Roshnara Begum: The Forgotten Mughal Princess

Roshnara Begum is a lesser known figure in Indian Mughal history, but for some reason I am immensely drawn to who she really was. I guess the reason I’m so fascinated by Roshnara Begum is for her infamous reputation and the fact that she was openly rebellious in such a conservative society. Blatantly disobeying her father Shah Jahan and then later her brother Aurangzeb, Roshnara Begum believed in living the good life and let nothing whatsoever come in her way! The second daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan, Roshnara Begum was born on September 3rd 1617 and was an extremely intelligent, yet extremely notorious woman during her times.

Roshnara was a gifted poetess and was the strength behind her brother Aurangzeb, who later ascended the Mughal throne. Dara Shikoh was Shah Jahan’s favourite son and in line to succeed the Peacock Throne, which Aurangzeb had set his eyes on. Roshnara’s sister Jahanara Begum was supporting Dara Shikoh, whereas Roshnara was supporting Aurangzeb. Through this ugly struggle for power, Roshnara craftily foiled a plot by Shah Jahan and Dara Shikoh to kill Aurangzeb and helped him succeed his father’s throne.

After Aurangzeb’s rise to power, Roshnara became a powerful figure in his court. Fearing what Dara Shikoh might do to her for helping Aurangzeb, Roshnara asked Aurangbez to order his execution. Aurangzeb had Dara Shikoh beheaded and sent his head to his father Shah Jahan, who fell into deep grief after his favourite son’s death.

Roshnara continued her wayward ways and took to keeping many lovers. Because Mughal tradition required her to remain single, her behaviour did not go down well with Aurangzeb. Roshnara had also begun to control Aurangzeb’s harem in a manner not agreeable with Aurangzeb’s many wives. When Aurangzeb got wind of Roshnara’s greed and unreasonable behaviour, he stripped her off her power and banished her from his kingdom, to live a solitary life in her garden palace located in Delhi.

Being expelled from Aurangzeb’s kingdom did not curb Roshnara’s lust and she had a steady flow of lovers who would visit her in her garden. Enraged by her behaviour, it was then that Aurangzeb had her and one of her lovers poisoned. Though there is some controversy about this, as some believe that Roshnara committed suicide by poisoning herself.

Roshnara was 54 when she died and Aurangzeb had her buried in the garden she had commissioned herself. This garden is called the Roshnara Garden (Roshnara Bagh) and is located in North Delhi, near Kamla Nagar Road.