Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jahanara - Lyane Guillaume

Mughal Emperors ruled northern part of India over 300 years, and their fall was along the time of the raise of British empire in India. Descendants of  Gengis Khan and Timur, came into India through the Khyber Pass, after conquering the Khandahar and the northern part of current Afghanistan, before moving south-eastern direction and setting up their regime in India.  Mughal rule is a significant development in the development of Modern India in many aspect. The spread of the Islam religion, the greying bifurcation of the Hindi heartland and the South, the consolidation of the geography under one administrative rule ( the earlier instance probably was at the heights of the Magadh) and the prevention of the European dominance in India during their time.

However, the handing over of the reign to the next in line wasn't smooth in most of the cases, especially towards the end. The cruel infighting amongst the siblings, resulting in death of all but the survivor, who ascends to the throne , the large scale massacre during the power transfer, the cleansing of the potential threats, even if they are your own family were the virtues of the Mughal Dynasty. Akbar, during his tenure made a rule, preventing the daughters of the ruler from marrying, in an attempt to eliminate one threat in the form of son-in-laws and their clan. 

Jahangir, Shah Jahan and later Aurangazeb ( who probably was the last true ruler of the dynasty) all had their own hand dirtied in the murky business of power. Putting their own father in jail, ruthlessly killing their siblings (also their sons in some cases Jahangir, Aurangazeb) destroying immediately those who assisted them to the power and later succumbing to the same fate that they delivered to their elders. Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan, educated, clever and intelligent, narrates the events of the two regimes she was to witness.

Despite being confined to the inner parts of the palaces, the daughters of the Mughal emperors shined in various arts and literature. Many were highly read and have contributed and assisted the rule with their intelligent intervention as needed. Nur Jahan, and Gulbadan Begum, the daughter of Babur ( who wrote  Humayun nama) and Jahanara were some of them. Their accounts, documented by them  would later become an important information about the dynasty, for the historians.

Based on the writings of Jahanara,  Lyane Guillaume presents the life of  the Mughal Princess reproduced in an its glory  Written in first person narrative, Jahanara documents the time of Jahangir, where the love stricken emperor, spends most of his time with his mistresses ( with Alcohol and Opium), and the rule was in the hands of his second wife Nur Jahan. The court room politics and the internal struggle for power sees Shah Jahan out of Agra, wandering in the plateau of Deccan as a nomad, gathering support and soldiers for marching towards Agra and capture power. The long eight years of weight and wander almost destroyed the family, before their triumph and  successful return to Agra.

It wasn't long before Shah Jahan lost his wife, and he took solace in the company of his daughter who reminded him of his wife ( the rumour about an incest relationship) . Restricted to the inner walls of the palace, Jahanara recounts her association with people, her many unsuccessful loves, and her tryst to bring harmony among the members of her family. Watching from close quarters, she was the first to recognize the growth of religious fundamentalism within the family and as a result to the empire. Aurangazeb with his hard core religious views threatened the fabric of the tolerance that was the basis of the social behaviour and drive observed by  the previous rulers. Her clever observation and articulation averted many disasters to the family, but she couldn't prevent the in-fight among the brothers. Dara, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, whom she loved dearly and whom she wanted to be the emperor of Hindustan, had to go loose out in the battle. She was such a huge presence in the life of Shah Jahan, Dara and later Aurangazeb ( they reconciled their difference, after Aurangazeb recognised her intelligence and her influence within the palace), supporting them morally and by taking care of the upbringing of the generations of sons and daughters.

One of the best documents of the time of Shah Jahan, the rise and rule of Aurangazeb, Jahanara with her keen power of observation ,intellect and her skill in writing gives the best possible view of the inner turmoil of the empire. Written when she was old, during the regime of aurangazeb, she writes with clear conscience, often critical to herself. She recounts the days of the death of her mother the legendary Mumtas Mahal, the construction of Taj Mahal ( the time of Shah Jahan considered the golden era for architecture ) with some meticulous planning, her and Dara's  connection with Sufism and various religious teachings, her many infatuations ( including the British Doctor who treated for burns) and her intimate relationship with a dancer who later died of burns and her closeness to Dara and her reservations and scare about the young brother Aurangazeb , all of which can be read as in a case of a thriller.

Lyane Guillaume, has done a commendable job in presenting the book, preserving the style and language inspired by the notes and documents of Jahanara written in Persian. The vivid imagery, the clarity of observation and the baroque style of the writing is true to the original. An easy reading, simple and elegant book, translated pretty well into English. Very interesting read, valuable for people with interest in the history and about the Mughal Dynasty.

Jahanara ( 2003 )

 Lyane Guillaume ( tranalated from French by Uma Narayanan& Prema Seetharam 2003)

East West Books ( Madras) Pvt Ltd

299 Pages


Bland Spice said...


I really want to read this book after your review but see it is not available anywhere. Since your review is fairly recent, could you please help me with whatever way you can suggest?
Thanks a lot.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Available to purchase online through snapdeal and infibeam ..

Narayanswamy S said...

There is another book,rather biography ,of Jahanara,written by her self while she was in Agra fort being imprisioned with her father.It was in persian language ,it is translated into English by Andrea butenschon, a German linguist in 1930.
I wonder whether the one by Lyane Guillaume is independent of the other by Andrea.....S N S