Secrets of Moghul harem

R.V. SMITH gives us a glimpse of the esoteric world of Moghuls, their lives and their harem

The new year, the spring, the wine and the beloved are pleasing, Babar enjoys them for the world is not to be had a second time”, observed the founder of the Moghul dynasty, who was a poet too. In his youth he was fond of the company of boys but gave up the habit as he grew up. Humayun was more sedate but Akbar had 5000 women in his harem. Jehangir was served by a new slave girl every night, Shah Jehan retained his love for pretty women even in his old age and Aurangzeb though puritanical, was no stranger to conjugal bliss with four wives.

A peep into the secret lives of the Moghuls can be a thrilling experience. And that’s exactly what R. Nath has to offer in his treatise. To have researched this aspect of the lives of Babar and his descendants is no mean achievement, even though Dr. Nath, formerly of Rajasthan University, has been churning out one historical thriller after another during the past four decades. He begins with this introduction.

“The Moghul harem consisted of a large number of women of different regions, coming from different cultural milieus, speaking different languages. They were kept in strict seclusion and purdah within the four walls of the complex and their relationship with the outside world was completely severed so much so that the proverb that a woman entered the harem by doli and left it by arthi or jenaza was literally true. No male, except the king, was allowed to go into the harem and entry was barred even to the grown-up sons.”

Covered passages

The harem was so planned as, to ensure both healthy living and purdah. There were open courtyards or angans with fountains, pools, terraces and balustrades. High walls enclosed the harem but inside the various suites were more or less independent and connected with covered passages through which the king could appear at any timeand leave just as secretly as he came.

The harem was guarded by strongly-built women from Tartary, Central Asia and Afghanistan who were called daroghas. These women were considered chaste and were directly responsible to the khwajasara, a person of proven loyalty to the king. The harem was guarded by eunuchs. At a proper distance from them was maintained a guard of faithful Rajputs, and round the four corners of the harem was a guard of mansabdars (nobles). So the harem worked systematically, along the guidelines laid down by Akbar himself and streamlined by Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb.

It is interesting to note that the Moghul emperors married for life and never practised talaq or divorce. The widows were not allowed to remarry and passed their time in the Sohagpura (house of eternal matrimony), which existed both in the Agra and Delhi forts. During the decadent period of the Moghul empire the rules of the harem and Sohagpura were broken, but during its heyday not even the emperor dared to contravene them.

Besides their many wives, concubines and slave girls, the emperors also enjoyed the company of beautiful women of all regions.

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