Women In The Mughal Period

The position of women in Mughal India compared to that of women in ancient India was undoubtedly much better in every aspects. The Mongols, the Persians and the Turkish royal women enjoyed certain political privileges. The Mughal women is well known in history for courage and integrity. Some were excellent monarchs who ruled the kingdom behind their emperors which helped them in maintaining the Mughal administration and expansion of the dynasty including empresses like Ruqaiya Sultan Begum and Nur Jahan  who are of notable importance in the Medieval history of India. 

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum

Ruqaiya Sultan Begum was born to Mughal prince Hindal Mirza, and his wife Dildar Begum. She married Akbar in November 1551 at Kabul. Ruqaiya became the Empress Consort of the Mughal Empire at the age of 14 years from 1557 to 1605. She was the first wife of Akbar and took an active part in the political administration, court politics of the empire. As an empress she bore the exalted title of “Padshah Begum”, a title reserved for the first lady of the empire and the Emperor’s principal consort. Ruqaiya was more than what the famous television series “Jodha Akbar” showed us. People shouldn’t judge her on the basis of such misinterpretation of Ruqaiya’s character. She was very efficient Mughal empress. Her immense influence on Akbar helped him in ruling the kingdom and maintaining the Mughal administration. As an influential wife she was able to facilitate the peace between Akbar and Jahangir which paved the way for Jahangir to ascend the throne. She was the longest serving empress in the Mughal dynasty. She had a very good relationship with Jahangir’s wife Meher-un-nissa which helped the Mughal empire to achieve prosperity and to become one of the most well organised empire in history. She even oversaw Jahangir’s son Khurram’s education and assumed the primary responsibility for the upbringing of Khurram to the throne. She by her stature and ability was capable of maintaining the royal harem and she was the most senior women of the harem. Ruqaiya died in 1626 in Agra at the age of 84. Her tomb in Kabul was commissioned by Shah Jahan. Jahangir in his memoirs makes note of Ruqaiya’s exalted status as Akbar’s chief wife. 

Nur Jahan

Born as Mehr-un-Nissa to a Persian noble family on 31st May, 1577 in Kandahar Nur Jahan was the fourth child of Mirza Ghias Beg and Asmat Begum. In 1611, Jahangir married Mehr-un-Nissa and gave her the title Nur Jahan meaning, ‘light of the world.’ Due to addiction to opium and wine, in the absence of Jahangir, sometimes Nur Jahan was seen issuing orders to the court and such power in the hands of an empress at a time when women were kept under veil was novelty. As soon as her influence grew both within the harem and court, she was the first Mughal woman to issue royal order which signified her movement towards co-sovereignty. As Ruby Lal wrote in her book “Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan”, Nur Jahan was the first woman whose name was bored on gold and silver coins, opposite Jahangir’s. She was an expert in designing public buildings and an accomplished adviser, a diplomat and aesthete. This book gives a detailed description about paintings of Nur Jahan wearing a regal turban, holding a musket which she used to hunt a tiger and saved her husband. She had a literary mind of excellence. She wrote poems under the pen-name ‘Makhfi’. She was also a great patron of music and art. Her versatility as an empress strengthen the Mughal empire in all aspects. Nur Jahan one of the Great Mughals of India, an inspiring female sovereign died on 17th December, 1645 in Lahore, Pakistan.  


 Although in principle the Islamic faith acknowledges the equality of men and women in both ability and intelligence, in practice the in the Mughal world, as in others, women were relegated to a subordinate position. Despite of all these constraints there were many women including the mothers, daughters and wives of the Mughal emperors were the driving forces behind them. Though there was no educational opportunity for women in both the ancient and medieval period, it was the Mughal emperors who felt that the value of education is very much required for their children including their daughters and the princesses of royal household. Mughal queens actually changed the lifestyle, administration, culture by ruling the dynasty behind their Sultans which ultimately led the Mughal Empire to be one of the richest and powerful dynasty in the world. They not only helped in the administration but also helped their husbands in economy, education, some were versatile pioneers and patrons of music, literature, paintings, sword fightings and even expert in huntings.


Mughal Imperial Archives, Medieval Indian History

Bose, Mandakranta, Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval and Modern India.

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