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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Aurangzeb's Love Affair at First Sight - Valentine's Day Special

    ‘Lamentation in the house cannot relieve the heart,
    In solitude alone you can cry to your heart's content.’

-- A crying Aurangzeb, after losing his Beloved - Zainabadi


Today, i am recalling one of the least known stories of Love from Medieval India. The story assumes importance because it is about Aurangzeb - a man who is known to be extremely averse to the very concept of love but he himself was clean bowled, once in his life, when he fell head over heels for "someone".

A Sufi has rightly said - " When Love happens, it happens, it does not see, who the person is, a prince or a pauper, rich or poor, royal or commoner. It simply happens. " Same is the present story.

Few months back, i had mentioned in one of my posts while giving assessment of the personality of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, that he loved someone. 
Link of that Post : Aurangzeb - Personality Assessment
Today, on 14th February, i am posting about that same story, which was promised in that post.

There are 2 contemporary accounts of this story by Mughal chroniclers. And one account is by the Italian traveller Niccolo Mannuci. There are differences in these accounts but one thing which all of them agree with is that -> "Aurangzeb fell head over heels for that girl at first sight." The girl was Zainabadi who was staying in the women's apartments (harem) of his uncle at Burhanpur.

I have given the entire possible information available in different accounts and have made some corrections in the accounts myself at various points, as per views of various eminent historians, and corrected some names. The names of uncle and aunt of Aurangzeb mentioned in the accounts are debated, though that is not our concern. Our concern is simply the story of Aurangzeb.

1. According to the Ahkam-i-Alamgiri by chronicler of Aurangzeb, Hamid-ud-din Khan,(tr. Calcutta Edition, 1912) the affair with Begum Zainabadi happened in this manner:

At the time when Aurangzeb was made governor of the Deccan and was going to Aurangabad [his head­quarters], on arriving at Burhanpur, he came to visit one of his uncles - Saif Khan (who had married the prince's maternal aunt, Malika Begum, the daughter of Asaf Khan, and eldest sister of his mother Mumtaz Mahal).

He went to visit her, and she too had invited him. As it was the house of his aunt, not much care was taken to remove the women of the harem out of his view, and the prince entered the house without announc­ing himself. Zainabadi was standing under a tree, holding a branch with her right hand and singing in a low tone. Immediately on seeing her, the prince unable to control himself, sat down there, and then fell down at full length on the ground in a swoon.

The news was carried to his aunt. Running barefooted [to the place] she clasped him to her breast and began to wail and lament. After 3 or 4 gharis (approx. 90 minutes) the prince regained consciousness. How­ever much she inquired about his condition, asking, ‘What malady is it? Did you ever have any attack of it before?’ the prince gave no reply at all but remained silent. The joy of the entertainment and hospitality was destroyed, and the affair turned into mourning and grief. 

It was midnight when the prince recovered his speech, and said, “If I mention my disease, can you apply the remedy?” When his aunt heard these words, she in extreme gladness gave away propitiatory alms (tasadduq), made sacrifices (qurban), and said, “What do you talk of remedy? I shall offer my life itself [to cure you].

Then the prince revealed the whole matter to her. On hearing it, she (almost) lost her consciousness and became tongue-tied, not knowing what to answer. 

At last the prince said, “You have uselessly shown all this tenderness in inquiring after my health. When you are not giving a reply to my words, how can you cure me?” 

The aunt replied, “May I be your sacrifice! You know this wretch, (<-her husband, Saif Khan); he is a bloodthirsty man, and does not care in the least for the Emperor Shah Jahan or yourself. On merely hearing of your request (for Zainabadi) he will first murder the girl and then me. Telling him (about your passion) will do no other good than this that I shall have to sacrifice my life. But why should the life of that poor innocent girl(Zainabadi) be destroyed for no offence?” 

The prince replied, “Indeed, you have spoken the truth. I shall try some other device.

After sunrise he came back to his own house, and did not eat anything at all. Summoning Murshid Quli Khan, who was the prince's subordinate and diwan of the Deccan, he discussed the case in detail with him, as he was his trusted confidant of secrets. The Khan said, “Let me first dispatch him (i. e., murder Saif Khan), and if afterwards anybody slays me, there will be no harm, as in exchange of my blood-price the work of my saint and spiritual guide (i. e., the prince) will be achieved.” 

