Sufi Princess of the Mughals and Poet
Hijri 1048-1114 (AH); Common Era 1638-1702 (CE)
Daughter of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Zebunnisa was esteemed by her father for her advice and later became a poet in the Sufi tradition. A daughter of the Mughals, she was afforded an excellent education in Persian, Arabic, mathematics and astronomy supervised by the best tutors of the Empire. Her love of education and poetry translated into a bevy of scholars and poets welcomed at her own courts in Delhi and Lahore. She began writing some of her own poetry, established a library, and personally oversaw the translation of classical Arabic texts into Persian. For some time, Zebunnisa was also influential over her father’s decisions. He would inquire after her opinion concerning palace appointments and upon occasion would take her counsel even when he disagreed. Yet, the relationship soured, beginniing in 1681, when Zebunissa’s younger brother Akbar rebelled against Aurangzeb and set himself up as emperor. The rebellion was put down in a month and Akbar fled the country, but Zebunissa remained in contact with him. Aurangzeb discovered letters from her that implicated her complicity, and while Aurangzeb was able to forgive Akbar, his hurt at Zebunissa’s betrayal ran deeper. Thus, she was imprisoned in a fortress in Delhi, where she wrote poetry. Her poetry, written under the nom de plume “Makhfi” or the hidden one, was circulated among her contemporaries. Fifty years following her demise, 400 of her poems were collected and published in Persian as the Diwan-i-Makhfi. These poems discuss the love of God and expound on Sufi ideals.