Select from the drop-down MENU & READ the Blog in your PREFERRED Language


Akbar & Harka Bai | Maharana Pratap | Mauryans | Razia Sultan | Miscellaneous | Jodha Akbar | FolkLore | Suggestions

5300+ comments registered on over 165 active posts, till now.
Plagiarism is a serious ethical offense amounting to copyright infringement. ZERO tolerance for Plagiarism.

Monday, December 29, 2014

~~Of Christmas and New Year Parties of Shehzadas and Nawabs

A very Happy New Year to all the readers...

This special post talks about how New Year was celebrated by some of the Royals of Hindustan, and later by common people when "Royalty ceased"....

New Year’s eve at Bombay House was a grand affair but the one at Old Pataudi House was no less memorable. It must have originally belonged to the Nawab but he left it when the new one was built in South Delhi. After that it was given on rent to mostly Christian families, who had earlier lived at Turkman Gate but moved into it as they found its location more suitable for attending Sunday service at St James’ Church in Kashmere Gate. Some, however, continued to go to the Turkman Gate Holy Trinity Church, built in 1904 after the site chosen near Ajmere Gate had to be abandoned after digging revealed that there was an underground reservoir there of Mughal days which supplied water to the Shahji lake that once covered what is now the Ramlila ground.

Christmas was a big celebration but New Year’s eve was no less spectacular. Naney Joseph had a large family with sons, grandsons and great-grandsons – all of whom were married and, together with their wives and kids, filled up many rooms in Pataudi House. The old man was 90 then but still active enough to take charge on festive occasions. His ancestors had been Tyagi Brahmins from Mewat who had migrated to Delhi in mid-19th Century and faced a tough time during the Revolt of 1857 as they were Christian converts. For this they were attacked by those who considered them stooges of the British, but though some perished, the rest managed to survive by declaring their allegiance to the Mughal emperor. Their dhoti-kurta dress and dehati lingo lent credibility to their claim that they had changed their religion but not customs, celebrating Diwali and Holi too, besides Christmas and the New Year.

When the British retook Delhi and Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent into exile in Rangoon, they repaid their debt of gratitude to the men who had spared their lives by proclaiming their innocence. After that the Tyagi Christians began to be regarded as friends, particularly by the inhabitants of Turkman Gate. In the changedcircumstances they were greatly sought after by those seeking favours from the new dispensation.

Now coming into their own, they celebrated Church festivities with greater fervour. At Christmas they sang bhajans of “Nanha Balak, Yesu” and at New Year’s “Naye-saal-ke-geet”. It was in the evening that the whole community congregated to bring the sun down with singing and dancing. There was typical rural “naach-gana” and also some ballroom dances learnt by the girls from English lady teachers.

New Year’s eve of 1947 became a glamorous event as it was the first time that it was being celebrated after Independence. Refugees from Punjab and Sindh did not quite understand what all the gaiety was about as they were not familiar with such celebrations but those were times when even old women danced at Pataudi House, which was gaily illuminated with diyas and bunting on Dec. 31. Andrew and his brother Philip, who were children then, used to talk about the post-Azadi Naya Saal. Bannu chachha, who had finished off half a bottle, decided that after the young people had enjoyed themselves, no woman would cook khana at home and stuff bought from the Jama Masjid dhabas could be eaten. The pulao-zarda arrived, along with tandoori rotis, korma and kababs. Some ate to their heart’s content while others were still on “liquid diet”. Their wives and mothers, following the old custom of eating after the males, passed the time singing to the beat of the dholak and the tunes of the harmonium. Perpetua Bua, Kali Mumani and Ganno Bhabhi clapped as they were too old to sing because of cracked voices, but Alloo Bua and Sanno Ba’s wife added to the fun by showing off their dance thumkas in imitation of the dancers of Chawri Bazar. Then William Sahib, line operator in a CP newspaper who had had one too many, took hold of the dholak and beckoning the others staged a qawwali until he swooned away midway and Keti Ba, taking off his turban, crowed like a cock to make the others realize that it was past midnight and the New Year had begun. Everybody then sang in unison, “Naya saal phir se aya hai, mubarak ho mubarak ho”, and the assembly broke up to sleep till dawn, when it was time to go to church but before that Chhinga Bhaiyya kissed his new bride and made her blush.

Names in the last paragraph are fictitious, only to tell that people of different faiths celebrated Christmas and New Year together with harmony, some not even knowing the meaning and "reason" of this celebration. ~~Such were the times..~~  :)

This article has been borrowed from the research of a chronicler. 
I do not claim any credit for the post.

This article has been posted under the Historical accounts and FolkLore section of history_geek's Blog.

Share this article :

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Supplications NOR force NOR gold can WIN me" | Zeb-un-Nissa - Part-2

This post is about a daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb - Zeb-un-Nissa. Sharing her journey with all of you. This is a 3-series article. This is the Part-2 of the same. 

