Zenana (Persian: زنانه, Urdu: زنانہ, Hindi: ज़नाना), literally meaning “of the women” or “pertaining to women,” contextually refers to the part of a house belonging to a Hindu or Muslim family in South Asia which is reserved for the women of the household. The Zenana are the inner apartments of a house in which the women of the family live. The outer apartments for guests and men are called the Mardana. Conceptually in those that practice purdah it is the South Asian equivalent of the harem.
Christian missionaries were able to gain access to the zenanas through the zenana missions; female missionaries who had been trained as doctors and nurses were able to provide these women with health care and also evangelise them in their own homes.
The women’s icon appears from ancient times, and it was transplanted from season to era, with a characteristic example of its existence up to the present day with its presence in the temples of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Since the time of Homer, the term “women’s” has met. In many Mycenaean palaces there were special mansions that were behind the main or the side of it. Also female women were also present in many residences of the classical and Hellenistic period.
The women’s figure also appears in the Byzantine churches, continuing the tradition, in order to keep women in it during the Divine Liturgy. It was in the northern aisle of the temple (mostly), but also in the palace. In particular, it was located in the central part of the P which forms, that is to say the western end of the temple.
The restriction of women outside of the women’s womb was also done by creating partitions from the rest of the temple, namely through the curtains and the wooden grids.
Women are still present in orthodox churches today, but now women’s positions are in the main church, but separated from men. They are also manufactured in modern temples without having the same functional elements as the past and are simply used to acquire more space.
Mughal court life
Physically, the zenana of the Mughal court consisted of exceptionally luxurious conditions, particularly for princesses and women associated to high-ranking figures. Because of the extreme restrictions placed on access to the women’s quarters, very few reliable accounts of their description are available. Still, modern scholars evaluating court records and travelogues contemporary with the Mughal period detail the women’s lodgings as offering courtyards, ponds, fountains and gardens. The palaces themselves were decorated with mirrors, paintings and marble. Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, famously lived in her own apartment decorated with valuable carpets, and murals of flying angels. Other amenities depicted in illustrations of court life include running water and meticulous gardens.
Rather than being the prison-like space of licentious activity popularized by European imagination, the zenana functioned as the domain of female members of the household, ranging from wives to concubines to widows, unmarried sisters and cousins, and even further distant relations which were considered dependent kin. In addition to the women of rank, the zenana was populated by attendants of various skill and purpose to provide for the needs of the ladies residing within. All visiting friends, servants, and entertainers were invariably female, down to the highly trained corps of armed guards, known as urdubegis, who were assigned to escort and protect the women in the zenana of Aurangzeb.
According to Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, author of the Akbarnama, the zenana of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri was home to more than five thousand women, who had each been given her own suite of rooms. The size of the zenana meant that it was a community within itself, and it thus required systematic administration to maintain. Abu’l Fadl describes the zenana as being divided into sections, with (female) daroghas appointed to tend to the financial and organizational needs of the residents. Other administrative positions within the zenana included the Tehwildar, or accounts officer responsible for the salaries and financial requests of the zenana inhabitants. Then there were the mahaldars, the female servant of highest authority chosen from within the ranks of the daroghas, who often acted as an intelligence source from the zenana directly to the emperor. The anagas, or royal wet-nurses, were elevated to positions of rank though their purpose was not strictly administrative.
It was because male members of Mughal society did not closely define the concept of purdah as a reflection of their own honor that wives, daughters, and particularly unmarried women in the upper-echelons of the empire were able to extend their influence beyond the physical structures of the zenana. That less-constrictive interpretation of purdah allowed the ladies of the Mughal court to indirectly participate in public life, most notably in civic building projects. Jahanara herself was responsible for the major alteration of Shahjahanabad, by constructing the now famous Chandni Chowk market. Altogether, wives, daughters, and even a courtesan were the primary patrons to 19 major structures in the city. Owing to the cultural precedent set by their Timurid ancestors, it was comparatively more acceptable for Mughal women to perform civic charity in the form of building projects and even engage in leisure activities outside the zenana like hunting, polo and pilgrimage, than it would have been for their Safavid contemporaries. Nur Jahan seems to be unique in that she had a particular affinity for hunting, and was able to gain permission to accompany her husband Jahangir on several outings, even once killing four tigers easily with her excellent marksmanship.
