Mughal Princess and Poet
Hijri 1026–1082 (AH); Common Era 1617–1671 (CE)
Roshanara Begum was the daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan, architect of the Taj Mahal. Although she is often forgotten in the face of her older sister Jahanara, Roshanara wielded a great deal of political power and was known as a ruthless and cunning adversary. Considered the mastermind behind Aurangzeb’s ascension, Roshanara played an integral role in ensuring that her brother became emperor, supplanting their father’s chosen heir, their brother Dara Shikoh. Through her intelligence sources, she was able to save Aurangzeb from assassination after he revolted against Dara and his father. Once Aurangzeb emerged successful, it was Roshanara, living up to her characterization as being ruthless, who insisted on the execution of their brother Dara and sent the head to their father in a box as a gift. Once Aurangzeb became emperor, Roshanara became the leading woman of the court, and she ruled his harem with the same strong will she had displayed in the war of succession. She also advised him on matters of state and patronized the building of the Jama Masjid. Although obliged to remain single in the tradition of Mughal princesses, she acquired a series of lovers. While Aurangzeb was campaigning in the Deccan, she managed affairs in Delhi on his behalf, but she furthered her own temporal ends. With this ammunition, her enemies brought the case against her to Aurangzeb. Subsequently, Aurangzeb banished his sister to lead a life of pious seclusion. However, once Roshanara was discovered with another lover, Aurangzeb had her declared a kafir (unbeliever, in Aurangzeb’s use) and ordered her lover and her to be poisoned. Aurangzeb had her interred in the garden that she had designed. The famous Roshanara Bagh (Garden) in Delhi was known for its beauty. Later, in the time of the British Raj, the English converted it into a country club for their use. Although she died in ignominy, the Bagh and her tomb are both victims of criminal disrepair, and her name has faded into obscurity, Roshanara was nonetheless a vivacious (and vicious) character during her lifetime whose actions affected the entire course of history for the South Asian subcontinent.