Jahanara Begum

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Shahzadi Jahanara Begum Sahib
شاهزادی جہاں آرا بیگم صاحب
Jahanara 1635.jpg
Padshah Begum of Mughal
1st Tenure 17 June 1631 - 31 July 1658
Predecessor Mumtaz Mahal
Successor Roshanara Begum
2nd Tenure until 16 September 1681
Predecessor Roshanara Begum
Successor Zinat-un-Nissa
Born 2 April 1614
Died 16 September 1681(1681-09-16) (aged 67)
Burial Nizamuddin Dargah, New Delhi

Hamidulla khan

Hakim khan
Dynasty Timurid
Father Shah Jahan
Mother Arjumand Banu Begum
Religion Islam

Jahanara Begum Sahib (Urdu: شاهزادی جہاں آرا بیگم صاحب‎) (April 2, 1614 – September 16, 1681) was Shahzadi (Imperial Princess) of Mughal as the eldest surviving daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and Empress Mumtaz Mahal.[1] She was also the older sister of her father's successor and the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. After Empress Mumtaz Mahal died from complications of giving birth to her fourteenth child, she became Padshah Begum of the Mughal Empire.


Upon the death of Mumtaz in 1631, Jahanara, aged 17, took the place of her mother as First Lady of the Empire, despite her father having three other wives.[2] As well as caring for her younger brothers and sisters, she is also credited with bringing her father out of mourning and restoring normality to a court darkened by her mother's death and her father's grief.

One of her tasks after the death of her mother was to oversee the betrothal and wedding of her brother, Dara Shikoh to Begum Nadira Banu, which had been originally planned by Mumtaz Mahal, but postponed by her death. Jahanara's mother, Arjumand Banu Begum, Empress Mumtaz Mahal died from complications of giving birth to her fourteenth child, some time after the birth.

Mumtaz Mahal's personal fortune valued at 10,000,000 rupees, was divided by Shah Jahan between Jahanara Begum (who received half) and the rest of her surviving children.[3]

Her father frequently took her advice and entrusted her with charge of the Imperial Seal. Shah Jahan's fondness for his daughter was reflected in the multiple titles that he bestowed upon her, which included: Sahibat al-Zamani (Lady of the Age) and Padishah Begum (Lady Emperor), or Begum Sahib (Princess of Princesses). Her power was such that, unlike the other imperial princesses, she was allowed to live in her own palace, outside the confines of the Agra Fort.[4]

In 1644,[5] just days after her thirtieth birthday, Jahanara’s garments, doused in fragrant perfume oils, caught fire, leaving Jahanara seriously injured. Shah Jahan, so concerned for the welfare of his favourite daughter, nursed her back to health himself. After the accident, the princess went on a pilgrimage to Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer.

After her recovery, Shah Jahan gave her rare gems and jewellery and bestowed upon her the revenues of the port of Surat.[4] She later visited Ajmer, following the example set by her great-grandfather Akbar.[6]

Relations with family[edit]

The passing of Shah Jahan beside his daughter and caretaker Princess Jahanara. Painting by Abanindranath Tagore, 1902

There is record of disagreements between Jahanara and her younger brother Aurangzeb whom she had referred to as the "white serpent" (presumably due to Aurangzeb's fair complexion) also referring to him as a tiger and panther.[7] There also seemed to be some sort of tension with her younger sister, Roshanara Begum, three years her junior who seemingly, resented her elder sister's position as First Lady of the Empire.[8] Jahanara took the side of Dara Shikoh in the struggle for the throne (Whilst Roshanara sided with Aurangzeb). Dara had promised her to lift the ban on marriage for Mughal princesses, which Akbar had introduced. Had he triumphed, her power would likely have continued.[citation needed] On Aurangzeb's ascent to the throne, Jahanara joined her father in imprisonment at the Agra Fort, where she devoted herself to his care until his death.[9]

After the death of their father, Jahanara and Aurangzeb were reconciled. He gave her the title, Empress of Princesses and she replaced Roshanara as First Lady.[10]

Jahanara was soon secure enough in her position to occasionally argue with Aurangzeb and have certain special privileges which other women did not possess. She argued against Aurangzeb's strict regulation of public life in accordance with his conservative religious beliefs and his decision in 1679 to restore the poll tax on non-Muslims, which she said would alienate his Hindu subjects.[citation needed]


Jahan Ara's tomb (left), Nizamuddin Auliya's tomb (right) and Jamaat Khana Masjid (background), at Nizamuddin Dargah complex, in Nizamuddin West, Delhi.

Upon her death, Aurangzeb gave her the posthumous title: Sahibat-uz-Zamani (Mistress of the Age).[11] Jahanara is buried in a tomb in the Nizamuddin Dargah complex in New Delhi, which is considered "remarkable for its simplicity". The inscription on the tomb reads as follows:

بغیر سبزہ نہ پو شد کسے مزار مرا کہ قبر پوش غریباں ہمیں گیاہ و بس است
Allah 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 mortal simplistic Princess Jahanara,
Disciple of the Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti,
Daughter of Shah Jahan the Conqueror
May Allah illuminate his proof.
1092 [1681 AD]

Personal attributes[edit]

No formally attributed likeness of her is known to exist.[12] She was highly educated and well versed in Persian and Arabic,[12] as well as a writer, painter and poet (of some repute).[13]

Jahanara Begum's caravanserai that formed the original Chandni Chowk, from Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalf's 1843 album

Jahanara was known for her active part in looking after the poor and financing the building of mosques and wise.[14]

For example, when the Sahibi (a ship constructed by herself), was going to set sail for its first journey (on 29 October 1643), she ordered that the ship make its voyage to Mecca and Medina and "... that every year fifty koni (One Koni was 4 Muns or 151 pounds) of rice should be sent by the ship for distribution among the destitute and needy of Mecca."[15]

In Agra she is best known for sponsoring the building of the Jami Masjid in 1648 in the heart of the old city.[16]

She also made a significant impact on the landscape of the capital city of Shahjahanabad. Of the eighteen buildings in the city of Shahjahanabad commissioned by women, Jahanara commissioned five of them. All of Jahanara's building projects were completed around the year 1650, inside the city walls of Shahjahanabad. The best known of her projects was Chandni Chowk, the main street in the walled city of Old Delhi.

