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Saturday, November 29, 2014

The MYTH of 5000 women in Akbar's Harem

Hi friends,

Since many of you have asked a question regarding the size of Akbar's harem. Here is a piece of reality check. It seems you want to confirm about the 5000 women in Akbar's harem.

So, as per HISTORY, following is the answer.


Akbar DID NOT have 5000 women/concubines there.

Just see how things are blown out of proportion, by writing any non-sense in the name of history, hatching any story.

This issue of 5000 concubines aroused from Digital Media and some books, which "claim" that Abu'l Fazl mentioned this in his accounts.

Abul Fazl DID Not say that these are concubines/or for his service. He just mentioned the total number of ALL THE FOLKS present in the Imperial Harem. He DID put the number at 5000, but he did say NOT say these are concubines. 


Actually, Abul Fazl in Ain-e-Akbari, I, 44, said that, these harem folks include the following:

1. Darogahs
2. Superintendents
3. Writers of Harem
4. Accountant of Cash
5. Accountant of Stores
6. Taha-wil-daars
7. General Treasurers
8. Sub - Taha-wil-daars
9. Eunuchs for guard
10. Other Administrators
11. Cooks
12. Menials

Finally, add to this :

13. Foster mothers
14. Foster sisters
15. Own wives
16. So called "other" wives
17. Other Royal Princesses(daughters)
18. And, the progeny of ALL above
19. Point to be noted --> "Each Royal Lady ALSO had Multiple guards / maids".


Inside Fatehpur Sikri

Along with this, seeing the size of the Imperial Harem complex, that is the architecture which is present in Fatehpur Sikri, this number is vastly exaggerated by Abul Fazl, just for showing the "might/praise" of His Majesty/Akbar. He wanted to show that so many people have been employed in the service of the harem.

If one reads government accounts, this issue is clearly sorted out there. That, Fazl has given a highly exaggerated number, because keeping in mind the architecture of the place, such a number is not possible. I am giving the reference, where ^^^this is mentioned:


Fatehpur Sikri, By Archaeological Survey of India, Gov. of India

Published by
The Director General
Archaeological Survey of India
New Delhi, 2002


I hope this clears the issue of perception of "5000" and won't haunt us again.!.
Neither Akbar had 5000 concubines.
Nor he had hundreds of wives. Infact, as mentioned above, the size of the palace/architecture at Agra dismisses that there could have been so many ladies staying there. Normally Internet sites give a list of approx. 36 wives. The myth of his 300 wives was generated by the Christian missionary in Akbar's court. That could have been the total number of royal ladies present there. The list of his wives will be updated in future.

Harem was a place where so many people stayed. Not all the people staying inside were "for Akbar". Akbar had many things to be done, he had many reforms to be brought about, other than being busy in his harem as his image is projected normally by giving this "5000" number. Polygamy was the norm of the age. Akbar was no exception, today we have monogamy, those days it was polygamy.

Harem was the female residential place. His mother, foster mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, relatives, etc. too stayed there. The digital media, normally presents a very "derogatory" image of this word, which is not the actual case as you have seen above.!!

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

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  1. Abhay,

    Great post! :)

    Any idea what Badayuni had to say about the harem size? Fazl will naturally exaggerate and Badayuni will underestimate. We can get a rough approximation by taking the median between their estimates. :)

  2. Do you remember once we discussed the number of Man Singh's wives? You should post on that too, as MS is now the flavor of the week. :)

  3. Thanks Radhika,
    Till now i have not found any account of the number of women in harem from Badayuni. In case i get, i will update here. :)

  4. I uploaded 2 images in British reminisces post. Can you see them? :)

  5. Yes, i can see them. Those are nice ones. TFS. :)
    If any one wants to see them, Here is the link >

  6. oh, this is quite nice - it's pretty easy to share images here :)

  7. Radhika,

    I got the details on his wives. It is said that Raja Man Singh had over 1500 wives and between 200-300 sons. !!!!!!

    Obviously this number is TOO MUCH to be believed and exaggerated like we saw for Akbar..!!!

    The modern researches mention that he had around 20 wives and around 13-14 kids. He had 1 favorite queen. I don't have her name right now.

  8. And did he also have a queen whose mission in life it was to make life miserable for the favorite queen? :)

    We saw Ruq, Dhirbai and even Padmavati had to deal with a hostile previous wife of her husband.

  9. I have not read about any such wife for him till now. ;p
    But this favorite queen i am talking about was very charitable, and even kind/caring to his soldiers. She too accompanied Man Singh in his wars..!!!

  10. hmm....any person with common sense will get this...people love to exaggerate hence 5000 wives! it is not possible to have 5000 -_-
    Abhay, wiki pe its written 36 wives, but Kamal Di once told 9 official wives only...baki sab galat...can u say something on this?

