Saad Sarfraz Sheikh
recounts the life of Nadira, a great lady
Nadira Begum remains a silent spectator, watching cricket and soccer balls often being hit into her tomb. She lies there, a regally royal entity, listening to the ghosts of the past talk about the faded glory of the Mughal Empire, which was once the richest in the world
Aurangzeb, driven by his ambition and fanatical views, seized the throne and eventually defeated his secular brother Dara Shikoh, who was said to be tolerant, wise and admired by many. After two major wars, Dara was arrested by Aurangzeb in Balochistan, brought to Delhi and executed
Finding Nadira Begum’s tomb isn’t hard since it is right next to Sufi Saint Hazrat Mian Mir’s shrine.
Nadira Saleem Banu was the wife of Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh, the ill-fated heir to Shah Jahan’s throne and the crown prince of his Indian empire.
She died in 1659, several months before Dara Shikoh’s execution, and was survived by two daughters. No sons survived thanks to Aurangzeb Alamgir, who got rid of all male threats to his succession as emperor.
Stories of Nadira Banu’s beauty and intelligence were legendary throughout the empire. She was the daughter of Shah Jahan’s half-brother, Prince Perwez, and therefore Dara Shikoh’s cousin. Her would-be husband was eager to marry her and had a good relationship with her throughout his turbulent life. He never remarried, in spite of the common Mughal practice of persistent polygamy and overflowing harems. Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, Dara’s mother, arranged the marriage when both Dara and Nadira were teenagers. Dara Shikoh’s sister Jahanara Begum got along with Nadira quite well, as reflected by her involvement and interest in Nadira’s wedding.
With the death of Mumtaz Mahal, arrangements for the wedding ceased as Shah Jahan and his India plunged into mourning. After much coaxing by many, especially Jahanara, Shah Jahan resumed life and let her oversee the remaining aspects of the wedding. Jahanara had always visibly supported Dara over Aurengzeb and never hesitated in demonstrating that. Jahanara’s love for Dara strengthened her relationship with Nadira and after her death she left her fortune to one of Nadira’s daughters. Auragzeb once openly asked Jahanara if she would support him in his bid for the crown but she refused. Despite this event and her undying loyalty to Dara, she was made the head of the harem in Aurangzeb’s court.
Aurangzeb, driven by his ambition and fanatical views, seized the throne and eventually defeated his moderate and secular brother Dara Shikoh, who was said to be tolerant, wise and admired by many. Two major wars were waged between them, and Dara was defeated in both. In 1659 he lost another war with fate while escaping to Dadhar (Balochistan) en route to Iran, when his wife Nadira Begam died of exhaustion and dysentery. Sunk in despair, Darà Shikoh dispatched his remaining soldiers to escort his beloved wife’s dead body to Lahore. In accordance with her wish to be buried in Hindustan, he instructed that she should be laid to rest near the shrine of his spiritual guide Hazrat Mian Mir. Dara was later arrested near the Bolan Pass by the forces of Aurangzeb, was taken to Delhi and was executed.
It is interesting to note that moderates and extremists have often clashed in history. While Aurangzeb despised the arts, his brother Dara was said to be a fine painter and poet. Many of his works were collected and gifted to Nadira Begum in 1641. It was due to her affection for him because of which that she cherished them until her death. Titled the ‘Dara Shikoh Album’, it was a collection of paintings and calligraphy assembled from the 1630s until his death.
After her death the album was taken into the royal library and the inscriptions connecting it with Dara Shikoh were deliberately erased; however not everything was vandalised and many pieces of calligraphy, scripts and paintings still bear his mark. Some of the surviving works were recently on display at a British museum.
Wonder how different the history of the subcontinent would have been, if Dara Shikoh had defeated Aurangzeb instead of vice versa that actually happened.
Dara was said to be truly secular. He translated sacred Hindu texts from Sanskrit to Persian.
I think the least the seculars in Delhi should do is rename Aurangzeb Road as Dara Shikoh Road. Dara was the true secular, far ahead of them in time.