Excerpts from the
Translator's Introduction (1902)
by Annette Beveridge
Chosen and presented by Deanna Ramsay



Gul-badan Begam (Princess Rose-body) was a daughter of Zahru-d-din Muhammad Babur, in whom were united the lines of highest Central Asian aristocracy—namely, that of Timur the Turk, through his son Miran-shah; and that of Chingiz the Mughal, through his son Chaghatai. He was born on February 14th, 1483, and succeeded to his father’s principality of Farghana when under twelve. He spent ten years of early youth in trying to save his small domain from the clutch of kinsmen, but, being forced to abandon the task, went southwards in 1504 to Afghanistan, where he captured Kabul from its Arghun usurpers.

Princess Gul-badan was born somewhere about 1523 and when her father had been lord in Kabul for nineteen years; he was master also in Kunduz and Badakhshan; had held Bajaur and Swat since 1519, and Qandahar for a year. During ten of those nineteen years he had been styled padshah, in token of headship of the house of Timur and of his independent sovereignty. . . .

Babur says that he cherished the desire to conquer beyond the Indus for nineteen years.  At the date of Gul-badan’s birth he was engaged in the attempt, and succeeded when she was about two and a half years old. He then became the first Turki sovereign in Hindustan, and the founder of its miscalled Mughal dynasty. . . . [Gul-badan] spent her childhood under her father’s rule in Kabul and Hindustan; her girlhood and young wifehood shared the fall and exile of Humayun; and her maturity and failing years slipped past under the protection of Akbar.

Her mother was Dil-dar Begam—the Heart-holding Princess—of whose descent, it is noticeable to observe, neither her husband nor her daughter gives any information. . . .
Princess Gul-badan was born some two years before Babur set out on his last expedition across the Indus, so her baby eyes may have seen his troops leave Kabul in November, 1525, for the rallying-place at Jacob’s Village (Dih-i-ya'qub). It is not mere word-painting to picture her as looking down from the citadel at what went on below, for she tells of later watching from this view-point which would give the farewell glimpse of the departing army, and, as weeks and years rolled on, the first sight of many a speck on the eastern road which took form as loin-girt runner or mounted courier.

We who live upon the wire, need a kindled imagination to realize what it was to those left behind, to have their men-folk go to India. With us, fancy is checked by maps and books, and has not often to dwell on the unknown and inconceivable. To them, what was not a blank was probably a fear. Distance could have no terrors for them, because they were mostly, by tribe and breeding, ingrain nomads; the great mountains or the desert sands the desirable setting for life. Such experience, however, would not help to understand the place of the Hindus, with its heats, its rains, strange beasts, and hated and dreaded pagans.

It is not easy to say wherein lies the pleasure of animating the silhouettes which are all that names, without detail of character, bring down from the past. Perhaps its roots run too deep and close to what is dear and hidden in the heart, for them to make way readily to the surface in speech. But it is an undoubted pleasure, and it is what makes it agreeable to linger with these women in Kabul in those hours when our common human nature allows their thoughts and feelings to be clear to us. Sometimes their surroundings are too unfamiliar for us to understand what sentiments they would awaken, but this is not so when there is news of marches; fighting, defeat, or victory. Then the silhouettes round, and breathe, and weep or smile. . . .

Shortly after the army had gone eastwards, disquieting news must have reached Kabul, for three times before the middle of December, 1525, Babur was alarmingly ill. What he records of drinking and drug-eating may explain this; he thought his illness a chastisement, and set himself to repent of sins which were bred of good-fellowship and by forgetfulness in gay company; but his conflict with them was without victory. He referred his punishment to another cause than these grosser acts, and came to regards the composition of satirical verses as a grave fault. His reflections on the point place him near higher moralists, for he says it was sad a tongue which could repeat sublime words, should occupy itself with meaner and despicable fancies. “Oh, my Creator! I have tyrannized over my soul, and if Thou art not bountiful to me, of a truth I shall be numbered amongst the accursed.” These are some of the thoughts of Babur which lift our eyes above what is antipathetic in him, and explain why he wins the respect and affection of all who take trouble to know him.

Not long after January 8th, 1526, a messenger would reach Kabul who took more than news, for Babur had found manuscripts in the captured fort of Milwat, and now sent some for Kamran, while he gave others to Humayun. They were valuable, but not so much so as he had hoped, and many were theological. This and other records about books remind one that they were few and precious in those days. How many that we now rank amongst the best of the sixteenth century had not yet been written! There was no Tarikh-i-rashidi, and the very stuff of the Tuzuk[-i-jahangiri] was in the living and making.