Links of other Parts.
Part-1 > "I will not lift my Veil" - Zeb-un-Nissa | - I 
Part-3 > "My name is Zeb-un-Nissa | I am the Glory of Womankind" - III

Continuing from Part-1 ~~~

In personal appearance, Zeb-un-Nissa is described as being tall and slim, her face round and fair in colour, with two moles, or beauty-spots, on her left cheek. Her eyes and abundant hair were very black, and she had thin lips and small teeth. In Lahore Museum is a contemporary portrait, which corresponds to this description. She did not use missia for blackening between the teeth, nor antimony for darkening her eye­lashes, though this was the fashion of her time. Her voice was so beautiful that when she read the Koran she moved her listeners to tears. 

In dress she was simple and austere; in later life she always wore white, and her only ornament was a string of pearls round her neck. She is held to have invented a woman’s garment, the angya kurti, a modification, to suit Indian conditions, of the dress of the women of Tur­kestan; it was worn all over India. She was humble in her bearing, courteous, patient, and philosophic in enduring trouble; no one, it is said, ever saw her with a ruffled forehead. Her chief friend was a girl named Imami, a poet like herself. Zeb-un-Nissa was skilled in the use of arms, and several times took part in war. < This fact is surprisingly recorded in the Amer chronicles.

Zeb-un-Nissa - wearing angiya-kurti

In the beginning of 1662 Aurangzeb was taken ill, and, his physicians prescribing change of air, he took his family and court with him to Lahore.  

Following is a tale, of whose "degree of authenticity" , i can not say, but i am mentioning here

At that time Akeel Khan, the son of Aurangzeb's Wazir was governor of that city. He was famous for his beauty and bravery, and was also a poet. He had heard of Zeb-un-Nissa, and knew her verses, and was anxious to see her. On pretext of guarding the city, he used to ride round the walls of the palace, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. One day he was fortunate; he caught sight of her on the house­top at dawn, dressed in a robe of gulanar, the colour of the flower of the pomegranate. 

He said - “A vision in red appears on the roof of the palace.” She heard and answered, com­pleting the couplet: “Supplications nor force nor gold can win me.” She liked Lahore as a residence, and was laying out a garden there: one day Akeel Khan heard that she had gone with her companions to see a marble pavilion which was being built in it. He disguised himself as a mason, and, carrying a hod, managed to pass the guards and enter. She was playing chausar with some of her female friends, and he, passing near, said: “In my longing for thee I have become as the dust wandering round the earth.” She understood and answered imme­diately: “Even if thou hadst become as the wind, thou shouldst not touch a tress of my hair.” 

They met again and again, but some rumour reached the ears of Aurangzeb, who was at that time gone to Delhi, and he hastened back. He wished to hush up the matter by hurrying her into marriage at once. Zeb-un-Nissa demanded free­dom of choice, and asked that portraits of her suitors should be sent to her; and chose naturally that of Akeel Khan. Aurangzeb sent for him; but a disappointed rival wrote to Akeel: “It is no child’s play to be the lover of a daughter of a king. Aurangzeb knows your doings; as soon as you come to Delhi, you will reap the fruit of your love.” Akeel Khan thought the Emperor planned revenge. 

So, alas for poor Zeb-un-Nissa! at the critical moment her lover proved a coward; he declined the marriage, and wrote to the king resigning his service. Zeb-un-Nissa was scornful and disappointed, and wrote: “I hear that Akeel Khan has left off paying homage to me”—or the words might also mean, “has resigned service”—“on account of some foolishness.” He answered, also in verse, “Why should a wise man do that which he knows he will regret?” (Akeel also means, a wise man). But he came later to Delhi again, perhaps regretting his fears. 

He went to her garden; the Emperor was told and came unexpectedly, and Zeb-un-Nissa, taken unawares, could think of no hiding-place for Akeel but a deg, or large cooking-vessel. The Emperor asked, “What is in the deg?” and was answered, “Only water to be heated.” “Put it on the fire, then,” he ordered; and it was done. Zeb-un-Nissa at that moment thought more of her reputation than of her lover, and came near the deg and whispered, Keep silence if you are my true lover, for the sake of my honour. 

One of her verses says, What is the fate of a lover? It is to be cruci­fied for the world’s pleasure.One wonders if she thought of Akeel Khan’s sacrifice of his life.?

Please remember as i mentioned before that - this Akeel Khan death incident is a TALE associated with her, and not proved. The "degree of authenticity" can not be ascertained. Here, I mentioned this just for information.

After this she was imprisoned in the fortress of Salimgarh in Delhi, some say because her father dis­trusted her on account of her friendship with her brother, Prince Akbar, who had revolted against him; others say because of her sympathy for the Maratha Chief Shivaji.

