BETWEEN TENDING TO THE splendour of the palace, managing feasts as well as looking into grants and signing firmans, Nur Jahan indulges her flair for design. She has had an interest in textiles since childhood and now as queen, her talents reach a wider audience. She interacts regularly with textile specialists and becomes responsible for encouraging and introducing new styles such as the floral patterned muslin known as dudami, a cotton cloth known as panchtoliya, perfect for veils, and badhah – a glittering silver-threaded lace which is all the rage among the ladies.
By no means are her fashions restricted to the elite. Nur Jahan makes a conscious effort to reach out to all classes and to this end introduces a budget brocade perfect for marriage finery; it is called Nur Mahal. The fashion trends she kicks off turn out to have timeless appeal too – and a kurti-trouser design credited to her will be a rage centuries later. The style of white floor sheet known as farsh-i-chandani too will shine through time.
Her formidable knowledge and immersion in textiles and embroidery inform her architectural inputs. In the jewel-box tomb she designs for her father, Itimad-ud-Daulah (Ghiyas Beg), she has the flooring around the cenotaphs fashioned with floral carpet designs and hands the head mason embroidery designs she would like to see carved as reliefs upon the arches. It strikes both Nur Jahan and the mason that on white this could very much evoke the style of chikankari embroidery.
This tomb, a forerunner to the Taj Mahal, will be one of the first Mughal examples of a building made entirely of white marble and one pioneering the extensive use of a sophisticated style of marble inlaid with precious stones. Nur Jahan’s mother, meanwhile, is wasting none of her time in developing her interests and has developed an ittr that has become quite famous. Distilled from roses, it is called ittr-e-gulab. Demand for it has been phenomenal and mother must call up daughter for help in making arrangements for larger supplies.