Thursday, 5 March 2015

Aurangzeb in Love - The Zainabadi Affair (Yes for Real!)

This was news that would have sent the socialites from Aurangabad to Shahjahanabad to Lahore in gleeful rapture. This was news that would have sold thousands of tabloid copies in minutes. But then the news was both incredulous and scandalous.

Of all the persons, Aurangzeb, a much married Prince in his thirties and father of six children was smitten by a girl. Just to make it all more salacious, the girl Hira Bai was a Hindu dancing girl and a concubine of his aunt’s husband.

Aurangzeb spent most of his years in the Deccan both as a Prince and the Emperor. While proceeding to Aurangabad to become the governor of Deccan for the second time, Aurangzeb passed through Burhanpur. Burhanpur today is located in MP on the MP-Maharashtra border and was the gateway to Deccan.

It was in Burhanpur that Aurangzeb’s parents Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal spent a number of years. Mumtaz Mahal died here while giving birth to her fourteenth child and was initially buried in a place called Ahookhana in Zainabad across river Tapti.
Blame it on Tapti - Crossing the river from Burhanpur into Zainabad & Ahookhana
You cross Tapti to make a dash for Ahookhana before exploring Burhanpur city. While asking for directions you see the good old MP Tourism stone pillar sign announcing Jainabad Sarai (sic), to find yourself in the town of Zainabad. Pennies Drop. Ahookhana is a few kms ahead of Zainabad.

Anyway let us go back to our Stop Press story any tabloid editor worth his gelled slicked-back hair would kill for! Aurangzeb is in Ahookhana along with his maternal aunt, her husband and a retinue of girls. This Ahookhana and the ahookhana where Mumtaz is buried should be the same place. The place must be special in those days to warrant Mumtaz’s burial here while the Taj Mahal was being erected.

To put things in perspective, this beautiful day should possibly be in the year 1653. Mumtaz lies buried in Ahookhana since 1631 for about 22 years now. Taj Mahal’s construction was also completed in the same current year of 1653. So it is possible that her remains were recently taken from Ahookhana to Agra or they were about to be taken out in the coming days.

And so like it happens in Hindi movies, Aurangzeb chances to set his eyes upon Hira Bai. He literally swoons and falls down. It is not confirmed if he broke into an impromptu song. For that will have to check if they made any movie starring Bharat Bhushan. Hira Bai, perhaps realizing that there is a Prince in her midst maybe started overdoing it. She jumps in air to pluck a fruit from a tree. Aurangzeb falls hook, line and sinker. This can not be a Hindi film. Films are not so illogical and incredulous.

Hira Bai was swiftly inducted into the harem and named Zainabadi. The next few months were spent in bliss with songs and music filling up the hours. Reportedly, Hira Bai had musical skills that ravished the senses and was gifted with other ‘blandishments’. Aurangzeb of all the people! How could this really happen? Everyone is flabbergasted. We don’t know what the reaction in his harem was. Dara thought of him as a hypocrite who gone to the dogs for the sake of a wench!

Tragically, Hira Bai died within a year.  Destiny cut a young blossoming and beautiful life short. Just as suddenly the love story started it ended as abruptly leaving Aurangzeb inconsolable and distraught. He vowed never to touch wine or listen to music. Aurangzeb rationalized her death by saying God was gracious to him by putting an end to that dancing-girl’s life, by reason of whom he had committed so many inquities, and run the risk of never reining through being occupied in vicious practices. And thus buried the ghosts of terrible pangs of guilt he might have suffered because of the dalliance with Zainabadi.

Today, Zainabad is like any other medieval town dotting the hinterland. Most inhabitants would not know the connection of one of their own to Aurangzeb.  It seems every town and village in India is bubbling with stories just waiting to be told. But not surprisingly, the town too has its built heritage. Forgetting Ahookhana for a little while, you start walking in the direction of tall minars looming in the distance.
Zainabad Sarai - at Burhanpur MP
Zainabad was established by Nasiruddin Faruqui or Nasir Khan (1399-1437) in honour of his spiritual guru saint Zainuddin Shiraji. Nasiruddin belonged to the Faruqi dynasty that ruled over Khandesh, an offshoot of Bahamani Kingdom.