On February 26th Humanyun created news which would be as welcome to Maham as it was to Babur, for he was successful in his first expedition on active service. . . . Humayun’s little victory would be dwarfed by the next news of the royal army, for April 12th, 1526, brought the battle of Panipat and the overthrow of Ibrahim Lodi Afghan, the Emperor of Hindustan. The swiftest of runners would carry these tidings to Kabul in something under a month. On May 11th Babur distributed the treasures of five kings, and left himself so little that he was jestingly dubbed beggar (qalandar). He forgot no one, but sent gifts far and wide to kinsmen and friends, and to shrines both in Arabia and Iraq. Kabul was specially remembered and a small coin sent for every soul within it. Gul-badan tells what was given to the ladies, beginning with the great begams, the aunts of frequent mention. It was certainly a wonderful day when the curiosities and splendid things of Hind were unpacked for their inspection, and very welcome, too, would be the amir who escorted the precious caravan. He was Babur’s friend, Khwaja Kilan, who had extorted a most unwilling leave from India on the ground that his constitution was not suited to the climate of that country, a delicate assumption of blame to his own defects which it is to be hoped he conveyed to the ladies as a reassurance. After the gay social fashion of the time, no doubt he helped the ladies to run day into night in the tale-telling they loved. It appears probable that there was no such complete seclusion of Turki women from the outside world as came to be the rule in Hindustan. The ladies may have veiled themselves, but I think they received visitors more freely, and more in accordance with the active life of much-travelling peoples, than is the case in Hindu or Muslim houses in India at the present day. . . .

When Gul-badan was about two years old, and therefore shortly before her father left Kabul, she was adopted by Maham Begam to rear and educate. Maham was the chief lady of the royal household and mother of Babur’s eldest son; she was supreme, and had well-defined rights over other inmates. Perhaps this position justified her in taking from Dil-dar two of her children, Hindal and Gul-badan, as she did in 1519 and 1525. Before 1519 Maham had lost four children younger than Humayun; they were three girls and a boy, and all died in infancy. So it may have been heart-hunger that led to the adoptions she made, or they might be the outcome of affection for Babur (it is said she was to him what ‘Ayisha was to Muhammad), which determined her, if she could not rear her children for him, at least to give him his children with the stamp of her love upon them. . . .

The story of Hindal’s adoption is briefly this:  In 1519 Babur was away from Kabul on the expedition which gave him Bajaur and Swat, and which brought into the royal household Bibi Mubarika Yusufzai. On January 25th he received a letter from Maham, who was in Kabul, about a topic which had been discussed earlier between them —namely, the adoption by her of a child of which Dil-dar expected the birth. Now she repeated her wishes and, moreover, asked Babur to take the fates and declare whether it would be a boy or a girl. Whether he performed the divination rite himself, or had it done by some of the women who were in camp with the army (he speaks of it as believed in by women), it was done, and the result was announced to Maham as promising a boy. The rite is simple:  Two pieces of paper are inscribed, one with a boy’s name and one with a girl’s, and are enwrapped in clay and set in water. The name first disclosed, as the clay opens out in the moisture, reveals the secret. On the 26th Babur wrote, giving over the child to Maham and communicating the prophecy. On March 4th a boy was born, to whom was given the name of Abu’n-nasir with the sobriquet of Hindal by which he is known in history and which is perhaps to be read as meaning ‘of the dynasty of Hind.’ Three days after birth he was taken, whether she would or no, from Dil-dar to be made over to Maham.

It is clear that Dil-dar objected; and although the separation could not have been so complete where the real and adoptive mothers are part of one household as it is under monogamous custom, it was certainly hard to lose her firstborn son in this way. She had still her two elder girls. Gul-badan was born four years later and removed from her care at the age of two, by which date, it may be, she had her son Alwar. In after-years Dil-dar, as a widow, lived with Hindal, and she had back Gul-badan while the latter was still a young and unmarried girl.

Babur was separated from his family for over three years after he left Kabul in 1525. The tedium of waiting for news or for his return was broken for the ladies by several interesting home events, and by several items of Indian news which must have stirred the whole community in Kabul. On August 2nd, 1526, Maham gave birth to a son who was named Faruq, but he too died in babyhood and his father never saw him. In December, 1526, there occurred to Babur what must have aroused anger and dread in all Kabul, for he was poisoned by the mother of Ibrahim Lodi Afghan. How Babur conveyed the news of this to his people at home can be seen, because he has inserted the letter he wrote to allay anxiety, as soon as recovered strength permitted. Gul-badan has given the main points of the crime. She observes that Babur had called the ‘ill-fated demon,’ mother, and had shown her kindness, a sectional view which leaves out the Afghan mourner, Buw’a Begam, whose son had been defeated and killed, his dynasty over-thrown, and herself pitied by the man on whom she tried to avenge herself. Her fate is worth commemorating. She was first put under contribution—i.e., made over for the exploitation of her fortune to two of Babur’s officers—and then placed in the custody of a trusty man for conveyance to Kabul. Perhaps she dreaded her reception there, for she contrived to elude her guards in crossing the Indus, threw herself into the water, and was drowned.