Prince Muhammad Akbar had accompanied Aurangzeb in his wars against the Rajput states in 1679 AD and had the army totally under him. He rebelled against his father in 1681 and proclaimed himself as the Emperor. Zeb actively lent her support to him during his rebellion. After the rebellion was suppressed, her private correspondence with her brother was discovered. She became the recipient of her father's wrath as the letters revealed how closely attached she was to her brother's interests. Her property was seized and her pension stopped. Aurangzeb was later able to forgive his son but could never forget what he perceived as deep betrayal on the part of Zeb, whom he had trusted more than anyone else in his life.

There she spent long years, and there she wrote much bitter poetry, which can move the most cheerful person to tears:— 
{Note - Makhfi was her pen name, meaning "the hidden one".}

So long these fetters cling to my feet! My friends have become enemies, my relations are strangers to me.

What more have I to do with being anxious to keep my name undishonoured when friends seek to disgrace me?

Seek not relief from the prison of grief, O Makhfi; thy release is not politic.

O Makhfi, no hope of release hast thou until the Day of Judgment come.

Even from the grave of Majnu the voice comes to my ears—“O Laila, there is no rest for the victim of love even in the grave.”
She writes :--
I have spent all my life, and I have won nothing but sorrow, repentance, and the tears of unfulfilled desire:—

Long is thine exile, Makhfi, long thy yearning,
Long shalt thou wait, thy heart within thee burning,
Looking thus forward to thy home-returning.
But now what home hast thou, unfortunate?
The years have passed and left it desolate,
The dust of ages blows across its gate.

If on the Day of Reckoning
God say, “In due proportion I will pay
And recompense thee for thy suffering,”
Lo, all the joys of heaven it would outweigh;
Were all God’s blessings poured upon me, yet
He would be in my debt.

When her memory was becoming dim in the hearts of her friends, Nasir Ali(see part-1 post) alone thought of her, and wrote a poem to her, saying that, now, the world could not delight in her presence, and he himself had to go about the earth unhappy, having no one but himself to appreciate his verses. But she sent no answering word.

When she was released(briefly) she lived solitary in Delhi, and the verses she wrote there are very melancholy, telling of the faithlessness of the times:—

Why shouldst thou, O Makhfi, complain of friends, or even of enemies? Fate has frowned upon thee from the beginning of time.

Let no one know the secrets of thy love. On the way of love, O Makhfi, walk alone. 
         Even if Jesus seek to be thy companion, tell him thou desirest not his comradeship.

Here is one of her saddest poems, expressing something of the tragedy of her life:—
O idle arms,
Never the lost Beloved have ye caressed:
Better that ye were broken than like this
Empty and cold eternally to rest.

O useless eyes,
Never the lost Beloved for all these years
Have ye beheld: better that ye were blind
Than dimmed thus by my unavailing tears.

O foolish springs,
That bring not the Beloved to my abode;
Yea, all the friends of youth have gone from me,
Each has set out on his appointed road.

O fading rose,
Dying unseen as hidden thou wert born;
So my heart’s blossom fallen in the dust
Was ne’er ordained His turban to adorn."

Part-3 > "My name is Zeb-un-Nissa | I am the Glory of Womankind" - III

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous topics section.

Share this article :

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Royal Women's Hajj - An Unusual Haraman Initiative During Akbar's Reign..!!

According to the Akbarnama, Akbar was at the center of everything that happened in his empire. However, the collective royal women's pilgrimage to Mecca is an exceptional moment in the history of the Mughals. It is one of those rare moments that shakes the patriarchal language of the Mughal chronicles, which otherwise swirl around only the emperor and his achievements. 

Akbar and his biographer Abul Fazl tried to project the harem as being inaccessible to the outside world. However, the harem inmates (haraman) lost no opportunity to show that they could not be so easily domesticated or entombed in bejeweled marble palaces. We have discussed the undertakings of the various begums in other posts on the blog. People may think that it was only Jehangir who allowed Nur Jehan so much sway in his reign. But, in reality, the image of the emperor as the ultimate power center and being at the helm of affairs was never more shaken than by Akbar's harem.

This is best illustrated by the hajj initiative of Gulbadan Begum in the 157os.The Akbarnama has covered this pilgrimage in detail.

As I said before, this independent journey by the royal women way back in the 16th century, when women were confined to the purdah, raises many questions about the absoluteness of Akbar as the monarch (zil-i-ilahi), the making of the harem and the unusual initiatives of the women within the confines of the harem.

Abul Fazl refers to this trip as "the visit to the Hijaz of the veiled ladies of the Caliphate."

Gulbadan Begum, Akbar's aunt (and Humayun's sister) had "long ago, made a vow to visit the holy places." The Akbarnama records that she had been unable to fulfill this vow because the route to Mecca from Gujarat was unsafe, especially for women. When relative calm returned to Gujarat and "the masters of the European islands" ("amiran-i-jazair-i-farang") had become submissive, Gulbadan Begum broached the topic with Akbar. Akbar instantly gave her permission along with a large sum of money and goods. Abul Fazl says the caravan left on 8/9 October, 1575 and stayed for three and a half years in Mecca!!!. (This time is exclusive of the travel time. ) 

Even by today's standards, it would be amazing for a group of elderly women to go and stay alone in Mecca for so long!