Adherence to purdah
Despite the social freedom that came with being a member of the royal household, Mughal women did not go about unveiled and were not seen by outsiders or men other than their family. Instead, when they traveled they covered their heads and faces in white veils, and they were transported in Howdahs, Chaudoles, carriages and Palanquins with covering on all sides, to maintain the modesty and seclusion required of purdah. When entering or exiting the zenana itself, female pall bearers carried their palanquins, and they were only transferred to male servants and eunuchs outside the walls of the zenana. Should outsiders be required to enter the zenana, as in the case of an illness where the lady could not be moved for her health, the visitor was covered from head to foot in a shroud and led blindly to the lady by a eunuch escort.
Zenana in the Mughal court
Physically, the Zenans of the Moghul courts were homes of extreme luxury, especially for the princesses and women of high-ranking dignitaries. Because of the extreme restrictions placed on women’s apartments, very little is known from the available sources. Modern scholars have examined court documents and travelogues from the Mughal era to try to get information about women’s lodgings, discovering that they had courtyards, ponds, fountains and gardens. The buildings themselves were decorated with mirrors, paintings and marbles. Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, he lived in his sumptuous apartment decorated with carpets and frescoes of flying angels. Among other things depicted in the illustrations there was court life, running water and gardens.
Rather than being the prison space dedicated to licentious activities according to the popular European imaginary, the zenana were the domain of the female members of the family, from wives to concubines, to widows, sisters and unmarried cousins, and even more distant relatives. In addition to women of rank, the zenana were populated by assistants of varying abilities who had to provide for the needs of the women residing there. All visiting friends, servants and entertainers, were invariably female, up to the highly trained body of armed guards, known as urdubegi, who had to escort and protect women in the zenane of Aurangzeb.
According to Abu’l Fadl, author of ‘ Akbarnama in zenana of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri there were more than five thousand women, each of whom had his own room. The size of the zenana meant that it was a community in itself, and systematically administered as such. Abu’l Fadl describes the zenana divided into sections, with darogha (female employees) in charge of providing the financial and organizational needs of the residents. The other administrative positions within the zenana included the tehwildar, or responsible for the salaries and financial demands of the inhabitants of the zenana. Then there were the mahaldar, serves the highest authorities chosen among the ranks of the darogha, who often acted as a source of espionage from the zenana to the emperor. The anagas, or royal nurses, were elevated to positions of high rank and their work was not strictly administrative.
Following the fact that the male members of the Mughal society did not strictly define the concept of purdah as a reflection of their honor, wives, daughters, and particularly unmarried women, at the top of the empire, were able to extend their influence beyond the physical structures of the zenana. This less restrictive interpretation of purdah allowed court ladies to participate indirectly in public life, in particular in civil construction projects. Jahanara herself was responsible for shahjahanabad modification, building the now famous Chandni Chowk market. Overall, wives, daughters, and even a courtesan were the main architects of 19 great structures in the city. In relation to the culture of their Timurid ancestors, it was comparatively more acceptable, for Moghul women, not only to deal with construction projects, but also to engage in leisure activities outside the zenana, such as hunting, polo and pilgrimages, more than it would have been for their contemporary Safavids. Nur Jahan seems to have been unique in that it had a particular affinity for hunting, and was able to obtain permission to accompany her husband Jahangirin several beats, killing, once, four tigers with his excellent shooting skills.
Adherence to the Purdah
Despite the social freedom that brought them to a member of the royal family, the Moghul women did not show themselves without a veil and could not be seen by strangers or men other than their family members. Instead, when traveling covered their heads and faces with white veils, and were transported by Howdah, Chaudole, carriages and palanquins covered on all sides to maintain modesty and solitude necessary to purdah. When they had to go up or down from the zenana, they were transported inside by female porters and transferred outside the walls of the zenana by servants eunuchs. In the event that a stranger had to enter the zenana, as in the case of an illness for which the lady could not be moved due to her state of health, the visitor was covered from head to toe with a shroud and blindly brought to the lady from a eunuch servant.
Source From Wikipedia