The Fort Story ...
We get a fairly accurate picture of the life within the Red Fort during Shah Jahan's reign from the various court records and the accounts of foreign travellers, especially Francois Bernier's Travels in the Mughal Empire. Sir Thomas Roe, England's Ambassador to the Mughal court, writes that the daily routine of the Emperor was “as regular as the clock that strikes the hours." Khushwant Singh in his Delhi: A Portrait gives us a graphic picture of a typical day spent at the court of Shah Jahan, culled from the various records available. This is what he says:
“As the morning star appeared in the sky, the royal orchestra began to play music appropriate for the morning hours. From the minarets of mosques muezzins called the faithful to prayer. The citizens assembled on the banks of the river Yamuna below the palace walls. As the sun came up, the Emperor appeared on the Jasmine Tower for the Jharokha-i-darshan so that his subjects could see for themselves that he was in good health.”
A balcony was added to the tower used by the later Mughal kings. Years later in 1911 when the British rulers took over, King George V and Queen Mary faced the citizens of Delhi from this same balcony.
To continue with the story of Shah Jahan:
" If his majesty had had a late night, he would retire for a couple of hours. Otherwise he would say his prayers and have his breakfast. By mid-morning he was ready to commence the business of state. Mace bearers led the royal procession announcing the arrival of the Emperor in sonorous words -' Ea adaab, Ea Mulahizah...Hoshiyar !" His Royal Majesty Abul Muzaffar Shahabuddin Muhammad Shahib-i- Quiran Sani, Shadow of God on earth, Monarch of the Universe, Emperor of Hindustan makes his august presence.
As the Emperor appeared on the balcony, the assemblage made three deep bows, touching their foreheads with their right hand. The Emperor took his seat on the throne. Ladies of the royal seraglio watched through the trellised windows. Reports sent from distant parts of the empire were read aloud. Appointments, transfers or postings were announced; visiting dignitaries, wearing robes of honour presented to them, were allowed to make their offerings in gold mohurs or precious stones, horses or elephants.
On certain days criminals were brought in chains, their cases heard and sentences pronounced. Executioners wearing quilted caps and armed with hatchets and whips were always present to carry out sentences on the spot. And all the while bands played, jugglers, wrestlers, acrobats and nautch girls performed ; lions, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses and other animals were paraded. The session lasted for about two hours and came to an end as the Emperor pronounced takhlia and a red curtain dropped in front of the balcony.
The court, now consisting only of princes, ministers and ambassadors reassembled in the Diwan-i-Khas to conduct more serious business of state. So passed another hour - followed by a third session in Shah Burj where only princes of royal blood and the senior most ministers, especially invited, had further audience with the Emperor. By then it was well past noon.”
After that the Emperor retired for his midday meal followed by a period of rest. As Khushwant Singh describes it:
“He spent much of the afternoon with the ladies of the seraglio and dealt with matters concerning his vast family. He settled allowances, pensions and sums to be given in charity to provide dowries for girls of poor families. In these matters his favourite queens and princesses played a very important role.
In the late afternoon the Emperor again appeared for the Jharokha-i-darshan. Sometimes he witnessed elephant fights (the sole prerogative of the Emperor) or took the salute at a march-past of his troops.”
This was followed by evening prayers, dinner and time spent with the members of his family until he retired for the night.
The Mughal Emperors had started the system of state processions. Shah Jahan's processions (for which he is said to have shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi) were the most spectacular of them all. Every historian and chronicler of the time has described it vividly and some in great details. This is how one of them describes it:
“Ahead of the procession rode two wings of mounted soldiers, each comprising 8000 horses. At the head were the mace-bearers bearing maces made of silver. Behind them came two standard bearers on elephants carrying the large silk flag, beautifully embroidered. They were followed by spearmen on foot and horsemen carrying various weapons. Then came men on elephants carrying the various symbols of the Emperor (such as, the sun, an upraised hand, scales of justice, a fish, a tiger's head, a horse's head and so on). Then came the drummers, camel riders, cavalrymen and the infantry followed by musicians. There were battalions of servants and coolies who sprinkled the road with water to prevent dust. Behind them came the gunners (gola andaz), marksmen, rocket-throwers and shield bearers. There were men carrying the hourglass, gong and hammer to tell the time.
