Women Status in Harem – Mughal Period Part II

The practice of dowry was widely prevalent than even among muslims. Hence a girl child became a burden and undesirable even in muslims.

Dowry was a big menace of the time that led to female infanticide. When Man Bai married Prince Salim her father Bhagwan das provided 100 elephants, several horses, utensils of Gold and silver that was too huge to be accounted for in monetary terms and male and female slaves of Indian, Abyssinian and Circassian origin. This practice of dowry in Muslims only remained among royalty initially but later on percolated down to commoners.

The menace of dowry crossed all limits between 13th – 15th century so much that Royals and Kings had to sponsor dowry to marry off girls of less privileged. Firoz Shah Tughlaq created a department Diwan i Khairiat to look into genuine cases and sponsor marriages of underprivileged girl children, Nur Jahan too sponsored many dowry of under privileged girls every year

Divorce was very rare among Indians, almost unthinkable in hindu society. Muslims did divorce but it was too few and far. Like Babur’s wife Ayesha divorced him and left him at a young age, Kanzada Begum too divorced her second husband after Shibani Khan, Misri Begum daughter of Asaf Jah divorced son of Asaf Khan. Sometimes a man was forced to divorce his wife like Abul Wasi was forced to divorce his wife Daulat Shad as Akbar fell for her.

Divorce was a taboo in society and only the very rich or royals could afford it. The parents and brothers would refuse to care for a divorced daughter and her children and she could not obviously go out and fend for herself leading the woman to bear abuse and neglect in husbands house quietly.

The men had it easier, neither religious or society sanctions constrained their desires. Men married often and to much younger ladies. The concept of Muta marriage or temporary marriage was introduced by Akbar when clerics objected to marrying more than 4 women. This concept percolated to the commoners too. Royals and nobels kept cocubbines, women from lower strata of society without formal marriage to fulfil their desires. Shibani Khan, the war lord wanted to marry Baburs elder sister Kanzada Begum and hence divorced his wife Mihir Nigar Chatagi her maternal aunt.

Remarriage was permitted and was common in muslim royalty. Akbars sister Bakshi Bau was married to Mirza Ibrahim and upon his death to Mirza Sharifuddin. Faruk un nisa begum the daughter of Humayun first was married to Shah Abul Maali and after his death to Khwaja Hassan Naqshbandi. Akbar himself married Salima  Sultan after death of her husband Bairam Khan and Jehangir married Nur Jahan after her husband death. Humayuns widow was married to Mirza Qasim Haider. When Daniyal Mirza died his entire harem of more than 400-500 women was transferred under care of Prince Salim. Prince Salim sent for them and asked them that if anyone wants to remarry they should inform him the name of the person so he can arrange for same. Even when Akbar died Prince Salim called a meeting of all the younger wives of Akbar and asked them if anyone wanted to remarry. Women who were elder were exempted from remarriage. But usually wives of the great and rich men refrained from marrying again.

Elderly women and sisters were respected most in mughals. Akbar had great respect for Hamida Bano his mother and even carried her palanquin across the river on one occasion. The ambassadors in Jehangir court like Thomas Roe and Hawking tell of his great respect for his mother. Once when his mother came to the fort, Jehangir performed her sajdah(kneeling and touching ones forehead to the ground or feet of the person) and salutations to her. This was when he was in his mid 40s after he became an emperor. He would even carried her palanquin on his shoulders when she would go to visit religious places when he was with her.  Aurangzebs love for sisters Roshanara and Jahanara is well recorded.


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.

Shah Jahans true love – GulAra Begum

GulAra Mahal

Bhuranpur is not only famous for its palaces and forts but for many love stories of mughal emperors took place in this region. Aurangzeb fell in love with Hira Bai aka Zainabi Mahal in this same place. Mumtaz Mahal died after giving birth to her daughter Gauhara Bano in Bhuranpur.

But the most famous love story of Bhuranpur is of Gulara Begum and Shah Jahan.  Gulara Begum was a wife of Shah Jahan and he loved her immensely.  Prince Khurram was a young governor when he fell in love with Gulara Begum(a Hindu), a dancer and singer. He loved her so immensely he married her and gave her title Gul-ARA. He built her two palaces one at her native village in Karara and one at Bhuranpur fort.

He used to visit Bhuranpur and stay for long periods in company of Gulara Begum. He built her palaces called Gulara Mahal and huge gardens for her sake.  This after he had become an emperor and a father of many of Mumtazs children. This created fear in Mumtazs heart and her father Asaf Khan became scared that his daughter Mumtazs place in Shah Jahan’s heart had reduced and Gulara Begum or Gulara Mahal as he called her would take his daughters place.

Asaf Khan wanted only his family, his daughter and sons  and grandchildren to have prominence in Shah Jahans mind and in mughal empire especially the court. If Gulara Begum had kids in future, Shah Jahan may make her the Empress of Mughal Empire and her children heirs, he loved her so immensely. When he saw that Gulara Begum an ordinary dancer singer was getting so much love and attention of Shah Jahan with each passing year he hatched a plan to kill her.

Gulara Begum loved to take boat rides in Tapti river in nights and on one such night when Shah Jahan was not in town, Asaf Khan went to the place where Gulara Begum was enjoying her boat ride. Gulara Begum saw Asaf Khan, the Prime Minister of Mughals and Shah Jahan’s father in law coming towards her in boat at mid night and thought he was getting some important messagefrom Shah Jahan and told her boatman to move towards him. Asaf Khan shifted from his boat to her on pretext of giving an important message and while talking to her pushed her into the river and drowned her in the river. He threatened the maids and soldiers with her to silence or that he will kill them. Thus ended the love story of Gulara Begum and Shah Jahan.

