Jahanara Begum

Portrait of Jahanara (1635), artist unknown. Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

By Catherine Capel

Jahanara Begum was the daughter of Emperor Shah Juhan and Mumtaz Mahal born in 1617. Her father based the position of her mother as Padshah Begum (premier lady) on the example of Nur Jahan, wife of Emperor Jahangir. He granted Mumtaz Mahal with titles and grants as well as making her custodian of the Imperial seal. At the time of her mother’s death in 1631, Jahanara was only fourteen years old, but she took over as Padshah Begum and took on the same duties as her mother before her.

Jahanara received tutoring from Sati-un-Nisa, an educated woman who was a lady in waiting to Jahanara’s mother, Mumtaz Mahal. Sati-un-Nisa was renowned for her knowledge of the Quaran and Persian Literature.

In her position as premier lady, the emphasis was primarily on Jahanara’s charitable donations. At the age of seventeen, she was placed in charge of royal rituals. This included organising the wedding of her brothers in 1633 and the urs (celebration of the anniversary of someone’s death) for her mother.

Royal women in the Mughal Empire were involved in domestic and overseas trade with many of them being successful in economic enterprises. Jahanara had two ships, the Sahebi and the Ganjawar. In 1643, one of her ships was recorded as carrying pilgrims and goods worth Rs. (rupees) 5,000-10,000. She was also recorded as being actively involved in deciding the captain and crew that were hired to sail on her ships.

Jahanara died in 1681 and her brother Aurangzeb memorialised her as “Sahibat-uz-Zamani” (The Mistress of Age).                 

Jahanara has also been the focus of the popular history book Jahanara: Princess of Princesses by Kathryn Laksy as a part of the Royal Diaries Series which explores her life in the Mughal Empire.   

Front Cover of ‘Princess of Princesses’. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Recommended Reading

Fergus Nicoll, Shah Jahan (New Delhi: Penguin, 2009)

Karuna Sharma, “A Visit to the Mughal Harem: Lives of Royal Women,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 32 (2009): 155-69

Kathryn Laksy, Jahanara: Princess of Princesses (New York: Scholastic, 2002)

Shadab Bano, “Piety and Princess Jahanara’s Role in in the Public Domain,” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 74 (2013): 245-50

Soma Mukherjee, Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing, 2001).

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