Gulbadan Begum's Request to go for Hajj is Granted

Note: The dates of departure and return are not known exactly. But the Akbarnama notes the date of return as 13 April, 1582, which is not compatible with the suggestion that the women stayed in Mecca for three and a half years. Henry Beveridge, who translated the Akbarnama, suggests that the royal party may have started back in 1580 or the beginning of 1581. Then the voyage to Surat, the detention in Gujarat, the journey to Ajmer for a supplementary pilgrimage, and then onto Fatehpur Sikri would have taken another year.

Who were the women who accompanied Gulbadan Begum?

Hamida Banu Begum was conspicuous by her absence from the trip. She had a very important intercessory role in Akbar's court. The presence and support of senior women was critical to the running of the empire and so one or 2 senior women from the harem, including Hamida Banu Begum and the trusted Bibi Fatima, stayed back to support Akbar. Hamida Banu Begum was required to advise, to intervene, to conciliate, and even to conduct the administration sometimesSuch occasions had to be considered in advance. (She took charge of Delhi on one occasion around 1580's when Akbar marched to Kabul to suppress a conspiracy to install Mirza Hakim as the emperor. This shows the immense amount of respect Akbar had for his mother and his belief in her capabilities as Malika-i-Azam. I cannot recall any other Mughal emperor who showed so much faith in his mother, except perhaps Babur.) 

Note: Abhay had mentioned that Hamida Banu Begum may have gone alone on a separate Hajj pilgrimage before this trip by Gulbadan Begum. He had also talked about this Hajj pilgrimage by Gulbadan Begum and Salima Sultan Begum therein. Link | See Point #26.

The other elderly women of the harem including mothers, aunts and other senior women accompanied Gulbadan Begum. They included Salima Sultan Begum (Akbar's wife), the daughters of Mirza Kamran (Akbar's step-sisters) - Haji Begum and Gul'azar Begum, a wife of Mirza Askari - Sultan Beguma wife of Babur - Gulnar Agha and old servants - Bibi Safiya, Bibi Sarw Sahi and Shaham Agha. The only relatively young people were Gulbadan Begum's granddaughter - Kulsum Khanam (nothing is known about her) and Salima Khanum (daughter of Khizr Khvaja Khan). Note that Salima Sultan was the only wife of Akbar who went on the trip. No young wife of Akbar was included. 

This shows perhaps the privilege and respect enjoyed by the elderly women in the harem. Of course, the senior women felt a greater need to go on the trip, given their advanced age. And the younger women may have been kept back for their protection.

The Hajjis

Note: Pls see both the pictures above for the list of the names of the women who went on the pilgrimage. 

It is interesting to see the women who formed Akbar's harem. They included many senior women like Babur's wives, his father's and uncle's wives and their servants too. Though there may have been much rancour among the men for the throne, Akbar took all the women and children under his protection. This respect for women was part of his Mughal-Timurid tehzeeb and something that we should appreciate. It was this tradition that passed on to the other generations and enabled the other emperors to value their wives and mothers / sisters.

The Return of the Hajjis

There was much rejoicing when the women finally returned home. In Abul Fazl's words, when the litter of "that chaste lady" Gulbadan Banu Begum reached Ajmer, Prince Salim, "the pearl of the crown",  was sent off to meet her. Every day, one court noble would be sent to convey their salutations. After Akbar himself joined the cortege of women, "there were hospitalities, and that night they remained awake and in pleasing discourses." The next day, a glorious homecoming to Fatehpur Sikri was arranged for the hajjis.

Home Come the Hajjis to a Glorious Reception by Akbar Himself

Note: Pls see the last sentence in this picture carefully. It clearly mentions that the ladies had spent 3 years and 6 months in that country. Like I said earlier, this was the period of stay in Mecca and didn't include travel time.

What a mark of respect Akbar showed his aunt and the other ladies! It is so heartwarming to see that he went all the way to Ajmer to receive them personally and to bring them back to Fatehpur Sikri. Which emperor would do that?   

Other accounts also recorded the return of these chaste women.

"When his aunt returned from Mekka, the king had the street-pavements covered with silken shawls, and conducted her himself to her palace in a gorgeous litter, scattering largesse meanwhile to the crowd."

How the Trip had been Planned and Undertaken

No doubt Akbar supported the women generously and showed immense respect to his aunt for taking the onerous initiative. However, we will be doing the women a great disservice if we do not take their own varied concerns/interests while planning activities and undertaking initiatives. The chronicles describe how the women themselves did the planning to a great deal

Gulbadan Begum, while "preparing for a journey to Mecca", was staying at Surat. As a diplomatic overture to the Portuguese so that they would cooperate, she gave them the town of Butzar (or Bulsar).  

It is interesting to note that the young princes Salim(aged only 6) and Murad(aged only 5) were also sent by Akbar, to pay respects/accompany the ladies till the shore of the ocean, but "turned back" by Gulbadan Begum.