Who knows history may have been different had Gau Har Begum not been killed and Shah Jahan may have built a Taj Mahal for Gau Har rather than Mumtaz? And Aurangzeb may not have ascended the throne and instead Gulara’s kids may have become the future emperors.

Mumtaz had wanted Shah Jahan to have kids only from her so that her blood heirs will ascend mughal throne and not any other emperors wives kids.  But in case any of Shah Jahans wife or mistress got pregnant it is believed(as per chronicles) that Mumtaz would not allow any of Shah Jahan’s other wives to give birth and kill the baby in womb by giving them a juice that would cause miscarriage. So only Shah Jahan’s wives before he married Mumtaz had kids and not other wives whom he married after her did not have any children.

Shah Jahan fell in love and married Gulara Begum many years after Mumtaz. So Asaf Khan devised this plan to kill her. According to some tales Gulara was pregnant when Asaf got to know of it and killed her before Shah Jahan knew of her pregnancy.



Salim – A prince in exile

Bala Qila fort is in the city of Alwar in Rajasthan. Alwar fort was built by Hasan Khan Mewati in 1551 A.D.  The fort has six gates, namely, Jai Pol, Suraj Pol, Laxman Pol, Chand Pol, Krishen Pol and Andheri Gates. The fort also has Jai Mahal, Nikumbh Mahal, Salim Sagar Pond, Suraj Kund and many temples.

Bala Qila Fort
Bala Qila Fort


It is said that Prince Salim later Emperor Jehangir stayed in this Bala Qila fort when his father, the great Emperor Akbar banished him for three years from mughal court. The reason for banishment is not provided in any historical book. But the reason could be an attempt on Abul Fazl life or an affair with a commoner girl. This was when Salim was hardly 25 years old before his rebellion against Akbars rule. Abul Fazl was the court chronicler and a navrathan of Akbars court. The duration he stayed here is not specific but his exile lasted three years.


The place where Emperor Jahangir stayed in Bala Qila is known as Salim Mahal. A pond is also named in his honour called Salim Sagar pond.


Shah Alam II – Rakhi Sister

Shah Alam II

Shah Alam II was the Mughal emperor till 1806. When Shah Jahan built Red Fort in Delhi he permited celebration of Holi, Diwali and Dusserha inside Red Fort. But Aurangzeb, when he became emperor abolished all celebration of Hindu festivals in the Red Fort. But Emperor Shah Alam revived celebrations of these Hindu festivals in the Red fort in his reign and added one more Raksha Bandhan festival to the list.

In a chronicle of 18th century Naubat-e-Panchroza describes Rakhi festival c elebrations at Red Fort as below

” Sawan is the month loved best by everyone in Delhi.  All the people come out in the open and enjoy themselves. There are jhoolas swinging from every tree and the sound of laughter and singing everywhere. The festival of Raksha Bandhan is the most important and popular. In the Red Fort particularly special preparations are made weeks in advance.Jhoolas are set up with silver supports and ropes of silk with seats of gold and silver. Amidst all this gaiety the Emperor emerges from the Moti Masjid  and occupies a small throne while the shehnai plays. Ramjani takes a seat near the Emperor and ties around his wrist a rakhi of gold and silken thread with pearls strung round it. Then she takes a sweet from a silver plate and gives it to the Emperor while everyone chants  Mahabali Badshah Salaamat (Long live the king).”

Now lets hear the story of how a Hindu Brahmin girl became Emperor Shah Alam IIs Rakhi sister. Alamgir II was the emperor of Mughal empire before Shah Alam II but he was actually a puppet in hands of his Prime Minister Imad-Ul-Mulk. The emperor had great faith in mystics, priests and holy man. Imad-Ul-Mulk wanted to get rid of emperor and become an emperor himself, hence he hatched a plot to kill emperor Alamgir II.

He went to the emperor and told him: Emperor Sir, I was just passing by from Feroz Shah Kotla. A great mystic is residing there and many people are flocking to see him. He is a great fakir with magical powers”

Alamgir II got excited “Really, i would love to meet him. Why do you not get him along to palace?

Imad-Ul-Mulk replied “I would my lord, but the great fakir does not go to anyone, rich, poor, big, small. Anyone who wants to meet him has to go in self”.

Alamgir II said “OK, then i shall go to him right away”

Imad-UL-Mulk said “Your highness, you have to go alone to him and not take anyone with you. That holy man does not wish people going to him in pomp etc so its best you go alone. I know as emperor you go with body guards but we cannot ignore the mystics wishes”

Alamgir II thought and relpied “OK as he wishes, i shall go alone and meet him”

Alamgir II reached Firoz Shah Kotla in evening and the hired assasins of Imad-Ul-Mulk attacked and killed him and threw his body near river Yamuna.

It was early morning and a young Brahmin girl Rajamani was going to the river Yamuna to fetch water. She discovered the body of emperor Alamgir II but did not have any idea who he was. It was still dark and so she decided to wait near the body till the mans family does not reach there.

By this time the palace discovered the emperor was missing and search parties were sent in all directions. One such party reached the river bank and discovered the body of the missing emperor. They asked Rajamani who she was and she told them the details and then left. The emperor was buried with all honours and his son Shah Alam II became the next emperor.

When Shah Alam II heard of his fathers death story he wanted to meet the brave girl who had sat by his fathers body till search party had reached him.  The gaurds went and called Rajamani to Red Fort and she came scared on why the emperor summoned her. But Shah Alam II got down from his throne and went to her and told her “ I want to thank you for what you have done, hence forth you are my sister”. From that year on Raksha Bandhan every year Rajamani came to Red Fort and tied Rakhi to the emperor Shah Alam II.

After Shah Alam II death Akbar Shah II and Bahadur Shah Zafar too maintained close ties with Rajamani’s family.