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Lal Kunwars romance with Jahandar Shah (1712-13), the grandson of Aurangzeb was indeed the most colourful

and surpassed every other royal romance. A descendent of Tansen, the great musical genius and one of the gems of the court of Akbar, Lal Kunwar came from the family of kalawants (musicians). She captivated Jahandar Shah with her bewitching beauty and charm at a very early age. She was a consummate singer and the melodious strains of her voice and graceful dance movements enthralled everyone. Her sparkling wit and vivacity of temper added to her charm and enhanced her personality. Lal Kunwars singular beauty and radiance are described in a long Persian poem by a contemporary writer, which ends thus: Ba Khubi Lal Kunwar nam-i-u-bud Shakkarguftar, sin-andam-i-u-bud. (Lal Kunwar, her very name is most befitting. Sweet in speech, her body was white as silver). Lal Kunwar became Jahandar Shahs favourite concubine at an early age and their mutual attachment was so intense that she kept him company even in the battlefield. When Jahandar Shah had triumphed over his brothers, and ascended the throne, he raised Lal Kunwar to the status of a queen. She was made empress and dignified with the title of Imtiyaz Mahal (chosen of the palace). She was even given the royal insignia and allowed to display the imperial standard. Five hundred troopers (ahadis) followed in her train. She was provided with an annual allowance of two crores of rupees for her household expenses, exclusive of clothes and jewels. The emperor, fond of luxury and pleasure, spent much of his time in the company of Lal Kunwar who exercised considerable influence over him. Her whole family was ennobled father, brothers and brothers-in-law. They were appointed to the mansabs and given jagirs. Some of the finest confiscated mansions in Delhi were given to them.
Akbars court dancers Indeed, the whole court was given over to the pleasure of performing at the celebration of music, dance and wine. According to a contemporary the birth of Salim from Akbarnama, account, people of all ranks gave in to a life of ease and c. 1590. pleasure. Courtesans and other groups of public entertainers were in demand. Pubs and taverns sprang up, liquor flowed and the sound of music and dance was heard all over Chandni Chowk. The kalawants gathered at the palace to drink with the emperor, who entertained them for fear of offending Lal Kunwar. Thus, the prestige and dignity of the sovereign suffered a setback and the king appeared to be a piece in the game of chess moved here and there by the kalawants.

There is an amusing anecdote about the appointment of Lal Kunwars brother as subedar of Agra. Thewazir Zulfikar Khan demanded a bribe of 1,000 sarangis for issuing the firman (document). Lal Kunwar complained to Jahandar Shah who asked his wazir as to what he would to with so many sarangis. He replied that

since sarangi players were preferred to nobles for appointment as subedars, it had become necessary for nobles to learn this art in order to qualify for imperial service. This reply induced Jahandar Shah to cancel the appointment. Jahandar Shah was so enamoured of Lal Kunwar that he went out of his way to gratify her whims. In defiance of all propriety, he would even go with her in a bullock carriage to visit the markets and taverns. One night, after visiting various gardens round the city, they entered a tavern where they got intoxicated. While leaving, the woman who owned the shop was rewarded with the grant of the revenue of a village. On reaching the palace, Lal Kunwar was so drunk that she had to be taken out of the carriage and had to be carried to her room by her maid servants. The emperor remained fast asleep in the cart which was taken to the stable by the driver. Not finding the emperor with Lal Kunwar, the servants were alarmed and woke her up. Lal Kunwar was shocked to see that the emperor was not by her side and fell down crying. People went running about in all directions till the emperor was found fast asleep in the cart. Another account relates how the emperor and Lal Kunwar delighted in grand illuminations organised three times every month. This led to a shortage of oil which was made up for by the use of ghee. They enjoyed watching the fireworks and the elephant fights. The festival of Dasehra was celebrated with the emperor himself setting fire to Lanka, the mimic fortress of Ravan. Then, it is said that one day the emperor and Lal Kunwar were watching the river from the palace roof when a boat full of men crossed over. Lal Kunwar said, "I have never seen a boatload of men go down." A hint was enough. Boatmen were ordered out with a load of passengers, and the sweethearts wish to see drowning people struggling in water was at once gratified. It is difficult to establish the veracity of these stories since the highborn nobles and learned men who had lost their pre-eminent positions were greatly prejudiced and despised the lowborn Lal Kunwar and her kinsmen who were promoted to high ranks. One writer has gone to the extent of saying that the days of Noor Jehan were revived for her; that coins were issued in her name as they had been issued in the name of Jahangirs favourite queen. There is, however, no evidence anyw here of such coins and Lal Kunwars influence in political matters was practically non-existent. Lal Kunwar was also deeply attached to Jahandar Shah, whose infatuation for her knew no bounds. He was basically a liberal and a peace-loving person who had acquired the crown more due to an accident than because of his physical or intellectual prowess. He had great respect for religious mendicants and along with Lal Kunwar, he often visited them and kissed their feet. He honoured the astrologers and made offerings at the shrines of saints. It is held that he bathed every Sunday along with Lal Kunwar in the tank at the shrine of Sheikh Nasir-ud-din Oudhi, called the Chiragh-i-Dilli, in the hope of getting blessed with an offspring. Lal Kunwar remained by the side of Jahandar Shah in the battlefield. During the decisive battle with Farrukh Siyar, it was Lal Kunwar who came to the rescue of the emperor and took him to safety on her elephant and escaped to Delhi. There is a touching account of their travelling to Delhi together in a bullock cart. The emperor had shaved off his beard and moustache and changed his clothes. Hiding in daylight and travelling after dusk, they reached Delhi after a five-day ordeal. Soon, thereafter, through the treachery of his wazir Zulfikar Khan, Jahandar Shah was taken prisoner and lodged in the Red Fort. At his request, Lal Kunwar was allowed to join him. On seeing her, he is said to have exclaimed joyfully, "Let the past be forgotten, and in all things let us praise the Lord." A few days later, he was put in fetters and sentenced to death. When the group of men entered the prison room, Lal Kunwar shrieked clasped her lover round the neck and refused to let go. Violently forcing them apart, the men dragged her down the stairs. Then under orders from Farrukh Siyar, the new emperor,

