Several dynasties have taken turns in ruling the city of Delhi in the last millennia and stories of this layered past are an inherent part of any narrative on the city. Such is the richness that only a scholarly effort with full dedication and diligence would peel off the layers under which lie the obscure, often untold, myths and tales. So as an amateur with interest in history of Delhi I had started visiting the events of ” Delhi Karavan” last year, each one being dedicated to one of the many chapters which would perhaps be in the book aiming to consolidate the history of Delhi .
An utterly busy routine has not helped me to be a regular at these events but I have been part of some interesting ones at Sanjay Van, Old Fort and Qutab Minar. After a gap of almost a year I had joined one more event last month, we had assembled at the Humayun’s tomb on a Sunday evening and the point of discussion was Aurangzeb’s love for Begum Zainabadi.
Our history texts are superficial, always overpowered by a halo where the narrative focuses only on a selected aspects of a character, the background is lost for the paucity of space in the text and perhaps for enabling an easier curriculum. Therefore for most of us Aurangzeb was a tyrant, a man who killed his own father and siblings in order to accede to the throne of Delhi. For most of us the deeper shades of the this man’s character have forever been understated. So when Asif Khan Dehlvi, the man behind Delhi Karavan, asked us to speak out what came to mind when Aurangzeb was mentioned the top of the mind words only connoted violence and tyranny. Once the amateurs like me had spoken, others who knew a little more of history gave their accounts of what they thought about the man touted as the most cruel of the Mughal emperors. All of them agreed that casting him as either good or bad would be a great injustice to the complex persona of Aurangzeb. So after this brief session which in a way set everyone’s perspective Asif began telling us the story of the love which got away from Aurangzeb.
Asif’s narrative had began with a vivid explanation of the harem in Burhanpur, the fame of which was widespread in the Mughal empire. It was here in this small town a puritanical Aurangzeb met Begum Zainabadi. Aurangzeb, before he had become the emperor of Delhi , was given the charge of Deccan which was on the fringes of the empire ,continuously facing hostilities from south. On one of his journeys south he was visiting his aunt In Burhanpur when he saw Begum Zainabadi at her place and had immediately been taken over by the love for the beautiful woman. For once Aurangzeb who was an ascetic, having denounced music and alcohol for all his life, was overpowered by his senses. He managed to get the beautiful woman inducted in the harem and a love story ensued . Such was the devotion of the young prince that he even agreed to take a glass of wine offered to him by Begum Zainabadi , only to be snatched away by her, it was a test he had passed . However the news had spread northwards and of all the people Dara Shikoh convinced everyone that Aurangzeb was a hypocrite. A conspiracy was hatched to bring an end to the saga and thus it lead to an untimely death of Begum Zainabadi. As interesting as this little anecdote is, it was made even more enthralling by Asif’s unique way of storytelling. The sun had set and the chowkidar’s whistle meant it was time to leave.
What would have become of Aurangzeb had his love not been taken away from him can be anybody’s guess. Would he have been the same tyrant which the history books depict him to be no one can tell. One thing this session has indeed done is to arouse a curiosity about Aurangzeb and find more about the most cruel of the Mughal emperors
Event organised by Delhi Karavan
Other Sources of Information: Excerpts from Akham – E – Alamgiri ( Anecdotes of Aurangzeb)