  11. tamy - according 2 our shariat law it says 4 legal wives.
    on IF i read kamal and abhay's comments. they said akbar got it increased 2, 9 wives 4 giving them legalilty.

  12. Tamy,

    Islam permits 4 wives legally as per Shariat - The Islamic Personal Law. But, based on some interpretations Akbar got it increased to 9, in order to give legality to more of his wives. :)
    We know Akbar, in his later life advocated monogamy.

    Here is that thread of Akbar-Ruqayya False Monogamy Clause, in this i explained. :)

    Even on Wiki the list is exaggerated a bit. Will post the list as per my findings soon.

  13. Thank you for this informative post Abhay :)

  14. Well said Abhay, If Akbar had 9 legal wives then why his initial 3 wives were chief queens as I have read at some place that those ladies to whom Akbar married with customs were his chief queens nd at that place there is three categories of wives chief queen(MUZ,Rukaiya,Salima), second category sub wives the ladies who came to Akbar's harem by winning war n those ladies belong to royal family but Akbar didn't marry to them,third concubines slaves.

  15. Swati,

    There is a great deal of uncertainty over the question you have asked. I am answering as much i know -

    1. It is not so that the initial 3 queens were chief queens. This is not correct. Salima Begum was NOT the 2nd wife of Akbar. Before marrying Salima and after marrying Ruqayya(first wife), Akbar had married in between also.

    2. The clause that Akbar did not actually marry ALL THE OTHERs apart from chief queens can not be proved concretely. Many authors give differing views over this. I can not give my stamp unless i read from some contemporary account. Plz wait for this. :)

    3. Legality of marriages is a very subjective term. Though, normally 4 of wives are said to be legal, but Akbar got this number increased to 9 by the ulemas, based on certain interpretations of the Personal Law. So, how can we define the term "Legal Wife" .!!!! :)

    4. Yes, there was hierarchy. But it was "class" not "category" of wives as you have mentioned. :)
    The wives of royal birth were the highest in this class. Below them were those who were not of royal birth. And, below them were concubines.

  16. Setting Jodha aside, was there any difference in the rank of Muslim and non-Muslim wives of Akbar?

  17. Radhika,
    There are versions about this of LATER "scholars", which i don't prefer..
    Because , according to Badayuni - Rajput wives were MOST powerful in the harem of Akbar.!!

  18. radhika - muslim n hindu wives live separately. harem was big locality.
    quoting abhay - akbar rajput wives taunted him - from badayuni.

  19. In Akbar Harem How much, Rajput Wives.Or Akbar How many Rajput Wives, You wrote All child from Jodha, , Is any, information, Akbar realtion with Other wives.

  20. History-geek,it's as simple as harem # wives,pure common sense tells us one cannot hv 5000 wives. It's like saying Krishna had 16.000 wives!
    I just wonder where his Navratna used to stay?
    Just as Akbar married Hindu girls,was there any possibility of Mansingh marrying any Muslim lady?

  21. You cannot equate Krishna with Akbar, Geeta :)

    There is a reason why Krishna accepted those women as his wives. It was to give them sanctity as well as to fulfill a promise he made to them in their previous birth.

    Akbar had more "mundane" reasons. I do agree that the number is exaggerated to show his "glory". :)

  22. Abhay

    I think Tansen married Akbar's daughter? I think I read it somewhere on your thread or IF.

  23. Ayushi,

    The answer is here. > Check this link:

    Akbar had approx. 10 Rajput wives. I will post the list in future posts, we can have exact count there. :)

  24. Geeta,

    I have read about palaces of Abul Fazl and Faizi, in Fatehpur Sikri.

    Birbal also had a palace there. Raja Man Singh's palace was near Agra Fort. Acc. to Blochman, the Taj Mahal surroundings belonged to Raja Man Singh. :)
    About other Navratans, i am not sure where they lived. They also must be having their palaces.

    Man Singh did not marry any Muslim girl.

  25. Radhika,
    Tansen did not marry any daughter of Akbar. It is only a myth. Tansen was already around 60 years of age in 1562, when Akbar married Harka Bai/MUZ. By this age difference we can understand the futility of the claim. :)

  26. I didn't know he was 60 but he seemed at least close to Akbar's age and so I wondered how he could marry someone much younger. Thanks for clarifying. :)

  27. Radhika,

    Digital Media has propagated many myths like this, as the one of 5000 ladies in Akbar's harem. :)
    I was also confused when i heard/read this for the first time.
    Then i came to know that this was apparently done to raise the status of Tansen (later). And to show that Akbar's daughter got so much mesmerized by his singing that she ended up marrying him. :)

  28. Abhay,

    Were all Rajput wives powerful? Was their power related to political exigencies? Were these ladies a team or were there factions among them? :)

  29. Some even say that Tansen converted before marriage.

    How did Tansen die?

