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The King who would be Man: the Gender Roles of the Warrior King in Early Mughal History


There has appeared a new trend in recent scholarship on the early modern Islamic world that analyzes the role of gender and sexuality in society and culture. Ruby Lal and Rosalind O'Hanlon have investigated women and gender roles in the sixteenth-century Mughal harem and the broader imperial court respectively. Mehmed Kalpaklı, Walter Andrews, and Khaled El-Rouayheb have studied the nature or the implications of sexual relationship among men in Istanbul as well as the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Kathryn Babayan and Afsaneh Najmabadi have read Safavid and Qajar literature and visual arts through the lens of gender and power politics. Together these scholars have successfully highlighted the relevance of this methodology particularly in its application to the narrative sources that comprise the bulk of our documentations for the period (except for the Ottoman case of course), and it is to subject to such an approach a brief, but crucial, period in early Mughal history and historiography that the present article now proceeds.

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1 Lal, Ruby, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World (Cambridge, 2005). O'Hanlon, Rosalind, “Manliness and Imperial Service in Mughal North India”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 42, No. 1 (1999), pp. 4793. O'Hanlon, Especially. “kingdom, household and body: history, gender and imperial service under Akbar”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 41, No. 5 (2007), pp. 889923.

2 Andrews, Walter G. and Kalpaklı, Mehmet, The Age of Beloveds: love and the beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, (Durham, 2005). El-Rouayheb, Khaled, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500–1800, (Chicago, 2005).

3 Babayan, Kathryn, Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran, (Cambridge, 2002). Najmabadi, Afsaneh, Women with mustaches and men without beards: gender and sexual anxieties of Iranian modernity, (Berkeley, 2005).

4 See for example Richards, J. F., The Mughal Empire, (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 910. The fullest accounts of these events are by Erskine, William, Histoy of India: Under the First Two Sovereigns of the House of Taimur, Baber and Humayun (reprint New York, 1972), and Prasad, Ishawan, The Life and Times of Humayun (Bombay, 1956). The only full account of Kamran is the brief but good monograph of Iqtidar Khan, Alam, Mirza Kamran: A Biographical Study (Aligarh, 1964). The most recent treatment of Sher Shah's reign from the perspective of Afghan chroniclers is by Aquil, Raziuddin, Sufism, Culture, and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India (Delhi, 2007).

5 The sole exception, being a text commissioned by Humayun and composed by the historian Khvandamir, dating from the early years of his reign, and being more a catalogue of his regulations, curious toys, and his wardrobe, than a continuous narrative.

6 Lentz, Thomas W. and Lowry, Glen D., Timur and the Princely Vision: Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century (Los Angeles, 1989).

7 Humayun's passion for organising his immediate surrounding and attaching it to natural cycles and astrological markers is informed by the same mentality. Khvandamir tells us that after becoming king, Humayun divided “all the people in his kingdom” into three classes, each class subdivided into twelve ranks: people of the state (soldiers and notables), men of fortune (scholars), and people of pleasure (musicians, singers, etc). The names of each group had been suggested to him by an omen he had taken while riding one day. In addition, court ceremony was restricted to each group on specific days of the week in association with the relevant stars (so, Saturday and Thursday, associated with Saturn and Jupiter respectively, were set aside for the people of fortune, Tuesday and Sunday, associated with Mars and the Sun, were restricted for the people of the state). Each day had its own particular colour according to which the king and his servants would dress. Moreover, the business of each day had been decided upon before hand by its planetary determinant. So for example, on Tuesdays (Mars) the court would dress in red, the soldiers would be invited, and sentencing on capital cases would be read out. Khvandamir, Ghiyas al-Din, Qanun-i Humayuni, ed. Hosain, Hidayat, (Calcutta, 1940), pp. 2528.

8 Jawhar writes that on his return from the Safavid domain and start of his campaign to retake India, one day in 1548 Humayun while feeding a white cock had said to himself, “if it is the will of fortune to favour me, the cock will mount upon my shoulder and evince his delight”. The cock does so, convincing the emperor the he is on the right path. See Jawhar, Tezkereh al-Vakiat or, Private Memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Humayun, tr. Charles Stewart (reprint New Delhi, 1970). Or again, when in Khwandamair we get one of earliest glimpses of the prince, we see him trotting around on the road between Kabul and Qandahar, where it occurs to him to “ask the names of three persons whom he may meet and take an omen from it”. He does so and the well-sounding names that he hears become the nomenclature by which he later subdivides and designates the members of his court.

9 Bayat, Bayazid, Tazkira-i Humayun va Akbar, ed. Hosein, Hidayat (Calcutta, 1941), pp. 128129.

10 Bayazid, Tazkira, p. 42.

11 Suja, Bithu, Chhanda Rau Jetasi Rau, tr. Singh, Rajvi Amar (Bikaner, 1986), pp. 93 & 128.

12 For example, Babur Baburname, 3 volumes, ed. and tr. by W. M. Thackston (Cambridge, 1993), p. 14a.

13 Bayazid, Tazkira, pp. 198–199.

14 Abdullah Tarikh-i Da'udi, (Aligarh, 1954), p. 144.

15 Babur 194b.

16 Gulbadan Begam Hum, ed. and trans. by Annette S. Beveridge, (reprint, Delhi, 1972), p. 5.

17 Gulbadan p. 69.

18 Bayazid, p.156.f.

19 Bayazid, p. 157.

20 Jawhar, quoted in the Urdu introduction to M. Mahfuz-ul Haq's The Persian Diwan of Kamran, (son of Babur Padshah) edited from the unique manuscript in Patna by kāmrān. (Calcutta, 1929) p. 33.

21 Gulbadan, p. 31.

22 Bayazid, p. 63.

23 Bayazid, p. 123.

24 Abdullah p. 121, Yadgar, Ahmad, Tarikha-i-Shahi. ed. Hosain, M. Hidayat. (Calcutta, 1939), p. 185.

25 Ahmad Yadgar, p. 5.

26 Gulbadan, p. 95.

27 Bayazid p. 159.

28 The Persian Diwan of Kamran, p. 3. For more on the political background see also Mahfuz-ul Haq's English introduction, p. 3 and footnote 15.

29 McChesney “bisexual” see for instance R. D. McChesney's characterisation of Babur as “bisexual”, R. D. McChesney, “Review of The Garden of Eight Paradises by Stephan Dale”, Iranian Stuidies Vol. 39, No. 3 (2006), p. 441.

30 O'Hanlon, “Kingdom, household and body” p. 30.

31 Najmabadi, p. 23; El-Rauhayeb, pp. 23 and 153.

32 Babur p. 25b.

33 Babur p. 18a.

34 Babur pp. 23a–24a.

35 Babur p. 25b.

36 Babur p. 181b.

37 Abdullah pp. 27–28.

38 Khvandamir p. 29.

39 Although, as Najmabadi has stated (p. 15), sexual relations between two adult males would be unsuitable.

40 Abdullah pp. 123–124.

41 Abdullah pp. 134–135.

42 Gulbadan pp. 52–53, Jawhar, p. 31.

43 Ahmad, Yadgar, p. 90.

44 Abdullah pp. 24–27, Ahmad Yadgar p. 46.

45 Abdullah p. 13.

46 Abdullah p. 124.

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Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
  • ISSN: 1356-1863
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