Nadira Banu Begum was a Mughal princess. Her life and death is a tale of triumph and glory; heartbreak and misery; courage and loyalty. She was an embodiment of the ideal wife and consort. Nadira Banu Begum belonged to the Shah Jahan era. The historians, however, are divided in their opinion regarding her relationship with the Mughal emperor.One group believes that she was the daughter of Shah Jahan and Prince Dara Shikoh’s sister. She was a devotee of the famous Sufi Saint Hazrat Mian Mir, who lived in Lahore. They maintain that this princess remained in the service of the great Saint and did not even marry. After her death, she was buried in a magnificent tomb which was constructed by Dara Shikoh, in the middle of a pond, close to the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir.The second group goes with the argument that she was a devotee of Hazrat Mian Mir and had remained in his service as well and was also buried near his shrine but they maintain that she was Shah Jahan’s daughter-in-law and not his daughter. She was married to his favourite son, Dara Shikoh.I agree with the latter group because this opinion appears more credible in the light of the historical facts. If we trace back her lineage, we find that she was the daughter of Sultan Parviz Mirza, the second son of Emperor Jahangir from his wife, Sahib-e-Jamal Begum. Her mother, Jahan Banu Begum, was also a Mughal princess being the daughter of Sultan Murad Mirza, the second son of Emperor Akbar.Nadira Banu was the half-cousin of her future husband as her father, Sultan Parviz Mirza, was the older half-brother of Dara’s father, Shah Jahan. The part of Tuzk-e-Jahangiri that gives an account of the offspring of Emperor Jahangir, says, “Sultan Parviz had a son and a daughter. The son passed away during his father’s lifetime but the daughter was married to Prince Dara Shikoh.”In Shah Jahan Nama, the betrothal of Nadira is mentioned as, “Prince Dara Shikoh was betrothed to the daughter of Sultan Pervaiz. This betrothal took place when ShahJahan travelled from the capital and reached Khandes, accompanied by Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Here they declared the engagement of Sultan Pervaiz’s daughter with Dara Shikoh. Sultan Pervaiz was Jahangir’s eldest son and his wife was Akbar’s granddaughter”.If we trace back her lineage, we find that she was the daughter of Sultan Parviz Mirza, the second son of Emperor Jahangir from his wife Sahib-e-Jamal Begum. Her mother, Jahan Banu Begum, was also a Mughal princess being the daughter of Sultan Murad Mirza, the second son of Emperor AkbarWe find another reference about the nikah ceremony in Shah Jahan Nama that describes the pomp, grandeur and the lavish spending style of the Mughals, “Around Rs 1,800,000 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. The rest were completed by the Princess Jahan Ara Begum Sahib who was the head of all the affairs of the Heramserai (the royal household). Following is a short detail of these expenses, jewellery and precious gems and ornate pieces cost Rs 750,000, Shah Jahan’s presentation was 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. 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 Haremsera and other noble women were presented with bags of expensive cloth; many bags also contained jewel studded articles. In short, on Friday 16 Mehr, 24th Rajab 1042 AH (4th February, 1633 AD) all this opulence was displayed in Aiwan Chehl Satoon (forty pillared hall) under the supervision of Hazrat Begum Sahib. The emperor was the first to examine this display then the ladies were sent inside and all the princes, nobles and lords were called in. The décor of this whole merrymaking cost vast sums of money. From start to end, around Rs 3,000,000 were spent which is equivalent to one lakh Iranian Tuman and one core twenty lakh Toranian rupees . 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. The rest of the amount which was Rs 1,600,000 was given by Hazrat Begum Sahib. Begum Sahib elegantly performed all the rites and rituals.” All the nobles, courtiers and sardars, artists and artisans of the empire were presented with gifts and robes according to their status. The festivities lasted for days and cost millions of rupees.Harbans Mukhia writes in his book Mughals of India, “Dara Shikoh’s marriage to Nadira Begum was a sort of landmark in extravagance even by Mughal standards. Jahanara was placed in charge of the wedding. Considerations of economy being alien to both her personality and her environment, she spent Rs 1.6 million on the festivities and gifts that were widely distributed among Princes, their sisters, wives and daughters of high nobles, and so on. The bride’s mother too spent Rs 0.8 million on her dowry.”The couple was a favourite of the Emperor Shah Jahan. Regarding the birth of the son of Dara Shikoh, Mumtaz Shikoh we find the following reference in Shah Jahan Nama, “On 30th Jamadiul Awwal, August 16, 1643 on Sunday, at 7:07am, in the house of Prince Dara Shikoh, Sultan Parviz’s daughter Nadira gave birth to the prince. Hazrat named him Mumtaz Shikoh and gave Rs 1,000,000 for the celebrations”.The aforementioned facts prove that Nadira was Dara Shikoh’s wife and not his sister. As far as historical facts go, there are some controversies regarding the tombs of Zaibunnisa Begum and Dai Anga as well. The fact remains that Nadira Begum was one of the devotees of Hazrat Mian Mir. Her husband Dara Shikoh also shared this devotion as he was also a disciple of the great Saint. Together they spent a great deal of time in the company of the great Sufi. Dara Shikoh considered Hazrat Mian Mir his teacher and under his tutelage he also wrote an everlasting book on Sufism called Safeena Tul Awlia. It is also said that Hazrat Mian Mir refused to take Dara completely under his Sufi tutelage until he gave up his crown and titles. The Sufi warned Dara against waging a war with Aurangzeb but Dara had made up his mind to undertake the journey that would eventually cost him his life. Here it can be argued that for Dara Shikoh it was the case of kill or to be killed. In every war of succession the vanquisher ended up on the throne and the vanquished ended up on the gallows. Nadira begum’s devotion to Hazrat Mian Mir was such that she expressed her desire to be buried near the Saint’s shrine. This wish was fulfilled and she was eventually buried close to the shrine of Hazrat Mian Mir.Nadira was adored by Prince Dara Shikoh. His love for her was more enduring than the love of Shah Jahan for Mumtaz. Unlike his father and the other Mughals, he did not marry again after contracting marriage with Nadira. They had seven children of which four died in the infancy. Dara Shikoh was not only a patron of the arts, he was said to be a fine painter himself. Many of his works were considered to be almost of a professional standard. Some of his works were collected and gifted to Nadira, his “dearest intimate friend”. The Treasures Gallery of the British Library houses the album which has now become famous as the “Dara Shikoh Album”. Dara Shikoh had a scholarly disposition. This makes one wonder, what the history of the subcontinent would have been had Dara ascended the throne instead of Aurangzeb?