  30. Radhika,

    As the Hindu harem was different from the rest. Hence, we can saefly deduce one thing that, these wives were not under the direct "power" of other Muslim wives as they resided separately. :)

    About the factioning. I have no such info at the moment. But, according to Badayuni, the Rajput wives were powerful, and they even taunted the Emperor at one ocassion. !

    From the account of Christian missionaries, i have read that once the Muslim and Hindu wives made a "group" and protested against them, and hence Akbar was forced to yield to the demands of his wives. LOL.
    I have forgotten the details, but i will share with you sure asap. :)

    These statements do not make me think that, such freedom was due to political exigencies. Infact, it was ONLY Akbar that harem became a very powerful institution.

  31. Radhika,
    I am not sure of his religion. This is doubtful. :)

    Tansen died a natural death in 1589. On this death, Akbar ordered all the singers to sing as if it was a marriage ceremony.!!!

  32. Reason why I asked is to clear another myth. :) Somewhere I read that he was engulfed in the flames of a fire that broke out when he sang Raag Deepak.

  33. Where did those women who were neither Muslim nor Hindu go? Like his Christian wife, for example? :)

  34. If the harems were different, did MUZ and Hamida Bano etc enjoy power / control over all sections of the harem or only on their particular harem?

  35. Yes, Radhika, Akbar cannot be compared to an Avatar. An Incarnation will also hv myriad phylosophical reasons behind his every actiopn;)

  36. Thank u , Abhay, wondering, u hv answer to even the small queries!!

  37. Radhika,

    I have not known any Christian wife of Akbar. There is none. ;p

    About harem, see overall authority will be Hamida Bano Begum only till she was alive. But, Hindu part was under MUZ's control only. It was in her palace that the other Hindu wives stayed. :)

  38. This story of Raag Deepak can not be cleared so easily Radhika. :)
    This is a widely popular folklore and according to one version, it was Tansen body's heat due to which fire erupted. :)

  39. abhay - taj mahal's surrounding's? wud u mind explaining 'tis 2 me?

  40. Iqra, Abhay is a better one to answer this but I can't remember where I read that the land for Taj was purchased from mansingh's descendants.... Not completely sure .

  41. preeti - i 2 hv read smthng lyk tat n even more. waiting 4 abhay 2 give inputs.

  42. Iqra, the land where the Taj Mahal stands belonged to Raja Man Singh and later passed on to his grandson Jai Singh. Man Singh even had a palace there where he lived. :)

    Shah Jahan acquired the land from Jai Singh for the Taj Mahal.

  43. And what is that "even more", Iqra? Do share. :)

  44. Abhay very interesting something from a book I read about the private
    life of the Mughals in India what was written about Akbar and his harem

    slave-girls were purchased from the slave market and presented to the
    king like any other commodity.The most beautiful and cultured of them
    were retained in the mughal harem trained and drafted in his personal
    service.Some who succeeded in winning over the heart of the king were
    raised to the status of concubines ,within the defination of mut'ah
    marriage and bore him children.Akbar never indulged in excessive *** he
    had a taste for young beautiful women whose company he

    Normally the King considered it below
    his imperial dignity to cohabit with a slave girl until he raised her to
    some sort of honourable status.
    in fact these polygamous people were
    not as promiscuous as we misunderstand them to be,in accordance with
    our notions determined by modern privations................ Naturally
    the lady who entered the Mughal harem as a consiquence of political
    alliance but was not very beautiful had rare access to the imperial bed
    after the consummation of the marriage.She was virtually forgotten to
    lead a miserable life within the harem precincts ever after.

    write more on how the Mughal harem used to travel and all the harem
    organisation and functioning was Akbar's contribution which all Mughals
    rulers/Shahenshahs followed till the end of Mughal regime

  45. This book also said Akbar had a dozen legally wedded wives

  46. Iqra, Preeti, Radhika..
    I will shortly post on this also. We can have our discussions there in a separate dedicated post. This topic will stretch very long. :)

  47. Thanks for sharing Sunram. :)

    This is what the wrong notion about Akbar.
    He did not indulge in "excesses" if we look in broad terms. He was moderate in every thing. Despite being a polygamous society, Akbar was better than his successors.

    It is more interesting to know about the organisation and administrative part. Hopefully, by the time you post those details, we may have a separate post for that topic to discuss in depth. :)

  48. Abhay will post when i can have come across a picture Jehangir with Akbar painting. Lot of wrong info is there about AKbar and Mughals and their life but like you say we have to decipher find facts from the things exixting in front of our eyes and where else from forts architecture and tales will be get it as that time it was word of mouth passed down the generations some true some myths and tales

  49. Thanks Sunram.

    What you said is true, there are many agencies from where we need to decipher facts when books fail us. Please post when possible. :)

    BTW, we have a Like button here in this commenting interface. This symbol > " ^ " , is for Liking a post, just like we have in IF. :)

  50. By the way, I have a small doubt. :)

    How can girls be purchased as slaves ? Because Akbar had abolished slavery .

