Apr 2, 1614 - Sep 16, 1681

Jahan Ara

Rekhta Foundation

The Sufi Princess

In 1631, Mumtaz Mahal breathed her last leaving behind a shattered Shah Jahan. He would go on to build the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife, but before that he was inconsolable.

It was at the behest of his daughter that he came out of mourning. His daughter, Jahan Ara Begum was the envy of women and the inspiration for men. Highly educated and well-versed in statecraft, her father often sought her counsel and elevated her status to First Lady of the court despite having other wives.

Her confidant and brother, Dara Shikoh was ultimately killed by their brother, Aurangzeb. He then placed her and their father, Shah Jahan under house arrest in Agra. Thus, her trust proved to be her undoing in life but not before she left a mark in history.

Jahan Ara Begum was as famed for her beauty as she was revered for her intellect. Her brother, Dara Shikoh initiated her into the Sufi order, particularly the Qadiriya order. After much search and failed appeals, the famed Sufi saint Mulla Shah took her under his wings. She went on to author a biography on him titled Ṣaḥibia. Such was their bond that he wanted to name her his successor but the rules of the Order forbade it.

The Sufi Princess also wrote a biographical account of Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chisti, the philosopher and spiritual guide who established the Chisti order of Sufism. Titled Munis-ul-Arwah ("The Companion Spirits"), the book is an example of her flair for prose and poetry.

Jahan Ara was not just a patron of the Arts, but her interest in architecture and trade was also excellent. She owned a considerable number of ships and would trade as an independent entity.

She owned Kaarkhanas (factories) and made colossal profits dealing with the Dutch and the East India Company.

Howal Moin, written by Jahan Ara Begum in Persian is a collection of discourses of Moin-ud-din Chishti and his disciples. The Urdu translation is called Munis-ul-Arwah. The book is a testimony to her belief and devotion towards the Sufi saint. In the conclusion to the book, she proclaims her utmost love for Sufi literature as being second to religion and confesses to reading and writing about Sufi saints in an effort to get closer to them in spirit. 

A labor of love, Jahan Ara Begum's Munis-ul-Arwah is a tribute to the great Sufi saint, Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chishti. It is said that she visited his grave at Ajmer before writing the book. She regarded him as the supreme saint of India and believed that he had led her on the path of Sufism from beyond.

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Munis-ul-Arwah - Pg. 13

Some Sayings of Hazrat Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaaz

Khwaja said, “A lover’s heart is the fireplace of love. Whosoever gets close to it gets burnt, for no fire is bigger than the fire of love. When streams flow, they create a sound, and when the streams join a river the sound of streams is no longer audible. Similarly, when a quester meets the ultimate, he remains silent and his enthusiasm for the material world fades out.”

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Munis-ul-Arwah - Pg. 34

Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya is reported to have narrated: “One night, a burglar who belonged to the community of non-believers came to his mother’s house. As he had come with an evil intention, he was blinded. He realised that the shrine was a holy place for his intended act. He, thus, took a vow that if his eyesight is restored, he would never indulge into any wrong and would get into the fold of believers. When the enlightened mother got to know of his vow, she prayed for him and his vision got restored. On recovering his eyesight, that man left only to return the next with his wife and son to join the fold of believers. The mother named him Abdullah and he proved to be one who was endowed with a high spiritual stature.”

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Munis-ul-Arwah - Pg. 38

"When I reached Delhi, I presented myself before Hazrat Najeebuddin and told him about my condition, and also my intention to join the spiritual order. Hazrat was gladdened and he told me that when he entered Delhi he did not find a place where he could dedicate himself wholly to remembering God. So I went towards wilderness, cantered my attention to God, and memorised the Holy Quran. One day, I happened to pass by a place where I found a dervish in a state of supplication. I asked him if he lived in the town. He replied that the town is not a place of quietude. If you want the pleasure of pure devotion, don’t be in the town."

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Munis-ul-Arwah - Pg. 39 (Contd.)

"Then I went into a garden, had an ablution, said a short prayer, and prayed to God to send me to a place where I could pursue my will. I heard a voice coming from some other world that Ghayaspur would be my abode. When I heard this, I left for Ghayaspur and went on to live there."

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Sahibia was Jahan Ara's second book, it is the biography of her murshid (spiritual guide) Mulla Shah Badakhshi. He was the successor to the famous Sufi saint Mian Mir. The book is an account of his spiritual wisdom and her discipleship under him.

A learned scholar herself, she gave no consideration to royal hierarchy when it came to the spiritual realm.

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The architectural spectacle was commissioned by Jahan Ara Begum in the heart of the Shahjahanabad, presently called Old Delhi. A specimen of Mughal architecture and Jahan Ara Begum's keen sense of aesthetic, it remains a major attraction till date.

Chandni Chowk, meaning the "Moonlit Intersection", as it is called today, is teeming with shops both new and some as old as the place itself. The broad lanes may have been encroached upon by enthusiastic sellers and some of the buildings may have been torn down, but there is something hauntingly beautiful about Chandni Chowk that invokes the spirit of the Princess with the quiet grace.

The tomb at Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia
The complex that houses the Dargah (tomb) of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia is also the final resting spot for Amir Khusrau and Jahan Ara Begum. Khusrau was the disciple of Aulia and such was his devotion that the death of his mentor shattered him and he died a few months later. The master and the protege, both institutes in themselves, were the leading lights in Sufism. Jahan Ara Begum found her last resting spot nestled between the two giants. 

