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Gulbadan Banu Begum
“There had been an order issued, ‘Write down whatever you know of the doings of Firdous-Makani (Babur) and Jannat-Ashyani (Humayun)’. At this time when his Majesty Firdaus-Makani passed from this perishable world to the everlasting home, I, this lowly one, was eight years old, so it may well be that I do not remember much. However in obedience to the royal command, I set down whatever there is that I have heard and remember.”
—The beginning of Princess Gulbadan’s Humayunama
Known For: Author of the Humuyanama
Dates: Hijri 930 – 1012 (AH)
Common Era 1523 – 1603 (CE)
Gulbadan Banu Begum, as she was known, was the daughter of Babur, the first Emperor of the Mughal Empire, the beloved sister of the Emperor Humayun, and the esteemed aunt of the Emperor Akbar, perhaps the best known emperor of the Mughal age. Surrounded by these powerful men, Gulbadan has somewhat faded into obscurity in our own time, but in her time, she was a respected and prominent member of the court whose way with words was admired.
Married at seventeen and having given birth to at least one son, Gulbadan’s young life was spent moving between major cities in India due to her father’s and later her brother’s military campaigns. Fluent in both Persian and Turkish, she was also considered a poet of her time, although none of her works have survived.
At the age of 54, Gulbadan embarked on the Hajj, and traversed the 3,000 dangerous miles between India and Mecca with a party of noblewomen who had been generously outfitted by Emperor Akbar. The entire journey took Gulbadan a total of seven years to complete, from 1576-1582.
Mentioned frequently in the Akbarnama, Gulbadan had her own chance to present history when commissioned by her nephew Akbar to write the Humayunama about her brother. Written in clear Persian, Gulbadan related from her memory the events surrounding her brother’s life. Although the work is about Humayun, by the very nature of its author, it imparts a sense of women’s life in the Mughal harem, related by a woman. Her rendition of the story allows us insight into her mind: she was a keen observer who understood the nuances of warfare and royal politicking. The first part of the work deals with Humayun’s rule after and the travails of Humayun after his defeat. She also imparts a modicum of information about her father, Babur, although that is limited since she was only eight at the time of his death. However, the manuscript was lost for a number of centuries, only to be rediscovered under the British Raj and then in tatters with whole chapters missing.
She died at the age of 80, after having led a full life.
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