The letter above-mentioned is full of what one likes in Babur. He quotes, ‘Whoever comes to the gates of death knows the value of life,’ and says, with thanks to Heaven, that he did now know before how sweet a thing life is. Here, too, he shows that he felt the tie which bound him to the Power in whose hands are the issues of life and death. He, his daughter, and his cousin and literary compeer, Haidar Mirza Dughlat, frequently express religious sentiment; and here Babur exhibits the human graces of kind thought and solicitude to lessen the anxieties of his distant household and people. He forced himself to live again, in words, the horrible experiences of which he wrote while still in retirement, and four days only after their occurrence. . . .

In 1528 an order was issued which brought about an event of extreme importance to the ladies of Kabul, namely, that they should migrate to Hindustan. . . .  Gul-badan gives amusing particulars of her own arrival, all of which she shall be left to tell. She followed Maham into Agra on the 28th, not having been allowed to travel with her through the previous night. Then she saw her father. Of him she can have kept only a dim memory, and it is likely enough she would stand in some awe of him and his deeds, but no word he has written suggests that a child needed to fear him, and she soon experienced ‘happiness such that greater could not be imagined.’ Happy child! and happy father, too! who recovered such a clever and attractive little daughter. It is not only her book that lets us know she had a lively mind, but the fact of its composition at an age when wits are apt to be rusted by domestic peace. Only a light that was strong in childhood would have burned so long to guide her unaccustomed pen after half a century of life, and only a youth of happy thoughts and quick perceptions have buoyed her, still gay and vivacious, across the worries and troubles of Humayun’s time.

 There were pleasant days after the coming to Agra, when Babur took Maham, and the child also, to see his works at Dholpur and Sikri. He had always been a builder and a lover of a view, a maker of gardens and planter of trees. Much of the scenery of his new location displeased him; he thought the neighborhood of Agra ‘ugly and detestable’ and ‘repulsive and disgusting,’ words which do not now link well with that Agra which he and his line have made the goal of the pilgrim of beauty. It is difficult to go back in fancy to the city without a Taj, with no Sikundra near and with Sikri uncrowned. . . .

Humayun betook himself to the idle enjoyments of his jagir of Sambhal, and was there, in a few months, attacked by illness which threatened life and which led to the remarkable episode of Babur’s self-sacrifice to save him. The narrative of this stands in all the histories and need not be repeated, but for the sake of making our princess’ details clear, it is well to state what was the rite performed by Babur.

There was and is in the East belief that if offering be made of the thing most precious to the suppliant, and if the offering be accepted, Heaven will give the life of a sick man in exchange. The rite observed is simple: first prayer of intercession is made; then the suppliant walks three times round the sick man’s bed. Of Babur’s sincerity there is no doubt; in mind and heart he gave himself; he felt conviction that, after the circuits, he had borne away the illness. Humayun was restored and Babur died—a return from the gate of death and an entry there which might have occurred without Babur’s rite; but none the less was the self-sacrifice complete, because he believed in its efficacy and was willing to die.

His health worsened rapidly after this and he made ready to go.  Marriages were arranged for Gul-rang and Gul-chihra; the amirs were addressed; Humayun was counseled and named to the succession. Babur died on December 26th, 1530. ‘Black fell the day,’ says his daughter; ‘we passed that ill-fated day each in a hidden corner.’

Child though Gul-badan was at her father’s death, she must have been impressed by the events that preceded it: Alwar’s death; her own accident at Sikri; her father’s premonitions and dervish moods; Humayun’s sudden arrival and the anger it caused; his illness and the dread for his life; her father’s awe-inspiring rite and its bewildering success; her sisters’ marriages, which could not be joyful; the haunting suspicion of poison; the end and the blank—all too much for so short a time in strange scenes and in a disabling climate.

Following the death came the forty days of mourning, and of good works and gifts at the tomb in the Garden of Rest at Agra. Sikri furnished a part of the endowment for its readers and reciters, and Maham sent them food twice daily from her own estate. The tomb was put under the guardianship of a man whom our begam calls Khwaja Muhammad ‘Ali ‘asas (night-guard), and who may be he that ‘never killed a sparrow,’ and may be Maham’s brother.  If so, he will be heard of again under the other and widely different circumstances in 1547. As is well known, Babur’s body was conveyed to Kabul, and there laid to rest in the spot chosen by himself.


In Babur’s history the man holds the interest and lifts the eyes over his shortcomings to his excellence. No character demanding admiration attracts interest to Humayun, but yet his story is one which it needs a masterhand to unfold. A Tolstoy could depict his faults and merits; his qualities and defects rolled a tide of retribution over him and those bound to him as surely and visibly as it does over Anna Karenina and her associates. From the historic standpoint, Mr. Erskine has told the tale in a way to hold his readers, and it befits this humble introduction to build up only such framework as will support details, some of which concern the ladies of the time, and others of which may interest readers who are not Orientalists.