The village path leads you to a complex with the tall dominating minars in the rear. MP ASI surprises you every time. Conservation work is going on and workers are engaged across the complex. The caretaker comes up to size up the official looking guy who has just appeared from nowhere and is asking questions about Bhopal ASI circle - some basic set of questions that you have learnt to ask to provide your visit to heritage sites that gravitas!
The brick colonnade - Jainabad Sarai in Burhanpur
The sprawling Sarai is square shaped and enclosed. Inside a colonnade runs along its four sides. In the centre a huge courtyard stretches in all directions with the usual circular trench dug up for preparing lime plaster. The sign says the sarai was built by Raja Ali Khan (1576-97) and is primarily constructed of bricks and comprises of sixty nine rooms. The sarai probably housed the devotees who came to visit the tomb of Sufi Saint Hazrat Peer Shah Chisti Kadri.
The Sprawling Zainabad Sarai
Burhanpur was a big manufacturing and trading post famous for its brocades, muslins and silks that were exported to Russia, Poland, Persia and Turkey. It is possible that along with devotees, traders – both Indian and foreigners - used to stay in the Sarai.
Zainabad Mosque - View from Sarai - at Burhanpur

Zainabad Mosque
Jainabad Mosque at Burhanpur

The Qibla Wall of the Zainabad Mosque

A niche on the western wall of the Zainabad Mosque
You cut across the Sarai and emerge in the north through a gateway. Up ahead are the sixty feet tall minars of the Zainabad Mosque. With an open hall and no domes, the towering minars are the distinguishing feature of the mosque. The Qibla wall has ornamented mihrab and minbar. The niches on the walls look delightful with curvy arches. The setting under glorious white fluffy clouds and blue skies is magnificent.

Nasiruddin would be proud of himself. A girl from his town managed to snare Prince Aurangzeb by whispering sweet nothings. He must be ruing and wishing Akbar too could have visited Burhanpur and found his own Hira Bai. Maybe Akbar then would not have annexed Burhanpur and the Faruqui Dynasty could have lasted few more years.

Running into the town all of a sudden does not give you a chance to appreciate what you have just seen. You know the realization will hit you soon. For now, it is time to say goodbye to Aurangzeb’s young consort Zainabadi’s hometown. You doubt you will be able to find a modern day Hira Bai here. There is unfinished business to take care of - to go see where Aurangzeb’s mother was buried beyond in the fields.

A Version of the Story appeared in the Sunday Herald, the Weekend Supplement of Deccan Herald dated 27th March 2016


  • Pages 395-97, Emperors of the Peacock Throne by Abraham Eraly
  • For more details on goings-on in Aurangzeb household post swooning - A wonderful blog by a friend -


  1. So your hunt for Hira Bai is over. You could have located her tomb at least.

    1. PN Sir,

      Hahaha! The hunt has just started. Found out that she has a tomb in Aurangabad near a big tank. Will need to dig.

      Thanks for reading and your feedback is always appreciated.


  2. ASI has definitely hired a bounty hunter.Be careful! On a positive note you may find Hira Bai's tomb when you are resting next to her.
    Your post has all the masalas in the right proportion, hence a blockbuster post! But i still feel the bounty hunter is going to ask you,"Kitne Aadmi the...?"

    1. Hi Aparna,

      Would love to be ASI's bounty hunter! And yes that is my next project - need to look for Hira Bai's tomb. It is supposed to be in Aurangabad.

      The curry just gets right with your your special brand of humour masala!

      Please keep reading.


  3. Such a gripping script - a fitting screenplay for a royal romance that ended in anguish and mourning. Yes! Blame it on Tapti! I could hear the rhythmic sound of the galloping horse on the bridge. And on the horse, I could see the lovestruck young Prince eagerly making his way to Zainabad..As usual, stunning captures - that portray the mood of the setting.

    1. Hi Anuradha,

      You have such a way with words that always leave me amazed.

      You should write a screenplay - this is a subject matter that rightly belongs to the silver screen.

      Thanks for reading.