Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Subject is Queen

Ambika Shaligram chats up with Virat Husain, who is playing Empress Nur Jehan in Mehernama, and learns more about zenana politics and why the Empress was special.

* Zenana can never distance itself from politics. There are too many instances in history where women have taken on more powerful roles in the running of their kingdom. So what made Nur Jehan special?
The zenana has always been powerful in Indian history, because women in the royal family have always played a consultative role in the running of the empire. There have been instances where the women have run the kingdom in the absence of a male member of the ruling family. However, nowhere in Indian history has a queen ruled in the presence of an emperor.

* As per the Mughal tradition, the seal of the empire was often kept in the harem so that the women could read the pronouncements of the emperor and put a seal on them before they became public. But Nur Jehan has been the only empress in ancient and medieval India, whose name adorned all coinage and currency of the empire. The proclamations were signed by her, in her own name, rather than in the name of the emperor. She ruled without fear or favour through the reign of the Emperor Jehangir.

* Did Nur Jehan’s famed beauty propel her to the forefront of Mughal politics? Is that reflective of today’s power craft too?
Though attractive, Nur Jehan was hardly famed for her beauty. Her political acumen and her handling of court politics made her far superior to the courtiers of the time. Today’s politics hardly requires brilliance or beauty of any kind.

* After Shah Jehan (her foster son) came to power, it’s said that Nur Jehan went into political oblivion. If she was the ‘real power behind the throne’, then surrendering power must have been difficult for her.
No, not in the least. After Shah Jehan came to power, Nur Jehan accepted her new role with grace. She retired from active politics, lived for 17 years and engaged herself in building the mausoleum of her husband in Lahore.

*Does her character dish out a few truths about the Mughal empire too? That women had a social and political standing of their own.
It is obvious that the character of Nur Jehan reflected the social and cultural norms of the period.

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