The prince(Aurangzeb) replied - 
Indeed, I know that you are so ready to sacrifice your life for me. But my heart does not consent to making my aunt a widow. 
Besides, according to the Quranic Law, one cannot undertake a manifest murder with a knowledge of religious law. 
You should speak [to Saif Khan], relying on God [for success].” 

Murshid Quli Khan set off without any grumbling and told everything to Saif Khan, who replied, “Convey my salaam(salutation) to the prince. I shall give the answer of this to his maternal aunt(Malika Begum).” 

That very moment he(Saif Khan) went to the women's apartments and told [his wife], “What harm is there in it? I have no need for [Aurangzeb's] Begam, (Zainabadi) the daughter of Shah Nawaz Khan. Let him send me his own concubine(servant), that she may be exchanged [with Zainabadi].” 

And immediately afterwards he sent the aunt in a litter to the prince; when she objected saying that she would not go, he insisted, “Go quickly, if you love your life.” So she had no help but to go and tell everything to the prince, who was highly pleased and cried out, “What of [giving him] one [inmate of my harem]? Immediately take with yourself in the palki in which you have come both of them, as I have no objection!” The aunt sent a report of the facts to her husband by means of an eunuch. 

Saif Khan said, “Now no cover is left [for me to take refuge in],” and mounted and sent Zainabadi to the prince without delay.

The issue is that Saif Khan was trying his best to avoid sending Zainabadi to Aurangzeb, he was sure that Aurangzeb would not agree with the prospect of "trading of ladies" as that was against Islamic theology which Aurangzeb strictly followed. But, to his surprise Aurangzeb agreed, and then Saif Khan had no cover left. It is also possible that Aurangzeb was one step ahead of Saif Khan and was testing Saif Khan's intentions. :-P Making a fool of Aurangzeb was not an easy task, except the escaping act from Agra by one and only Shivaji. 

As i said initially, the names of this aunt and uncle are highly debated. But my job was only to tell you the story as mentioned.


2. The following version of the episode given in the Maasir, seems to be more accurate:—

Khan-i-Zaman Mir Khalil (also called Muftakhar Khan / Sipahdar Khan), the husband of a sister of Aurangzeb's mother Mumtaz Mahal, and a son-in-law of Asaf Khan, was sent to the Deccan as Chief of the Artillery in the 23rd year of Shah Jahan, 1649—50. In 1653, he became commandant of Dharur. It was only in Aurangzeb's reign that he became subahdar of Khandesh [July 1681. Died July 1684.]. 

Ahukhana: Located in front of Shahi Qila at the Other Bank of River Tapti in Zainabad. The place was royal leisure pavilions during the Mughal time. Mumtaz Mahal was buried here for 6 months. 
The above picture has been sourced from this post : The Taj Mahal

Zainabadi, who was beloved by Aurangzeb before his accession, had been, it is said, in the harem of his uncle Mir Khalil as his concubine. One day the prince went with the ladies of his harem to the garden of Zainabad in Burhanpur, named Ahu-khanah [Deer Park] and began to stroll with his chosen beloved ones. Zainabadi, whose musical skill ravished the senses, and who was unique in blandishments, having come in the train* of Mir Khalil's wife (the prince's maternal aunt), on seeing a fruit-laden mango-tree, in mirth and amorous play advanced, leaped up and plucked a fruit, without paying due respect to the prince's presence. This move of hers robbed the prince of his senses and self-control. With shameful importunity he procured her from his aunt's house, and became infatuated and given up to her, in spite of all his severe continence and temper­ance and pure training in theology. 
* - Zainabadi appears to be a servant of the aunt of Aurangzeb who came with her to the home, after the latter's marriage with Mir Khalil. English translators have called her a concubine of Mir Khalil, as she stayed in the harem. But, staying in the harem does not means every other women was a concubine.! She is described as a servant of Aurangzeb's aunt. This much is self explanatory, i guess.
One day Zainabadi offered him a cup of wine and requested him to drink it. All his professions of reluctance and entreaty were disre­garded. Then the poor prince was (at last) about to drink it, when that sly enchantress snatched away the cup (from his hand) and said ‘My purpose was to test your love and not to embitter your mouth with this wicked and unlucky liquor!’ 

This love-affair proceeded to such lengths as to reach Shah Jahan's ears. Dara Shikoh, who did not like Aurangzeb, made capital of this incident to slander his brother to the Emperor, saying, ‘See the piety and abstinence of this hypocritical knave! He has gone to the dogs for the sake of a wench of his aunt's household.’ 

