Book: Daughters of the Sun.
Author: Ira Mukhoty
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
The Mughal women—unmarried daughters, eccentric sisters, fiery milk mothers and powerful wives—often worked behind the scenes and from within the zenana, but there were some notable exceptions among them who rode into battle with their men, built stunning monuments, engaged in diplomacy, traded with foreigners and minted coins in their own names. Others wrote biographies and patronised the arts.
The very first attempt to chronicle the women who played a vital role in building the Mughal empire, Daughters of the Sun is an illuminating and gripping history of a little known aspect of the most magnificent dynasty the world has ever known.
This book has an interesting cover of a Muslim Lady reclining, dressed in all her finery, an epitome of grace, a hookah in her right hand, a rich and exquisitely crafted painting dated 1789 by Francesco Renaldi. It arrests your attention and you begin to wonder where’s this journey into the zenana of the Mughal empire going to take you.
As you dig deeper, it turns out to be a seminal work on the role zenana played in the development of the Mughal empire. Painstakingly researched and articulated with an eye for detail by Ira Mukhoty, the author of Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History, Daughters of the Sun is a vivid tapestry of history and storytelling, told in a captivating and credible style by the author.
The book goes on to demolish many a myth surrounding the Mughal women. Says Mukhoty: “…to this day, there is a perception that Mughal women operated within a fixed zone of influence, the domestic harem, an immutable cloistered space in which they led restricted and unfulfilled lives.” As the book unfolds, it shows that there was a method in zenana’s scheme of things, that it was “an industrious, carefully calibrated and orchestrated world”, not bereft of its intrigues and jealousies but certainly much more than that.
Daughters of the Sun details the lives and impact of about fifteen Mughal women who played pivotal roles in shaping the destiny of the Mughal empire spanning two centuries. Mukhoty has drawn a lot of material from Gulbadan Begum’s Humayun-nama. Gulbadan was the daughter of Babur and sister of Humayun and wrote Humayun-nama at the behest of her grandnephew, Akbar. Much of Mukhoty’s Part I of the book, Peripatetic Queens from Persia to Hindustan, 1494-1569, is inspired from Gulbadan’s insider account of the sixteenth-century haraman.
In part II, Disappeared Wives and Imperial Splendour, 1156-1631,Mukhoty goes beyond the idealised world of the ‘new zenana’ and lays bare the lives of the women who rose above ‘the anonymity of grandiose titles’. Here we meet Hamida Banu, Akbar’s mother, Harkha Bai, Jahangir’s mother, and Akbar’s milk mothers. And more.
In Part III of the book, Ambitious Siblings and a Shahzaadi’s Dream, 1631-1721, Mukhoty talks about Jahanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan, who was a writer, Sufi scholar, poet, patron of writers and saints, and ‘a builder of enormous ambition’.
Throughout this journey, you meet many interesting women like Noor Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The book also has a great collection of miniature paintings on Mughal women.
Daughters of the Sun is an attempt by Ira Mukhoty to restore the rightful place of Mughal women in history. In this, she succeeds and how. If you are interested in the Mughal narrative and the unseen, forgotten forces that shaped one of the greatest empires of the world, go pick this book.