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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

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  1. Abhay awesome one yaar
    Can u plz tell me how was muz,s relation with her daughter in laws
    And want to know more about aram bano
    And more incidents where Muz proved herself superior any more taunting incidents
    I also read in a book that after man Bai suicideed muz accused salim and did not talk for some time
    And her relation with khusrao was more close then khurram plz tell

  2. Abhay

    Thank you for bringing the life of Zeb-un-nisa Makhfi into the open. :) She is very close to my heart and its heart-wrenching to read her poetry, which reflects so poignantly the pain and grief she underwent in her life. Perhaps her grief turned her towards spirituality or her spirituality gave her the strength to bear her pain.

    Though bereft of the love of a husband, she loved the Almighty like only a Sufi can. She believed all religions led to Him, but only if one were willing to bind oneself to God with the fetters of love.

    Though she tried to remain hidden all her life, yet can a rose hide its fragrance for long? The beauty of her verse is timeless in its appeal. In her own words,

    In the field of poetry, I am a concealed one, like the odor of the rose which remains hidden in the petals. Whoever looks at my poetry is inclined towards me.

  3. Awesome post Abhay. When I first read it I thought it came from our resident Sufi , Radhika LOL. Very informative. I am absolutely in awe of this lady. Now more so after reading your post.
    I did not know that she was supposed to be married to the Shah of Persia's son.
    ** So the Mighty King Abbas II of Persia's Son comes especially to Delhi to see her AND SHE TURNS HIM DOWN!!!! OMG this is certainly an account for the ages.

    What a tragic end to such a wonderful life.Ufff ! BTW I know you may share this later but when I visited Sikandra, I saw her tomb in Akbar's Mausoleum. Apparently it was shifted there from some " Kabuli Gate" during the laying of railway lines.

    Well How fitting! She definitely belongs among the Greatest of her ancestors.

  4. Preeti

    Resident sufi? OMG!

    Abhay has written her story beautifully and yes, you should be in awe of her. :)

    It is said she was buried at Tees Hazari, near the Kabuli Gate of Shahjahanabad (Delhi again :) ) - her estate given to her by her aunt Jahanara. But the British moved her tomb to Sikandra when they were laying railway lines.

  5. Marshi,

    Thanks & welcome to the blog.

    The question about MUZ's relation with her daughter in law was asked some time back also on Jagat Gosain and Nur Jahan post. I am giving the link. I answered it there. :)

    No, i do not have more of those incidents with me, in case i get i will share them with you for sure. :-P

    About the death of Man Bai, there are many theories, but one thing which is sure is that Salim really loved her a lot. And was broken at her death.
    As far as i know, MUZ did not blame Salim. And, even Akbar sent his condolences to Salim and his personal robe to him, to sooth him.
    A post for Man Bai is under preparation, as it was requested by many members. That will answer lot of your queries. :)

  6. awesome post abhay - wht more cn i write other than thnking u. u put ur soul into ur posts. d sufi journey strted by radhika continues..

  7. Abhay, what to say, other than awesome! :) But the post made me more impatient to read the other 2 parts.! What a daughter, to such a notorious king! What an intelligent poet she was. It reminded me of old songs n qawwalis frm old movies.:) The mushaira started frm this period?
    Eagerly waiting fr the other parts:)

  8. Geeta,
    Mushaira was an occasion when poets collected to discuss literary works. Before Zeb-un-Nissa also some other kingdoms must have done the same. :)

  9. Abhay, thank you for this awesome write-up on Zeb-un-Nissa.

    I love the personality of the eldest daughter of Aurangzeb.

    It was not just her looks but her fearlessness, and boldness to speak up for what she believed in, that made her truly beautiful. For a woman belonging to the era of Aurangzeb, she was forthright with her opinions and did not hesitate to decline an over enthusiastic suitor in Mirza Faruokh, due to his unpleasant demeanor. This also proves that status, rank and wealth did not please her, as much as a person's personality.

    A highly educated lady of her times, her opinions in political matters, were valued. She was magnanimous in sharing her yearly allowance for the betterment of the destitute, and development of literature.

    Looking forward to reading more about this smart favorite child of Aurangzeb.

  10. It's interesting that Zeb-un-Nisa was given the freedom to marry by Aurangzeb, when it was almost an unwritten rule that Mughal princesses wouldn't marry. And she was even allowed to meet her suitors and decide whether she wanted to marry them or not! That's really something for that time. It shows how much Aurangzeb loved her.

    It was so tragic that he only later turned her into a living corpse.

  11. Wow Abhay , Just wow !!!
    I just cant explain in words , how much i enjoyed each and every post of urs :):)
    THe Most fav one was abt JAgat Gosain n Noor , Man i just loved it to the core !!!
    Though i m not that regular in commenting in this blog , i do read all the posts of urs and just wanted to applaud for the effort u r taking in all the posts !!!
    It's really great to know abt our ancestors n their Royal way of living despite the shortcomings in their behaviour towards each other ... Yet that was the era of polygamy n we cant Justify any of this century ethics on them !!!
    Do continue ur Great work Abhay :):):)g-)

  12. Ha ha:) 'Resident Sufi' a good n appropriate name, Preeti, fr our own encyclopedia! There will be many more,we can give her one by one till she objects. :)

