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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 36

Painting of a falcon and portrait of Sulaiman Shukoh.

Mughal, <i>c</i>.1650

Fol. 4v from a late eighteenth-century Mughal album | Painting in ink and watercolour including gold metallic paint on paper with later additions in opaque watercolour; set into composite margins of dyed and plain papers with opaque watercolour and gold metallic ornament and ink inscriptions | 32.7 × 22.2 cm (folio); 21.0 × 13.5 cm (image) | RCIN 1005069.e

As identified in the large inscription written perpendicularly to the page, this exquisite portrait by Ramdas (see also cat. no. 30) depicts the ill-fated Prince Sulaiman-Shukoh (1635–62).[139] The handsome teenager was the eldest son of Shah-Jahan’s chosen heir, Dara-Shukoh, and his wife Nadira Banu. As the Emperor’s eldest grandchild, this ‘tender blossom in the garden of prosperity’ was cultivated by the court’s most erudite scholars and statesmen, only to be murdered by his uncle Aurangzeb at the age of 27. Ramdas has drawn the Prince’s figure in varying shades of black with the addition of a thin wash of gold lustre to accentuate the silk cloth of his jacket and turban. Other delicate tones include brown for his soft fur stole; gentle daubs of white and red pigments to precisely model the large pearls and rubies; orange and red for his lips; and green bands on the scabbard.

In May 1658, having heard rumours of Shah-Jahan falling seriously ill, Sulaiman-Shukoh’s uncles, Aurangzeb and Murad Bakhsh, led their armies against the forces of his father in a battle for succession. Dara-Shukoh’s troops were defeated at the Battle of Samugarh and his brothers proceeded to Agra where they cut off the water supply and forced the ailing Shah-Jahan to abdicate. Aurangzeb later broke his pact with Murad Bakhsh and crowned himself Alamgir, meaning ‘World-Seizer’. Meanwhile, young Sulaiman-Shukoh rushed to join the remainder of his father’s forces in the Punjab. Deserted by the majority of his soldiers, the Prince was forced to seek refuge with the zamindar of Srinagar in the Garwal Hills. Dara-Shukoh was harboured by an Afghan chief in Sindh but was betrayed and executed on his brother’s orders in August 1659. Sulaiman-Shukoh was also eventually captured and imprisoned with Murad Bakhsh in the Gwalior Fort where, for three years, he was given a daily dose of opium, becoming increasingly feeble and senseless until he died in May 1662.[140]

After a bloody beginning, Alamgir’s reign continued for 49 years. Under his rule, the Mughal Empire expanded to its greatest extent although the now colossal kingdom also gradually fragmented. In letters to his sons and grandsons composed in his final years he expressed disappointment and regret for his own rulership and earlier misdeeds, writing ‘I have not been the guardian and protector of the empire. My valuable time has passed vainly’[141] and ‘I have a dread for my salvation, and with what torments I may be punished. Though I have strong reliance on the mercies and bounties of God, yet regarding my actions, fear will not quit me.’[142] In another letter he admitted, ‘I have committed numerous crimes and know not with what punishments I may be seized.’[143]

  • Written horizontally along the centre of the left margin in nasta’liqshabiha-ye sulaiman-shukoh / likeness of Sulaiman-Shukoh

    Below: raqam-e ramdas / the work of Ramdas

  • [139] An inscription in the same hand is found on a portrait of Aurangzeb as a young prince by La'lchand, c.1645 (CBL In 41.3). See Wright ed. 2008, pp. 442–3, cat. no. 86.

    [140] Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan, pp. 560–1.

    [141] Letter from Alamgir to his eldest son, Azam Shah, in Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan, p. 562. See also Ballinbar 2015, p. 57.

    [142] Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan, p. 563.

    [143] Letter from Alamgir to his youngest son, Prince Kam-Bakhsh, in Tarikh-i-Iradat Khan, p. 563. 


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