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Women Status in Harem – Mughal Period Part I

Indian women were considered very low and second class in the 13-18th century.  The females suffered discrimination from birth to death compared to males. Having been cut off from outer world in the four walls of harem or house they had only one duty to rear and bring up children. Some women dared carve a niche for themselves based on their quality but the fact was provided they appealed to their masters i.e. husbands.

Even the famous Amir Khusrau wrote “ I wish you were not born and if you were it would be better you were a boy” after birth of his daughter.

Gradually a female child was considered an misfortune or curse and in some Raputh clans a child was killed soon after birth. This practice was not only in Rajpuths but Muslims too.

Emperor Jehangir in Jehangirnama states “Also when a daughter is born to a man without means, they put her to death with strangulation. They alley themselves with hindus and both give and take girls. I ordered that hence forth no such thing should take place and guilty shall face capital punishment.

The kings themselves were no less guilty of a preference for boys. Gulbadan in Humayunnama mentions Baburs desire for a son before Hindal is born.  Akbar too took the laborious task of walking all way from agra to ajmer Chisti’s shrine for a son and Shah Jahan too took a similar pilgrimage to pray for a son after birth of three elder daughters before Dara Sikoh was born. The society as such was

There was great rejoicing and festivities if a son was born and none at all at birth of a daughter. This was true of royals too. When  a prince was born the entire court joined in festivities and paintings were commissioned to rejoice a royal sons birth. But when a daughter was born only the harem ladies feasted and celebrated. When Akbar odered feasting and rejoicing on birth of Affat Banu daughter of Prince Salim, Abul Fazl was shocked as it was contrary to customs of that time.

Finch the European traveller at time of Akbar wrote that girls were usually married at age 5-6 years and boys by 9-10 years and it were a norm. Further huge age difference existed between groom and bride. Sometimes 40 year olds married girls who were barely 10-12 years. Hence Akbar issued orders that age difference between groom and bride should be not more than 12 years. But the practice still continued in society to marry aged men to young girls especially among poor class.

The mughal prince and princess themselves married quiet young at age of 14-15 years. The mughal princess married a bit later than commoner girls at age 14-15 years. Ayesha was betrothed to Babur at age of 5 years although the marriage took place when she was 16 years. Hamida Banu married Humayun at the age of 14 years. Baburs daughters Gulchehra Begum was married at 13 years, Gulrang Begum at 15 years and Gulbadan Begum at age 14 years. Bakshi Bano married at age of 9 years. Arjumand Bano was betrothed to Shah Jahan at age of 14 years and married at age 19 years.

The mughal princess were no different. Salim married at age of 16 years Murad was 17 years at time of first marriage and Aurangzeb was 18 years. Dara Sikoh was 19 years and Kam Baksh was hardly 14 years at time of his marriage.

Child marriages had drastic effect on the bride and groom children. Especially the girls had many health issues and could not conceive after age of 30 years. This made men take in more wives to fulfil their desires of more progeny leading to polygamy.