By misfortune the rose of Zainabadi's life withered in its very spring time, and left the prince seared with the brand of eternal separation. She is buried at Aurangabad close to the big tank. On the day of her death the prince "became very unwell; in extreme agitation he rode out to hunt to drive away his sorrows". 

Aqeel Khan, who was in attendance, secured a private audience and remonstrated, ‘What wisdom is there in resolving to hunt in this (disturbed) state?’ 

The prince replied, (Verse)

    ‘Lamentation in the house cannot relieve the heart,
    In solitude alone you can cry to your heart's content.’

Aqeel Khan recited the following couplet [of his own compo­sition] as apt for the occasion:

    ‘How easy did love appear, but alas how hard it is!
    How hard was separation, but what repose it gave to the beloved!’

Aurangzeb could not check his tears, and cried profusely, but committed the above verses of Aqeel Khan to his memory.

I hope you remember the Aqeel Khan who was rumored  to be a Lover of Aurangzeb's daughter Zeb-un-Nissa. He is the same person i talked about above. If possible, check out about him in these 2 posts:
Part-2 > "Supplications nor force nor gold can win me"- Zeb-un-Nissa - II 
Part-3 > "My name is Zeb-un-Nissa | I am the Glory of Womankind" - III

3. The story could not escape from the ears of contemporary Italian traveller Manucci.  
In his accounts, Vol-1, Pg-231 ; he writes. His words are to be read with caution, i mean the vocabulary.

Aurangzeb grew very fond of one of the dancing-women in his harem, and through the great love he bore to her he neglected for some time his prayers and his austerities, filling up his days with music and dances; and going even farther, he enlivened himself with wine, which he drank at the ins­tance of the said dancing-girl. The dancer died, and Aurangzeb made a vow never to drink wine again nor to listen to music. In after-days he was accustomed to say that God had been very gracious to him by putting an end to that dancing-girl's life, by reason of whom he had committed so many iniquities & went against his theology, and had run the risk of never reigning through being occupied in vicious practices.



The episode with Zainabadi seems to have happened in 1653 at the earliest, when Aurangzeb was a prince not a king, and was 35 years old(not an old age those days) and the father of couple of children. 

His normally accepted image in our minds is NOT that of a passionate youth who might consider the world well lost for love. The Aurangzeb we knew was the one for whom art, music, dance, and even poetry (other than religious Islamic quotations) were his aversion, and he spent his leisure hours in hunting for legal precedents in Arabic works on Jurisprudence. Scrupulously he followed the rules of the Quran in his own private life, he considered it his duty to enforce them on everybody else; the least deviation from the strict and narrow path of Islamic orthodoxy in any part of his dominions, would (he feared) endanger his own soul.

But what happened to that Aurangzeb here ? He ceased to be the "heartless" strict Aurangzeb which we all know, even going to the extent of drinking wine on the request of his beloved. Though, it is unfortunate that she died early, and at her death he was inconsolable.!

Zainabad is the name of a suburb on the bank of the river Tapti opposite Burhanpur. 

History is a proof manifest that the most cruel ; the most unromantic ; the most strict Emperors have fallen in some way or the other for someone at some point of time in their lives. This Blog was also started to celebrate one such story.! ~~ 

Adding this ghazal by Mirza Ghalib after a discussion with a blog member, in the comments below. 

Finally, to conclude this post, i mention some lines by one of the most renowned Ghazal writer - Mirza Ghalib --- Suits best to Aurangzeb.. Just focus on the lines i marked in purple color below. Those are for Aurangzeb, a man who detested Love had to go through it and immerse himself in the river of Love.!.

Urdu Version:

Maasum Mohobbot ka bas itna fasaana hai
Kaagaz ki haveli hai, Baarish ka zamaana hai

Kya rasm-e-mohobbot hai kya shart-e-zamaana hai
Aawaz bhi zakhmi hai aur geet bhi gaana hai

Tuta hua dil apna yun unko dikhana hai

Bheegi hui aankhon se ek sher sunaana hai

Us paar utarney ki umeed nahi rakhna
Kishti bhi purani hai tufan bhi aana hai

Nadaani mere dil ki phir ishq ki zad par hai
Phir aag ka dariya hai phir doob ke jaana hai

Yeh ishq nahin aasaan, bas itna samajh lijiye
Ek aag ka dariya hai, aur doob ke jaana hai

English Translation:

An innocent love has just that story of pain,
A mansion of paper,in the time of rain.

