Empress Noor Jehan and her J&K connection!
Stories are many, incidents in plenty, the legacy is huge but the biggest that remained etched in Mughal history happened in Chingus Rajouri!
By: M S Nazki
‘As per Iqbal Nama Akbri, Emperor Jahangir visited Kashmir 13 times, Akbar two times and Shahjahan and Aurangzeb once. Jahangir visited 11 times via Mughal road in between 1605 to 1627 AD and stayed in this Sarai for a few days during each journey. In 1627 emperor Jahangir while returning from Kashmir fell seriously ill at Behramgala in Poonch area. He was advised by Physicians for a complete rest of a few days. Therefore, the royal caravan halted at Bharmgala. During this period the king started recovering. One day he decided to go for a hunting trip. He came out from his camp along with Queen Noor Jehan, sat on a terrace near Noori Chamb waterfall and started waiting for a deer to hunt. At that time an attendant was trying to bait the deer so that the king on the opposite hill could shoot the animal. When the attendant reached on a dangerous spot exactly on the opposite side of the emperor, he suddenly slipped from a stone, fell in front of the emperor and died on the spot. His mother who was present there started crying and weeping profusely on the death of her son. This was a shocking and an unbearable event for the king and affected adversely his health and his condition became critical. Therefore, Queen Noor Jehan immediately decided to rush towards Lahore. However, Emperor Jahangir passed away at the next halting station Rajouri. In order to avoid possible confrontation of succession among the princes, Noor Jehan kept the fact a secret from the people and the caravan and to avoid decomposition of the body the entrails were buried at Chingus Sarai while the rest part of the body was taken to Lahore where it was buried’
This is a monument that is almost known to all and for centuries it has stood on the sides of the road from Jammu to Rajouri and further on to Poonch. One look at the rubble and pebbles loaded construction makes you immediately think that definitely something special had happened here long in the past. Surely it hand and that too during the last days of the flamboyant, justice loving, eternal romantic when he finally said goodbye to mother earth for the last time. Beneath the strong scenic back and beneath the forget me not sky, this monument stands in any weather, greeting perfect days and perfect storms just the same. People of Rajouri are lucky to have such gems in their laps along with so many others. We will unfold them all one by one but we decided to start this one first. In the mornings if you are there as I was once on a routine patrol back in the nineties last century, I observed a bit of magic from nature, the sun rose over a near perfect lo ridgeline, blessing it with its warming rays. Then it lit up the structure with many hues emanating, and then spread its rays to places that await them later in the daytime! But the shining red bricks bathed in lemon yellow rays was a sumptuous delight for eyes! Yes! I’m talking about the Chingus monument or fort or whatever you may call it!
Empress Nur Jehan was the most powerful women in 17th Century India. She was a stunning beauty, majestic in demeanor, intelligent in decision making and absolutely ruthless in execution. She played an unprecedented role in running the vast Mughal empire. She was named Mihr un-Nisa at birth and was later named Nur Jehan (light of the world) by her husband, the Mughal emperor, Jahangir. She was born only a few decades after Queen Elizabeth I, yet she ruled a territory far more diverse than that of her British counterpart. The Mughals ruled much of the Indian subcontinent for more than 300 years after they came to power early in the 16th century. It was one of India’s biggest and most powerful dynasties. Many of its emperors and royal women, including Nur Jehan, were patrons of art, music and architecture – they built grand cities and majestic forts, mosques and tombs. And as the dynast’s only woman ruler, Nur Jehan is omnipresent in the folklore of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Stories about her abound in the homes, and near monuments, in Agra in northern Indian and Lahore in northern Pakistan – two major cities in the Mughal era, especially during her reign. Older men and women, tour guides and history aficionados tell stories of how Nur and Jahangir met and fell in love; of how she saved a village tormented by a man-eating tiger she shot dead with a musket from her perch on top of an elephant. After her husband died in Nushera she knew she had to save the dynasty and the way she did it was commendable!
I. Just a foray into the history:
- Unlike all other Mughal emperors who travelled each year to the Kashmir Valley, via Rawalpindi and Muzaffarabad, Jehangir was the only one who chose a different route. He followed the regular route from Delhi to Lahore, but from there on, he took the direct route via Sialkot-Bhimber (all in present day Pakistan) Samani, Nowshera, Narian, Rajouri, Poonch eventually skipping over to the Valley along the Mughal route which has now being converted into Mughal road!
