The Crimson Throne is a book which you look at, and think that ,it is yet another attempt, to understand the dynamics of Mughal era but then you read the story synopsis which begins with these lines ‘Emperor Shah Jahan’s pleasures of the flesh to divert himself from the travails of old age…’ and you are instantly interested in knowing more! This book definitely does not disappoint. An excellent account of the life and times of the period.
Shah Jahan’s reign was called the golden age of the Mughals and he was also considered one of the greatest Mughal emperors but at the same time stories abound about his various sexual exploits. This book is a brilliant mix of the two- the succession battle for the throne and harem tales of the empire. Seldom has any era of Indian history evoked such strong interest as much as the Mughal age especially Aurangzeb’s reign. Aurangzeb’s battle for succession and his long and orthodox rule after Shah Jahan was the turning point in Indian History.
The book is set in the period when Shah Jahan’s reign is almost ending and the battle to succeed him has already begun between his sons Dara Shukoh, Sultan Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad Baksh. They all believe that they deserve to be the next emperor to rule the country. During the Mughal period inheritance of power and wealth in the empire was not determined through primogeniture, but by princely sons competing to achieve military successes and consolidating their power at court. This often led to rebellions and wars of succession. As a result, a complex political climate surrounded the Mughal court at all times. The bloody battle for power makes this book a truly fascinating read.
The Crimson Throne is an account of two European travellers -Niccolao Manucci and Francois Bernier who arrive in 17th century India and find their way into the inner circles of the Mughal court.
Niccolao Manucci leaves Venice to travel to India in the hope that the golden land will lead him to riches. He is a rookie who on landing in Goa learns about medicines from Luigi while Vaidraj helps him by teaching him all about Hindu medicines and cures. While working as an orderly in a hospital he befriends Dona Christina Braganza who helps him to get a contact in Delhi, her sister Maria .Maria is an important person in Dara Shukoh's harem. On reaching Delhi he is taken by Dara Shukoh in his service. He soon starts gaining a name in the harem and his business starts flourishing. He establishes his reputation as a miracle healer and gains further confidence and access to the harems. So Niccolao recounts his various harem visits, the harem gossip, the insecurities of the women who are a part of the harem, their loneliness. Through Niccolao’s tales, the author manages to give the reader a brilliant insight into the lives of the women who were part of the seraglio.
Francois Bernier after graduating ad licentiate in Medicine sets sail for Surat from France. After spending a few days in Surat he is summoned to Delhi by Danishmand Khan who advises the emperor on foreign affairs. He soon gains Danishmand’s trust and Francois recounts his cerebral and philosophical exchanges with the minister. Through Francois’ recollection we get an account of the politics, the intrigue, the plotting and planning behind the succession. The ever changing equations between the brothers, the father and the sons, and even Shah Jahan’s daughters Jahan Ara & Roshan Ara play an important role in the entire event.
So both the Europeans end up on different sides of the camp, end up giving us an interesting and insightful account of that period. It is a well-researched effort by the author. Elegant and well-written, manages to keep the reader hooked till the very end.
Highly recommended reading for any reader interested in Mughal history.
About the Author:
Sudhir Kakar is a distinguished psychoanalyst and writer. His critically acclaimed novels, The Ascetic of Desire, Ecstasy and Mira and the Mahatma, published by Penguin in India, have been translated into several languages around the world. He lives with his wife Katha, a writer, in Goa.
Publishers: Penguin India