Past Present: When royals wed
Weddings in the Mughal era were celebrated with grandeur and festivity. The celebrations lasted for about a month during which grand feasts and entertainment were organised at the royal palace.
Princes were usually married at the age of 16. For the occasion, the palace and the whole city would be decorated with lights and buntings, the roads would be covered and lined with expensive, luxurious fabric which was illuminated at night. Trees were beautified with artificial flowers, and armed soldiers clad in colourful uniform stood on both sides of the road where an elaborate wedding procession would pass. The bridegroom rode an elephant, while the nobles followed him in palanquins or on horses. Music and dancing were the order of the day.
To make the occasion felicitous, alms and charity were distributed generously, prisoners were released and food served to the poor.
Turkish ceremonies were typically observed at weddings. But as Akbar and his successors married Rajput princesses, some Hindu customs were also adopted. The three most significant Turkish and Indian ceremonies were sachaq, mehndi, and the baarat.
Before the marriage, valuable gifts were exchanged between the two families for the bride and bridegroom. At the time of her marriage, the bride received a dowry from her parents as well as her in-laws. In addition she received the mehr from the bridegroom, according to the Muslim law.
Sultana Begum on her marriage to Hindi, received in dowry from her parents a palace (kushak) in addition to jewellery, silken cloth and other articles. When prince Salim was married to the daughter of Raja Bhagwandas, the mehr was fixed at two hundred thousand tankas. The dowry included golden and silver utensils adorned with jewels, horses, elephants, slave boys and girls from Ethiopia, India and Circassia. Each noblesman accompanying the bridegroom received a saddle horse.
A special feature of this very first marriage of a Mughal prince to the daughter of a Rajput ruler was that for the departure of the bride to her new house, the emperor and the bridegroom themselves carried the doli (a covered palanquin in which the bride sat) for a short distance as a unique honour for the princess, the Rajput rulers and the clan in general.
The marriage of Dara Shikoh to his first cousin, Nadira Begum Sahiba, the daughter of his paternal uncle Sultan Parvez Mirza was a memorable wedding in the history of the Mughals. Once the date of the wedding was set, buyutats of the royal karkhanajat (workshops) in Lahore, Akbarabad and other places were ordered to make ornaments, jewellery, furniture and dresses. Experts from Gujarat, Benaras, Satgaon, Sonargaon, and Surat were to prepare brocade, jewellery, and other articles required for the ceremonies. Jahanara Begum supervised all the arrangements while the dowry given by the bride’s family was witnessed by the emperor himself.
After the marriage, the prince was allowed to maintain a separate establishment with a monthly allowance for him and his wife. Sometimes he was given a palace along with domestic staff.
The Mughal princes married eligible women from the royal family, daughters of noblemen or into the Safawi family of Iran, who had come to the Mughal court. Marriages with Rajput princesses and the daughters of the Safawi house were politically significant.
Mughal princesses were married mostly within the royal family and their weddings were also celebrated with royal aplomb.
Since it was a great honour to be married into the royal family, the groom would show extreme gratitude at being bestowed with this honour. When Babur’s daughters, Gulrang and Gulchehra, were married to Timur and Takhta Bagha Sultan, both bridegrooms kneeled down in gratitude before the Emperor.
Gulbadan, the daughter of Babur, was married to her cousin Khizr Khwaja; the other two daughters Gulrang and Gulchehra were married to their cousins. Sultan Ruqqaya, the daughter of Hindal, was married to Akbar; Khanum Sultan, the daughter of Akbar, was married to Muzaffar Husain, the grandson of Kamran; Gulrukh, the grand-daughter of Kamran, was married to Jahangir; Bahar Banu, the daughter of Jahangir, was married to Tahmurath, the son of Danyal; the daughter of prince Murad was married to prince Parvez, and the daughter of Parvez to Dara Shikoh; Mehr al-Nisa and Zubdat-al-Nisa, daughters of Alamgir, were married to Iizad Bakhsh, the son of Murad, and Sipahr Shikoh, the son of Dara Shikoh, respectively.
The last wedding celebration was of Mirza Jawan Bakhat, the Emporer’s favourite son remains unparalalled. His mother Zeenat Mahal wanted him to succeed Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Zaheer Dahalvi, in his book Dastan-i-Ghadar, gives details of the wedding. According to him there were fireworks, illumination and a grand wedding procession never before witnessed by the people of Delhi. Sadly it was the last memorable wedding celebration before 1857.