Did you know that the 800-year-old shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, was built by one of the strongest women in Indian history?

Jahanara Begum — a writer, poet, painter and the architect of Delhi’s famous Chandni Chowk — was a princess like no other and yet her story remains unheard of.

The eldest child of Emperor Shah Jahan and his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, Jahanara was born in Ajmer in 1614.

Well-versed in statecraft, Jahanara was appointed as Begum Sahib (Princess of Princesses) by her doting parents.

As French traveller and physician François Bernier writes in his memoirs, Travels in the Mogul Empire, “Shah Jahan reposed unbounded confidence in his favourite child; she watched over his safety, and was so cautiously observant that no dish was permitted to appear upon the royal table which had not been prepared under her superintendence.”

She also wrote many books, including a biography of Ajmer’s Sufi saint, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, displaying her flair for prose.

Tragedy struck when her mother died and left Shah Jahan in deep mourning. She was made in charge of the Imperial Seal and titled Malika-e-Hindustan Padshah Begum — the First Lady of the Indian Empire — at the age of 17.

She became her father’s closest confidant and helped him come out of his mourning period.

Interestingly, Jahanara was also one of the few Mughal women who owned a ship and traded as an independent entity.

Faithful to her father, Jahanara set aside her lucrative trade and luxurious lifestyle to accompany him into imprisonment when Jahangir (Shah Jahan’s son) sent him into exile.

A constant presence beside Shah Jahan in his exile, she took care of him for eight years till he breathed his last in 1666.

She commissioned several architectural spectacles — mosques, inns and public gardens — across the Mughal Empire. But Old Delhi’s legendary bazaar, Chandni Chowk, which translates to ‘moonlit intersection’ is her finest work.

Jahanara passed away in 1681 at the age of 67. Unlike the giant mausoleums built for her parents, she rests in a simple marble tomb open to the sky, inscribed with her own couplet in Persian.