What a ritual of love,what a condition of this age,
Voice is wounded and needs a song to stage.

In this way,show my broken heart to her,
To recite a couplet with wet eyes to her.

Don't expect to land across,
Dinghy is old,storm to surpass.

Innocence of by heart is vulnerable to love again,
Again a river of fire,to be sunk yet again.

Understand that this love is not easy,
A river of fire and to go drowning.

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous topics of history_geek's Blog.

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  1. Abhay

    A beautiful love story on V Day and a most unexpected one too. :) Thank you!

    I was touched when I read about this tale the first time a few months back. Human emotions do not leave anyone untouched. Aurangzeb was no exception. He too fell for an exceptionally beautiful lady as well as an extraordinary singer/dancer. It was not lust but love that he felt for Zainabadi.

    I believe that if Zainabadi had been alive longer, Aurangzeb may not have turned into the strict theologian that he is known to be. It seems it was her loss that he was unable to come to terms with and after the initial burst of grief, he locked away his love, sorrow and loss in the farthest recesses of his mind, denying their very existence even to himself.

    When he says that he was glad that God took her away, it is this denial that is speaking. He is clearly unable to accept and come to terms with her loss and is therefore swinging to the other extreme and saying that he is glad she is no more. This is so poignant. The tragedy is that he had none to share his grief with and none who could help him heal.

    He wanted to erase every sign of her from his life and world and probably for this reason, he shunned music, dance, poetry, wine, and romance from then on. He sought refuge in religion and its strict austerities so that he could forget her. But possibly he could never forget her.

    Love was brought in front of him again and again when his sisters and daughter fell for non-royals. His doomed love story made him so averse to love, however, that he could not, it seems, accept love flowering in the garden of someone else's life too. Such is destiny that many more people paid the price of one man's failed love.

    But it would be foolhardy to blame love for anything - some stories succeed, some fail, as per their destiny. Love itself blooms and spreads its fragrance till eternity, ever waiting to conquer lonely hearts and tie them with beautiful threads.

  2. Aqeel seems to be quite close to Aurangzeb in this story but still a slight misunderstanding of intentions and needless fear on Aqeel's part cost him and Zeb a lot. :(

  3. Zainabad and Burhanpur as well as Aurangabad were quite important and happening places in Mughal history since Shah Jahan's time.

  4. Thanks Abhay I was just reading something on this so the love bug also bit the hard hearted Aurangzeb as well he did not escape it. All Mughal kings went through this phase.

  5. Thank u Abhay for sharing this post with us. It indeed was interesting.

  6. Abhay,u hv brought forth the other side of Aurangzeb, beautifully.:) Ur treasure seems to be unending!.The way he fell fr her, (litterally) is amusing. :) Very apt post fr Valentine's day.Let us keep aside his cruelty fr a while and console/ pray fr him.:)
    Hats off to these Mughal ladies, kya nahi karwaya badshahonse !

  7. Another interesting and genuinely surprising post Abhay :).....And I take back my earlier words about Aurangzeb.....He is not boring as I thought him to be :p......Sometimes, the tough, rude, cruel exterior hides a lot many things from the outside world.....

  8. I am so reminded of Mirza Ghalib at the moment! Wasn't he the one who equated love to a molten lava river, and the only possible way to cross it was let yourself drown in the raging flame? A fundamentalist, who abraded every concept of love and celebration of life fell this hard? How?

    He is one man who comes across as the most ruthless of them all. An extremist perhaps by his own admission, and he too couldn't escape from Cupid's arrow. How magnificent this is! Zainabadi, never heard of her before but surely will remember her now!

    Thank you! That was quite a Valentine present! :)

  9. Abhay and all friends,

    This is from "Anecdotes of Aurangzeb, translated into English with notes and historical essays (1917)" by Sir Jadu Nath Sarkar. :)

    "At this period, too, occurred the only romance of his life, his passion for Hira Bai, (surnamed Zainabadi) whom he procured from the harem of his maternal uncle. It was a case of love at first sight, and Aurangzeb's infatuation for the beautiful singer knew no bounds: to please her, he consented to drink wine! Their union was cut short by her death in the bloom of youth, which plunged her lover into the deepest grief."

    The period mentioned in these lines seems to refer to 1658.