She constructed an elegent caravanserai on the East side of the street with gardens in the back. Herbert Charles Fanshawe, in 1902, mentions about the serai:

"Proceeding up the Chandni Chauk and passing many shops of the principal dealers in jewels, embroideries, and other products of Delhi handicrafts, the Northbrook Clock Tower and the principal entrance to the Queen's Gardens are reached. The former is situated at the site of the Karavan Sarai of the Princess Jahanara Begam (p. 239), known by the title of Shah Begam. The Sarai, the square in front of which projected across the street, was considered by Bernier one of the finest buildings in Delhi, and was compared by him with the Palais Royal, because of its arcades below and rooms with a gallery in front above." [17]

The serai was later replaced by [18] building now known as the Town Hall, and the pool in the middle of the square was replaced by a grand clock tower (Ghantaghar).


Together with her brother Dara Shikoh, she was a disciple of Mullah Shah Badakhshi, who initiated her into the Qadiriyya Sufi order in 1641. Jahanara Begum made such progress on the Sufi path that Mullah Shah would have named her his successor in the Qadiriyya, but the rules of the order did not allow this.[6]

She wrote a biography of Moinuddin Chishti, the founder of the Chishtiyah order in India, titled Mu’nis al-Arwāḥ, as well as a biography of Mullah Shah, titled Risālah-i Ṣāḥibīyah, in which she also described her initiation by him.[19] Her biography of Moinuddin Chishti is highly regarded for its judgment and literary quality. In it she regarded him as having initiated her spiritually four centuries after his death, described her pilgrimage to Ajmer and spoke of herself as a faqīrah to signify her vocation as a Sufi woman.[20]

Jahanara Begum stated that she and her brother Dārā were the only descendants of Timur to embrace Sufism.[21] However, Aurangzeb was spiritually trained as a follower of Sufism as well. As a patron of Sufi literature, she commissioned translations of and commentaries on many works of classical literature.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

Her early life is depicted in The Royal Diaries book series as Jahanara: Princess of Princesses, India - 1627 by Kathryn Lasky. Jahanara is the protagonist of the novel Beneath a Marble Sky, by John Shors. She is the main character in the novel Shadow Princess by Indu Sundaresan, published on 23 March 2010. She is also the main character in Jean Bothwell's An Omen for a Princess (1963). Actresses Mala Sinha and Manisha Koirala have portrayed the role of Jahanara in their respective films, namely Jahan Ara (1964) and Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story (2005).



  1. ^ "Begum, Jahan Ara (1613-1683)". Web.archive.org. 2009-04-10. Archived from the original on April 10, 2009. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  2. ^ Preston, page 176.
  3. ^ Preston, page 175.
  4. ^ a b Preston, page 235.
  5. ^ "The Biographical Dictionary of Delhi – Jahanara Begum, b. Ajmer, 1614-1681". Thedelhiwalla.com. 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  6. ^ a b Schimmel, Annemarie (1997). My Soul Is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam. New York: Continuum. p. 50. ISBN 0-8264-1014-6. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Preston, page 266.
  9. ^ "Tomb of Begum Jahanara". Delhi Information. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  10. ^ Preston, page 285.
  11. ^ Preston, page 286.
  12. ^ a b Preston, page 232.
  13. ^ Lasky, Kathryn (2002). The Royal Diaries: Jahanara, Princess Of Princesses. Scholastic Inc. p. 147. ISBN 0-439-22350-4. 
  14. ^ "Jahanara". WISE Muslim Women. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  15. ^ Moosvi, Shireen (2008). People, Taxation, and Trade in Mughal India. Oxford University Press. p. 264. ISBN 0-19-569315-9. 
  16. ^ "Jami Masjid Agra - Jami Masjid at Agra - Jami Masjid of Agra India". Agraindia.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-01-11. 
  17. ^ Fanshawe, H.C. (1902). Delhi Past and Present. J. Murray. p. 52. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  18. ^ "Landmark building with uncertain fate, Nivedita Khandekar, Hindustan Times New Delhi, December 08, 2012". hindustantimes.com. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  19. ^ Rizvi, Saiyid Athar Abbas (1983). A History of Sufism in India 2. New Delhi: Mushiram Manoharlal. p. 481. ISBN 81-215-0038-9. 
  20. ^ Helminski, Camille Adams (2003). Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure. Boston: Shambhala. p. 129. ISBN 1-57062-967-6. 
  21. ^ Hasrat, Bikrama Jit (1982). Dārā Shikūh: Life and Works (second ed.). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal. p. 64. 
  22. ^ Schimmel, Annemarie (1997). My Soul Is a Woman: The Feminine in Islam. New York: Continuum. p. 51. ISBN 0-8264-1014-6.