In Paintings: The Wedding of Dara Shikoh and Nadira Banu Begum

Today, weddings are a multibillion-dollar industry. It is believed that an Indian spends one-fifth of their total wealth (accumulated in a lifetime) on a wedding1. In fact in 2017, KPMG’s report estimated India’s wedding market at $ 50 million per year! But extravagant weddings are not a new fad in India. Back in the 17th century, Dara Shikoh and Nadira Banu Begum’s wedding cost about 3.2 million rupees! It was the largest amount that the Mughals had shelled out for such a celebration2. The opulence of the ceremony inspired many artists to memorialise the event (it was also the first wedding during Shahjahan’s rule) in their paintings. It also invited the comment of a European observer, Peter Mundy – who seemed to have been quite fascinated by the firework display that stretched for half a mile across the Agra sky:

On the Strand by the River side, under the castle wall and the Kinges windowe, there was a place Rayled in, about half a mile in Compasse att least. In it were placed the fireworkes, vizt., first a ranck [row] of great Eliphants, whose bellies were full of squibbs, Crackers, etts. Then a ranck of Gyants with wheeles in their hands, then a ranck of Monsters.

Peter Mundy

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, Netflix is all set to release its new special ‘The Big Day’. The series seeks to feature 6 “big-fat-indian weddings”, each better than the last. But here’s a wedding from 17th century India that set the bar real high.

Meet the Happy Couple : Dara Shikoh and Nadira Banu

Dara Shikoh was the eldest son of Emperor Shah Jahan. He was the heir-apparent and his father’s favourite. Dara was liberal minded and a great patron of the arts. He commissioned a compilation of artwork into an album which he later gift to his wife and ‘dearest intimate friend’ Nadira Banu Begum.

Dedicatory inscription written by Dara Shikoh, Dara Shikoh Album, 1056/1646-7 | British Library

While there is a wealth of information on the groom, the lineage of Nadira Banu Begum is still contested. Some believe her to be his sister and not his wife. But most historians agree that she was his second-cousin and wife. Her father was Sultan Parvez Mirza, the second son of Emperor Jahangir; (grand-daughter of Akbar’s younger son, Murad).

The couple were believed to be quite devoted to one another. Although Dara Shikoh never built for Nadira Begum anything that could compare to the Taj Mahal that his father made for his mother, he never took another wife despite the prevalent practice of polygyny (perhaps a smart move after the exuberant cost of the first wedding!).

It was also odd that an heir of the Emperor married within the family as the practice had been avoided since Babur’s time. It could have been Shah Jahan’s way of strengthening the existing imperial networks. It could also indicate that Dara Shikoh was too exalted and so had to marry someone from within the family, unlike his brothers who took wives from outside the family. Dara Shikoh also had the largest household amongst the heirs of Shah Jahan.

The Dara Shikoh – Nadira Banu wedding was a bright and colourful celebration of love. Here’s a glimpse:

These beautiful gilded paintings display the pomp and grandeur of the wedding procession that took place on 12th February, 1633.

According to the accompanying text, Dara Shikoh’s brothers, Princes Muhammad Shah-Shuja, Muhammad Aurangzeb and Muradbakhsh, and other amirs and dignitaries first went to his residence to celebrate and present gifts to honour the union. Then they mounted the groom on a “mountainous, heavenly-moving, rose-coloured horse” and set out in his entourage, some on horseback, some on foot. The first painting shows the groom and his party arriving at the Agra fort, while the second shows musicians and present bearers who were probably not part of the original procession.

The paintings show Prince Dara Shikoh greeting his father outside the Diwan-i-Khass, the Hall of Private Audience at the end of the procession. The Emperor is placing a sehra (veil) on the prince’s head, a Hindu ceremony believed to protect the groom from the evil eye. The people at the bottom of the painting are musicians and dancers, revelling in the light of the candelabra. One can even spot the fireworks that impressed Peter Mundy in the background!

The marriage procession,’Baraat’ of Dara Shikoh

Amidst the fireworks and sounds of the Nagada, Nadira Banu Begum’s family greets the Baraat (imperial family). The shining green nimbus helps one identify Shahjahan; the fireworks, candles and torches help illuminate the night. Dara Shikoh, in his brocade finery leads the procession while the women follow on an elephant in the distance.

Marriage Procession of Dara Shikoh, Haji Madni 1740-1750 | National Museum, New Delhi

Shah Jahan’s presentation cost Rs 150,000 that included a gold elephant Imari (rider’s seat) and Chitr (umbrella) adorned with strings of pearls. Rs 10,000 were allocated for showering (on dancers and musicians perhaps). Exquisite dresses, fine silver vessels, and rare gifts from different countries worth Rs 640,000 were also part of it. Rs 100,000 in cash was in addition to all this. Silver reins and bridle, brocade and velvet covering for the royal elephant; horses from Arab, Iraq, Turkmenistan with gold and silver saddles, and some fast mares, carriages etc were also presented. The ladies of Haremserai and other noble women were presented with bags of expensive cloth; many bags also contained jewel studded articles.

The Dara Shikoh – Nadira Banu wedding was a costly affair!

The Delivery of presents for Prince Dara-Shikoh’s wedding (November-December 1632) painted by Bishandas around 1656-57 | Source

Even for Mughal standards, the wedding was expensive. The Shah Jahan Nama gives a detailed account of the cost of this wedding : the bride’s trousseau of Rs. 800,000 (more than $12 million in 2009 dollars) was the largest ever; jewellery and precious gems and ornate pieces cost Rs 750,000; around Rs 1,800,000 alone, were spent on the initial rites and rituals. Some of the preparations for this auspicious occasion were carried out by Shah Bano Mumtaz Mahal Begum while she was still alive (upon her death, the wedding stood cancelled for a year). The rest were met by the Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib who was the head of all the affairs of the Heramserai (the royal household) from her personal expenses.

From start to end, around Rs 3,000,000 were spent. Shah Jahan granted Rs 400,000 and other articles worth Rs 200,000. The Harem of Sultan Parviz and esteemed Prince Dara Shikoh provided Rs 1,000,000.

Take part in the wedding festivities of Dara Shikoh and Nadira Banu Begum yourself with this colouring sheet!

The colouring sheet is based on an artwork from the collection of the Harvard Art Museums & may not be reproduced without permission! Please write to us in case you need the linework for any purpose.

The Nuptials of Dara Shikoh and Nadira Banu Begum took place on February 12, 1633.

Other than the groom, not a man in sight!

Collection of the Brooklyn Museum

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