Life in a Mughal Harem 5 5 2

Life in a Mughal Harem

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Life in a Mughal Harem

Post by pollyanna on 2013-10-07, 11:13

How did the women in the royal household of the Mughals live? 

THE Mughal ladies spent their entire lives inside the emperor’s harem. A feeling of awe and mystery even today fills one’s mind when one hears of the Mughal harem. Many things have been written and many things have been guessed about the life of Mughal ladies. The manner in which the Mughal women spent their lives, their places of residence, their food and clothes, purdah and religion, pleasures and pastimes, learning and education and even their love and resentments, have always remained matters of interest to many. The Mughal women were no ordinary women. They were royal women. And therefore, their social life was certainly very much different from that of the ordinary women of the mediaeval times.

The harems of the Mughal emperor consisted of a large number of women and in it lived women of different races, provinces and communities. Manucci stated that there were “within the palace two thousand women of different races”. Apart from Muslim women, there were Hindu women including Rajput ladies, and even Christian women in the harem of the Mughal emperors. The harems of Babar and Humayun were modest in size. But from Akbar’s time onwards the Mughal harem became an elaborate affair having a large number of women. Akbar’s harem had approximately 500 women. The harems of Jehangir, Shahjahan and the puritan Aurangzeb were also very large. According to Hawkins, Jehangir had “three hundred wives where foure be chief as queens”. According to Terry’s estimates Jehangir’s harem consisted of “four wives, and concubines and women beside ... enough to make up their number a full thousand”.

When one thinks of the women who lived inside the harem, only the picture of the king’s wives, concubines, dancing and singing girls and slave and servant girls comes to one’s mind. But the harem did not comprise only the women belonging to these categories. Of course, these women did live in the harem, but there were many others who also lived there. They were the mothers, stepmothers, foster-mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, daughters and other female relatives of the king. Even the male children lived inside the harem till they grew up. Then, there were the ladies-in-waiting, slave and servant girls and a number of women officials and guards who were appointed by the emperor for taking care of the various needs of the harem. There were eunuch guards also guarding the surrounding areas of the harem quartes. Female fortune-tellers also lived inside the harem. Some women and eunuchs acted as spies and they kept the emperor informed about the activities of the harem women. Women usually came into the harem through marriage, birth, purchase, appointment or as gifts.

Lifestyle


The lives of the harem ladies were governed by strict rules of purdah. These ladies usually did not have the liberty to move out of the harem as they liked. If at all they went out, their faces were well hidden behind veils. But inside the harem they could move around as they pleased. They were also provided with various kinds of luxuries and comforts. The daily life in the harem was full of gaiety and mirth. At least, this is the picture that foreigners like Bernier and Manucci, who once in a while had access to the harem as physicians, give in their accounts.

They led lives of great comfort, luxury and materialistic pleasure. These ladies lived in grand apartments luxuriously furnished, with lovely gardens, fountains, tanks and water channels attached to them. They wore beautiful and expensive clothes made from the finest material and adorned themselves with jewellery from head to toe. They rarely went out, but when they did, most of the times the ladies of rank travelled in style and comfort in richly decorated howdahs on elephant backs and palanquins.

The daily needs of the emperor and his harem inmates were fulfilled to a great extent by the imperial departments. Their food came from the imperial kitchen called the Matbakh. The Akbar Khana provided drinking water and wine. During summers ice cold water was supplied to the imperial household. The Maywa Khanah provided fruits to the household. Rikab Khanah or the bakery was in charge of supplying bread. The imperial karkhanas provided the royal ladies with beautiful dresses, jewellery, household and fancy articles.


Recreation and pastime


Since the harem ladies rarely went outside the palace, most of their time was spent inside the seraglio. The harem staff had their respective duties to perform. The royal ladies mostly spent their time by adorning, decorating and beautifying themselves. Various arrangements were made for their recreation inside the harem. There were female superintendents of music and dance and a number of lady singers and dancers. The ladies played many indoor games. Sometimes they read books like Gulistan and Bostan of Shaikh Sadi Shirazi. Some of the royal ladies went a step ahead than the others and did great works like building monuments and gardens, composing works of literary value, participating in trade and commerce and sometimes even taking part in contemporary politics.


Status and position


On the whole, the life of a Mughal lady revolved round the emperor. All the harem ladies did not enjoy equal position. Their status and the position of authority and respect in the harem was determined by the place they had in the emperor’s life or in his heart. Their mutual relationship amongst themselves was usually friendly and cordial. But jealousies were prevalent though it was not shown directly. Everyone tried their best to please the emperor and nobody wanted to show her bad qualities like jealousy, quarrelsome nature or short-tempered attitude. To give the king or prince his first male child was a great honour and competition in this regard often resulted in a woman’s trying to miscarry the pregnancies of other women around her. Worries or unpleasantness were usually kept away from them. Death was not usually mentioned throughout the palace. When a lady fell ill she was shifted to the Bimar Khanah. Only the death of very prominent harem ladies was mourned.

