INDU Sunderesan’s Shadow Princess is her third novel based on Mughal history, on the life of Jahanara, the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan. It combines two known strands about her life: her strength, power, and piety and her romantic liaison with a noble in her father’s court. When Shah Jahan is devastated by the death of his wife Mumtaz and contemplates giving up his throne, Jahanara, though in her teens, stays by his side and persuades him to change his mind. His dependence on her, which increases with time, comes in the way of her possible marriage with Mirza Najabat Khan. Instead of becoming his wife, she becomes Padshah Begum, the head of the zenana, and gets involved with the politics of the Mughal court. Soon after recovering from his depressing gloom, the king spends years overseeing the building of the Taj Mahal to house the grave of his dead wife. Then he attends to his children and their growing ambitions. He keeps his eldest son Dara close to him and gives the viceroyalty of the Deccan to Aurangzeb.
Jahanara takes Mirza as her lover, and they consummate their love in Kashmir. When she discovers her pregnancy, she goes on a pilgrimage to Ajmer, where she delivers a baby boy, names him Antara, and hands him over to one of the wives of Mirza. After that she returns to her father, and gets involved in a serious accident. Meanwhile, the king, unhappy with the conduct of Aurangzeb, dismisses him from his post. Then he offers him the governorship of Gujarat, but when Dara gets Kabul and Multan, Aurangzeb feels aggrieved. In a series of swift moves, he attacks Shah Jahan, makes him prisoner in Agra, and kills his three brothers one by one.
Sunderesan’s novel successfully recreates an era that witnessed the splendour of the Mughal court and its intrigues and shows how Jahanara’s life got intertwined with the lives of her father and her brothers.
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