IN THE COURT and calendar of the austere Emperor Aurangzeb, celebrations are few and far between. However, guests of the Mughal ruler wouldn’t know the difference from before – they are treated to the same spectacular indulgence that has made Mughal hospitality a legend over centuries. Since hospitality begins at home, Aurangzeb extends some degree of indulgence to the patriarch he has deposed: his father, Shah Jahan. Confined to the fort at Agra just across the river from the Taj Mahal, a forlorn Shah Jahan has been given something to look forward to at last.
Aurangzeb has allowed Shah Jahan the choice of meal he would like to be served at his fort prison. However, the ailing ex-Emperor is allowed to specify only one dish. The dish he mentions will be served to him every day for the rest of his life. Shah Jahan is in a fix. He is lucky to have good counsel at hand. The lively prison cook advises Shah Jahan to request dal, because it is versatile enough for him to make a different dish from it every day of the year. Recalling the many dal dishes he had been served as Emperor, Shah Jahan sees this is an excellent suggestion. In his last days in confinement, these dishes of dal prepared at the hands of the inventive cook, give him delight.
Austere as Aurangzeb may be, his visitors are not treated to any of the grimness. Dussehra, his birthday and of course the anniversary of his coronation, are some of the few days that see a modicum of merriment. Sometime between 1701 and 1708, the splendour of Aurangzeb’s Court will inspire the creation of an elaborate miniature gold, silver, jewel and enamel set, named ‘Aurangzeb’s Birthday Celebrations’. It will be made by a jeweller in the Court of Augustus the Strong, the ‘Sun King’ of Saxony.
If Shah Jahan, the acclaimed connoisseur of jewels and art, were alive to see this, he would have certainly gone out of his way to acquire the miniature for his Court. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, who is still Emperor when this is made, certainly wouldn’t be interested. Moreover, the Empire he fought so viciously to rule over, is proving to be more than he can handle.