Friday, January 16, 2015

Zebunnisa - The Hidden Sufi Poetess

- By Aishwarya Pramod

Zebunnisa (1638-1702) is one of the most enigmatic figures from the Mughal period. A highly educated young woman and a poet from the age of 14, she attended secret poetry parties in the court that her puritanical father, Aurangzeb, had no knowledge of.
A painting of Zebunnisa by Pakistani painter Abdur Rahman Chaghtai
When Zebunnisa was younger she was Aurangzeb's favourite child, and even wielded influence over his decisions. But he imprisoned her for the last 20 years of her life - some say for being a poetess, some say for having an affair, while others suggest she was sympathetic to her brother who led a rebellion against their father.
Zebunnia's Palace in Aurangabad, 1880s.
Zebunnisa never married despite having several suitors. She died while Aurangzeb was away on a campaign. Her works were later compiled into a collection, "Diwan-e-Makhfi".

Zebunnisa's pen-name itself was "Makhfi" - the hidden one. Her poetry and ghazals reflect a mystic's inner freedom and express her fierce love for the divine.

Here is one of her poems translated from Persian:
I bow before the image of my Love
No Muslim I 
But an idolater
I bow before the image of my Love
And worship her
No Brahman I
My sacred thread
I cast away, for round my neck I wear
Her plaited hair instead.

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