“Only after all this paraphernalia and more came the personal servants of the Emperor in trim uniforms and white turbans carrying all that he might possibly require during the journey. Then came Shah Jahan seated on the largest elephant called Megh-dambar who wore the richest and most magnificent trappings. Faujdar Khan sat facing the Emperor holding his ceremonial hookah in his hand. Dara Shikoh, the eldest prince, sat behind the Emperor fanning him with a gold fan. A long line of soldiers followed along with the royal servants and all the King's horses. They were followed by the other princes and the princesses, Jahan Ara and Roshan Ara. During the time of the later Mughals the Resident also participated in the procession and rode behind the King and the princes. "
This gorgeous procession, miles in length, was eagerly watched by thousands of people for hours on end. They crowded on balconies, terraces, rooftops and other vantage points and cheered as the procession passed by. They salaamed the Emperor and those who were lucky had their greetings acknowledged by a nod or a smile.
And now a few words about some members of Shah Jahan's family who lived with him inside the fort. There were his two daughters, Jahan Ara and Roshan Ara, Akbarbadi Begum (his favourite queen after Mumtaz), and Dara Shikoh, the eldest prince.
Princess Jahanara laid out yet another garden in the heart of the city the same year (1650) after Chandni Chowk was made. She named it Begum ka Bagh after herself. The garden extended from where we now have the National Club to the present Lajpatrai Market. A high stone wall surrounded the garden. Members of the royal family, ladies of the palace, and wives and daughters of the nobles visited the garden frequently. It was a place of enjoyment where they took walks, and enjoyed swinging and playing games. Begum ka Bagh, according to historians and travellers who saw it then, was indeed a thing of beauty. It had pools and channels of running water, pretty fountains and canopies (called chhatris) supported on twelve pillars of red stone. They were known as bara dari and provided cool resting places. The water in the channels came from the canal system constructed by Ali Mardan Khan. They helped water the trees and lawns within the garden. The garden had several fruit trees as well, and was full of flowers. Many of the trees had swings on them.
Begum ka Bagh was the venue of many festivals. The most important among them was Pankhon ka mela. It was a fair meant exclusively for ladies and was celebrated for seven days. There is a story about a Persian poet who managed to sneak inside the garden one day and was lucky enough to see Princess Jahan Ara swinging merrily with her friends, totally unaware of his presence. The poet was charmed by her beauty and composed a poem about her on the spot. He is said to have actually confronted Jahan Ara and recite his poem. Needless to say, Jahan Ara, was embarrassed to find a stranger inside her private garden. But she was a poet herself and liked his poem so much that she rewarded him by giving him a purse full of money. But when Shah Jahan, got to hear about it he banished the poet from Shahjahanabad for having dared to enter the garden and speaking to the princess!
Begum ka Bagh, like many other monuments, has a chequered history. It remained as it was until the reign of Shah Alam II. When Begum Samro helped him during his conflict with the Rohillas, he gave her a piece of land within this garden where she built her own palace. The same building is now known as Bhagirath Palace, the main electronic market of Delhi. People often go there to buy their electrical fittings. The garden came to be called Company Bagh during the early British period and was thrown open to the public. Its name was changed once again to Queen's Garden in 1857 after Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India. What remains of it today is now a part of Gandhi Park. Jahan Ara had also built a caravansarai or rest house for travellers near the garden. It was a two-storeyed building with a large courtyard and wells. There is no trace of it now except for a few rubbles.
The Roshan Ara Garden was laid out in 1650 by Princess Roshan Ara, Jahan Ara's younger sister.
She was Aurangzeb's favourite sister and actively supported him in the war of succession, which came some years later. She played an important role in Aurangzeb's court where she was the sole mistress of the palace, enjoying all the privileges of a queen. It was possible despite her being the younger sister because Princess Jahan Ara, her elder sister, was made a captive along with her father Shah Jahan.
