Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire
Reviewed By St.Stephens Society of Literature
By Ira Mukhoty
Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire by Ira Mukhotyis a different and entirely new approach to document the chronicles of the mighty Mughal rulers. The biography focuses on an aspect of the empire which our historians have conveniently forgotten. The author narrates the sacrifices and position of the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb in the power structure. When the Timurid warrior Babur came to India, he brought with him a family of strong women who actually laid the foundation of the mighty Mughal Empire.
The book starts off with Babur’s grandmother Aisan Daulat and his sister Khanzada Begum. Without Khanzada’s sacrifice, Babur’s dream of capturing the Indian subcontinent would have been left unfulfilled. Married off to the enemy, divorced and married off to another man by her husband, divorced again, childless, when Khanzada returned to her little brother, in her early thirties, she had become a strong person who could counter anything and anyone who comes her way. Later on, we see the sixty five year old Khanzada Begum, riding on horseback through 750 kilometres of icy passes and tough terrains to help her nephew, Humayun. The book is interesting because it talks about these unknown Begums in the same way as it talks about the celebrated Noor Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. In a patriarchal society where women were kept behind the screens, an account of their deeds from actual historical documents is fascinating.
The book throws light on the vulnerability of the powerful and mighty emperors, who we are familiar with through our history textbooks. The picture of a majestic Babur finding solace in his grandmother’s lap even after decorating the throne is somewhat difficult to digest, but Ira Mukhothy describes it in a picturesque way that will bring a smile on our face.The book celebrates the Turkish ancestry and the lineage of these women and asserts the fact they were not even a single step behind their male counterparts. The way the author paints the relation between Akbar, the Great and his milk mother Maham Anaga will leave us wondering whether the history we learned was completely biased and single minded. The book states, “ MahamAnaga, Akbar’s milk mother was a marvel of sense, resource and loyalty.” She also brings to our attention that Maham Anaga’s high status at Akbar’s court has been visibly demonstrated by her prominent position in few paintings. She has been seated right next to the emperor.
The way the author puts forth the character of Noor Jahan, wife of Jehangir is also interesting. She does not rely by the popular notion of Noor Jahan and describes her as the ambassador of British. The chapter on Mumtaz Mahal is also different in the way that it does not completely goes along with the celebrated folktale lore of the stories. Other queens like Roshnara and Jahanara are also given due importance.
The book relies on historical documents and biographies of the emperors written during the era, like the Baburnama, written by Babur himself and Humayunnama, written by Gulbadin Begum, Humayun’s sister, to extract the picture and relations. The fact that a 14 year old girl refused the marriage proposal of the emperor is not easily believable because of the way we have been made to review and accept history. Ira Mukhoty celebrates the womanhood of these women in an elaborate way and keeps the reader glued to the text. The description of the rulers like Jehangir and Shah Jahan is also very vivid. The author also gives a description of the events that took place in the Mughal dynasty after Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangazeb.
The book has copies of the Mughal paintings which the author has used as a source for framing her narratives and the reader is free to review and see it in different lights. These pictures remind us of the fact that we have never noticed a lot of gestures and scenes in them which clearly throws light on the socio-economic and political conditions of the Mughal rule. Major highlight of the book is that it gives due importance to all the women it talks about and do not focus only on the celebrated characters. It also tries to bring to light the emotional connection between them and the rulers.
Ira Mukhoty also talks in detail about the lifestyle of the Mughal queens. Their clothing, food habits, their social status and so on. From a historical point of view it is a text which can be referred to for collecting information about the period. It is also written in a simple language and anyone can easily follow the author. If you have ever learnt about the Mughals and wondered how they did all they did, then book will answer those questions. Don’t wait! Go and get a copy now itself.