Aurangzeb, A Tragedy;A bloodthirsty brother and a poet

How would you react if you were told that one of the most refined English poets of 17th century Britain wrote a moving drama on one of the most hated despots of India?Incredulous!

Both these men lived in the same period but were separated by thousands of miles and never even, communicated with each other !

We are talking about John Dryden and Aurangzeb;the former was a celebrated poet while Aurangzeb became the emperor of Mughal India after a bitter fratricidal war that left two of his brothers murdered and the third one dying of illness while escaping from India.

John Dryden portrait.jpg
John Dryden-Poet Laureate

Who was John Dryden?

Dryden, poet laureate, was born in Northamptonshire, Britain in the year 1630 and by his dint of talent and industry is regarded as dominating the literary life of Restoration England.Walter Scott called him Glorious John.

At age 14, Dryden was sent to Westminster School as King’s Scholar.This school had been re founded by Elizabeth 1 and it was so that he was influenced heavily by all things royal and Anglicism.

After the execution of Charles 1 and the fall of monarchy, Dryden found favour with the Protectorate and got a job with one of the trusted men of Oliver Cromwell.It seems, our Poet Laureate had strong survival instincts! He worked with John Milton and after the death of Cromwell, wrote a eulogy,Heroic Stanzas.

Post the restoration of monarchy,quickly established himself as the leading poet and critic of the day and wrote a panegyric, Astraea Redux, celebrating the ascension of Charles 11 as the new king.

Dryden passed away in 1700, seven years before the demise of Aurangzeb.

When, Bernier, the doctor-traveller from University of Montpellier returned to Europe and published is travelogue of Mughal India, Dryden was much impressed and influenced from it.So, much so that, the poet wrote a drama on the tragedy of Aurangzeb.

But, my dear readers, who was Aurangzeb? He was the third youngest son of Shahjahan, the maker of Taj Mahal and Old Delhi-also known as Shahjahanabad. Shahjahan was one of the strongest Mughal emperors that India has seen.

It is indeed surprising that a poet so refined as Dryden should be writing about a coarse personality as Aurangzeb!The drama takes poetic licence and is often inaccurate in facts and circumstances.

The dramatis personae;

  • Shahjahan (in love with Indamora)
  • Indamora- a captive queen from Kashmir
  • Aurangzeb- his younger son , in love with Indamora;the love is reciprocated from her!
  • Murad- his elder son and son of Noormahal
  • Noormahal- the Mughal Empress
  • Arimant- Governor of Agra and in love with Indamora
  • Oomrahs or Knights- Dianet, Asaf Khan, Suleyman Agha, Mir Baba etc
  • Melsinda- wife of Murad.
  • Zayda, favourite slave of the Empress

The drama depicts Aurangzeb as the loyal son of the Emperor and after defeating his three brothers, enters Agra and visits Shahjahan, who is 70 years old.The Emperor requests Aurangzeb to let go of Indamora but the latter refuses.The senile Emperor then invites Murad to the palace and gets Aurangzeb arrested.Agra was the Mughal capital then.

Noormahal, the mother of Murad, seduces Aurangzeb but the prisoner refuses the Empress’ affections, a bowl of poison is then presented to him and just as Aurangzeb puts it to to his lips, in comes Murad ebters and snatches the cup away.

Later, the Emperor and Murad fall out of each other, the king reaches out to Aurangzeb who then defeats Murad.The vanquished prince dies of wounds and his wife, Melisinda decides to commit sati.

Noormahal goes crazy, she tries to stab Indamora but loses the plot and dies a broken person.Indamora is reunited with Aurangzeb, who then goes on to become the Emperor of Mughal India.

This is then the content of Dryden and most of it is factually incorrect.

Sati was a Hindu custom wherein a Hindu widow used to immolate herself upon the funeral pyre of her dead husband.The Mughals were Muslims and devout at that so there was no question of them following this Hindu custom.

Secondly and most importantly, Aurangzeb had killed Murad on his way to achieving his ambition and was never a loyal son of the Emperor.

There is no mention of Indamora either, in Bernier’s records!

Lastly, Noormahal was the queen of Jehangir , the father of Shahjahan and not of the latter!

But, it is all poetic licence all the way for our Poet Laureate.

So impressed was the English King Charles 11, that he termed this drama as one of the best tragedies of Dryden!

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5 thoughts on “Aurangzeb, A Tragedy;A bloodthirsty brother and a poet

  1. Poets and dramatists love the mystique aura of Oriental kings . The more treacherous they are, the better for their creative impulse ! We know how Shakespeare used classical Roman characters , both historical and mythical…….Dryden’s audience , or Dryden himself, would have been least bothered about accuracy ! ……….we ourselves have so many interpretations of our two grand epics .

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