The garden laid out by Roshan Ara was also used as a holiday resort. It was more spectacular than her sister's garden and had a summer house as well. This is how Bernier, describes it:
“The prospect through the dark, filed archway is charming. On either side large, shady trees shut in and direct the eyes to the distant view of the white pavilion with its walls and pillars, half-concealed in wreaths and festoons of glowing purple bougainvillea. Every detail is reflected clearly in the placid dark green water of this long canal, where the rose bushes, leaning over, soften the edges of its raised stone border with their new grown, red-brown shoots and graceful flower-decked sprays.”
Another writer of the time says:
“It must have been a gay sight when Begum Roshan Ara's elephant procession arrived here from Delhi fort. The huge animals with their gold-embroidered coverings, their solemn, ponderous tread, their jingling silver bells, conveying the goddess of the Imperial harem. …. And then the princess herself, escaping from the noise and heat of the royal palace, came in her splendid rose- curtained seat, swung between two smaller elephants, to while away a few hours in her cool, flower-scented, fountain-sprinkled garden”. But the garden eventually proved to be more than a pleasure resort for Roshan Ara. But you shall hear about that later.
As mentioned earlier, Akbarbadi Begum was one of Shah Jahan's favourite queens. She had the main responsibility of running the Emperor's household and family. She looked after all his children, loving and caring for them all.
The children were very fond of her too. In those days all important Mughal queens had mosques built in their names. That is how we have the Akbarbadi masjid that was named after her. The Fatehpuri masjid in Chandni Chowk and the Sarhindi masjid near the Lahori Gate are named after Fatehpuri Begum and Sarhindi Begum respectively.
Akbarbadi Begum also built the Shalimar Bagh, modelled after the Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir. It was an impressive garden house with a mango grove and a huge lake with lotus blooming all over it. The main building was called Sheesh Maha1. Shalimar Bagh was destined to play a dramatic in later years. It was in this very garden that Aurangzeb had himself crowned as Emperor after getting all his brothers killed. But that comes much later.
During the happy days of Shah Jahan's rule, Dara Shikoh, the eldest and most beloved among his sons, spent most of his time studying seriously in the calm tranquillity of his special abode. Like Humayun, Dara too had his own library. A learned scholar, he spent long hours studying and discussing philosophical concepts with both Muslim and Hindu saints and scholars. He not only collected books but also wrote several books himself. He also got a large number of Sanskrit classics translated into Persian. They included the Yoga Vasishta and the Bhagavad Gita. The most significant and controversial among his own translations were Sirr-i-Akbar, a Persian rendering of 52 Upanishads.
The most important book written by Dara Shikoh, however, was Majmua-ul-Baharain. It is a comparative study of Islam and Hinduism and is a plea for the “mingling of two oceans”. In this masterly work he explained his theory and conviction that the two faiths were not contradictory because both arrived at the same truth. The book is a living example of Dara Shikoh's breadth of mind and his liberal views on religion. The library building, not far from the General Post Office, is still in existence. If you look carefully you might even locate the tablet with faded letters, Kutub Khana Dara Shikoh (Dara Shikoh's library).
Dara Shikoh carried on the tradition of religious tolerance set by Akbar and continued by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. We get to know from the records of Shah Jahan's reign that many Hindus enjoyed positions of trust and great responsibility. Many of them were Rajputs. One such dignitary was Rai Rayan Raja Raghunath Das who started as a humble worker and eventually rose to the position of Emperor's Diwan-i-tan or Prime Minister in 1641. Rai Rayan's outstanding administrative ability and other qualities are described in great details in Umrae Hanood, an important document of Mughal India. Bhawani Dass was another learned pundit in Shah Jahan's court.
It was indeed a grand period in the history of India. It was during Shah Jahan's reign that the power and the wealth of the Mughal Empire (and the splendour of its court) reached its zenith. Shahjahanabad was considered the premiere city in India and the whole of Asia. The Qila-e-Mualla was the centre of it all. Its glory was inscribed in letters of gold in the Diwan-i-Khas:
Gar Firdaus bar-oo-e zameen ast
Hameenast -o-hameenast -o-hameenast!
(If on earth there be an Eden of Bliss
It is this, it is this, oh it is this!)
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