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The First Tragedy
by Swapna Dutta

The Fort Story...

Nothing, however wonderful, lasts forever. Everyone inside the Red Fort was unhappy when Shah Jahan fell ill in the autumn of 1657. People whispered that they had seen the Angel of Death hovering over the royal apartments. The four sons of the Emperor, Dara Shikoh, Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad, heard these rumours and started plotting against one another for grabbing the royal throne.

Dara Shikoh took the ailing Emperor to Agra and sent armies to capture his brothers. Shuja was defeated and ran away to Burma where he was killed. Murad and Aurangzeb joined forces. They defeated Dara Shikoh and made Shah Jahan a prisoner at the Agra Fort.

The guiding principle of Aurangzeb's life seems to have been “Kingship knows no kinship”. That is why he was not bothered by scruples while getting Murad killed although he had joined hands with him only a short while ago! And Shah Jahan, a heart-broken captive, watched helplessly from his sick -bed, unable to do anything to set matters right.

Until now the Red Fort had been the site of joy, festivity, laughter and happiness. With Shah Jahan so ill, the forces of hatred, jealousy, deceit, treachery and a ruthless tussle for power shook the same royal palace.
Although Dara Shikoh was the heir apparent, selected by Shah Jahan himself, it was Aurangzeb, the third son, who succeeded in grabbing the Peacock Throne. As mentioned earlier, he got himself crowned in the garden house of Shalimar Bagh.

The entire city of Shahjahanabad was stunned and the people within the fort were steeped in sorrow at the tragic fate of Dara Shikoh. Strange as it might seem, it was Malik Jiwan, the Afghan chief of Dadar whose life Dara Shikoh had once saved, who betrayed him and helped Aurangzeb to capture him. The captive prince and his family were brought to Delhi and kept prisoners at Khawaspura, a village three miles south of Delhi.

In order to convince the people of Delhi (who did not believe that the prince had been imprisoned) and to humiliate the brother whose claim to the throne was greater than his, Aurangzeb made the captive prince and his sons parade through all the main streets of Shahjahanabad wearing coarse and dirty clothes, tied to an elephant, their feet in chains!

Bernier, who was an eye-witness to this terrible scene, writes:

The crowd assembled upon this disgraceful occasion was immense and everywhere. I observed the weeping and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language. ..From every quarter I heard piercing and distressing shrieks (for the Indian people have a very tender heart); men, women and children wailing as if some mighty calamity had happened to themselves."

But in spite of their obvious grief, no one dared to make any attempt to save their beloved prince. The procession, after passing through Chandni Chowk and other bazaars, returned to Khawaspura. The next day, when Malik Jiwan went round the city in his newly elevated position, he had to pay, at least partially, for his treachery. The people were not going to leave the traitor alone.

This is how Khafi Khan, the author of the famous Murtakhab-ut Lubab describes it:

The idlers, the partisans of Dara, the workmen and people of all sorts (literary, traders) inciting each other, gathered into a mob and assailing Jiwan and his companions with abuse, they pelted him with dirt and filth and clods and stones, so that several persons were knocked down and killed and many were wounded. Jiwan was protected by shields held over his head, and at length made his way through the crowd to the palace. They say that the disturbance on this day was so great that it bordered on rebellion. If the kotwal had not come forward with his policemen to suppress the rising, not one of Malik Jiwan's followers would have escaped with his life.”

But unfortunately this incident only hastened the doom of Dara Shikoh. Aurangzeb grew apprehensive about what might happen next. And he was determined not to take any risks. He had Dara Shikoh put to death the very next day. Not content with killing him, he ordered that the dead body should be placed on the back of an elephant and shown round in all the bazaars and lanes of Delhi so that the people might realize what happened to those who dared to oppose the new Emperor.

Aurangzeb sent Dara's imprisoned son to the Gwalior Fort and had him locked up in the pitch-dark dungeon below. Roshan Ara, Aurangzeb's favourite sister, took away Dara's little daughter Jani who had always been particularly dear to Shah Jahan, and made her life miserable by giving her a hard time. But Jahan Ara intervened and asked Aurangzeb to let her take charge of the child. Aurangzeb was unable to defy his elder sister to her face, and agreed reluctantly.

The story of the Red Fort makes it quite obvious that it is not men alone who go crazy over the tussle for power. Sometimes even women lose their heads (and moral scruples) in the power game. This is precisely what happened to Roshan Ara. Despite all her cleverness, Roshan Ara made a false move in 1664 when Aurangzeb fell seriously ill. She was so sure that he would not survive that she dared to steal Aurangzeb’s signet ring and hatched a plot to supplant Shah Alam, who would have been the rightful heir. Roshan Ara planned to replace him with her 6-year-old brother Azam, so that she might enjoy total power and absolute supremacy as the Regent during Azam’s long period of minority. But Aurangzeb recovered from his illness and discovered her plot. Needless to say, Roshan Ara lost her position immediately. She was later poisoned and buried in her own garden.

The Roshanara Garden was grossly neglected until Colonel Cracroft took it up, renovating and modernizing it. He had all the ruined Mughal structures pulled down. All except the tomb itself. The new garden became the fashionable Roshan Ara Club, a favourite meeting place of the British during their reign. The landscaping has been totally changed now. All that remains of its Mughal past is the name and the legends associated with it.     

Previous: Glimpses of the Emperor’s life 
Next: The Fort Story: Aurangzeb Takes Over

15-Aug-2010
 
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