The Moslems, The Harem and India
The harem is something peculiar to Islam. It was introduced into India when the Moslems invaded India from the 8th century onwards. Many Hindu girls were forcibly inducted into these Harems
The Harem in India
Harem is a Muslim invention. No other religion accepts the concept of a harem. It is an exclusive place where the women are kept by the Muslim noblemen or kings for their pleasure. In India the concept of Harem was brought in by the Muslim rulers who ruled Hindustan for nearly 900 years. The harem and its ethos were imported from Turkey and Saudi Arabia and are sanctified by Islam. It was an excluive part of the palace or fort, that was kept segregated from all others and entry was severely restricted to the males.
The Moslems and the Harem
The Muslims when they ruled India believed in the Islamic law of multiple wives and concubines. Islam allows 4 wives, but a lot many Kings and Emperors had upward of 200 or 300 wives. In addition to the Moslem girls, who were part of this harem, a large number of Hindu girls and princesses were also part of these harems.Being the rulers, they thought it their right to have any number of Hindu Girls as part of their harem. Some of the girls were forcibly abducted and in some cases pressure was brought on the local Hindu kings to give their daughters to the Muslim Kings. Some of the local chieftains like the Rajputs willingly gave their daughters and princesses to the Muslim rulers in return for petty benefits. This dichotomy of the Rajputs has never been explained, for all their so called bravery they acceded to the ruler's firman or order to marry their daughters into the Harems of the Muslim kings.
The Harem was a large place with an independent adminstration.The life was reasonably easy and comfortable, but the women were never allowed to go outside. Hindu women were forced to convert to Islam on threat of torture and death. But a few emperors like Akbar allowed their Hindu queens to continue their Hindu rituals inside the Harem or Zenena. But he also in no way deviated from the set principles of the administration of a harem.
Principle of the Harem
The Harems were guarded by eunuchs and no male was allowed inside,except the king or the ruler himself. The Harem was like a form of imprisonment and a lot many women who entered it left only once they died. However the older women and mothers were given greater respect. Inside the harem, the women could regale themselves with music and dance as well.This was allowed, but no male could breach this bastion.
The concept of the Harem is peculiar to Islam. The Mughal emperors kept hundreds of women in their Harems. Akbar reportedly had over 500 women. A lot many of them were Hindus. As the Hindus were a subjected lot they had no choice and in case an emperor liked or heard of the beauty of a Hindu princess, he would order that she be brought to his harem. In case the request was not complied with he would take punitive measures against the local raja. But in variably, the Hindu Kings handed their daughters into the harems. This is certainly a sad commentary on the state of affairs in India at that time.
The Raj and the Harem
This state of affairs continued till the arrival of the East India Company and the defeat of the Moslem rulers. The British raj ushered in an enlightened era and the harem and its forcible aspecst were all done away with. The Hindus were free from their earlier servility and the Raj was them a boon. This was the period the Hindus could heave a sigh of relief. The Raj certainly had its benefits.