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JAHAN ARA (1613-1683)


Jahan Ara was the daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal (q.v.). She was an accomplished writer and scholar, but her life was clouded by the tragedy that overtook the sons of Shah Jahan. She shared with her brother, Dara Shikoh, a deep sense of mystic insight, and a devotion to the Chishtiya saints. She wrote a collection of essays on the lives of the Chishtis called Munis al-Arwah (The Companion of Souls) and added a beautiful hall to the Chishti shrine at Ajmer. On her thirty first birthday, which was celebrated with great ceremony, her clothes happened to catch fire and she was badly burnt. She never married, but looked after Dara Shikoh’s children and even arranged the marriage of one of his daughters as if she were her own.

When the brothers fell out, her sympathy was of course with Dara Shikoh, and she pleaded for his life with Aurangzeb, but in vain. Shah Jahan was shut up in Agra Fort, and though Aurangzeb treated her kindly, granting her an estate and a handsome annuity, she shunned the court, preferring to share her father’s exile. After her death she wished to donate her fortune to the Ajmer shrine, but Aurangzeb permitted only a third of it to go to the shrine, since, he argued, according to Islamic law a bequest could not be more than one third of one’s estate. Like her father, Jahan Ara was a great builder and layer-out of gardens, leaving us the Jami Masjid at Agra and the mosque of Mulla Nadakshi in Kashmir. She is buried in a latticework enclosure of her own designing at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya shrine at Delhi, and as she wished, only grass covers her grave.
 
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