The Mughal Harem – Sphere of Women, Men Prohibited
The Mughal Harem had been the harem of Mughal emperors of South Asia and the term was initiated with the Near East which meant a `forbidden place, sacrosanct, sanctum and was etymologically linked to the Arabic harim – a sacred inviolable place, female members of the family and forbidden, sacred. It meant the sphere of women which is generally a polygynous household and their set apart quarters were prohibited to men. Harems comprised of wives, female relatives, concubines and male infants.
Harems were not only a place where the women folklived; there were babies as well as children who grew up there. Within the confines of the harem, there were bazaars, markets, laundries, kitchens, school, playgrounds and baths. The harem had a hierarchy and its chief authorities were the wives and female relatives of the emperor and after them were the concubines and scullery slaves.
The mothers, step-mothers, grandmothers, aunts, step-sisters, sisters, daughters and the other female relatives also lived in the harem. The confines of this absolute city of women was so large that the lowest of these slave never lay eyes on the emperor Besides these, there were the ladies-in-waiting, maids, servants, cooks, women official and guards.
Guarded by Three Lines of Defence
The harem of the Mughal Empire is said to be guarded by three lines of defence, namely the trained Tatar and Uzbek women deadly with spears and bows and then the eunuchs who maintained discipline in the harem. Some of the eunuchs had been recruited as children locally or received as gifts from Ottoman and North African kings.
Several of the women in the Mughal Harem were the native girls from South Asia. Most of the local rulers belonging to vassal states had sent their daughters to the Mughal Harem to strengthen political relations with the Mughal Empire. Central Asian, Afghani and Persian girls were preferred by the Mughals who were the chief wives and concubine while the Persian girls included Georgian and Armenian girls who had been part of Persian Safavid dynasty.
The lives of the harem ladies were administered by strict rules of purdah and the ladies generally did not have the freedom of moving out of the harem as they desired. If they would go out, their face had to be covered behind a veil.
Lived in Great Comfort/Luxury/Materialist Pleasure
However, within the harem they could move around as they pleased. Moreover they were also provided with different kinds of luxuries and comfort and they life in the harem was full of fun and laughter. The image portrayed by foreigners like Bernier and Manucci who had the opportunity of accessing the harem as physicians showed that they lived in great comfort, luxury with materialistic pleasure.
The ladies resided in grand apartments which were luxuriously furnished together with beautiful gardens, fountains, tanks and water channels attached. They were attired in expensive clothing made from the finest material, adorning themselves with jewellery from head to toe.
They seldom went out and when they did go out, most of the high ranked ladies travelled in style and comfort in richly decorated howdahs on elephant backs and palanquins. Their daily requirements of the emperor as well as his harem inmates were satisfied by the royal departments
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