Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World has 16 ratings and 1 review. Celeste said: Ruby Lal writes against received histories of the harem, whi. Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. B. Civilization. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRES. The book under review is a significant and vital. Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. Ruby Lal explores domestic life and the place of women in the Mughal court of the sixteenth century.

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The issues and themes concerning the state and its rulers have until quite recently dominated the historiography of Mughal India. While some scholars argue for the centralized character of the Mughal state, others have pointed out its contested and negotiated nature.

domesricity 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 tradeand 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 mighal task colonial caricatures.

For them, the harem was worth domwsticity and examining but they ended up giving, at times, misleading—even fantastic—accounts of it. This had an impact on the understanding of the domestic world of the Mughals as the numerous incidents that the early writers had keenly observed were interpreted as symbolic of perversion.

Such a portrayal of the royal domestic space, akin to the research of Leslie Peirce in the context of the Ottoman harem 2challenges domesticiyt common notion that gender segregation domesticitt limited and restricted involvement on the part of royal women. Instead, Lal demonstrates that the decisions of the Mughal emperor, and thereby the policy of the Mughal state, were formed by the politics and complexities of the royal household.

This study of the royal household falls into that genre of feminist writing that envisages the household as an institution in which gender relations are structured, enforced, and, possibly, contested.

Underlining the fluidity of the domestic arrangements of the Mughals, this book builds upon the role that the royal Mughal household, especially the females, had in the making of the Mughal state structure. By taking up issues such as the intersection of the political interests of women and men, the domesticith emphasizes the superfluity of such distinctions, and contends for the muhhal and contestation of the Mughal harem.

The book focuses on a re-reading of contemporary historical literature in the light of the new set of questions it poses. Through Ahvalwhich gives an account of the nascent Mughal monarchy, Domesticity and Power shows how the harem metamorphosed over a period of time into a bounded space which could be understood as earl family.

Lal examines how royal life evolved through a period of struggle, how the Mughal monarchy was made, and the role royal women played in Mughal politico-cultural thought. This is a necessary step to reaching an understanding of the political power, and consequent social relations, of the Mughal world. The book describes the reign of three successive Mughal rulers.


The first is Babur, whose reign was fraught with incessant conflict among his cousins dmoesticity necessitated direct deliberations with his fellow men. Lal finds in this a homo-social domestic environment, in which emotions played an important role. The second ruler is Humayun. Babur had invoked his ancestral connections to legitimize his rule.

Humayun also invoked his exalted pedigree, but he preferred to enforce his power by demanding a strict adherence to the wprld of conduct.

There were certain stringent regulations which governed the conduct of close associates pp. Turning the pages over, we come across women-specific information. One finds themes such as marriage, motherhood, and wifehood, through which Lal locates the harem in the peripatetic world of the Powsr.

As for their contribution, the royal women had a due place in the construction of the monarchy. They were not only the carriers of the new dynasty, but they also socialized new members. The intersection of the interests of men and women undermines any conception of a separate and independent domestic sphere. The leader of religion and realm, Akbar needed to exhibit an extraordinary magnificence and distinctiveness.

He tried to consolidate his power first by disciplining his own body, including his sexual behaviour, so that one poower hetero-social and masculine sexual ethical comportments; secondly, ad carefully constructing, and separating, spaces for different activities and rituals; and, thirdly, through a network of marriages which was a necessary adjunct of imperial power and control.

If he were to be an awe-inspiring monarch, his harem had to be quite unique too. It now became an institutionalized body, which, according to Lal, had powerr genesis in the formation of royalty itself. At this time, the word harem began to be used to refer not only to the women themselves, but also to the spaces they occupied and their service-class.

It is now, too, that one begins to find a neatly compartmentalized space. Various invocations, analysed in the book, convey the sense that Akbar and his dwellings were in close proximity to the Prophet and the holy sites associated workd him. Under such circumstances, the places associated with Akbar, largely his harem, drew respect and, thereby, seclusion.

Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World | Reviews in History

The construction of a new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, that spatially organized the various people and structures within it, was one of the ways to create quarters manifesting the domsticity of the monarchy. In this scheme, the women came to occupy demarcated spaces p. Further, the invisibility of women was achieved, Lal argues, through the complete obliteration of the names of the mothers of the future heirs. The mothers were crucial to the empire, but unnamed in the annals. By making the private apartments more sacred and, therefore, invisible to those outside the immediate family, the monarchy created for itself an aura of being beyond the reach of its subjects.

Lal in various ways tries to show how in reality the domestic world of Akbar betrayed such a characterization. Instead she discusses diverse ways by which women gained a central role at various junctures, such as intercessions or the provision of counsel. As this promoted relationships with individuals who were not kinsmen, it took to a higher level the politics of marriage making; such a promotion of foster-relations did have an impact on the socio-political relations of the actors concerned.


The author has mapped onto this venture the desires and agency of the imperial women; something which helps to accentuate the fact that these women remained visible, despite the fact that they now resided in secluded places. Hajj was undeniably more than a spiritual journey on the part of the mugha. It fostered an Islamic image of the empire, which was one earky why it had been fully supported by the settled and consolidated government of Akbar.

It was an exceptional enterprise of, and for, the royal women, who had a more or less secluded life, and it consequently slams the door on the notion of a domestic world of the Mughals p. The conclusion sums up the findings of each chapter, including the introduction, providing a picture of the development of domestic life that follows the growth and formation of the Mughal Empire.

An attempt has also been made to compare Mughal muvhal with Ottoman and Safavid women p. All three empires inherited Central Asian political traditions, but adopted different techniques to consolidate of their rule.

Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World

Each experimented with different domestic arrangements, social hierarchies, rituals, and symbols. These experiments involved the creation of the harem. In the Mughal context, it was only the uncommonly determined and talented women who gained political importance. It was this experimentation and negotiation that give the Mughal harem a unique character.

These absences are ascribed to the patriarchal nature of kughal sources p. The book also embodies some provocative thoughts.

The hajj episode, for example, emphasizes, among others things, the agency and autonomy of the women who undertook the journey. In such a big venture as the hajj, an admixture of trading and political enterprises cannot be ruled out. As the succeeding centuries would show, the ships bound to Mecca were loaded with merchandise for the vendors of that city.

Thus, it may be that the hajj ewrly of Gulbadan was part of this piwer nexus. Although not within the thematic purview of this book, a peep into the local harem, that is the Rajput antahpura, would have added to the understanding of the evolution of the Mughal harem and the members constituting it. Written lucidly, the book opens up a new paradigm which will stimulate further researches into a neglected domain where gender relations can be tapped.

Tje to main content. Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. Notes The other being F.

Hasan, State and Locality in Mughal India: Power Relations in Western India, c. Back to 1 L. Back to 2 May