  13. Abhay again Good Post, How beautifully you wrote, But Aurangzeb, this daughter was also brillaint, she contains, many qualites, alongwith her. Good Writer, Poet,
    Kind, Senstive, Intelligent. She knows how to use qualites.After reading, feels, Attached to Her Father, Father also created space for her, That time.But One thing, She astablished, Own dignity, in Good Manner,when she was helping,His father court discussions. She talked with many, Suitors, but she refused, Very tough that time, but she did. ques was not she refused, ques is this How much she was aware, she knows, This suitor, not suit her personality.i think she was so pure from her inner point of veiw, which qualites she wants in a Partner, she not saw in anyone. Actually, she needed, a very poistive +understanding, +pure Of Heart, Partner, Ora of Two persons should be Match, but it Not happened, because its tough That Era or even this Era.
    so she hide in inner her Pain, +Lonaliness, sees her Poems. But Yes if a person have qualites, qualites fragrance, spreads, & After spreading that person height increases, more & More. So its there Qualites, You Radhika Many we are reading, or writing, & giving such a people thanks to You. Her Brother Knows, His father will not refuse, Zeb Lol,, Same happens in Families.

  14. Looking Forward to the post for Man Bhai..

  15. Charu,
    She was a Sufi at heart, and she could make Aurangzeb agree to her many "requests" which he otherwise would have ignored speaks a lot about her. :)

  16. Yes, I agree with you Abhay. Spirituality played a major role in shaping her personality and interaction with others.
    I am waiting to read the rest of your post about her. I'm curious to know more about the nature of the relationship between Aurangzeb and Zeb-un-Nissa towards the later part of her life.

  17. Writing a poem, About, Zeb,-UN, NISSA,

    Payas thee, jinhe Doondhene, kee Bahut,

    Zere Zere, mee Dekhete thee Khuda Koo Hoo,

    Par, khawish, thee unkee, bhee, Tanik see,

    Koi too, Tareshe, Unkee, Khawisho Koo, bhee,

    Kathin Thaa,Par, Par Mushkil Naa Thaa,

    par Yee Hoo Naa saka, Koi Dil Kee Gahiryao Mee utar Naa Saka,

    khayaisho kaa Kasoor thaa, Yaa , Uss Pavitra Prem Kaa,

    Jisse Dil Doondhanata Thaa, Zere Zere Mee, Voo dikh Naa Saka,

    Par Tapish, Lee Gayi Iss Uddan Koo, Jere Jere mee Dekehene Lege ,

    Bhagvaan koo, Prem Ras Prakat Huwa, Behene Laggi, Prem kee Dhar,

    Adeveat, Mit Gaya, Dikhene Laga,Ekk Ras , EKKESHVER Kaa Sarr,

    Joo, Gahraiyo Mee Tabb Utar Naa Sake, Aaye Hee abb Voo, Mandir Banene Kee Baad,

    Par Unhe bhee Abb, Utrana Hoga, Ekk Rass See Milna Hoga,

    Nahi too Rah Jaayenge Kinare Kee Uss Parr, Tapish Karegee Beechan

    ,Par Batt tikegee Unkee Chaaha Per Iss Bar, Iss Bar,

  18. Really diverse .!
    I can not add more to this writeup which lists so many qualities of Zeb. :)
    The more one "knows" about Zeb, the more one "wants" to know.
    She is a enigmatic personality, hidden behind a veil. :)

  19. Thanks Suganya. Keep visiting, and do leave your remarks on the posts. Glad to know that you do read the blog regularly. :)

  20. Ayushi,
    Very Nice poem. Thanks for sharing it here. But please do keep some of them in reserve , for we are still going to have 2 more posts on Zeb-un-Nissa. :-P

  21. radhika - i 2 hv heard tat mughal princess cud not marry, but zebunissa case iz flip side of coin. so much freedom tat 2 by aurangzeb iz a thing 2 think. i m seeing many shades of aurangzeb thru dese posts.

  22. Abhay,

    This was written by Ayushi herself. She is a wonderful poet and she will write many more poems for your posts in future too :)

  23. Ayushi

    So beautiful! You have captured the essence of Zeb's journey from looking for a companion among men to becoming one with God Himself! :)

  24. Iqra

    I had posted on this blog earlier. No one is born bad. He was doubtless a cruel king and his subjects suffered much under him. But he was also an adoring father to his daughters. His other daughters too were poets, I read somewhere. And after Zeb, Zinat also was quite an active lady.

    The tragedy with Zeb is that she could have got married but life chose another destiny for her. :(

  25. Charu,
    Here is the next post on Zeb-un-Nissa...Part-2. :)

  26. All the post and discussion r very interesting to read.lot of inf is being poured in. Radhika can u pls brief me on the last sentence that too the last 2words

  27. Hi Niranjana

    Good to hear from you again! :)

    If you read part 2 of Zeb's story, you will see how Aurangzeb, who had pampered his daughter so much, later imprisoned her and she went into depression, wearing only white and writing melancholy verse in solitude. Here is the link:

  28. Radhika, Thanks for this Compliment, so today i am flying, Lol,, But I not think, i am a wonderful Poet. But sometime If Heart Vibrats, if Words Comes, of Heart, then. Try to write. Yes Abhay this i wrote,.you wrote, she was a poet, so that striked me, or i tried,to write.

  29. Yes Radhika, you Understood, exactly my point,

  30. Thanks Niranjana. :)
    I am glad you are enjoying these posts.

  31. If I am not mistaken, 15th Feb, 1638 was the day Zeb was born. 377 years back a beautiful rose was born only to be crushed yet her fragrance could not be taken away from her and survived the centuries to enchant us too. :)

  32. You have brought Zeb-un-Nissa's memory alive again by remembering her. Such an unfortunate life to that lovely lady.!

  33. I remember her always. She is very special to me, like Jahanara too. :)