  10. Something more about the personal life of Aurangzeb from Jadunath Sarkar: :)

    Aurangzeb had another favorite concubine / companion in his old age. Udaipuri Mahal. She entered his harem after he became the emperor and gave birth to his favorite son, Kam Baksh. She is said to have been a Circasian slave-girl of Dara, gained by Aurangzeb as spoils of victory.Another account describes her as Kashmiri and may likely be true. The Masir-i-Alamgiri calls her Bai, a title reserved only for Hindu women.

    It's only fanciful conjecture that she was from the royal house of Mewar.

  11. Radhika,
    The story of his daughters/sister's affairs have not been established. I agree with all the other points, and i hold same opinions. Perfect Post. Claps. :)

  12. You're welcome Shivani,
    I have added the poetry of Mirza Ghalib in the post now. See the end portion of the post. You were talking about the same. :)

  13. Thanks Geeta , especially for the last line. :-P

  14. Right Sunram, it seems Love happened to all of them at some point of time in their lives. :)

  15. Pallavi,
    Your old assessment on Aurangzeb was also fine. And this changed stand is also correct. As i said that time, i person has many shades and we sometimes judge him based on individual acts. :D

  16. Abhay,

    Agree about first point. I shouldn't be discussing something that has not been verified. Thanks for liking the post. :)

  17. Yeah, I was! Mirza Ghalib just knows how to take things up a notch!

  18. Ha-ha, so many revelation at one go!:) Thanks Radhika, Abhay.wonder frm where do u get this! Btw, did he had any Hindu wife apart frm the one mentioned above?
    Since there is a reference of Dara, i wanted to share that a play called 'Dara' by pakistani writer Shahid Nadeem seems to be superb n making buzz these days. I just happened to stumble upon this article by Gurucharan Das. He says, Dara Shikoh (1615-1659)was a gentle sufi, intellectual who believed that the search fr God is the same fr everyone.n devoted his life to synthesizing vedantic n Islamic spirituality.Thinking that hidden book in Quran, 'Kitab -al Maknun' is infact Upanishads,he learnt Sanskrit n translated Upanishadas, Bhagavat-Gita n Yogavashishta into Persian with the help of pundits of Benaras.! All this did not go well with orthodox Aurangzeb, who declared Dara, a threat to public peace., a traiter of Islam.
    It seems Aurangzeb, who killed his own brothers is the hero in Pakistan, n this very irony is brought forward in this play by intellectuals there..

  19. Geeta,
    That girl's identity is not known. She was most probably from Kashmir, some say she was a slave girl.
    Yes Aurangzeb is a hero in the other nation.

  20. Geeta

    Yes, I read about this play Dara. It is playing in London till April.

    There is a lot of interest these days in Dara's Sufism and pacific views on Islam. People are trying to raise awareness that Dara was also an aspect of Islam, not just Aurangzeb and one who is better suited for modern times.

  21. Sankaran SatheedeviFebruary 19, 2015 at 8:48 PM

    Very interesting! Maybe that's why he turned very cruel!

  22. Quite possible. Had she been alive, perhaps we would have a different Aurangzeb in our history books now. :)

  23. Hi

    An interesting article on Aurangzeb's marriage with Dilras Banu Begum from "The Mughal World: Life in India's Last Golden Age" by Abraham Eraly.

    "In the case of Aurangzeb's marriage with Dilras Banu Begum, it {marriage} was held four hours to dawn. Before setting out for the wedding ceremony, Aurangzeb was taken to pay his respects to Shah Jahan, who gave the prince rich presents, and with his own hands tied the groom's turban and the sehra, the veil of strings of pearls and precious stones falling over his face. The marriage procession, with the princes and the grandees mounted on caparisoned horses, then wound its way through the streets of the capital to the bride's home, to the accompaniment of music and the discharge of fireworks. Shah Jahan himself arrived separately, by boat, at the bride's mansion, and the Kazi married the couple in his presence. Mehr was fixed at 400,000 rupees. The bride's father, as was the custom, kept away from the wedding ceremony. After the wedding, a reception was held at Aurangzeb's mansion, which was attended by the emperor, who there gave wedding gifts to amirs. "

    At another place, it is mentioned that Shah Jahan spent 3.2 million rupees on Dara Shikoh's wedding with Parvez's daughter!!!

  24. wow radhika. 'tis is stunning. so much importance. i marvel at d lavish ceremonies.