The Tomb of Nadira Begum: Royal Ruins
Some of my earliest memories are those of me accompanying my mother to the Mian Meer Shrine, but more than my time at the shrine, I remember my avid curiosity about an old building tucked towards a dark corner of the bazaar. Adults always told me to steer clear of that place, labeling it as a ‘ruin’ or a place where drug addicts loitered. The lure of the inviting courtyards and rustic architecture was always overpowered by inhibitions.
As I grew older and more fascinated with the Sufi Hazrat Mian Meer grew I read about him. My readings introduced me to the poignant love story of Nadira Begum and Dara Shikoh. You see, that secluded and abandoned tomb I had always been told to steer clear off is the resting place of Nadira Begum. She was a patron of arts and culture, a seeker of spiritual awakening, and above all; a loyal wife who stuck through her husband throughout his tumultuous journey.
THE TOMB OF NADIRA BEGUM
Her grave is erected on top of an elegant Mughal-style causeway with a well-raised platform, surrounded by a char-bagh, which was later renovated into a playground. It is said that the tomb was embellished with expensive marbles and semi-precious stones, which were robbed during Sikh Rule. It is such a shame that the tomb is in absolute ruins, so unlike the joyful and artistically inclined princess who ruled her husband’s heart and harem as his only consort. It appears that the decaying tomb is a poignant reminder of the tragic and heartbreaking end to the princess’s life.
THE LEGEND OF NADIRA BEGUM
Emperor Akbar the Great was Nadira’s maternal and paternal great-grandfather. Her father was poisoned by her ambitious uncle Shah Jahan, who later claimed the throne of the Mughal Empire. Thereafter, her childhood was spent in Agra. According to legend, she grew up to be intelligent and beautiful in equal measure. She possessed a deep interest in arts, literature and music. Her mother in law arranged her engagement to Dara Shikoh and passed away soon afterward. As a result, the palace was enveloped in grief and Shah Jahan retired from court and went into seclusion.
Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan’s eldest daughter, decided to end the mourning period with a round of festivities that would bring joy to her father, and thus, she arranged the marriage of Dara and Nadira. Jahanara shared a strong bond with Dara and his wife, the three adored one another and would later go onto many spiritual journeys, first under the tutelage of Hazrat Mian Meer, and later in Kashmir.
Dara and Nadira were madly in love with each other, and so, he never took up another slave or consort. I always wonder why people marvel and gush at the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, perhaps it is more about the glory of Mughal architecture than the story of a woman who died in childbirth. The story of Nadira and Dara Shikoh is a tale of two companions who were devoted to each other. Dara compiled a stunning album of calligraphy and paintings for his wife, now present in the Treasures Gallery of the British Library, which consisted of 74 folios, with an inscription written by the prince himself. The inscription reads:
“This precious volume was given to his dearest intimate friend Nadira Banu Begum by Muhammad Dara Shikoh son of Shah Jahan emperor and victor, year 1056/1646–47”
As the only consort of the heir apparent of the Mughal Empire, Nadira had a luxurious life. But since Dara was an artist and a seeker of spirituality, she always remained distant from the pompous extravagance of Mughal customs. Together, they spent a great deal of time learning from Hazrat Mian Meer, who refused to take Dara completely under his Sufi tutelage until he gave up his crown and titles. The Sufi warned Dara against waging a war with Aurangzeb but the stubborn prince had made up his mind to undertake the journey that would eventually cost him his life.
After his death, Nadira Banu Begum died of dysentery and vexation while crossing into Persia via the Bolan Pass. Some historians maintain that she consumed poison to avoid becoming a consort of Aurangzeb since her husband and sons had been killed. She had always wanted to be buried near the shrine of her Sufi master, Hazrat Mian Meer, and hence, her remains were brought back to Lahore.
THE RUINS OF NADIRA BEGUM
Today, her shrine does not even remotely resemble that of a Mughal princess, at least the way one would imagine it. Though simple, to begin with, the decaying vestiges of the tomb have contributed to the prevalence of drug addicts and delinquents within the premises. It is unfortunate that such a woman goes ignored in the historical repository of Lahore. One hopes that the concerned authorities take some measure to restore this site, as it is one of great historical, cultural and spiritual value.