This was a really major decision - not to take any royal male escort. The faith the ladies had in themselves and the faith Akbar had in them is reflected in this decision.
A shipwreck and the consequent stay of the women at Aden for a year also indicate a most unusual enterprise by mostly elderly women of that era. Even by today's standards, it was a bold and highly significant adventure given the constraints of the passage and other restrictive circumstances.  

Badauni says that both the routes that could be taken for the Haj were inaccessible at the time. One route was through Shia Iraq (the Mughals were mostly Sunnis) and the other through Gujarat, across the Arabian Sea, that required a pass that "bore the idolatrous stamp of the heads of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus Christ ('on whom be peace')". It would have been quite disconcerting to the hajjis to accept the stamp of Jesus Christ on their passes!

Abul Fazl also says that Akbar was aware of the problems associated with the trip and had instructed "the great amirs, the officers of every territory, the guardians of the passes, the watchmen of the borders, the river-police and the harbour masters" to perform "good services" for the ladies.

Recall that in the 1570s, Akbar had started debates on spirituality and religion in the Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri. He may have permitted the trip for a political purpose - to reinforce the Islamic face of the Mughal empire to his people, facing as he was rebellions and charges from Muslims that he was venturing outside the limits of Islam. But the keenness of the women to perform the pilgrimage must also have weighed down on him.

Of all hajj trips undertaken by Mughal women, this trip was surely special because it was solely a women's hajj trip, with no royal male escort! Whatever compulsions may have driven Akbar, he supported this trip whole-heartedly. This is most remarkable because such an incident did not recur in the reign of any of his successors. May be they felt no need to "consolidate" their power. Or may be because the subsequent kings successfully kept the women under wraps and did not provide them with the opportunity to undertake exceptional initiatives, such as this trip.    

This topic has been posted under the Mughals(Akbar) section of history_geek's blog.

Share this article :

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"I will not lift my Veil" | Zeb-un-Nissa - Part-1

This post is about a daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who was a Sufi at heart, and whose life's journey moved me. I have not read of anyone in so much pain throughout one's life. From being a favorite of her father to the days when she incurred his wrath....

Sharing her journey with all of you. 
This is a 3-series article. This is the first Part of the same. 

Links of other Parts.
Part-2 > "Supplications nor force nor gold can win me"- Zeb-un-Nissa - II 
Part-3 > "My name is Zeb-un-Nissa | I am the Glory of Womankind" - III

Zeb-un-Nissa was the eldest daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb of Hindustan, and was born in 1639. It is difficult to learn precisely the details of her life; they were not written in any connected biography, for in her later days she incurred the wrath of her stern father, and no court chronicler dared to speak of her. Her mother was Dilras Banu Begum, daughter of Shah Nawaz Khan. 

From her childhood she showed great intelligence, and she was instructed from an early age. At seven years of age she was a Hafiz—she knew the Koran by heart; and her father gave a great feast to celebrate the occasion. The whole army was feasted in the great Maidan at Delhi, 30000 gold mohurs were given to the poor, and the public offices were closed for 2 days. 

She was given as teacher a lady named Miya bai, and learned Arabic in four years; she then studied mathematics and astronomy, in which sciences she gained rapid proficiency. She began to write a commentary on the Quran, but this was stopped by her father - Aurangzeb. 

From her early youth she wrote verses, at first in Arabic; but when an Arabian scholar saw her work he said: “Whoever has written this poem is Indian. The verses are clever and wise, but the idiom is Indian, although it is a miracle for a foreigner to know Arabic so well.” This piqued her desire for perfection, and thereafter she wrote in Persian, her mother-tongue. 

She had as tutor a scholar called Shah Rustum Ghazi, who encouraged and directed her literary tastes. She wrote at first in secret, but he found copies of her verses among her exercise-books. He prophesied her future great­ness, and persuaded her father to send all over India and Persia and Kashmir to find poets and to invite them to come to Delhi to form a fitting circle for the princess. Aurangzeb himself cared little for poetry and used to speak against the poet’s calling. He had forbidden the works of Hafiz to be read in school by boys, or in the palace by the Begums, but he made an exception in favour of Zeb-un-Nissa.

Zeb was her father's favorite child (before she earned his wrath) and could make him forgive anyone. One such person was her maternal grandfather Shah Nawaz Khan. He had not helped Aurangzeb during the war of succession and was therefore imprisoned. It was Zeb who secured pardon for him and got him released.

Many years later, her brother Prince Azam got into trouble for quarreling with the harem superintendent. (The incident is probably the same which Radhika shared on blog earlier. LINK . Azam didn't take a mahaldar with him to Ahmedabad and was fined by his father of Rs. 50,000. Azam sent his petition for pardon thru Zeb, as he was sure that their father wouldn't say no to Zeb.