 In order to realize how fully the fate of the ladies was involved in that of the Emperor, it must be remembered that his occupation of Hindustan was unrooted, military, and the sport of war. When we in Britain have to lament a reverse of arms, we do it in safe homes; and we brace ourselves to what will come next in the familiar surroundings of the daily tradesman, the usual postman, and the trivial comforts of the hearth. Even Colonials had a refuge under the flag at measurable distance from their outraged home in 1899-1900. But when the Timurids were defeated in 1539-40, and driven from Agra and Dehli and Lahore, there was no refuge open to all. Their head, Humayun, had none; a brother took his last. Like the Israelites, he and his followers then wandered in deserts and hungered and thirsted; dwelt in strange lands, pursued and attacked, exiled, and humiliated. The course of events was less historic than biographical, was individual and not national. There were no nations behind Babur and Humayun; there were only ruling families who came and went as they could or could not get the upper hand of other houses; and there was the dumb mass whom the earth nourished, and the labour of whom fed, in luxury of life and strength of alien arms, whatever dynasty had just struck hardest.

An enumeration of the chief events of the downfall of Humayun and of his years of exile will give our required framework. He became Emperor in December, 1530. In the next year Kamran took possession of Lahore and the Punjab, in addition to his grant of Kabul, and he was allowed to remain in possession of these wide and potential lands. In 1533 there were rebellions of the ‘mirzas.’ By 1535 Gujurat had been overrun, and in 1537 was lost. Years of indifference fostered the growth of Shir Shah Afghan’s power, and there were campaigns against him in Bengal, which began well and ended ill. There was growing indignation against Humayun’s character and private life, and this culminated in the attempt to set him aside for Hindal in 1539. Through months of indolence and folly, he dropped oil on his own descending wheels, and practically abdicated the throne; finally, there were the crushing reverses of Chausa on June 27th, 1539, and of Kanauj on May 17th, 1540. Then came the flight of the Timurids to Lahore, and their exodus from the lands that had been theirs east of the Indus.

Maham was spared the worst of these misfortunes; she died before Hindal’s marriage, which Jauhar places in 1537. Her son had certainly addicted himself to drugs before her death, but his worst lapses into sloth followed it, and it was after 1537 that the pace of his descent became rapid. Much can be learned from our princess of the reaction of outside events on the inner circle, and she gives details which could only be gathered in that circle. This is particularly so as to Hindal’s rebellion and the home conference about it, and about the murder in his name, but not by his act, of Humayun’s favourite, Shaikh Bahlul. Gul-badan, like the good sister she was, makes excuses for her brother, and those who have not her bias of affection can add others and stronger. Hindal was nineteen, a good and successful young general; he was supported by men of rank and age, some of whom had come from Gaur, and had seen Humayun’s army perishing in that sink of fever and corruption, and Humayun buried within its walls. There was no ruler in Hindustan; Shir Shah was between Humayun and the capital. The ‘mirzas’ were lifting up their heads again, and a chief was needed. Hindal was perhaps always the best of Babur’s sons in character, and certainly so when Humayun had become the changeling of opium. He had the Friday prayer read in his own name; and on his behalf, Nuru-d-din Muhammad, a son-in-law of Babur and grandson of Sultan Husain Bayqra, murdered Shaikh Bahlul. The motive of the crime appears to have been desire to place the death as an impassable barrier between the royal brothers.

The news of Hindal’s rebellion stirred Humayun to move from Gaur. His march to Agra was broken off tragically by the rout at Chausa, where he lost 8,000 of his best Turki troops by sword or river. Here Ma’suma was widowed, and here a terrible blank was made in the royal household by the loss of several women. Bega’s (Haji Begam) capture is known to all the histories, and so, too, is her return to Humayun. Shir Shah promised safety to all women found in the camp, and there is no reason to doubt that he did his best for them. But there had been fighting round their tents before his guards arrived, and some of Humayun’s amirs had perished in trying to defend them. It came about that there were losses of women and of children as to whose fate no word was ever heard again. Amongst them was ‘Ayisha Bayqra, the wife of Qasim Husain Sultan Mirza. The next name in our begam’s list takes us far back. It is that of Bachaka, a head-woman servant, and one such and so named had escaped from Samarqand with Babur’s mother in 1501. The one lost at Chausa had been a servant in Babur’s household, and may have been she of the memorable siege. Next are named two children, a foster-child and Bega’s ‘Aqiqa of six years old. Two of Humayun’s wives of low degree also disappeared.

