Women in Mughal Society

 

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Mughal women

During the Mughal period, women were regarded with more esteem than ever before and in many respects were treated as equal to men. In this nineteenth-century painting, the god Krishna admires Radha, a mortal woman, from afar.

 



Mongol tribal society gave women equality in most realms. Many thirteenth-century historical accounts (Mongol, Persian, and Chinese) describe how elite Mongol women fought in the military, owned property, engaged in business ventures and civic discourse, were sometimes educated, and could seek divorce. Babur's Mongolian ancestor, Kublai Khan's mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, was one of the most well-known of Mongolian women, and a very powerful political figure, but the fact that the Mughals were Muslim (as well as of Mongol heritage) complicated the social status of Mughal women. When Mughal attitudes toward women came into contact with Hindu attitudes, the resulting effects on women's status were both positive and negative. Babur and other emperors were known to rely on the political advice of their female relatives, and Akbar established a girls' school where his daughters were educated (although he himself had not been taught to read as a child). Akbar also discouraged child marriage, promoted widow marriage, and banned sati (the Hindu custom of a widow voluntarily being burned alive upon her husband's funeral pyre). During the reigns of Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627) and Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658), Queen Nur Jahan (1577-1645) became a significant policy maker. She, along with her father and brother, ruled the empire for the last decade of Jahangir's reign after he became ill. Later, Queen Nur Jahan's niece, Mumtaz Mahal (to whom the Taj Mahal was dedicated), married Shah Jahan, and after her death, her unmarried daughter, Jahanara, became queen. To a certain extent, Mughal attitudes toward women influenced Indian society positively, and Hindu women were consequently allowed to engage in business and to own land. Yet on the other hand, Hindu customs such as sati and early marriage persisted, and the imitation of constrictive Mughal-Muslim influences such as purdah (secluding women and/or requiring them to veil themselves in public) began to enter upper-caste Indian society.

 

For more information:

To learn more about women in Mongol court society, see "Women of the Mongol Court," taken from a lecture by Professor Morris Rossabi, at the Denver Art Museum in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in History. Professor Rossabi teaches at Queens College and Columbia University and is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of World History:
http://www.woodrow.org/teachers/world-history/teaching/mongol/women.html

For more information on Sorghaghtani Beki, see the Women in World History site, maintained by Lyn Reeves:
http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine8.html

See the Women, the Visual Arts, and Islam Web site produced for the course "Women in the Visual Arts: Islamic Focus" taught by Professor Deborah Hutton of Skidmore College. The Mughal Women and the Visual Arts section was produced by Ellie Forseter, Hannah Liverant, and Katie Pariser-Gollon:
http://www.skidmore.edu/academics/arthistory/ah369/Intropg2.htm

For a short biography of Nur Jahan (1577-1645), see the Women in World History site:
http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine11.html0

To see a zahana, or women's palace, go to ArchNet, a digital library at MIT for architects, scholars, and others, with a special focus on the Islamic world:
http://archnet.org/library/sites/one-site.tcl?site_id=3857


To learn more about exceptional Muslim women, see the biography of Sultana Razia, the first female Muslim ruler (who took the throne in 1236), at the Story of Pakistan: A Multimedia Journey site. Its focus is on the political history of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan:
http://www.storyofpakistan.com/person.asp?perid=P047




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