It is much like Aurangzeb's case when he himself got pardoned by his father through his sister Jahanara's intervention in 1644. See these posts. 
Jahanara - A Sufi Fakeera or a Padshah Begum
Jahanara - Her Father's Daughter  

Among the poets of her circle were Nasir Ali, Sayab, Shamsh Wali Ullah, a Brahmin, and Behraaz. Nasir Ali came from Sirhind, and was famous for his pride and his poverty, for he despised the protection of the great. Zeb-un-Nissa admired his verses, and in a way he came to be regarded almost as her rival poet. Her coterie used to engage in a poetical tournament— a kind of war of wits. One would propose a line—sometimes it would be a question; another would answer it or contradict it or qualify it or expand it, by a line or lines in the same metre, rhyming with the original line. This is called mushaira—a poetical concourse; and in this quick repartee Zeb-un-Nissa excelled.

She had been betrothed by the wish of Shah Jehan, her grandfather, to Suleiman Shikoh, who was her cousin and son of Dara Shikoh; but Aurangzeb, who hated and feared Dara, was unwilling that the marriage should take place, and caused the young prince to be poisoned. 

(This incident was mentioned in this post > Aurangzeb | Succession to Mughal Throne)

Her marriage proposal(s)

She had many other suitors for her hand, but she demanded that she should see the princes and test their attainments before a match was arranged. One of those who wished to marry her was Mirza Farukh, son of Shah Abbas II of Iran; she wrote to him to come to Delhi so that she might see what he was like. The record remains of how he came with a splendid retinue, and was feasted by Zeb-un-Nissa in a pleasure-house in her garden, while she waited on him with her veil upon her face. 

He asked for a certain sweetmeat in words which, by a play of language, also meant a kiss, and Zeb-un-Nissa, affronted, said: “Ask for what you want from our kitchen.” She told her father that, in spite of the prince’s beauty and rank, his bearing did not please her, and she refused the marriage. 

Mirza Farukh, however, sent her this verse: “I am determined never to leave this temple; here will I bow my head, here will I prostrate myself, here will I serve, and here alone is happiness.” 

What a sight it must have been ? Here, we are witnessing the daughter of one of the MOST conservative Emperors "choosing" her husband, much like the Ancient Hindu ceremony of Swayamver. And, the prince of Iran is requesting her to accept him.

Zeb-un-Nissa answered: “How light dost thou esteem this game of love, O child. Nothing dost thou know of the fever of longing, and the fire of separation, and the burning flame of love.” And finally he returned back to Persia without her.

She enjoyed a great deal of liberty in the palace: she wrote to many learned men of her time, and held discussions with them. She was a great favourite with her uncle Dara Shikoh, who was a scholar and wide-minded and enlightened. To him she modestly attributed her verses when first she began to write, and many of the ghazals in collection of Dara Shikoh are by her. She came out in the court, and helped in her father’s councils, but always with the veil upon her face. Perhaps she liked the metaphor of the face hidden till the day when the Divine Belovèd should come; perhaps life behind carven lattices had a charm for her; for her pen-name is Makhfi, the hidden one. 

Once Nasir Ali said this verse: 
“O envy of the moon, lift up thy veil and let me enjoy the wonder of thy beauty.” 

She answered:—

"I will not lift my veil,—
For, if I did, who knows?
The bulbul might forget the rose,
The Brahman worshipper
Adoring Lakshmi’s grace
Might turn, forsaking her,
To see my face;
My beauty might prevail.
Think how within the flower
Hidden as in a bower
Her fragrant soul must be,
And none can look on it;
So me the world can see
Only within the verses I have writ—
I will not lift the veil."

She belonged, like her father, to the Sunni sect of Muslims, and was well versed in con­troversial religious points. One of Aurangzeb’s sons, Muhammad Muazzam, was a Shia, and when sectarian disputes took place in the court the prin­cess was often asked to settle them. Her decision in one dispute is famous, for it was copied and sent to Iran and Turan, and many scores of Begums are said to have been converted to the Sunni cause on that occasion. At first she took great pleasure in the Tazia celebrations, but gave them up at her father’s wish when he came to the throne, and adopted a simpler form of faith.

Much of her personal allowance of four lakhs a year she used in encouraging men of letters, in providing for widows and orphans, and in sending every year pilgrims to Mecca and Medina. She collected a fine library and employed skilled caligraphers to copy rare and valuable books for her; and, as Kashmir paper and Kashmir scribes were famous for their excellence, she had a scriptorium also in that province, where work went on constantly. Her personal interest in the work was great, and every morning she went over the copies that had been made on the previous day. She had contemporary fame as a poet, and literary men used to send their works for her approval or criticism, and she rewarded them according to their merits.

Part-2 > "Supplications nor force nor gold can win me"- Zeb-un-Nissa - II

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous topics section.

Share this article :

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sufism - Finding God through Love..!!


Today, I am posting a brief information about the advent of Sufism in India, for no analysis about the Medieval India is complete unless Sufism is discussed along with it.