    I wanted to know if this book is especially for Akbar or for general Mughal rulers(later ones). Because from the schedule of Akbar it does not looks that he will have much time, he barely slept 3 hours, and ate once, and spent most of his time with theologians, also he was particular about "class".

    Knowing about the private life is very difficult. Isn't it possible that authors add their own imagination also to the account ? :)

  51. This could be before the abolition of slavery or (maybe the king is above rule not my sentiment lol) quoting from a book which covers all Mughals not only Akbar

  52. Sunram,

    I am ROFLING after reading the "sentiment" bit. ;p

    On as serious note, as far as i have read, i inferred that, the authors have mainly indulged in imagination and hearsay. They have taken "logic" for a ride. :(

    As you rightly said, the harem was out of bounds for people. Mostly Europeans have portrayed harem as a place in a negative sense. The same image has been taken up by many of Indian authors too. :(

    Also, i noticed that none of the books written on private life of Mughals is very successful or famous. Many of these books raise a notion that Rajput wives were having LOW status.
    But from Badayuni's readings they come across as very strong role players.

    I think these accounts are mostly fit for the later Mughals especially of the likes of Muhammed Shah Rangila types.

    Because for Akbar, we have known so many details and after reading about his daily routine and also his life mannerisms to a "lot of extent" this does not looks possible. :)

  53. You finally got the chance to post on the Taj. :)

  54. Abhay, Sunram

    Akbar started discoursing with theologians a bit late in life. May be before that he had more time on his hands to enjoy the company of young girls. :)

    Enjoyed your discussion with Sunram.

    Badayuni was biased against the Rajput wives and may have considered / portrayed them to be stronger / more influential than they really were.:)


    Can you pls share the name of the book with us?

  55. radhika - if abhay permits i ll share mor. i fear he might sue me if i write nythng controversial. he has askd 2 make a new post. let us wait till den 4 him.

  56. Iqra

    LOL, let's wait for the new post to discuss "more" with his permission

  57. preeti - i 2 read 'tis, dnt remember exact. waiting 4 abhay.

  58. Radhika,
    As i said, Akbar was not in "excesses" and polygamy was the norm of that age.
    And, not only Badayuni, but accounts outside Mughal court also mention Hindu wives as dominant. I am not talking of later rulers, but of the time of Akbar. :D

  59. Originally Posted by Tanja Nikolic
    I am transferring this Comment from this Link>>

    Is there anywhere we write, that "harem" impact on children, and the prince (Akbar and everyone else who had the harem) or Jodhi see that even the doors do not have the room, which is to me that I look a little uncomfortable, but the child in question at any moment can not enter the room with the mother, do not think any kid, especially the daughter, still thrive in such an environment, it is not pleasant not at all,thank. answer.

    My Reply
    Hi Tanja
    Harem was a very protected place. The male princes had the entry allowed only upto an age of approx. 12 years. Also, the culture of Mughals a lot of respect was given to the "sisters/daughters" etc.

    Hence, there is no question for uncomfortable feeling. What you are thinking is right, but those times the setting was such that, no problem occurred, otherwise we would be having some other rules as well. Harem rooms did not have doors but was well guarded by many security layers. :)

  60. Question: under number 16 ?? where they lived concubines, Akbar ??

    2. Yes Salim, Akbar's harem harem and was in Agri, or Salim, with his harem lived elsewhere ?? 3.Are is no law to say Akbar Jodha likes and she will be more harem harem to give up ?? 4.gave Akbar knew that his son was a drug addict. Please, can you tell me the exact number of children from Jodha Akbar and thanks.

  61. Tanja

    Akbar and Salim had their harems in the palace. Concubines also lived in the harem.

    Jodha had many palaces built esp for her and she mostly lived in these palaces, separate from the harem.

    In reality, Salim became a drug addict much later - in his late twenties. Yes, his father knew about his drinking and drug addiction and tried to take measures to correct these.

    See this link for info on the children of Jodha (MUZ) and Akbar:

  62. Tanja,
    Harem is a place which is meant for living of all the ladies. In simple terms, harem means female apartment complex.
    Now, in this harem there are many sections. The important begum had her palaces. For example - MUZ had her palace.
    The other ladies(servants, concubines, etc) normally stayed in the other "quarters/rooms" in that harem only. I hope this makes it more clear. Salim became an addict later.
    Rest answers have been provided by Radhika. :)