make out frm ur comments.:) I guess u urself must also be strong woman.:)
    Coming to Jahanaara, Radhika, these Mughal daughters could not themselves go out n seek alliances. Only people they came in contact must be, the bodyguards, civil engineers, workers, artists n so on. So either u let loose ur guard n hv affair with whoever u like or get busy with harem politics, or take ur mind away frm all these towards Almighty. There seemed to be little option fr them

  17. Geeta

    I am not myself a strong woman. That's why I admire women who are strong. :)

  18. Radhika wonderful! feels great toread about her. :)) she was spiritual at the same time handled business! waqai lajawaab thi.

  19. Radhika -- Thank you for this very informative post on Jahanara Begum. :) She seems to be an interesting, intriguing, strong, powerful personality apart from being simple and spiritual, religious and politically well-acquainted with lady....So difficult to remain in good books of Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan and other brothers when they are ready to kill each other for the throne and power accompanying it....

  20. Tamy

    MUZ reborn! Doesn't she remind you of MUZ, the way she was able to win over everyone with her simplicity and love, remained spiritual at heart and yet participated in the administration and handled the Haj business?

    She was a writer, painter, poet, designed buildings and gardens, took care of an extended family, even cared for the widows of dead nobles,...A complete woman!

  21. yes she does! I was about to say that :)

  22. Radhika Late writing, First congrats for First Historical, Post,

    Amaging Post, souli feeeling coming. After reading this, Jahanara, reached Own,
    consious world, or she felt after reaching, that point, Roohani experiencess. i Own reached another world, you own write, Heart+Souli, Language,i think, when you wrote this, you Own became thoughtless. Language finish there. sometime i can;t imagaine, Which words you choose only comes,Speechless.

    i recalling Sufi song, MULLA Kee Janna Mee Koun,

    But i think, Jahanara knows ,'who i am, because i read second post today also, which type of life she choosed, or she, lived, Spiritiual, +devoted, Sometime we live, that world, if we work, devotional+sipirtual,we attach Devotional +sipiritual, world, But Deeatchment , doing these type of works, giving nature, you not want in life for own,but you are devoting, all your life, i felt after reading, this, Jahanara was totally devoted. Practically world or devotional world she, Extreem ,

    (poem )

    Radhika Iss post koo Padkar Roohaniyat kee Khshboo, Atti hee,

    Dil juudadata hee, , Ruh see Kshboo ,Khshboo,Bikhar Jatti hee,

    Bikhare koo Sambhale Kaise, Ruh yee Sawal karti Hee,

    Dadhkano see Juudana Hoga, Roohaniyat yee kahti hee,

    Juudate hee, Atti hee, Ekk rass kee Mittash,

    Vaha takk pahuchana Nahi Har Ekk kee Bass kee Batt,

    Par Pahuchete hee Hoota hee Monn (Nee shabd)kaa Ehahsash,

    Bahata hee sabb kee liye prem,Nahi Rahta, Doosre kaa Bhav.

    (After reading this i wrote a poem) Great post

  23. Ayushi

    Thank you - what a beautiful poem for a beautiful woman - Jahanara. I really love her- such a pure soul who lived all her life for others.

  24. Hi Everyone!

    Posting here, as I couldn't decide where else to post. :)

    December 16 was the 800th birth anniversary of the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and it was celebrated grandly at his dargah in Delhi.

    Amazing this saint is still remembered and worshiped by people of all faiths!

  25. The dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya

  26. December 17 (yesterday) was the 741st death anniversary of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, one of the greatest Sufi mystics and poets in the world.

  27. Thanks Radhika for this.
    I am a big fan of Rumi, and now of Zeb-un-Nissa also. :)

  28. Abhay

    You introduced me to Rumi, so thanks :)

    Glad you appreciate Zeb - very few can understand the angst and utter loneliness of Zeb - the much-loved child who was cast away by the very same father into a life of melancholic solitude. Her poetry is the crying out of her soul for the Almighty to be merciful enough to either show her someone who may love her truly or to take her away. In a way, her life reminds me of the story, The Little Matchstick Girl.

  29. Radhika,
    I agree with your views on Zeb. Hers was a life which was melancholic. :(
    BTW, I am not aware of this story - The Litle Matchstick Girl.
    Can you share in short.?. :)

  30. Abhay

    It is a tragic story. i will tell you in short, so you don't cry too much :)

    There was once a poor little girl whose step-mother used to make her sell matchsticks to supplement the family income. It was Christmas time and the snow was falling. It was very cold, and the girl was hungry, cold and miserable. She hadn't been able to sell a single matchstick all day and now it was almost night and everyone had gone home where it was warm and cosy. But she couldn't go home as she was afraid her step-mother would scold her for returning empty-handed. She lit the match-sticks one after the other to try and warm herself. She dreamt of sitting by a cosy fireplace, eating warm food. She had never been loved by anyone except her departed grandmother. And now she remembered her grandmother and cried out to her to come and take her away to her abode. And her grandmother comes and takes her away. (Implying the girl died in the cold, longing for the love of her grandmother.)

  31. Thanks for sharing this story, Radhika.
    Indeed painful. !
    But can you tell me who wrote this and the author?
    I want to read it, if the story details are worth reading. :)

  32. Abhay, it's a children's fairy tale. I bought it from Kohwai and Young publishers (Malaysia) but in India only - at a book exhibition for my son. He is v fond of this story.:)