The history of the Mughals has been a bit unkind towards the Mughal princesses. While the Mughal princes hogged the limelight for all the fratricide, the Mughal princesses hardly got a mention anywhere. To add to their woes, not all of them got a chance to marry in their lives.
Be it Aram Banu, the daughter of Akbar, Nithar Begum the daughter of Jahangir, Jahanara and Roshanara the daughters of Shahajahan and Zeb-un-Nisa and Zinnatunnisa got ordained to live a lonely life forever. It is believed that Akbar had barred the Mughal Princesses from marriage by a royal decree but it was not the case.
The Mughal Kings usually preferred marrying their daughters off with their first cousins and be it Jahangir, Shah Jahan or Aurangzeb the ensuing war of the succession ensured that hardly any suitable suitor was left for marrying the princesses.
Of all these princesses, the case of Zeb-un-Nisa is the most peculiar. Zeb-un-Nisa was the beloved daughter of Aurangzeb and the in charge of the royal harem. She succeeded Roshanara Begum by manipulating the internal politics of the royal harem and ousting the former successfully. The leading lady of the House of Timur was struck by love and the love of no one else but Shivaji, the most dreaded nemesis of his father, Aurangzeb.
The fables of the bravery Maratha warrior had spread across the length and breadth of the country. Shivaji had killed the fabled Afzul Khan and ransacked him.
The maternal uncle of Aurangzeb, Shaista Khan was the other victim of the military genius of Shivaji. Taking advantage of the complacency of the Mughals in the night, the master of deception entered the palace of Shasita Khan in the night and attacked him. He killed his son and chopped off three fingers of the fleeing Mughal General.
Shaista Khan returned to the Mughal Court and told him that Shivaji possessed supernatural powers and could not be stopped by ordinary mortals like him.
Every passing day added a canard about him. The stories about his chivalry and bravery could make any woman fall for him. Zeb-un-Nisa proved no different.
Finally, the mighty Kachhwa Rajput Mirza Raja Jai Singh was sent to the Deccan who subdued the nemesis of the Imperial army in 1666. The 27 year old had fallen in love with the 39 year old Shivaji who by then was already a father of an eight year old lad.
Sensing strategic compulsions, Shivaji decided in his interests to pay a visit to the royal court. In May 1666, the impossible happened and Shivaji reached the imperial court. Behind the Purdah, sat Zeb-un-Nisa who got to see the man about whom she had only heard from his father.
Historian Dow says that the haughty behavior of Shivaji when asked to take a seat amongst the low ranked Mansabdars impressed Zeb-un-Nisa.
Dow says that it was the Princess Zeb-un-Nisa who arranged the meeting of Shivaji with Aurangzeb by coaxing his father to meet the intrepid Prince of the Deccan.
Even Professor Jadunath Sarkar at length has discussed the overtures by the Mughal Princess in his work “Studies in Mughal India ” pp. 79-90
Shivaji, it is said that came to know about the overtures of the royal princess after he was conveyed that Zeb-un-Nisa took a real interest in him and that he would have to accept Islam.
Shivaji on getting to know about this one sided love story humbly refused the initiations by her citing socio-religious compulsions. After having been rejected by Shivaji, Zeb-un-Nisa remained unmarried for the rest of her life.
Some Marathi bards also say that she turned hostile towards his father for she knew that he would not accept Shivaji as he was and that was a reason why she prompted her rebellious younger brother Mohammed Akbar against her father. She spent the last 20 years of her life for this and died a solitary death.
Aurangzeb was the prime reason of her solitude. First he killed Sulaiman Shikoh, her first cousin with whom his grandfather Shahjahan had betrothed her in their childhood and then ruining her again when she fell in for the chivalrous Shivaji.
Zeb-un-Nisa explained her solitude in her poetry which she composed under the pen name of “Makhfi”.
The story would form the script of a perfect “Bollywood” love story but unfortunately for the Princess, it did not result in a happy ending.