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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 34

Shah-Jahan honouring Prince Awrangzeb at his wedding (19 May 1637)

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

Fol. 218v from a manuscript of the Padshahnama (see cat. no. 26) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold and silver metallic paints with decorative incising on paper; set into margins of gold metallic paint on paper | 58.1 × 36.6 cm (folio); 33.6 × 23.6 cm (image) | RCIN

The sihra-bandi was a Hindu wedding tradition adopted by the Mughals whereby, on the eve of his marriage, a veil (sihra) was fastened around the groom’s forehead to protect him from the evil eye. This painting depicts the occasion late at night on 18 May 1637 when Shah-Jahan fastened a veil of pearls, rubies and emeralds to the head of his son Prince Aurangzeb before he wedded Dilras Banu, a princess of Iranian heritage, in an official nikah ceremony.[132] The setting is a riverfront terrace of the Agra Fort overlooking the River Jumna. Standing in attendance are Aurangzeb’s three brothers and a select group of high-ranking nobles, all barefoot in such close proximity to the Emperor.

A large ensemble of mostly female musicians and singers provide the spirit of festivity in the court below the terrace. Although high-status women feature throughout the Padshahnama text and would have organised wedding events such as this, they are not depicted in its paintings. These women are probably kanchani, a professional class of dancers and singers. According to one contemporary European observer, ‘They were not indeed the prostitutes seen in bazaars, but those of a more private and respectable class, who attend the grand weddings […] for the purpose of singing and dancing. Most of the Kenchens are handsome and well-dressed and sing to perfection.’[133] And another explained, ‘This class is more esteemed than others, by reason of their great beauty […] Ordinarily the dancing women dance in the principal open places in the city, beginning at six o’clock in the evening and go on till nine, lighted by many torches, and from this dancing they earn a good deal of money.’[134] The women in the painting are certainly richly dressed, adorned with fine jewels and fabrics.

This painting has been attributed to the artist Bhola who, save for the one ascribed and three attributed paintings in the Padshahnama, is otherwise unknown.[135] Perhaps the most striking aspect of this painting is his depiction of the golden fireworks on the opposite bank of the river which crackle in the shape of trees. According to a passage describing the occasion, ‘in detailing the diversity of fireworks that night which illuminated the surface of the earth, the foot of the reed-pen goes lame, and the arena of description is insufficient of scope’.[136]

  • [132] Dilras Banu was the daughter of Mirza Rustam, known as Shah Nawaz Khan, one of Shah-Jahan’s courtiers and great-nephew of Shah Tahmasp I of Iran.

    [133] Bernier, p. 274.

    [134] Manucci, vol. 1, p. 189.

    [135] Beach and Koch 1997, p. 209.

    [136] Shah-Jahan Nama, p. 208. 

  • Bibliographic reference(s)

    Beach and Koch 1997, pp. 108, 209–11

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