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Jahanara, the wise and pious Mughal princess who made the best use of the power she had

 Jahanara, la principessa moghul  saggia e pia   che usa al meglio il potere che ha  DCM-001
05 January 2024

Within the Mughal Empire that ruled over South Asia until the dawn of the 18th century, lived Princess Jahanara Begum, the beloved daughter of the enlightened emperor Shah Jahan. Born in 1614, in her 67 years (died, 1681) she became highly cultured and powerful, and despite being forbidden to appear in public, she managed to do what many of her contemporaries dared not even imagine.

The figure of Jahanara is the centerpiece of Dietro le colonne [Behind the Columns] (La Lepre ed.), Navid Carucci’s new historical novel, which, taking the point of view of the Mughal princess, recounts the political and military vicissitudes that saw her become a skilled weaver. At only 17, Jahanara lost her mother, to whom the emperor dedicated the Taj Mahal, and was granted the power to use the imperial seal. Like the Cordelia of Shakespeare’s King Lear, the princess harbored a deep filial love for a now ailing father that led her to defend the throne from her brothers’ attacks, who intended to bend the empire to a more radical Islamic stance.

An English visitor compared Jahanara to Queen Elizabeth I, stating, “What distinguishes you instead, Supreme Lady, is that you cannot reign, while Elizabeth did, but at the price of being a woman with the heart of a man”. The point is essential: unlike the English sovereign, Jahanara is forced to live in the zenana, that is, the harem, without the possibility of marriage and children. Despite the constraints, the protagonist of Behind the Columns makes the best use of her power and explored that middle ground, the only space allowed, to maintain a fine balance between political-military engagement and improving the living conditions of her subjects, between love for family members and real-politik. This entailed continuous mediation, where Jahanara's wisdom was a beneficial example worth bringing to light.

Navid Carucci’s writing is rich in detail and traces in style the musicality and poetry of Indo-Persian literature, where everything becomes a symbol and the spiritual dimension is evoked as contemplation and mysticism, which honors the Sufi tradition of which Jahanara was a follower too. In addition, it was her obedience to her ancestors tradition that prompted her to communicate with a dead great-grandmother, who blessed her, “You gave the chronicles volatility by carving your name in stone”.

by Laura Eduati