Feb 15, 1638 - May 26, 1702

Begum Zeb-Un-Nissa

Rekhta Foundation

A Princess Enchained

Begum Zeb-un-Nissa
Begum Zeb-un-Nissa was the eldest daughter of Aurangzeb and was the most favoured of all his children. As was customary for the Royal ladies, her education was given the utmost care. She had a mystical bent of mind and often wrote the most beautiful poetry in Persian. Since Aurangzeb was not fond of poetry, she often had to write in secrecy. Deeply religious but not conventional, she was secular as only one who has thorough knowledge of religion can be. She was imprisoned for the last twenty years of her life by her father. Some say it was due to her alleged affair while some attribute it to her siding with the rebels against Aurangzeb. 
Makhfi - The "Hidden One"
Aurangzeb's reign was strained from the very beginning. His subsequent years were spent stifling the state as he imposed his religious orthodoxy on his subjects. His dislike for poetry was well-known and so was his ruthlessness towards all, not sparing even his family members. Incongruously, he was gifted with a daughter who would prove to be a wordsworth. She took up the pen-name "Makhfi", meaning the "Hidden One". Unknown to her father, she would write poetry in secret. She had great command over Persian, Urdu and Arabic. 
The Diwan of Zeb-un-Nissa
Diwan-e-Zeb Un Nissa was also translated in English by Magan Lal and Jessie Duncan Westbrook and the book was published in London in 1913.
1944 | Compiled by: Mohammad Jameel Ahmad | Published by: Qaumi Kutubkhaana, Bareilly)

Urdu asha'r by Zeb-un-Nissa
(Highlighted: Top-to-bottom)

"juda ho mujh se mira yaar ye ḳhuda na kare
ḳhuda kisi ke taheeñ dost se judaa na kare"

"kahte ho tum na ghar mire aaya kare koi
par dil na reh sake to bhalaa kya kare koi"

"aa kar hamaari laash pe kya yaar kar chale
ḳhwaab-e-adam se fitne ko bedaar kar chale"

These couplets have been taken from Jalwa-e-Khizr and included in the compilation - Tazkira-e-Shayaraat-e-Urdu.


Royal Mughal Ladies is a comprehensive account of the prominent women that walked the Mughal enclosures. Right from Babur to Aurangzeb, the women have played an important role in shaping history. Special mention is given to Zeb-un-Nissa, her education, life and subsequent death.

E-Book (Rekhta)
Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions

Royal Mughal Ladies And Their Contributions - Pg. 178

E-Book (Rekhta)
Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions

Royal Mughal Ladies And Their Contributions - Pg. 179

Zeb-un-Nissa had an enviable library and was a keen learner. Memorising the Quran at age seven, she had a much more liberal understanding of religion than her father.

Interestingly, while Aurangzeb paid close attention to her education and was proud of her intellectual prowess, he refused to let her write a commentary on the Quran as she was a woman. Thus, we see that though the Princess' freedom had limitations.

E-Book (Rekhta)
Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions

Royal Mughal Ladies And Their Contributions - Pg. 156

Zeb-un-Nissa did not take the limitations placed by her father lying down. Whether it was writing poetry in secret or having secret romantic partners.

One such instance was when she helped the Maratha chief Shivaji escape Aurangzeb. While some say that this was the reason she was imprisoned, some say that it was because she sided with the rebels against her father.

E-Book (Rekhta)
Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions

Hayaat-e-Zeb-un-Nissa: A life of turmoil
A benevolent figure for her subjects, she was often at the receiving ends of many speculations regarding her romantic alliances. The fact that she never married added fuel to the fire. It is said that Aurangzeb would keep a watchful eye on her daughter at all times to catch her in the act. Constantly watched, perpetually deprived and ultimately enchained, Zeb-un-Nissa's life was as distressing as her poetry was soothing.

Zeb-un-Nissa ke Aansoo

The princess who was once a trusted aide to her father was later imprisoned by him for the last twenty years of her life.

The Princess led a tragic life. Due to Aurangzeb's dislike for Dara Shikoh, her marriage to Shikoh's son was called off. She watched her lover being burnt alive in front of her by her father.

Even her poetry and music suffered under Aurangzeb's orthodox rule.

"dil chuuñ fawwara-e-seemaab bajoshast im-shab
waqt-e-mai ḳhwastan o ruḳhsat-e-hoshast im-shab"

Translates to:

"Heart like a mercurial fountain is filled with life this evening,
This is the time to ask for wine, bid farewell to sense this evening"

Enchained. Yet free.

(In order of their mention in this exhibit)

1. Diwan-e-Makhfi

2. The Diwan of Zeb-un-Nissa

3. Tazkira-e-Shayaraat-e-Urdu

4. Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contributions

5. Hayaat-e-Zeb-un-Nissa

6. Zeb-un-Nissa ke Aansoo

Rekhta Foundation
Credits: Story

Rekhta Foundation

Suman Mishra

Prof. Anisur Rahman, Faiyaz Ahmad Wajeeh, Neha Malara

Sita Raina

Aalok Soni

Mohammad Wasim, Anas Khan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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