- It was this 40km long stretch from Sarai Samani-Sadabad to Nowshera, Narian and Rajouriwhich has not been written about much but the Indian Army officers who have been posted there know a lot about folklore.
- This area is rugged, and the ascent along Jehangir’s route was fairly steep, through rough terrain and narrow valleys all naturally difficult for his elephants . It is believed that both Jehangir and Nur Jehan travelled atop tuskers, taking daily halts at evenly spaced resting areas called sarais.
- The folklore goes on one such occasion while climbing up from Sadabad (PoK) through a narrow valley called Hathi Gala (India), the elephants got spooked and threw off the lead jumbo’s sitting cabinet, and refused to budge. Jehangir was puzzled over what caused the panic. An investigation found that two massive, life-like elephants carved out of stone, standing dead centre of the path had scared the emperor’s living, breathing giants to a halt.
- Nowshera (nine lion gates), was one of the sarais, along Jehangir’s route. Members of his entourage routinely rested here, before continuing on their arduous trek up to the valley.
- There is a beautiful deep baoli’ (step well), no doubt the bathing spot for empress Nur Jehan and others of the harem. This is not as grandiose to the one at Noori Chamb but it is beautiful all the way.
- It was on this stretch of Rajouri-Nowshera that Jehangir died while returning from the valley to Delhi. The emperor had taken ill (possibly dysentery and related complications) on his return and breathed his last just 20kms south of Rajouri at a place called Chingus (intestines in Persian), close to the sarai of Narian. Even now the sarai with its quarters and horse stables can be seen on the road side.
II. The legend:
- As the legend goes, Nur Jehan, aware of the pandemonium the news of her husband’s death would cause and fearful that it could spark a war of succession among his children, had the emperor’s intestines removed to prevent his body from decaying. She then had it embalmed and positioned atop the howdah.
- Local lore says that while no one else barring the chief physician and Nur Jehan were aware of the tragedy, a fellow traveler on foot accidentally discovered the truth. He noticed that a fly sat on the emperors’ face but the latter made no attempt to swat it away.
*That observation was enough and the trader was quickly disposed of; Nur Jehan managed to keep the news secret till the caravan reached Lahore and the rest is history. Sarai Narian, where this momentous incident occurred, was properly restored by the Indian Army, Nowshera Brigade
- The Emperor’s dead body, less entrails, was taken to Lahore without it being disclosed that he was dead. This was done to prevent the Kingdom from being taken over by his Kinsmen before the Queen reached the Capital.
III. Chingus and the fort:
The Chingus fort is also called one night fort as Mughals used it every year to stay for a single night while on their way to Kashmir. This fort offers a panoramic view of the valley and it lies on the banks of Tawi River. Chingus is a small yet historical village and Chingus Sarai. The fort is constructed of rubble, large pebbles and Lakhauri bricks in lime Surkhi material. Chingus is basically an ordinary village, off the main road, in the forest, yet it is extraordinary stands its connection with history. The Chingus sarai (rest house) is one of the many ancient Mughal sarais built on this road for travelers to rest and give water wash to their tired animals. The original name of the village was Khanpur which was established by Jaral Rajas of Rajouri. However, after the burial of the entrails of emperor Jahangir in the Sarai the name of the Sarai and village was changed to Chingus. The Fort was constructed by an Iranian engineer Ali Mardan Khan on the orders of emperor Jahangir in between 1605 to 1621 AD. This Sarai was the fifth halting station for the royal caravans on Mughal road which was 170 miles long from Gujrat (Now in Pakistan) to Srinagar and divided into 14 halting stations. The monument is surrounded by a natural environment and is located on the right bank of Sukhtao river in between Nowshera and Rajouri.
The sculpture once upon a time must have been a perfect piece of Iranian architecture, as beautiful as the bleached corals, as blanched as the hearts as the locals. It was made by loving hands and a soul of tears, for the oceans, just to sit back after a tiring day of walk and jumbo elephant ride, up and down the hills with every joint in the human body aching! The place perhaps gave the boundless joy. Obvious feeling while moving to Kashmir for a cool and calm environment to spend holidays has always been a dream of anyone in these modern times and it seems that it is an extension of the big legacy of romance with nature that the Mughals scripted!