Everyone is familiar with the tale of how Aurangzeb brutally murdered his brothers, incarcerated his aged father Shah Jahan and usurped the throne. Aurangzeb was undoubtedly a cruel despot, but the fact is that although he incarcerated Shah Jahan for the rest of his life in the fortress of Agra, he always treated him with the utmost respect and ensured that he was not deprived of any comfort that he would have been accustomed to as the emperor of Hindustan.
The deposed monarch was treated with indulgence and respect. He was permitted to occupy his former apartments and enjoy the company of his daughter Begum Saheb and the whole of his female establishment including the singing and the dancing women, cooks and others. No request was denied to him and as the old man became increasingly devout with age, certain mullahs were allowed to enter his apartments and read the Quran.
He was granted the privilege of sending for all kinds of animals, horses of state, hawks of different kinds and tame antelopes which were made to fight before him. Indeed, Aurangzeb’s behaviour was kind and respectful towards his father. He loaded him with presents.
He consulted him as an oracle and the frequent letters to his father were expressive of his duty and submission.
Thus with the passage of time, Shah jahan’s anger and haughtiness abated and he started to write to Aurangzeb frequently on political affairs, sent Dara’s daughter to him and begged his acceptance of some precious stones which he had earlier threatened to grind to powder if Aurangzeb requested them again. He even granted his rebellious son the paternal pardon which Aurangzeb had been seeking for so long.
Aurangzeb’s consistent efforts to engage with his father finally bore fruit. In the initial years of his captivity, Shah Jahan seethed with anger towards his son.
The French traveller and historian, Francois Bernier who was closely associated with the Mughal court writes:
‘Aurangzeb had tried in vain to withdraw his murdered brother Dara’s daughter from the hands of Shah Jahan and Begun Saheb with the design of giving her in marriage to his third son, Sultan Ekbar. This is the son, whom it is believed he intends as his successor and such an alliance would strengthen Ekbar’s authority and ensure his right to the throne.
‘But Aurangzeb was frustrated in his intention and Shah Jahan and Begum Saheb rejected the proposition with disdain and the young princess herself manifested the utmost repugnance to the marriage. She remained inconsolable for many days from an apprehension that she might be forcibly taken away, declaring it was her firm purpose to die by her own hand rather than be united to the son of the man who had murdered her father.
‘Aurangzeb had been equally unsuccessful in his demand on Shah Jahan for certain jewels with which he was desirous of completing a piece of workmanship that he was adding to the celebrated peacock throne which Shah Jahan had designed and caused to be made.
‘Incidentally, this peacock throne had been taken by Nadir Shah during his pillage of Delhi.
‘The captive Shah Jahan had answered that Aurangzeb should be careful only to govern the kingdom with more wisdom and equity. He commanded him not to meddle with the design of the throne and declared that he should no more be plagued about these jewels. He threatened that if Aurangzeb would continue to pester him for the jewels, Shah Jahan would not hesitate to take a hammer and beat them into powder. But with the passage of time, this animosity was soon water under the bridge and the father gradually softened.’
Travels in the Mogul empire
AD 1656 - 1668 by Francois Bernier