Karan Johar's 'Takht' and the rise and fall of Aurangzeb

A Potpourri of Vestiges Feature

By Murtaza Ali Khan
Image Courtesy: Times of India
Karan Johar is planning to make a film on the rivalry between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh called Takht. It's scheduled to release in 2020. While Ranveer Singh will play Dara Shikoh and Vicky Kaushal will essay the part of Aurangzeb. The part of Jahanara Begum will be portrayed by Kareena Kapoor Khan. Anil Kapoor will play Shah JahanThe film will also star Alia Bhatt, Bhumi Pednekar and Janhvi Kapoor. But before that movie comes out let's try and understand the life and times of the 6th Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb aka Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad aka Alamgir.

During his 49 year long reign Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, sister, and daughter, executed his brothers, and exiled his son. Seeing his younger son's frail figure, Emperor Shah Jahan often thought that he may die early but Aurangzeb outlived almost everyone. He lived till the age of 88 but it is said that he died a very painful death. Such a advanced age at the time was not only rare but nothing less than a curse. He spent the 20 odd years of his life wandering in the Deccan, away from orchards of Shahjahanabad. It is said that he was haunted by the visions of those whom he got murdered, in particular the Armenian mystic and poet named Sarmad who was very close to his elder brother and rightful heir to the throne, Dara Shikoh. Crown prince Dara Shikoh being Shah Jahan's favorite was always on Aurangzeb's hit list and after his win in the war of succession he got him executed with the consent of his younger sister Roshanara who had grown up hating both her elder sister Jahanara and eldest brother Dara because they were the closest to the Emperor. With Dara out of his way he wanted to get rid Sarmad as well. But the execution of the mystic would haunt him forever.

Shirine of Hazrat Sufi Sarmad Shaheed
Here I must talk about Shah Jahan's eldest daughter Jahanara who was easily one of the most educated persons in the Mughal court. Shah Jahan had entrusted her with all the proceedings of the court and the British envoys in the Mughal court were greatly surprised to see a woman in a position of such immense power. Shah Jahan was never fond of Aurangzeb and would often post him to remote areas of his empire and whenever Aurangzeb would be in grave trouble he would write to Jahanara who would in turn appeal to her beloved father on her 'dutiful' brother's behalf. But unbeknownst to her and the Emperor, Aurangzeb was busy looking for an opportunity to seize power. Surreptitiously helping him in his quest was Roshanara who would regularly provide intelligence to him about the latest developments in the Mughal court. So when Aurangzeb finally seized power he elevated the status of Roshanara even as Jahanara gave up on power and all the worldly comforts to serve her father who remained incarcerated in the Agra Fort for 8 years until his death. It is said that Aurangzeb even sent his ailing father the beheaded head of Dara Shikoh as a sadistic gesture. 

Having given everything to her father during his last years, Jahanara was quick to accept his death after which she entered into an agreement with his emperor brother who once used to be at her beck and call. But now the tables were turned and Aurangzeb had already rejected all her peace offers to divide his empire equally among all his brothers. With Shah Jahan finally dead, Jahanara managed to produce a letter of pardon for his brother Aurangzeb. No one can tell for sure if Shah Shah actually pardoned Aurangzeb but the letter ensured that Aurangzeb's claim to the throne was no longer disputed. In return, Aurangzeb once again made her the Padshah Begum, the first Lady of the Empire, a position he refused to offer to Roshanara despite everything she did for Aurangzeb. In fact Aurangzeb wasn't too pleased with her conduct (as Mughal Princesses were obliged to remain single) and later on even had her exiled to her garden palace outside of Delhi. As for Jahanara, she remained the most popular lady in Aurangzeb's court till her death. A disciple of Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti, Jahanara had her tomb built during her lifetime after Aurangzeb fulfilled her wish to be buried next to Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya's shrine. Her tomb is situated in the Nizamuddin Dargah complex and stands out in terms of simplicity.

Tomb of Jahanara Begum
After Jahanara's death, Aurangzeb elevated his daughter Zeb-un-Nissa to the position of Padshah Begum but she fell out of favor when he caught her conspiring against him in favor of her younger brother Muhammad Akbar who was subsequently exiled to Persia where he later died. As for Zeb-un-Nissa, Aurangzeb imprisoned her at Salimgarh fort until her death. The imprisonment lasted for 20 years. A few years after her death, her writings and ghazals were compiled in form of a book. Salimgarh fort and the surrounding area is said to be haunted with stories of Zeb-un-Nissa's ghost singing her poems while wearing a black veil on moonlit nights having become a part of folklore.

After Zeb-un-Nissa's fell out of Aurangzeb's favor he elevated his second daughter Zeenat-un-Nissa to the position of Padshah Begum. Being Aurangzeb's favorite daughter, she could gain pardon from her father on several occasions for anyone she pleased. She continued to enjoy the trust of Aurangzeb's successors and during her long life was closely involved in charity work. She also bore witness to the decline of the Mughal empire which although was expedited by Aurangzeb’s death but had actually begun as a result of his belligerent and aggressive policies and an endless lust for power in the first place. India is a land of knowledge, wisdom, discourse and diversity and anyone who has tried to rule over it with an iron hand has perished. Had Aurangzeb resorted to the same levels of tolerance as shown by his great grandfather Akbar he could have easily prolonged the life of Mughal Empire by another couple of centuries or so. His descendants such as Bahadur Shah Zafar wouldn’t have been crushed so easily by the British.

Given Karan Johar’s track record he is known to make romantic dramas and so there is a great possibility that Takht would be made in the vein of a romantic period drama that would be high on emotions. In other words you can expect a lot of melodrama but minimal action and violence. Johar himself has described it as “K3G of Mughal era”.    

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