To the extreme right, lies Hazrat Khwaja Syed Nizamuddin Auliya who is probably one of the greatest Sufi saints of all times. His disciple, Amir Khusrau lies to the extreme left under the white dome-like structure. Amir Khusrau was one of the pioneers of Urdu poetry and an institution in himself. Khusrau was very influential in fanning the flames of Jahan Ara's love for poetry. She is buried between them in carved marble enclosure. It is perhaps poetic justice that in death, she was in her rightful place between the greats.

The tomb of Jahan Ara Begum is at the Nizamuddin Dargah in present-day New Delhi. Interestingly, it was she who coined the term "Faqiraa", which means a female Sufi.

Her tomb is inscribed with her own couplet:
"Let no man cover my grave save with green grass,
For this grass is the fittest mantle for the tomb of the lowly."

Mulla Shah's tomb

After the death of Mulla Shah Badakshi, Jahan Ara Begum built a tomb in his honor in present-day Kashmir. A symbol of her respect towards learned men despite being a member of the royal family, she also endowed a mosque in his name.

Jahan Ara Begum
A biography by Zia ud-din Ahmed Berni, it is one of the most detailed and definitive accounts of the life of Jahan Ara Begum. Published in 1920 (1319 Hijri by the Islamic calendar), it throws light on the trials and times of the princess marked by tragedies and betrayals. It describes in detail the difficult period after her mother Mumtaz Mahal's death and the close bond she shared with her brother Dara Shikoh. Her many political endeavors, the rich poetic legacy, her house in Agra and the books she wrote all form the narrative of the book. Perhaps the highlight of the book is the correspondence between her brother - Aurangzeb and her in the form of letters. They shared a strained relationship and eventually he imprisoned her till she died. 

The calligraphy for Jahan Ara Begum was done by an artist by the name of Aaqil Khan Hussaini. A fine specimen of penmanship, it occupies a place in the Shibli Academy in Azamgarh.

In those days, the art of calligraphy was much revered, it is thus not only an important piece of literature but the manuscript is a remnant of the art of the by-gone era.

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Jahan Aara Begum

Jahan Ara Begum - Pg. 28

The Mausoleum of Jahan Aara

The mausoleum of Jahan Aara is made of white marble. The carvings around the mausoleum are delicately done. It has no roof. It appears as it is open to receive God’s grace in the form of rain and sun.

The sher inscribed on the tablet is her own creation. The two lines add great beauty to the simplicity, beauty, and grandeur of her mausoleum. The inscription can move even the most insensitive of the human beings.
The inscription is as follows:

"baġhair sabza na-poshad kasey mazaar mura
ke qabr-posh ġhareebaan hamin gayah bas-ast"

Which translates to:

"Let no man cover my grave save with green grass,
For this grass is the fittest mantle for the tomb of the lowly.

"He is living and self-subsisting."

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Jahan Aara Begum

Jahan Ara Begum - Pg. 31

It has been said that the verse inscribed on the tablet of Jahan Ara’s grave is her own creation. Several verses included in Munis-ul-Arwah are also her own. An example from a verse written in praise of God is as follows:

"aanja ke kamaal-e-kibriyaee tu bood
aalam nami az'bahr-e-ataaee tu bood

ma-raa che had-e-hamd-o-sanaaee tu bood
hum hamd–o-sanaee tu sazaaee tu bood"

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Jahan Aara Begum

Jahan Ara Begum - Pg. 35

In front of the Lahori Gate of the Red Fort of Delhi there was a huge market. Once, it was known as Lahori Bazar. This was established by Jahan Ara herself. There is an intersection at a distance of 480 yards that measures to 80 square yards. There is a kotwali square near this intersection.

At a distance of 400 yards from this intersection, there is another intersection which is known as Chandni Chowk. Facing this, here is a market measuring 460 yards where a silver stream of water flows.

At the beginning of this bazaar, there is a mosque called Sunehri Masjid.

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Jahan Aara Begum

Jahan Ara Begum - Pg. 47

Jahan Ara’s Stamp

"Researching into the details concerning Jahan Ara, I came to know from a senior friend called Abdul Qadir that Jahan Ara’s stamp is preserved with a gentleman from Satara. This gentleman is known as Farsi Nawees (Persian Writer) and he has been awarded a title by Rau Bahadur. He has other rare material with him which sheds light on the Deccan."

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Jahan Aara Begum

Jahan Ara Begum - Pg. 47 (Contd.)

The stamp: Jahan Arar bint-e-Shahjahan

There is no sign of an elongated voice on “Ara”. The date is mentioned between “Jahan” and “Bint”.

The order of words in the stamp is as follows:

At the end figures “Jahan Ara”. Above that appears “Bint” (daughter) Shahjahan is mentioned over “Bint”. Letters are well carved and look well laid out which bear testimony to good calligraphy.

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Jahan Aara Begum

The Life of a Mogul Princess

The book chronicles the Mughal reign in India in all its glory. Right from Babur till Aurangzeb, it is unique in the fact that it not only focuses on the nodal points in their lives but also on their general way of life.

The book culminates with accounts of Jahan Ara and her siblings, Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh. While the latter was a source of comfort, the former was the harbinger of devastation in her life. Amidst tragedies and betrayals, it is a mark of her strong personality that she not only survived but also thrived.

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The Life of a Mogul Princess

(In order of their mention in this exhibit)

1. Munis-ul-Arwah

2. Sahibia

3. Jahan Aara Begum

4. The Life of a Mogul Princess

Rekhta Foundation
Credits: Story

Rekhta Foundation

Suman Mishra

Prof. Anisur Rahman, Faiyaz Ahmad Wajeeh, Neha Malara

Aalok Soni

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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