Once upon a time, on this very land, they lived. On this very land, they laid their feet. On this very land, they sowed their crops. On this very land, they thought a million thoughts. On this very land, they gave birth. On this very land, they dreamt. On this very land, they lived their lives. On this very land, under this very sky.
This world is like a changing planet. We say our life changes, but little do we know that this Earth has a life too, which changes. We’ve come a long way from nomads in search of food and water, to this technological age where everything is possible in a snap.
But between these two extremes, existed a wonderful world, of which we are lucky to know a little, if not whole. This world was a glimpse of huge marble palaces, of jewels and armed men. Of crockery decked up with precious stones and armies of a thousand men. In this world dominated by the pride of men who ruled and men in war, lived also a species of beautiful women, their faces carefully hidden behind veils. Their existence known only to the carved walls of the royal harems.
These were the royal beauties. The charm of the palaces. The glowing flames of the Maharaja’s life. Without whom, royalty would have meant nothing. Without whom the jewels would have not known of beauty. Without whom the Maharajas would have not known of love. Without whom the sweet laughter would not have echoed in the harem. Without whom great legends wouldn’t have been born. Without whom royalty would not have been carried forward.
Many such women have taken birth on our land. Known as a “Princess” when they were young and then carried away to another palace, unknown to their eyes, with the honourable title of “Her Highness”, The Queen. How beautiful sounds the word itself! Imagine how beautiful would have been the ones who were the rightful bearers of this title.
They lived as not just the single queen of the king, but one among many. In such a scenario, rivalry and jealousy was meant to be a part of the royal harem. But also, however the times would have been, the human heart still beats in the same way. And so were love stories meant to take birth in those times. And so, lucky were the ones who were the chosen ones of the Palace. Who were the first love of their husband. Who meant so much more than just a wife among many. As Arjumand Banu (Mumtaz Mahal) was to Shah Jahan. As Mehrunissa (Noor Jahan) was to Jahangir. Love stories were a part of the world even then, as they are today.
The beauty of the earlier queens (those who lived before the 19th century), is still unknown to the world. For the beauty of the royalty was not to be seen by every other eye. Only their husband and their family could lay their eyes upon their beauty. Everyone else in the court could only hear about it. As we do today, from the accounts of the Mughal courts and the biographies of the Emperors. Once a person stood in front of the Taj Mahal and asked “Who’s tomb is this?”. “Of Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of the Emperor Shah Jahan.”, said another. “How was she?” . “She was a beautiful woman. Lucky were the ones who could see her.”
The royal women are not to be mistaken as only a part of the Harem. Their role was as crucial as that of the emperor. Many such empresses have played a role in the functioning of the court through the harem. For instance, during the times of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, his beloved wife Mehrunissa was said to have been the real owner of the throne. For she was the one who took all the major decisions concerning the court life. She was the bearer of the royal stamp. And Jahangir’s exclusive love for her was her license to the throne. What more can be said of her power, since we know that the Mughal empire flourished during his reign. Same was the case with Arjumand Banu, who was a constant companion of Shah Jahan during all his expeditions. Even when pregnant, this great woman travelled miles after miles as a support to her husband. Her love and dedication towards him did not let her become a prey to her pain.
Many queens were also trained in the art of warfare, and fought great battles. Rani Lakshmibai, popularly known as Jhansi ki Rani is one name which is known to every Indian. She was the queen of the Maratha ruled princely state in the mid 19th century and played an active role in the resistance of British rule in India. Bravery is like a synonym for the name of this great lady.
Razia Sultan is another example of the strength of women. She was the Sultana of Delhi from 1236 to 1240. She was trained well in the art of warfare, to lead armies and handle administrative issues. She had taken keep interest in court politics and affairs during the times of her father’s reign, and when responsibility came on her shoulders, she proved to be a great ruler, possessing all the qualities of a monarch.
Instances like these are never ending. There have been many courageous women in every part of the country and at different points of time. Their display of strength and power is commendable. They displayed not just beauty, but bravery as well.
The stories of their beauty and bravery might have been presented on a golden plate to the world, but their life in the royal zenana is a mystical tale, still not known by many. Their youthful dreams and soft whispers are still unknown.
Their swift steps in the palace corridors, are still traced by the wind there. The beautiful scent of their bodies still resides in the palace trees. Their jewels still weep. The dead beauty of the palaces still weeps for the long gone days.
But the beauty and the bravery of their lives are still not dead. These women are still not dead. They live among us. In every woman’s heart. Somehow, They still do live among us, on this land. Yes, they still live on this land.