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shah jahanTHE FIRST LARGE celebration after Shah Jahan’s coronation is an old one – the festival of Navroz. His father had celebrated Navroz but Akbar in his time, was especially enthusiastic about it and would have himself weighed against gold, coral and seven types of grain. Shah Jahan, a favourite of his grandfather Akbar, keeps the tradition too. A sky blue canopy is erected above the private audience hall  and under this are many pavilions trellised in silver and draped in brocaded velvet. There are Persian carpets upon the stone floors and the walls of the quadrangle are draped in cloths of gold and velvet. Shah Jahan does not know it, but it will be the last time Navroz will be celebrated in the Mughal court. His successor will ensure it is abolished.


Dara Shikoh: A leader in-the-making. Image: From a Portrait of a Prince (The British Library Board)

For now, there is merriment in the markets and Shah Jahan’s eldest son, Dara Shikoh, has found a few minutes to steal away, under disguise, to the bazaar area and observe things, unhindered. There are vendors of nuts, figs and peaches and from under a tent a fortune teller beckons. Thirteen-year-old Dara walks on past stalls selling pigeons and doves. There are astrologers and fish sellers and even a troupe of tinsel-trimmed dancers winding their way through the din. Dara is at an age where he is beginning to display his leanings which are towards the arts and mysticism. He spends as much time with poets and at the studios of painters as he does with Sufi fakirs. Like his three brothers, Dara has been tutored in a manner that has been laid out for heirs for generations; Persian poetry, history and culture are of importance. Dara’s unfettered outlook is however in stark contrast to the orthodox leaning of his brother, Aurangzeb. 

Shah Jahan’s daughters too are coming into their own. Because Moghul princesses are forbidden from marrying, Shah Jahan’s daughters can and are encouraged to spend more time with studies than other girls their age. The eldest, fourteen-year-old Jahanara, has been particularly diligent under the tutelage of her mother Mumtaz Mahal’s erudite lady-in-waiting, Sati-un-Nissa. Jahanara, who is affectionately known as Chimini or Chimani (Princess Flowerbed) will in later years write the biography of the Sufi saint Muʻin al-Din Chishti. It will be called Muʼnis al-arvā (The Confidant of Spirits).