Medieval India saw the emergence of the Sufi movement in Islam parallel to the Bhakti movement in Hinduism. This movement, which started around the 11th century and reached its zenith around the 16th century, freed Indian society from dogmatic beliefs, rituals, communal hatred etc. 

The amazing fact was that Sufism did not conflict with the Bhakti movement. Rather they contributed to each other’s ideas and practices. Similar to the Bhakti movement, Sufism also preached a simplified version of religion to the masses in a language that could be understood by everyone. It neither craved for political patronage nor was it concerned with the political developments happening around.

Both movements contained elements of intellectuality, devotion, love and liberalism. Both stressed on searching for and loving One Supreme God. The mystic discipline in both was intended for the moral advancement of the individual and their rise above man-made barriers of religion, colour, caste, wealth, power and position.

Sufism gradually synthesized with the Bhakti movement in an environment of reconciliation, cooperation and co-existence to evolve into a composite Hindustani culture. 

So, What is Sufism?

Sufism gave a mystical interpretation to the Quran and Islamic traditions like the Hadit of the Prophet

But how did it get this name?

Some say that Sufi saints wore garments made of coarse wool called suf, as a badge of poverty. Some others say that Sufi saints were pious souls and the term Sufi derived from safa (clean / pure). Yet others say that Sufi has derived from the Greek word, sofia (knowledge).

Sufis could work or beg from others to kill their ego and to remind themselves that everything belonged to God. Except a few outstanding saints, Sufis did not shun family life. They discouraged materialism but  stressed that the daily necessities of life had to be worked for.
They were broad–minded and recognized the truth in other faiths.

The Concept of Spiritual Preceptorship or Pir-Muridi

Sufis believed in the practice of spiritual preceptorship. The spiritual guide was called pir. Those who entered a particular sect of Sufism as a pir’s disciples were called his murid and had to pledge absolute submission and devotion to the pir.

Spread of Sufism Across India

The sects or orders of Sufis came to be known after the saints founding them. These were known as silsilahs, for example, Chistis, Suhrawardis, Naqshbandis, etc. 

Each silsilah had a khanqah or “hermitage / ashram” where the pir and his murids lived and meditated.

By the 16th century, there were around 14 Sufi orders in India, as mentioned by Abul Fazl. But only 6 of these could be considered to be widely accepted. They spread across various parts of Hindustan.

1. The Chistis

Of all the sects, the Chistis were perhaps the most popular. They were quite liberal and adapted themselves well to the generally non-muslim environment of India, especially the common people and their problems and poverty. 

 The Chistis were active in Ajmer, Narnaul, Sarwal, Nagour, Hansi, Ayodhya, Badaun, and other parts of modern UP.

The most famous Sufi saint in India, Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti settled in Ajmer in the early part of the 13th century. (He himself came from the Chisti line of Sufi saints established by Shaikh Abdul Chisti in Iran in 966 AD.) He founded the Chisti order of the Sufis, to which belonged Shaikh Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar, known as Baba Farid to the Sikhs. His most famous disciple was Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya.

The Chisti sect in India progressed in this manner:

Shaikh Abdul Chisti -->...--> Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti -->Baba Farid --> Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya --> Shaikh Nasiruddin Chirag-i-Dilli

The other great Chisti saints in India were:

  • Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki - a direct descendant of the Prophet and the pir of Baba Farid. It is said that he died in the musical trance induced by a qawwali and his mausoleum is at Mehrauli in Delhi.  
  • Shaikh Alaul Haq, 
  • Shaikh Adhi Seraj,  
  • Nur Qutb Alam of Pandua, 
  • Shaikh Husamuddin Manikpuri, 
  • Burhanuddin Gharib, and 
  • Hazrat Gesu Daraz of Deccan. 
Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Delhi

Note: Near the Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya dargah, you can also visit the tombs of the famous poet Amir Khusrau, Mughal Princess Jahanara, and Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, as well as the Jamaat Khana mosque and the dargah of Hazrat Inayat Khan (with a modest library where you can study Sufism).  

These Sufis believed in serving the needy and the opressed. They kept no money for themselves and generally lived on futuh and nazur (money and gifts given by the people voluntarily).

Let me illustrate the austere lives these Chisti Sufi saints led through the example of Baba Farid.

Baba Farid

Once, his son was dying of starvation. When his wife complained to him about this, he replied that he was helpless against God’s decree – God wanted his son to die, and he could do nothing in this regard.

Baba Farid used to wear torn clothes. When he passed away, there was no money in the house to buy a coffin.  The door of his house had to be broken to build a grave.

Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya has been popularized greatly by the poems of his devoted follower Amir Khusrau. He was so popular that he was given the title Mahboob-i-ilahi (Beloved of the God). His tomb was built by Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq in Delhi, despite the saint specifically wishing to be buried in the open:

“I want no monument over my grave; let me rest in broad and open plain.”

Amir Khusrau died 6 months after Hazrat Nizamuddin's passing away.

