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shah jahanTHE WIND IS CHANGING direction and the futures of Shah Jahan’s rival sons are becoming clear. Emperor Shah Jahan can do little more than watch as Aurangzeb gains an upper hand, while Dara Shikoh, the Emperor’s favourite and his eldest, stumbles at every confrontation. Shah Jahan is not on the best of health, but it is to relieve his worries that he visits the dargah at Ajmer.

Just as Jahangir was born in answer to Emperor Akbar’s prayers to Salim Chisti at Ajmer, Shah Jahan too had performed devotions at Ajmer for the birth of Dara Shikoh. Even now, Shah Jahan visits the shrine as often as he can, always barefoot. Dara, a devoted Sufi in the Qadiri order, also cultivates his relationship with Ajmer. Jahanara herself has been a long-time devotee of the Saint and has penned his biography. Aurangzeb’s equation with Ajmer is more conflicted. As a hardliner, he does not approve of the music played there. In later years however, a particular qawwali performance will change his mind and lead to him to make a generous endowment to the musicians. 

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Shah Jahan en route to Ajmer. Image: 17th Century painting (The Royal Collection)

Soon enough, the war of succession is out in the open. During a spell of illness while holding court at Agra, Shah Jahan appoints Dara Shikoh as reagant. An impatient Aurangzeb expresses his displeasure militarily and after victory over his brother in Samugarh, Emperor Shah Jahan is placed under house arrest at Agra Fort. During nine long years of captivity, Shah Jahan will take comfort in prayer, the sight of the Taj Mahal from his window and the attentive assistance of Jahanara.

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