When Humayun had been rescued from the river by a lowly water-carrier, he made his way to Agra, and there had a conversation with Gul-badan about the loss of ‘Aqiqa. The princess was then seventeen years old, and a comment of his, which she sets down, lets it be known that she is now a married woman. Humayun told her he did not recognize her at first, because when he went away with the army (1537) she wore the taq, and now wears the lachak.  The taq is a cap, and lachak—a wife’s coiffure—is a kerchief folded crossways, tied under the chin by two corners, and capable of much more elaboration and ornament than this simple description would lead one to suppose. This is Gul-badan’s nearest approach to informing her readers of her marriage, and she never mentions her husband as such. He was her second cousin, Khizr Khwaja Khan, a Chaghatai Mughal, and of the line of the Great Khans. His father was Aiman Khwaja, and his mother a cousin of Haidar Mirza Dughlat. One ancestor was that Yunus whose fate as a chief of nomads was in such entertaining contrast to his taste as a lover of cities and books. Khizr had many other noteworthy kinsfolk, but to tell of them would lead too far afield. . . .

In Kabul [where she was obliged to go during Humayun's years of wandering] Gul-badan did not want for old friends and kinswomen.  She had her own home occupations and her children to look after; of these, though she names one only, Sa’adat-yar, she may have had several; but there is no definite statement as to which of Khizr’s children were also hers. She was not unkindly treated by [the rebellious] Kamran, as were the other royal ladies whom he turned out of their usual homes and exploited in purse. Indeed, he wished to regard her as one of his own family and to distinguish between her and her mother; but of this she would not hear.

The death of Hindal in the night attack of Kamran, on November 20th, 1551, was a heavy blow to Gul-badan. She writes of it with feeling, and casts light on the question of rank in the affections of a Musalman wife. She asks why her son or her husband was not killed rather than her brother. Perhaps she spoke out of feeling born of the fact that no dead father’s son can be replaced, and from the deeps of family affection. Dutiful and admirable as were many of the wives of this time, the tie between the husband and a wife can never be so close as it is where the husband’s affection is never a divisible factor in the household. Gul-badan shows that Musalmani affection centred on those of the same blood.

Unfortunately for her readers, our begam’s book ends abruptly (just after she has mentioned the blinding of Kamran), in the only MS. of which we have knowledge, i.e., that belonging to the British Museum. The missing pages are a real loss. The narrative breaks off some three years before Akbar’s accession, and for the future the best authority on our topics is silent. There is no occurrence of her own name in the histories until she goes to India in the first year of Akbar. Much of supreme importance happened to the royal family in the interval, and this makes regret the keener for the defective MS.

Set free from the burden of his brothers, Humayun determined, in 1554, to try his fortune again in Hindustan. He left Kabul on November 15th—a date so near that of Babur’s start in 1525 that it looks as if both obeyed the same omen of the heavens—and with Akbar dropped comfortably down the river from Jalalabad to Peshawar. The course of his advance beyond the Indus can be followed in Mr. Erskine’s pages, and need not be repeated here.  He was proclaimed Emperor in Delhi on July 23rd, 1555. . . .


Protected by the capable men who upheld Akbar, the royal ladies had not again to flee before foes or to suffer violent change of fortune.  Humayun had planned their journey from Kabul to India. Akbar more than once in his first year of rule had to cancel the orders he had given to effect it. . . . They made their journey in time to arrive during the first quarter of 1557 near where lay the royal camp, at Mankot, in the western Sewaliks. The Emperor came a stage from it to meet them, and was ‘much comforted by the reunion.’ With Hamida-banu Begam, to whom, as Empress-mother, the chief place must be assigned, were Gul-badan, Gul-chihra, Haji, and Salima Begams. There was also a large company of officers’ wives. . . .

From her coming to India in 1557 to the time of her pilgrimage in 1574, our princess is not mentioned by the historians. The interval held much of deep interest to her and to others of her generation whose lives were slipping away under the safeguarding of Akbar. . . .

Gul-badan’s long span of unchronicled life was probably spent in the peaceful occupation of a wife and mother, with variety from books, verse-making, festivities, and outside news. She must have found much to exercise her lively mind in Hindustan. That she went about with the royal camp is shown by the record of the place assigned to her tent in the encampments. It was pitched next to Hamida’s, well within the great enclosure, and not far from the Emperor’s own. Since she was a woman, she must have found food for observation in the doings and position of her sex under the conditions of their life in Hindustan. How did sati look to her? What did she think of juhar? Both these Hindu customs were far different from those of her traditions in similar crises. She came of a tribe which boasts of the fidelity of its wives to the marriage tie. All the women of her house must have heard of the defiant act of Ais-daulat, Babur’s grandmother, who had ordered her maids to stab a man to whom her captor had given her, and who then, for sole excuse, had observed that she was the wife of Yunus Khan. Gul-badan had also in her family history plenty of examples of the fate of captured girls, for many of her kinswomen had married foes of their tribe; and many too had become contented wives, well treated, and remaining in their foreign homes apparently without constraint.

What Timurid women saw amongst the Hindus reveals another type of virtue and another standard of wedded life. Our princess must have heard something on the topic through her father’s experience when she was a child. Wifehood and motherhood now gave her better insight into the problems which underlie social relations. She would hear that Rajputnis died joyfully rather than be captured; that outmatched Rajputs killed wives and children and went to certain death themselves—a holocaust to honour. The early years of Akbar furnished plenty of such records.

