By Ruby LAL. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, The book under review is a significant and vital contribution to a subject that has been relatively neglected in the study of South Asian history: namely the domestic sphere of the early Mughal court. In this lively record Ruby Lal highlights the influence of the familial world, especially the role of women, upon the reigns of three Mughal kings: Babur, Humayun, and Akbar. Her study spans the period from to C.
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By Ruby LAL. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, The book under review is a significant and vital contribution to a subject that has been relatively neglected in the study of South Asian history: namely the domestic sphere of the early Mughal court.
In this lively record Ruby Lal highlights the influence of the familial world, especially the role of women, upon the reigns of three Mughal kings: Babur, Humayun, and Akbar. Her study spans the period from to C. As she illustrates in her introduction, the domestic space or haram of the Mughal court has invariably been orientalized, exoticized, or simply written out of a scholarly narrative.
Lal alerts us to a publication on Mughal India by the New Cambridge History of India Series, which included only one brief sentence on the institution, painting it in "fantastical" terms as a haven for sexual indulgence and excess. In addition to disputing this portrait of lasciviousness, she questions the prevailing view of the haram as an architecturally bounded and structured space, constrained by physical markers.
Lal challenges two prevailing misconceptions of the haram in her history: first, the sharp distinction between the "private" and "public" domains in the early Mughal world; and second, the complex and often contradictory nature of the lives of noble women, lives that were not merely an "endless journey between bedroom and kitchen, with the primary function of raising children and caring for husbands" p.
As she argues, the creation of a more regulated and institutionalized Mughal domestic space reflected the making of a new Mughal monarchy. These meanings are historically and culturally constructed--in the light of different experiences, needs and conditions" p. As she points out, her book has three potential audiences: scholars of Mughal India, students interested in the diversity of differing Islamic societies, and those working on gender relations, domesticity, and the question of "public" and "private" in the early modern world.
The main aim of her work is to "excavate a domain, the boundaries of which are very unclear" p. In this manner she brings attention to the "denizens of a hitherto invisible Mughal world: the mothers of the royal children, their nurses, and servants, and others who formed part of these changing intimate circles" p. She suggests that these descriptions, which were marked by their fluidity, self-contradictions, and "rich" and "fair" openness, acquired a different meaning in the nineteenth century, once colonial rule was established and orientalist readings had taken off in India p.
By the nineteenth century, the "layered, surprising" nature of the haram was undermined by a portrait of a "decadent, already known and feminized East," and Mughal women themselves appear "faceless, submissive, licentious and intriguing, all at the same time" pp. To contest this essentialist picture of Mughal royal women, Lal devotes her third chapter to critiquing the memoirs of Gulbadan Begum.
She demonstrates how the private "domestic" sphere of family life invariably influenced the political dimensions of the male court. She emphasizes how the memories painstakingly describe and catalogue the gifts for functions, ceremonial observances, and the role of the padshah himself in facilitating arrangements for the women of his court. Although she does not unearth new sources, she re-examines existing but neglected material, such as imperial chronicles, ethical digests, visual representations, and architectural remains p.
The reigns of both Mughal rulers are reflected in the "unsettled" and "peripatetic" nature of the domestic life of early Mughal rule. She notes that against the backdrop of nearly perpetual warfare, the entire court--women, children, servants, nurses, and goods-were in constant motion, and famil-ial functions such as births, marriages, celebrations, and festivities were nonetheless still being performed while on the move p.
Through such accounts she investigates the intimate relationships between members of the court, particularly the homosocial nature of Mughal life, producing an intriguing expose of. She concludes the chapter by introducing the next topic of investigation: the absence or presence of women in Humayuni records.
The language that Babur and Humayan employed to describe the Mughal domestic world is the subject of her fifth chapter.
Lai suggests that vocabulary, particularly Persian terminology, reveals numerous domestic communities in the early Mughal world, especially those based upon "race, tribe, locality, fealty, generation, and age" p.
The second half of this chapter investigates how Mughal women constructed monarchy and "imagined themselves" through the figure of the sovereign by participating in private functions that took on political meanings, such as matters of succession, arranging marriages, and brokering peace. In particular, she investigates how Abu-1 Fazl critiqued the work of the thirteeth-century Persian philosopher, Nasir al-Din Tusi, in relation to the definition of the monarch and the household as "homologous domains.
As she notes, these political marriages were far-reaching and accommodated the wider limits of empire: "Daughters of kings and nobles of all cultures and every domain were seeking his protection, and Akbar was extending his protection far and wide" p.
The word haram is now used to refer to the "secluded quarters where royal women lived, and to the women themselves who lived in those dwellings" p. As a result of this emphasis on boundaries, royal women became more invisible and inaccessible. Examining Akbari chronicles, particularly those of Abu-1 Fazl, Lai illustrates how women responded to the new "imperial constructions of the normative" and the effect this would play in the construction of monarchy.
To find fault with such a significant work, which widens our understanding of a world often excluded from observation and historically layered with misconceptions and misreadings, is, indeed, a difficult task. However, a few observations ought to be made. While this is a history in large part about Mughal women, and it brings their lives out of the archive, the women in these pages are often symbols or objects of power in relation to men.
They are either desirable objects of marriage alliance or begetters of sons, and their significance is measured in relation to the Emperor and other men of power. What remains absent is the history of their actions directly affecting governance, diplomacy, choice in marriage, or thwarting male intervention. Their own voices remain mysteriously absent. Lal emphasizes numerous times that she is re-addressing old sources that have not been read with regard to a domestic history of the carly Mughal period, rather than mining the archieve for hitherto undiscovered material.
Still the reader years for more access to the authentic and undiluted voices of women--even if taken directly from male accounts. Her reading, while bringing attention to women, still sidelines them in the imperial project of dominion. This is an important book on early Mughal rule and the role of the domestic in shattering the rigid lines between the public and private.
DOMESTICITY AND POWER IN THE EARLY MUGHAL WORLD PDF
While some scholars argue for the centralized character of the Mughal state, others have pointed out its contested and negotiated nature. More recent scholars have come up with studies that underline the fluidity of the state. This supposedly unconventional subject, the domestic world of the Mughals, is predisposed to question the politics of history writing which had hitherto been centred on politics and trade , and this book marks a first attempt to understand gender relations at the Mughal court. Lal revisits the Mughals, and their domestic world in particular, provides a detailed genealogy of the rulers, and takes to task colonial caricatures. For them, the harem was worth exploring and examining but they ended up giving, at times, misleading—even fantastic—accounts of it.
Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World
The intersection of the interests of men and women undermines any conception of a separate and independent domestic sphere. Humayun also invoked his exalted pedigree, but he preferred xnd enforce his power by demanding a strict adherence to the code of conduct. Instead she discusses diverse ways by which women gained a central role at various junctures, such as intercessions or the provision of counsel. Jbondandrews marked it as to-read Jun 29, Under such circumstances, the places associated with Akbar, largely his harem, drew respect and, thereby, seclusion. The issues and themes concerning the state and its rulers have until quite recently dominated the historiography of Mughal India.