Hazrat Nizamuddin's disciples spread to Hansi, Gulbarga and Bengal. His most charismatic disciple was Shaikh Nasiruddin Muhmud Chirag-i-Dilli (Light of Delhi)

Nasiruddin's 100 conversations, as reported in Khairul Majalis, describe his melancholy at the state of affairs in social and economic life, caused by political upheavals, bad administration, price rise, and general anarchy.

With Chirag-i-Dilli's death ended the first phase of Chisti mysticism. 

The Shrine of Chirag-i-Dilli

His disciple was Muhammad Gesu Daraz who went to Gulbarga in the just established Bahmani kingdom in 1346. He was a prolific writer who contributed greatly to the spread of Sufism in the south through over 30 books on mysticism (tasawwuf). He earned the title of Bandanawaz (benefactor of God’s creatures) because he always championed human rights and fought for the poor and needy.

Interestingly, Gesu Daraz was one of the earliest Urdu poets and writers. One of his couplets, which reflects his credo of mysticism is:

“Infidelity is welcome to the infidels and Islam to the Shaikh. But to us lovers, love and the content and harmony of our hearts is enough.”

Dargah of Banda Nawaz Gesu Daraz

Another Chisti saint, Shaikh Salim Chisti, lived in the 16th century, in Sikri, and was highly venerated by Emperor Akbar.

Dargah of Shaikh Salim Chisti, Fatehpur Sikri

2. The Suhrawardis

Shaikh Bahauddin Zakariya established the Suhrawardi sect in the 13th century.  Unlike most Sufis, the Suhrawardis did not mind living in luxury or leading a politically active life.

The Suhrawardis were most active in Sind and Multan. 

Dargah of Bahauddin Zakariya, Multan

3. The Qadiriyas

In the 15th century, two new Sufi orders, the Shuttaris and the Qadiris, emerged in India. 

Sayyid Ghau Wala Pir and Shaba Nayamatullah Qadiri founded the Qadiriya sect. This sect spread in UP and Deccan. 

Prince Dara Shikoh and Princess Jahanara were the famous followers of the Qadiriya silsilah.

Prince Dara Shikoh with Mian Mir and Mulla Shah

4. and 5. The Shuttaris and The Firdausis

The Shuttaris and the Firdausis were basically offshoots of the Suhrawardis and were largely active in Bengal and Bihar. The Shuttaria silsilah also  spread in MP and Gujarat.

Shaikh Abdullah Shattari founded the Shuttaria sect.

Mazaar of Shaikh Abdullah Shattari, Ahmedabad

The Firdausi sect was established by Shaikh Badruddin Samarkhandi. But it was spread by the writings of Shaikh Sharfuddin Yahya Muniri in the 13th century.

6. The Naqshbandis

The last of the 6 main silsilahs, the Naqshbandiah, was established in the reign of Akbar by Khwaja Baqi Billah

Mazaar of Khwaja Baqi Billah, Old Delhi

Its most famous saint was Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi. He was known as Mujeddid Alif Saani (the Reformer).  He rejected the mystic philosophy of unity of being (wahadat-ul-wujud) and propounded the philosophy of Apparentism (wahadat-ul-shud). He believed that the relation between man and God is like that between a slave and his master, and not like a lover and the beloved, as generally believed by the Sufis. He tried to harmonise mysticism with Islam.

Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi

Neo Sufism

Neo-sufism emerged in the 17th century. These Sufi saints believed in the unity of mankind and did not believe in sectarianism

One such Sufi saint was Yari Saheb (1668-1725) of Delhi. He would say that eyes should be painted with dust from the guru’s feet. His poems mentioned the names of Allah, Rama, and Hari and are full of complex metaphysical truths.

Sind had many neo-Sufi mystics, like Shah Karim. He received his first religious inspiration from a Vaishnav saint near Ahmedabad. The Vaishnav saint introduced him to the mysteries of Om.

Shah Inayat sheltered many Hindu families of Sind fleeing the oppression of the Kalhora kings. His belief that God was not the property of any one sect even led to his execution!

The greatest among the Sind neo-Sufis was perhaps Shah Latif, who was a great poet and singer. People sing his songs even now.

Shah Latif

Sufi saints like Bedil, Bekas, Rohal and Qutub left behind a rich legacy of songs, which are sung by Hindus and Muslims alike.

The neo-Sufi mystic Bulle Shah  was born around 1703 in Constantinople (Istanbul) and walked all the way to Punjab searching for spiritual truth. He settled down to a life of meditation and worship at Kasur. He was a fierce critic of the scriptures. No theologian could excel him in debates. He was buried at Kasur.

Bulle Shah

It is only fitting that this post should conclude with Bulle Shah's immortal words:

“Oh, Bulla, intoxicate thyself with the wine of divine love. Men will slander you and call you by a hundred names; when they abuse you with the name of kafir, say, “yes, friend, you are right.”

This article has been posted under the Miscellaneous topics section of history_geek's Blog.

Share this article :