How, one would like to know, did the Musalmani regard the willing death by fire of the Hindu widow, in that exaltation which lifts thought above pain and terror and is admirable, whether in the martyr for faith or for wifely duty? Unfortunately, the barriers of language and habit must have kept Akbar’s Rajput wives from charming the Musalmani ladies by recital of the legends of their race. These Hindus can never have been welcome inmates of the palace to any of the Muslims; but, pagan as they were thought, their conduct as wives must have insinuated the thin edge of conviction that to no one form of faith is committed the nurture of the sense of duty.

One common thought Gul-badan and the rest could have shared with the Hindu ladies—that of the duty of pilgrimage and of respect for holy places. When next history concerns itself with our begam, it is to tell of her setting out, in 1575, for Mecca. The Emperor had been unwilling to part with her, and it may be, even, had delayed with the thought of accompanying her. His heart was now much set upon making the haj, but he did no more than walk a short distance with a caravan from Agra, dressed in the seamless wrapper of the Arabian ceremonies. Though debarred from leaving Hindustan himself, he helped many others to fulfill this primary duty of their faith, and opened wide his purse for their expenses. Each year he named a leader of the caravan, and provided him with gifts and ample funds. Sultan Khwaja, Gul-badan’s cicerone, took, amongst other presents, 12,000 dresses of honour. He did not bring her home again; this duty fell to Khwaja Yahya (John). What circumstance extorted royal consent to Gul-badan’s absence is not recorded; her advancing age—she was past fifty—and her dislike of the laxity in opinion and practice in matters of the Faith would add warmth to her request for leave to go.

Abu’l-fazl has preserved the names of the chief ladies of the pilgrim party, but many others went with Gul-badan Begam, and for all the royal purse bore the cost. She was the lady of highest birth, and was probably a widow; next came Salima Sultan Begam, widow of Bairam and wife of Akbar. It was not unusual for a wife to make the pilgrimage, but Muhammadan law stipulates that permission shall be granted to such wives as strongly desire to do so, and Salima’s seems a case in point. . . .

Fathpur-sikri seems to have been the rallying point of the caravan and October 15th, 1575, the day of departure from it. It started earlier than usual, perhaps because the ladies could not travel fast. Caravans generally left Agra in the tenth mont—this left in the seventh—of the Muhammadan year. Akbar’s second boy, Murad, was told off to escort the ladies to the coast. Salim met them one stage out to give last greetings. At Gul-badan’s request, Murad was excused from his long task of escort to Surat, and he went back to Agra. One smiles to find that the princes were five and four years old. The real charge of the caravan was with several amirs, one being Muhammad Baqi Khan kuka, and another Rumi Khan of Aleppo, who may have been Babur’s artillery officer.

It is a real loss that there is not record of the journey from our begam’s pen. It was to be adventurous, even perilous; and it was of great interest whether as sight-seeing travel or pious duty. Surat was the port of embarkation, but there are no details of the road taken to reach it. Father Rudolph Aquaviva passed between the same two terminal points in 1580, but the military movements of the interval may well have allowed him to travel where the ladies could not go. When they were first in Surat, it had been a royal possession for two years only, and even when the Father took the fairly direct route from it to Fathpur-sikri, the Rajput peasantry was in arms against their new lord. The ladies were probably handed on from one garrisioned place to another as the immediate circumstances of conquest dictated. The main body of their haj joined them by a tedious and weary route, first escorted through Goganda by the army which was on active service, and then passing on to Ahmadabad, and, perhaps by water, to Surat.

The governor of the port, who was to have a good deal of trouble with this caravan, was Qulij Khan Andijani, a sobriquet of pleasant sound in our begam’s ears. He had inherited Timurid service from many generations, and his father had been a grandee of Sultan Husain Bayqra.

‘There was peace with the isles of the Franks,’ but it took the ladies a year to get to sea. The Akbar-nama attributes some part of the delay to a foolish panic about the Firingis which, after the ladies had embarked in their hired Turkish transport, the Salimi, seized the other pilgrims who were to sail in the royal ship, the Ilahi. The real ground appears to have been want of a pass. The Portuguese were then masters of the Indian waters, and no ship might dare to put to sea without toll paid and pass obtained. Alarm about the Portuguese was natural, for there were stories that the very pass was sometimes a letter of Bellerophon enjoining capture and death. Abu-l’fazl says that, although the ladies embarked, they were unwilling to put out and desert their fellow-pilgrims. This may be mere broidery, or the one ship many have had a pass and the other not. Perhaps, too, as theirs was a hired transport, it was also one privileged to sail free. However this may be, Badayuni makes the difficulty clear by saying that Khwaja Sultan’s ships lay idle from want of the pass. He also, it may be added, quotes a legal opinion that at this time it was not lawful to make the haj from India because, of the two practicable routes, one lay through the Shia country of Iraq, and the other obliged a pass which bore the idolatrous stamp of the heads of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus Christ.