The more important position a lady occupied, the more privileges she enjoyed. If she was childless, she was allowed to bring up the child of some other loyal lady as her own. Maham Begam, one of Babar’s principal wives and the mother of Humayun, had lost four children after Humayun’s birth. She was given Hindal and Gulbadan, the children of another wife Dildar Begam, and she brought them up. The childless first wife of Akbar, Ruqqaiah Sultan Begam, was given Prince Salim’s son Khurram after the child was born. She brought him up with a lot of love and care as revealed by Jehangir in his memoirs when he wrote, “My father had given my son Khurram into her charge, and she loved him a thousand times more than if he had been her own.” Shahjahan’s second son Prince Shuja was brought up by Nur Jahan Begam as per Jahangir’s wishes.



The status of mother


During the Mughal age, the first lady of the realm was usually the emperor’s mother and not his chief queen, except in the case of Nur Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. Only after the death of the Queen Mother did the chief consort of the emperor take her place. All the Mughal emperors starting from Babar, showed great respect to their mothers. The Babar Nama and Gulbadan Begam’s Humayun Nama have many instances which reveal the great honour and respect shown to the mothers by the emperors. After the coronation ceremonies it was the mother whom the emperor first visited. So was the case on other days of rejoicing like festivals and birthdays.

Abul Fazal said that when long fasts came to an end, the first dishes of meat went to Akbar from his mother’s place. Once when Akbar’s mother was travelling in a palanquin from Lahore to Agra, Akbar was travelling with her. At one place he took the palanquin upon his own shoulders and carried her from one side of the river to another. At one place in the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, Jehangir reveals his love and respect for his mother in these words:

On the same day her Majesty the revered Maryam-Zamani (his mother) came from Agra, and I acquired eternal good fortune from the blessing of waiting on her. I hope that the shadow of her bringing up and affection may be perennial on the head of this suppliant.”

* * * * *

Deference to elder women


Apart from their own mothers and foster-mothers, the other wives of their father were also looked upon with a lot of respect by the Mughals. Jodha Bai was Jehangir’s own mother. But he had great respect and affection for Ruqaiya Begam and Salima Sultan Begam also. Akbar respected Haji Begam a lot. The grandmothers, aunts and other elderly relations were also respected and well cared for. The memoirs of Babar and Jehangir and the Humayun Nama of Gulbadan Begam reveal many a time the esteem that the Mughal emperors had for their mothers and other elderly lady relatives. A.S Beveridge states, “It may be said that both Babar and Haider convey the opinion that deference to elder women was a permanent trait of their age and set.” These ladies too many a time, including difficult times, lent their active support to their emperor and many crises were solved. Various incidents from the Babar Nama reveal the amount of respect that Babar had for the ladies of his family even if they belonged to his rival camp. From Gulbadan Begam’s accounts too we have evidences proving this. In one place Gulbadan Begam wrote:

“All through the four years that my father was in Agra he used to go on Fridays to see his paternal aunts. One day it was extremely hot, and her highness my lady (Akam) said, “The wind is very hot indeed; how would it be if you did not go this one Friday? The begams would not be vexed. His Majesty said, Maham! It is astonishing that you should say such things! The daughters of Abu-Sa’id Sultan Mirza, who have been deprived of father and brothers! If do not cheer them, how will it be done?”

Gulbadan Begam goes on to say:

“To the architect, Khwaja Qasim, his Majesty gave the following order: ‘We command a piece of good service from you. It is this: Whatever work, even it be on a great scale, our paternal aunts may order done in their palace, give it precedence, and carry it out with might and main.’”

The respect and affection that the Mughal emperors had for the mothers, aunts and grandmothers extended to the sisters as well. Gulbadan Begam gives many instances in her Humayun Nama revealing the love that Babar and Humayun had for their sisters. Babar held his elder sister Khanzada Begam in high esteem and she too underwent many a difficulties for her brother’s sake. Though Gulbadan was not Humayun’s own sister, Humayun loved her very much and he cared a lot for his other sisters too. If any sister met any calamity like widowhood, the brother was always there to provide her with shelter. When Gul Chihra Begam became a widow, Humayun gave orders to bring her back to Agra. Jehangir in his memoirs lovingly mentions his sisters Shukr-un-Nisa Begam and Aram Banu Begam, though born of different mothers.



Source-- Royal Mughal ladies and their contribution By Soma Mukherjee

pollyanna
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Re: Life in a Mughal Harem

Post by Tanthya on 2013-10-07, 12:39

had read this.. what was exclusive about this was the Timur line never did pay any respects to women whereas Mughals respected women a lot and listened to their suggestions and advice

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Re: Life in a Mughal Harem

Post by pollyanna on 2013-10-07, 12:45

True Sathu, all thanks to serial, I am getting to read and know a lot about history which was such a boring subject when I was in school :P  

Goes on to say, the pics  and visual mode of teaching can do wonders Wink :P  they should apply these stunts in schools too :P

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Re: Life in a Mughal Harem

Post by Tanthya on 2013-10-07, 12:49

pollyanna wrote:True Sathu, all thanks to serial, I am getting to read and know a lot about history which was such a boring subject when I was in school :P  

Goes on to say, the pics  and visual mode of teaching can do wonders Wink :P  they should apply these stunts in schools too :P
Totally agree... Throw in Rajat or HR and we all would be Doc's in History !!:P :P

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