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A walk in Delhi that revisits the legacy of two Mughal princesses

A theatrical journey that explores the lives of Mughal princesses Roshanara and Jahanara Begum

art and culture Updated: Jul 15, 2017 08:30 IST
Furquan Ameen Siddiqui
Furquan Ameen Siddiqui
Hindustan Times
Roshanara,Jahanara,Shah Jahan
A scene from the theatre walk, Shah Jahan’s Daughters, at Roshanara Bagh.(Courtesy Darwesh)

This Sunday, embark on a rich, theatrical journey to explore the buried past of one of the most turbulent times in Mughal history, a time when Aurangzeb was vying for the Mughal throne in Delhi. This story, however, is not about the two warring Mughal brothers – the other being Dara Shikoh — instead, it weaves a theatrical narrative around their two sisters, Roshanara Begum and Jahanara Begum.

Darwesh, a storytelling organisation that works on the themes of culture and education, is behind this walk, organised in north Delhi’s Roshanara Bagh — a garden built by Roshanara, which has the Baradari, a pavilion-tomb where the Mughal princess lies buried.

Set in 17th century Shahjahanabad, when the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule was in decline and his sons and daughters were battling for power, the story is told through the perspective of the two powerful princesses, Roshanara and Jahanara, and their political differences and hatred towards each other and their eventual demise. Darwesh’s Yuveka Singh says, “This walk is an ode to women in Delhi and exploration of Delhi’s ‘herstories’” HerStory, explains Singh, is a series that was started in order to discover some of the influential women in Delhi’s history, who enriched the its political and cultural landscape.

Begum and the Hookah, their first theatrical walk in 2004, was based on nautch girls, including the life of Begum Samru, who was also a nautch girl in 18th century Delhi, living in her palace in Chandni Chowk. She later became the ruler of Sardhana, a town near Meerut. The theatrical walk was organised in Chandni Chowk, with performances at her palace, which today houses a State Bank of India office.

Shah Jahan’s Daughters performed at the Red Fort. (Courtesy Darwesh)

The two other popular walks that Darwesh has produced include a recent one on the life of Aurangzeb’s poet daughter Zebun-nisa Begum, who wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Makhfi’ and another on the powerful sultan of Delhi, Razia Sultan. The walk on Zebun-nisa was organised in Salimgarh fort while Sultan’s story was narrated in the bylanes of Turkman Gate and Bulbuli Khana, where Razia Sultan is believed to be buried.

At a time when there are attempts to rewrite history, how does Darwesh research for such lesser-known stories on the Mughals? “We are storytellers, we are not claiming to be historians,” says Singh. “But we do cross check with historians and books on history help in research. There are about four books written on Begum Samru and we read each one to provide a detailed account of her life.”

The walks are limited to under two hours. However, this dramatisation is much shorter as Roshanara Bagh has only one monument to explore. “We start from one end of the park where the storytellers introduce the story and build the context. The stage is the Baradari and it’s not a very big monument, but to show the power dynamics we have used the space creatively,” says Singh.

What: Shah Jahan’s Daughters: A Theatre Walk
When
: 9.30 am to 11 am, July 16
Where
: Roshanara Bagh, Roshanara Road
Nearest Metro Station
: Pulbangash
Charges
: ₹600 (for single), ₹500 (for two or more)
Book online
: https://in.explara.com/e/shah-jahan-s-daughters