The mir haj sent word to the Emperor of his plight, who at once dispatched orders to Qulij Khan, in Idar, to go to Surat and arrange the difficulty. Qulij took with him a Cambayan, who was presumably a man versed in seafaring business—hurried to Surat and overcame the difficulty.

It took the ladies a year to get to sea; they sailed on October 17th, 1576. Their port of debarkation is not mentioned; some pilgrims sailed by the Arabian, some by the Persian Gulf.  They spent three and a half years in Arabia, and were able to make the haj four times.

Someday perhaps a pious and enlightened Muslim will set down the inner meaning he attaches to the rites of the pilgrimage. How interesting it would have been if our princess had told us what it was in her heart that carried her through the laborious duties to piety she accomplished during her long stay in her holy land! She might have given us an essential principle by which to interpret the religious meaning which devout women attach to the rites commanded on the pilgrimage.

The visitation duties are set down in Hughes’ ‘Dictionary of Islam,’ where even their brief recital is attractive and adds to the wish of gauging the sentiment of believers in their efficacy. The acts prescribed are exhausting, not only to the body but also, one thinks, to the mind, because the very conception of the pilgrimage as a Divine ordinance keeps brain and heart tense, as all obedience does which sets the human will parallel to the Divine. . . .

In 1579 Khwaja Yahya was mir haj, a friend of Badayuni, and the charitable man to whom Husain the Patcher (tukriya) was indebted for decent burial. He was commissioned to escort the ladies home, and also to bring back curiosities and Arab servants, who may perhaps have been wanted for the Arab sarai, established near the mausoleum of Humayun, outside Delhi.

The return journey was both adventurous and perilous. They were shipwrecked off Aden, and had to stay, some say seven, others twelve, months in that desolate spot, far less habitable then than now, with condensed water, a tide from the Suez Canal, occasional rain, and the British raj. The governor did not behave well, and quitted the path of good manners, misconduct for which he was punished by his master, Sultan Murad of Turkey. One pleasant incident broke the gloom of the long delay. On a day of April, 1580, the rock-bound travelers saw a ship coming up from the south with the wind, and, wishing to know whose it was, sent a boat out to make inquiry. By a pleasant chance Bayazid biyat with his wife and children were on board, and he shortened sail, though the wind was favourable, and gave and took news. Bayazid says that the persons who sent out the boat to him were Gul-badan Begam, Gul-‘izar Begam, and Khwaja Yahya. Perhaps he was instrumental in getting them ships for return to India.

 I do not know when the ladies succeeded in leaving Aden, nor when they landed in Surat. Here they again waited long, and this delay is attributed partly to the rains and parly to the royal absence in Kabul. It was March, 1582, when they reached Fathpur-sikri.

On the northward journey they visited the shrines of the Chishti saints in Ajmir, and there met Prince Salim. Day after day there came an amir with greetings from the Emperor, until he met the caravan at Khanwa. The night of reunion was kept awake by ‘questions and entrancing stories; gifts were shown, and happiness brimmed over.’ One item of home news would cloud the meeting:  Bega Begam had died just too soon to welcome her old friends.

Arrived in Fathpur-sikri, Gul-badan Begam would find much to ruffle her orthodoxy; for Father Rodolf Acquaviva was installed there and was giving Prince Murad lessons in the Christian faith. She would hear of the reverence shown by her nephew for the sacred things of an alien faith, and of his liking for the society of the pious and learned guest. Hamida-banu is named by the Father as protesting with other ladies of the haram, against the royal countenance of Christianity, and assuredly Gul-badan would swell the chorus of complaint, in which, too, Hindu wives would join the Muslim lamentation. When the Father was leaving Fathpur-sikri, he accepted only so much money as would pay his expenses back to Goa, but he asked a favour from Hamida-banu Begam. She had amongst her household-slaves a Russian of Moscow and his Polish wife, with their two children. These four the Father begged to take with him to Goa. ‘The begam, who was no friend to the Firingis, was most unwilling to give up the slaves; but the Emperor would refuse nothing to the Father,’ and the family was carried off to freedom.

The next thing known of our princess is that she wrote her Humayun-nama. The book is its sole witness, for no one speaks of it. It is not literature, but a simple setting down of what she knew or had heard, for the help of the Akbar-nama. This was not her only composition, for she followed the fashion of her day and wrote verses. Mir Mahdi Shirazi has preserved in his Tazkiratu-l-khwatin two lines of hers, in which her thought seems to be, ’No love, no fruit of life.’

    Har pari ki au ba ‘ashaq khud yar nist,
    Tu yaqin midan ki hech az ‘umr bar-khur-dar nist.

