The Private Lives of the Royal Mughal Women : What was Harem all about?

“Daughters of the Sun” by Ira Mukhoty: Book Review #004

Have you ever wondered how was the life of the sister of the great Mughal Emperor, Babur? Or the sister of Humayun, or for that matter what became of his wife? Do we as much as know their names even?

Would you believe if I say that these forgotten women had lived their lives in the way which no woman has ever lived till date. Would you believe if I say that these Muslim women almost practically managed the Mughal Empire along with their ruling padshahs, shoulder to shoulder?

What was a king’s Harem (Zenana) all about? Was it meant only for the carnal pleasures of the king or had it something more to it?

A lot of misconceptions keep floating about the lives of these Muslim rulers, the descendants of Taimur the great. But everything that we hear is not worth believing, right?

Ira Mukhoty, in her book, Daughters of the Sun, has undone the popular beliefs about these Mughal women of India by bringing to us the lives of these women to the forefront. She has brought to us the parallel narratives of these forgotten women who had contributed greatly to re-shape and re-create the India that we see today.

The book is about some of the most influential royal women of the Mughal era who existed during the reign of first Mughal Padshah of Hindustan, Babur, till the last Padshah, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

In her book, Mukhoty has challenged the popular notion of the Harem or Zenana as a sexually charged royal household where the women have no relevance other than being available for the pleasure of the king.

A Zenana was more a household of the king, which included elderly matrons, young wives, children, servants, widowed relatives, divorced sisters, and unmarried royal relatives. A zenana was a place for even the distant women relatives who were either abandoned or had no one left from their immediate family.

 These Timurid women, from the very beginning were also given rigorous education in all fields just like the Timurid Boys.

Mukhoty has tried to recreate the dynamic world of the Mughal women from the time of Babur to the beginning of the fall of the reign of Mughals with Aurangzeb, a period of almost 200 years.

The author has talked about some 15 women who left their mark on India and whose lives had an impact on these luminous and formidable Mughal Padshahs.

Mukhoty has divided the book in 3 parts to make the readers understand the Mughal history in light of the royal matriarchs who held the prominent positions in the Mughal courts.

The title given to these powerful women was that of Begum Padshah.

A begum Padshah always used to be a royal woman from the Mughal household who could be a wife, an aunt, a mother, or even an unmarried daughter who had an extended influence over the king himself as well over the other courtiers and common people alike.

In the case of earlier Mughals, it was the older matriarchs who were most influential, aunts and mothers like Aisan Daulat Begum, Khanzada Begum, Dildar Begum, Gilbadan Begum, Bega Begum, and Maham Begum.

When Akbar became Padshah at only 13 years of age, a group of ‘milk mothers’or foster-mothers, became powerful, including Jiji Anga and Maham Anaga.

Then as Padshahs settled into their growing empire, their wives gained in influence and so there was Harka Bai, Salima Sultan Begum and, much more famously, Noor Jahan and Mumtaz mahal.

Finally as the empire became truly luminescent, unmarried daughters became powerful and there is the astounding legacy of Jahanara Begum and Roshanara Begum. Under the last of the great Mughals, Aurangzeb, there are the waning stars of his daughters Zeb-un-Nisa and Zeenat-un-Nisa.

Ira Mukhoty “Daughters of the Sun”

Some interesting facts about these women:

There are many incidents given in the book from the lives of these formidable royal women when their decisions, their sacrifices, and their socio-political influence and timely advice helped keep the warring brothers and the empire intact.

Readers would particularly find interesting the narrative of Khanzada Begum, elder sister of Babur, made a sacrifice when she decided to stay behind with the Uzbek warloard Shyabani Khan and married him, to secure Babur’s safety.

Babur, and then his son Humayun, revered Khanzada because of the sacrifice that she made. She was later anointed as the first Padshah Begum of Hindustan when she returned to Babur after 15 years.

Similarly influential was Gulbadan Begum, sister of Humayun, who was so well educated that she took upon herself the herculean task of documenting the lives of her father, Babur and her brother, Humayun in her treatise, Humayun-nama.

Readers would also find interesting the historical fact about the life of Humayun’s Wife Hamida and his courtship to her. She was constantly on heels with Humayun wherever he went.

The part where Mukhoty talks about Harka Bai, Jahangir’s Mother and Akbar’s Rajputi Wife, who was given the title of Maryam-uz-Zamani, and she also became Padshah Begum.

My favorite piece of narrative is about the life of Noor Jahan, and how enormous her influence in the Mughal court was after she married Jahangir. She was the richest Begam Padshah among all and practically ruled the empire from behind the curtains.

Another formidable royal women discussed in detail in this book is Jahanara, who became Padshah Begum at the tender age of 13 after her mother, the previous Padshah Begum, Mumtaz Mahal died in child birth.

The yearly income of Jahanara after she recived the title, was fixed at ten lakh rupees, with an army of officers and servants at her command. She was also made the ‘keeper of the imperial seal’ and so had the power to issue farmans in the name of her father, Padshah Shah Jahan.

Other than the details about the lives of these royal women, the author has also given the historical facts related to the making of some influential buildings and other architectural pieces like Taj Mahal and the royal Throne, famously known as the ‘Peacock Throne’.

The cost incurred at building the Taj Mahal was 50 lakhs in those days and that of the Peacock Throne was twice as much as the Taj Mahal.

The making of Chandni Chowk is also given enough attention in the book and many of us would be surprised to read that the plan for this magnificent bazaar was laid down by none other than Jahanara Begum. The details are very minutely covered by the author and the book is a very well researched work by her.

Every page of the book is full with enormous information about the Mughal empire and its rise and subsequent fall. The book is an attempt to make readers understand the importance of these Mughal women in making the history of Mughal Empire in India.



Rating: 5 out of 5.

ENGAGEMENT: Unputdownable

Get this book from amazon today and start reading!

Leave your comments about the history of the Mughals and let’s engage in a fruitful conversation.

5 thoughts on “The Private Lives of the Royal Mughal Women : What was Harem all about?”

  1. Shweta, that was an amazing and insightful description of the royal Mughal women’s Harem or Zennana !You have indeed researched well into the subject.Quite an absorbing read.Thanks!


    1. Thank you Mr. Chauhan.
      The book in discussion here is an amazing read. It inspired me to read more about the Mughals of india and my next read is “The Last Mughal”. This one is also an amazing book on the history of Mughals. Hope to review it too soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will look forward to next read anxiously as it also seems already so very interesting!These days you seem to be very busy as you haven’t gone through my last few blogs!pl find time 🤣🤗


      2. Oh yes really sir! It’s been so hectic that even writing my own blog becomes a task for me!

        But now since m notified personally of your new blogs, I vl surely find time to read them. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s