Shah Jahan’s mausoleum of love, the Taj Mahal of Agra, is famous the world over as one of the seven wonders of the world. It represents not only the most beautiful architecture of the Mughal era but also the timeless love that Shah Jahan wanted to edify for his dead queen, Mumtaz Mahal. Thirty years after Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal, his son, the infamous Aurungzeb, did something similar for the love of his life, Dilras Banu Begum. His memorial, Aurangzeb’s Bibi ka Maqbara, known as the Taj of the Deccan, has an interesting story of its own.
Dilras Banu Begum was born a princess to the prominent Iranian Royals, the Safavids. The Safavid Shahs ruled over one of the Gunpowder Empires. They led one of the greatest Iranian empires and established the Twelver school of Shia Islam as the official religion of the empire, a key turning point in Muslim history.
The Safavid-Mughal destinies crossed when a fugitive Humayun found refuge at the Persian court. In exchange for Kandahar and conversion to Shiaism, Humayun secured the support of the powerful dynasty to regain power over the Indian empire. And, the Safavids got their trade route and passage to India.
Years later, they would strengthen the tie with a marriage between the daughter of Mirza Badi-uz-Zaman Safavi (titled Shahnawaz Khan), who was the Viceroy of Gujarat and Prince Muhi-ud-din (who came to be known as Aurangzeb on his accession). History says that it was one of the most extravagant and astounding weddings of all time. Dilras Banu Begum became Aurangzeb’s first wife and chief consort in 1637.
Aurangzeb: The most hated Mughal monarch
Aurangzeb, of course, is history’s least favorite Mughal. His 50 years long reign is considered one of the most damaging periods of India – economically and socially. However, his image as the “tyrannical tormentor perpetrator of Intolerant Inhuman Barbaric crimes in India” could have been politically motivated and propagated by the British. If not untrue, it was possibly an exaggeration of the truth that served our white dictators.
Yes, Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne was bloody, per the Persian custom, “ya takht, ya tabut” (It’s either the throne or the grave, not unlike a current favorite TV Drama). Yes, his sense of justice was stern and even cruel by today’s standards. But, in the seventeenth-century world where he ruled, Aurangzeb’s rule could be analyzed to be based on “power, justice, piety and Mughal kingship”. He was gravely concerned about state security, was miserly and protective of Imperial funds, unlike his extravagant father, and was known to uphold the Mughal protocols.
Rabia Bibi ka ‘Budget’ Maqbara
Aurangzeb’s love for his first wife and chief consort, Dilras, is also scantily documented in history. Dilras bore him five children, notably the imprisoned princess, Zeb-un-Nissa among them. After giving birth to her fifth child, Muhammad Akbar, Dilras Banu Begum possibly suffered from puerperal fever, due to complications caused by the delivery and died a month after the birth of her son on 8 October 1657. Her death pushed both Aurangzeb and his eldest son, Azam Shah, into a deep depression. It was on Zeb-un-Nissa to take care of the newborn at the time.
Aurangzeb gave his beloved the epithet, Rabia-Ud-Durani (Rabia of our times) posthumously and three years after her demise, commissioned the building of a mausoleum as his father had done.
Unlike his father though, Aurangzeb was too concerned about state funds to give a free hand to Ata-Ullah, the architect (incidentally the son of Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, the principal designer of the Taj Mahal.) His love was budgeted at 7 lakh contemporary currency. Just to give a fair comparison, the Taj Mahal was constructed for 3.2 crores contemporary currency. The result of Aurangzeb’s ‘budget’ love for Dilras was a poor copy of the great Taj, the Bibi ka Maqbara of Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The work on the mausoleum was finally completed by Azam Shah.
This marble encased mini wonder is one of the key attractions of Aurangabad. It looks strikingly like the Taj, but the details are neither as delicate nor as ornate. Although the constant comparison with the Taj undermines its own charm, the Maqbara is a pleasant construction with a wonderful view of the city. If you are visiting Ajanta-Ellora caves, do include this Dakkahni Taj to your itinerary.