Nine copies were made of Bayazid’s Humayun-nama, which was written in obedience to the royal command obeyed by Gul-badan Begun and also by Jauhar the Ewer-bearer. Of these two went to the Emperor’s library; three to the princes Salim, Murad, and Danyal; one to our begam; two to Abu’l-fazl; and one perhaps was kept by the author. This allotment brings out the little point that Gul-badan collected books. Badayuni has a curious passage about himself which also discloses something ‘bookish’ of Salima: ‘On account of the book Khirad-afza, which had disappeared from the library, and concerning Salima Sultan Begam’s study of which the Emperor reminded me, an order was issued that my allowance should be stopped, and that they should demand the book of me.’ He adds that Abu’l-fazl did not lay his refutation before the Emperor, and he does not clear up the awkward doubt as to what he had done with Salima’s desired book.

The remaining records of Gul-badan Begam’s life are few and scanty. When she was seventy, her name is mentioned with that of Muhammad-yar, a son of her daughter, who left the court in disgrace; again, she and Salima join in intercession to Akbar for Prince Salim; again, with Hamida, she receives royal gifts of money and jewels. Her charities were large, and it is said of her that she added day unto day in the endeavour to please God, and this by succouring the poor and needy. When she was eighty years old, in February, 1603, her departure was heralded by a few days of fever. Hamida was with her to the end, and it may be that Ruqaiya, Hindal’s daughter, would also watch her last hours. As she lay with closed eyes, Hamida-banu spoke to her by the long-used name of affection, ‘Jiu!’ (elder sister). There was no response. Then, ‘Gul-badan!’ The dying woman unclosed her eyes, quoted the verse, ‘I die—may you live!’ and passed away.

Akbar helped to carry her bier some distance, and for her soul’s repose made lavish gifts and did good works. He will have joined in the silent prayer for her soul before committal of her body to the earth, and if no son were there, he, as a near kinsman, may have answered the Imam’s injunction to resignation:  ‘It is the will of God.’

So ends the long life of a good and clever woman, affectionate and dutiful in her home life, and brought so near us by her sincerity of speech and by her truth of feeling that she becomes a friend even across the bars of time and creed and death.


It is not generally known to English students of the (so-called) Mughal period of Indian history that Gul-badan Begam wrote a book. It was not known to Mr. Erskine, or he would have given fuller and more accurate accounts of the families of Babur and Humayun. It escaped even Professor Blochmann’s wider opportunities of acquaintance with Persian MSS. Until the begam’s Humayun-nama was catalogued by Dr. Rieu, it was a literary parda-nishin, and since that time has been little better. Abu’l-fazl, for whose information it was written, does not mention it, but the Akbar-nama is not without indication of its use. 

Bayazid’s Tarikhiu-i-humayun was reproduced several times on its completion. Gul-badan Begam’s Humayun-nama was written under the same royal order and for the same end. It would have been natural to reproduce it also, but no second example of it can be discovered by us in any of the accessible book-catalogues of Europe or India; and prolonged search, made by advertisement, private inquiry, and in person by my husband in India, has failed to disclose knowledge of its existence which may not conjecturally be traced to my own work upon it. . . .

The MS. from which I have translated belongs to the Hamilton Collection in the British Museum, and was bought in 1868 from the widow of Colonel George William Hamilton. It is classed by Dr. Rieu amongst the most remarkable of the 352 MSS. which were selected for purchase out of the 1,000 gathered in by Colonel Hamilton from Lucknow and Delhi. It does not bear the vermilion stamp of the King of Oude, so the surmise is allowed that it came from Delhi. It has been rebound (not recently, I believe), plainly, in red leather; and it is unadorned by frontispiece, margin, or rubric. Whether there has ever been a colophon cannot be said; the latter pages of the work are lost. The folio which now stands last is out of place, an error apparently made in the rebinding.  Catchwords are frequently absent, and there are none on the last folio.  There are blank fly-leaves, prefixed and suffixed, of paper unlike that of the MS.

The absence of a second MS., and, still more, the absence of mention of the work, seem to indicate that few copies ever existed.

Dr. Rieu’s tentative estimate of the date of the British Museum MS. (seventeenth century) does not, I am counseled, preclude the possibility of transcription so late in the sixteenth century as 1587 (995 A.H.) onwards. It may be the first and even sole example.

Gul-badan Begam, as is natural, uses many Turki words, and at least one Turki phrase. Her scribe (who may be herself) does not always write these with accuracy; some run naturally from the pen as well-known words do; some are laboured in the writing, as though care had been taken in the copying or original orthography.

Turki was Gul-badan’s native language; it was also her husband’s; it would be the home speech of her married life. Persian was an accomplishment. These considerations awaken speculation: Did she compose in Persian? Or in Turki? That she read Turki is clear from her upbringing and her references to her father’s book. She has one almost verbal reproduction of a passage from it retained in Turki.

The disadvantage of working from a single MS. is felt at every point, and nowhere more than when the MS. itself is under consideration.

 ~~ Table of Contents ~~ Glossary ~~ Humayun Nama index page ~~ fwp's main page ~~