Jahandar Shah was beheaded. Lal Kunwar was sent to the settlement of Suhagpura, where the widows and families of deceased emperors lived in retirement. He was buried in the vault of Humanyuns tomb at the side of other members of the family. Not far away from there, near the entrance to the Delhi Golf Club on the Zakir Hussain Road, there is a redstone mausoleum known as Lal Bangla which is supposed to contain the tomb of Lal Kunwar.

Jani, the darling of grandfather Shah Jahan and adored by father Dara Shikoh, was brought up by Jahan Ara when Aurangzeb demolished the rest of her family. She stands out as an incredible character in the gory history of the Red Fort. Jani was totally void of bitterness and hatred despite her tragic life. She did not believe in the doctrine of 'eye for an eye'. She constantly upheld Babar's example, who had laid down his own life for his son Humayun, rather than remember those who had butchered and tortured their own brothers and kinsmen. She was so sweet, and so free from hatred and any resentment, that even Aurangzeb eventually came under her spell and could not help loving her. He went to Jahan Ara himself and formally asked for her hand in marriage to Azam, his second and most favorite son. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp and show. Azam was a brave soldier. Jani Begum always accompanied him to the battlefield. Once when fighting in Deccan Azams life was in real danger and Aurangzeb himself ordered him to come back. But Azam sent word, Saying, Moharnrnad Azam, his two sons and Begum will not retreat from this post of danger so long as he is alive. After my death His Majesty may have my corpse removed for burial. My followers may stay or go as they please. On hearing this, Aurangzeb sent a relief force. But it was Jani who saved his life by following him on elephant with Anirudh Singh, whom she called her son. The battle was won as a result of their combined effort. The entire city rejoiced when Azam returned to the Red Fort with Jani.

