The palace of Roshanara Begam containing her grave is located in a far northern corner of the city of Delhi, in a public park. Throughout the day the palace acts as a community place, where local women converge for their daily gossip, kids play in and around it and some anti-social elements hang about. Little do they all know that the person buried here once decided the future of this great country of ours, the effects of which still linger on.
Roshanara Begum, was one of the most powerful women to have lived in the 17th century India, during the Mughal reign. She was the third daughter of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his favorite queen Mumtaz Mahal (of the Taj Mahal fame).
She was instrumental in securing the Mughal throne for her brother Aurangzeb (the third son of Shah Jahan) in the tussle for succession after emperor Shah Jahan fell ill. In this battle for power, Roshanara sided with Aurangzeb against Dara Shikoh, her elder brother who was the favorite of the emperor and heir apparent. Another reason why she sided with Aurangzeb was because of her tussle with her elder sister Jahanara Begam. Jahanara was again the favorite daughter of emperor Shah Jahan, who had made her the Padshah Begam (the first lady). This was the title Roshanara wanted for herself and grew jealous of her elder sister. That is another reason she sided with Aurangzeb, who was an orthodox muslim. Dara on the other hand was considered a liberal, secular and popular with the masses. If he would have become the Mughal emperor, things for Hindostan and Mughals could have been different. But Roshanara had other plans and that did not happen.
The Mughal empire grew weaker under Aurangzeb and his policies. The empire eventually disintegrated, becoming a huge factor in the later British takeover and colonization of Hindustan. What if Roshanara had not supported Aurangzeb? Well, the India that we know today could have been different.
Once Roshanara’s choice Aurangzeb got to the Mughal Throne, she acquired for herself the title of Padshah Begam, the first lady of the Mughal empire. A brilliant lady with a supposedly strong and independent mind and a poet, she never got married and is supposed to wield a lot of political power during her lifetime. From her palace, located some distance away from the Mughal court at the Red Fort, she is said to have run a parallel centre of power, much to the chagrin of the emperor. She lived in a palace some distance away from the Red Fort, where she was eventually buried after her death. She is supposed to have led a colourful life, much against the wishes of her orthodox emperor brother and eventually had a fall out with him.
The Tomb of Roshanara is an impressive and Archeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument. But it seems to have fallen on tough times due to abuse by locals and lack of care from the authorities concerned.
The tomb of Roshanara, who died in 1671, lies about half a kilometer from Sabzi Mandi area in North Delhi, in a beautifully laid out garden. It is an impressive monument with high architectural value and beautiful intricate work on the inside. This is where Raushanara rests today.
The garden tomb was laid out by Roshanara in 1650 as her personal palace, soon after the completion of Shahjahanabad, which is today called Purani Dilli. The tomb lies in the middle of the garden and is popularly known as Baradari. It has a brick built but plastered small roofless grave chamber in the centre surrounded by a hall. There is a marble jaali surrounding the grave. The tomb is surrounded by deep ornamental water troughs with fountains on either side. This water trough was covered by platforms but later ASI exposed them. But even now they are dry beds with no water. The garden around the tomb has gone through a number of changes in its layout over the years.
Today the monument is in poor shape. The plaster is coming off at several places, the marble jaali work around the grave has broken down at several places. There is no cleaning of the interiors of the monument. The whole protected monument serves as nothing more than a play thing for colony children. The dry waterways around the tomb serve as a cricket playing field for the local children. When we reached the monument there was no guard on duty, which is a norm for all ASI protected monuments. Obviously, the children could carry on their game of cricket unrestricted. Says Ajit Tyagi, a resident of Sabzi Mandi, “I have been a regular to this park. I have not seen anyone here protecting the monument. Sometimes some visitors come asking about Raushanara’s Tomb, but with children playing around and anti-social elements loitering around, these visitors do not stay here for long.”
When approached a senior ASI official promised action. Says he, “It is an important monument for us and we have carried out restoration work here. We do have a guard posted at the Roshanara monument. As the monument is located in a public park, controlling the local kids is a major problem.”
This article is a replug on the birth anniversary of Roshnara Begum.