After Aurangzeb's death Azam became the next Emperor, succeeding the throne on March 14, 1707. But his reign lasted a bare three months. He was succeeded by Bahadur Shah I who hardly set his foot inside the Red Fort because he had to be on the move all the time, pacifying his troubled kingdom to the best of his ability. Many historians have called him an able king and administrator. Percival writes: The gallery of the great Mughals is completed by Aurangzeb's son Bahadur Shah, commonly neglected because his reign lasted barely five years. He waged the usual war of succession with resolution, skill and unusual humanity. He made a settlement with the implacable Marathas, tranquilized the Rajputs, decisively defeated the Sikhs in Punjab and took their last Guru into his service. He travelled throughout his reign and only came to rest at Lahore during the last few months of his life. His son Jahandar Shah succeeded him on March 29, 1712. Jahandar was fond of dance and music and beautiful women. He was no good as a king or as an administrator. Delhi was plunged into utter chaos and misrule during his reign. A lot of it was due to Lal Kunwar, a dancing-girl whom he married later, giving her the supreme position of Empress. She had him under her thumb and soon became the real power behind the throne. Her hold over the Emperor is aptly brought out in the Son-et-Lumiere . We hear Jahandar Shah addressing her as the form of an angel and the voice of a nightingale. when Lal Kunwar protests, saying that she is only a slave, he announces that henceforth she would be known as Begum Imtiaz Mahal. Lal Kunwar says, But I shall have to live in the palace then. ..How will I see Zohra ? The king enquires who Zohra is. Lal Kunwar replies, Zohra ? She is my best friend. She sells water-melons... the sweetest water-melons in Delhi. The king appoints Zohra as her chief lady-in-waiting, so that she might live in the palace with her. Then Lal Kunwar asks, But what about Niyamat? He is my brother and plays the Sarangi. The king appoints Niyamat the Governor of Multan! Of course it is not quite fair to blame just Lal Kunwar for these follies. The besotted Emperor who gave these crazy orders should be blamed even

more. The only thing that may be said in Lal Kanwars favor was that she was truly devoted to Jahandar all her life and had once saved his life in the battlefield when he was badly wounded. She rushed to the field on her own elephant and carried him to safety, looking after him until he was able to resume fighting once again. Jahandar Shah's reign was short-lived. His nephew Farrukhsiyar who entered Delhi in a procession on February 12, 1713 strangled him to death. He ordered that the head of Jahandar Shah should be carried on the point of a long bamboo pole and paraded all over the city. The severed body was laid across another elephant. The new king, an otherwise cowardly, contemptible and good-for-nothing man, reveled in gruesome deeds. It was during his reign that the Sikh Guru Banda Bahadur was executed. The captive Guru and his 740 followers were brought to Delhi and paraded through the city in a most humiliating manner before they were killed. But they maintained their dignity and showed no signs of dejection. Nor did any of them offer to change their religion in order to save their heads! Farrukhsiyar, in his turn, was assassinated in the Nakkar Khana of the Red Fort in 1718 by the Sayyid Brothers. After a quick succession of two rulers, whose reigns lasted for just a few months, Mohammad Shah, the grandson of Bahadur Shah I, took over as the new king. He was the last Mughal Emperor to sit on the Peacock Throne. People called him Mohammed Shah Rangeela (the Merry Monarch) because the only thing he cared for was merry-making! He loved wine, music and dancing-girls - three things that dominated his life. His favorite pastimes were watching animal and bird fights, mimics, jokers, play actors, puppeteers, acrobats, and conjurers. As a result all these crafts were developed and patronized during his reign. The Bhagat Baz or playactors performed plays based on epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bahuropees (actors who dressed up as different characters) were patronized too, and so were the dancers, known as nats and natnis.

But Muhammad Shah Rangeela's reign is considered important for a special reason. It is because some important cultural developments took place during the time. It was during his reign that Wali Deccani, said to be the first Urdu poet, came to Delhi with his collection of Urdu poetry. The new language was developed and recognized as never before and provided a new meeting ground for the Hindus and the Muslims. Rangeela was the Emperor who made Urdu a court language. From a mere dialect it was given the status of a full-fledged language. Khayal, a new style of classical singing, was also developed to perfection during this period. In fact it grew so popular that the old style of Dhrupad was virtually pushed aside. Both Qawwali and the dance form of kathak made great strides during this period. Nawab Salar Jung in his Muraqqa-i-Delhi mentions many famous musicians in the court of Rangeela Shah, such as Naimat Khan, a great veena player, and Feroz Khan. The Emperor gave them the titles of Sadarang and Adarang. But every single thing Rangeela did was accompanied by bouts of drinking. During one such carousal, the Persians, led by Emperor Nadir Shah, invaded India. But the merry monarch was too busy to take the messenger's warning seriously. Hanooz Dilli Door Ast (its a long way to Delhi) said he, pouring more and yet more wine from the goblet. By the time he really woke up seriousness of the situation it was too late. Nadir Shah and his men were already at the threshold of the seventh city of Delhi.
Lal Kunwar was sent to "suragpura" (Hamlet of Happy Wives), where the widows of previous emperors lived in retirement. Before coming to the throne, Jahandar Shah had sailed around the Indian ocean, and had been a very prosperous trader. He was the father of three sons, including, Aziz-ud-Din, or Alamgir II, who reigned as Mughal emperor between 1754 and 1759.