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Zēb-un-Nisā Makhfī (زیب النساء مخفی) (also written Zebunnisa, Zebunnissa, Zebunisa, Zeb-un-Nisa, Zeb-ul-Nissa) (Zeb means beauty or ornament in Persian and Nissa means women in Arabic, Zebunnisa means most beautiful of all women) (1637 - 1702) was the eldest daughter of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. Princess Zeb-un-Nissa is fondly remembered as a Sufi and a poet.

Detailed biography

Zeb-un-Nissa, daughter of Mughal emperor “Aurangzeb” (known as Alamgeer), was born during the reign of Shah Jahan. Her mother was Delras Banoo, daughter of Shahnawaz Safavid.

Her father Aurangzeb charged Mariam, one of the women of court, with the education of Zeb-un-Nissa. Through her efforts, Zeb-un-Nissa memorized the Quran in three years. Then she learned the sciences of the time with Mohammad Saeed Ashraf Mazandarani. Zeb-un-Nissa learned Philosophy, Astronomy and Literature, and knew Persian, Arabic and Urdu. She had a good reputation in calligraphy as well.

Zeb-un-Nissa started to narrate poems in Persian from the age of 14, but as her father did not like poetry, she used to write secretly. Ustad Bayaz, one of her teachers, found her poems and then encouraged her to continue narrating poems. It is reported that in the court of Aurangzeb, there used to be hidden literary and poetic parties among the great poets like Ghani Kashmiri, Naimatullah Khan and Aqil Khan Razi, and Zeb-un-Nissa participated secretly in these parties.

When Aurangzeb became the emperor after Shah Jahan, Zeb-un-Nissa was 21-years old. Aurangzeb found out the talent and capacity of her daughter and discussed the political affairs of his Empire with her, and listened to her opinions. It has been mentioned in some books that Aurangzeb sent all the royal princes for the reception of Zeb-un-Nissa each time she entered the court. Zeb-un-Nissa had four other sisters: Zeenat-un-Nissa, Badr-un-Nissa, Mehr-un-Nissa and Zebdat-un-Nissa. Among them, Zeenat-un-Nissa and Zebdat-un-Nissa wrote poems too.

Zeb-un-Nissa did not get married and remained single until her death, despite the fact she had many suitors. She spent all her life on literary works and poetry, as she herself says:

Oh Makhfi, it is the path of love and alone you must go - No one suits your friendship even if Jesus be though

In some books it has been written that there were secret love relation between Zeb-un-Nissa and Aqil Khan Razi, a poet and the governor of Lahore, but it is far from the truth. There are many stories reported about Zeb-un-Nissa and Aqil Khan Razi, but they seem to be far from the truth. Even in her poetic book (Diwan), we cannot find a single Ghazal which supports this point. In fact, all her poems are based on the Sufism concept of Love of God.

Zeb-un-Nissa lived in a period when many great poets were at the peak of their reputation; e.g. Mawlana Abdul Qader Bedil, Kalim Kashani, Saa’eb Tabrizi and Ghani Kashmiri. We notice the influence of Hafez Sherazi’s style on the poetry of Zeb-un-Nissa. However, she is considered as one of the poets of Indian School of Poetry in Persian.

Zeb-un-Nissa selected “Makhfi” (which means Hidden one in Persian) as her pen-name in her poetry. In addition to her poetic book or collection of poems, called Diwan, which contains approximately 5,000 verses, she has also written the following books: “Monis-ul-Roh”, “Zeb-ul Monsha’at” and “Zeb-ul-Tafasir”. In Maghzan-ul Ghara’eb, the author writes that the poetic book of Zeb-un-Nissa contained 15,000 verses. Her poetic book was printed in Delhi in 1929 and in Tehran in 2001. Its manuscripts are in National Library of Paris, Library of the British Museum, Library of Tübingen University in Germany and in the Mota Library in India.

Zeb-un-Nissa died in 1701 in Shahjahanabad (old Delhi), while Aurangzeb was in trip to Deccan. Her tomb was in the garden of "Thirty thousand trees", outside of the Kabuli Gate. But when the railway line was laid out at Delhi, her tomb was shifted to Akbar's mausoleum at Sikandara, Agra.

Sample Translations

Her Ghazals is telling the story of love in a feminine way

You with the dark burly hair and the breathtaking eyes,
your inquiring glance that leaves me undone.

Eyes that pierce and then withdraw like a blood-stained sword,
eyes with dagger lashes!
Zealots, you are mistaken - this is heaven.

Never mind those making promises of the afterlife:
join us now, righteous friends, in this intoxication.

Never mind the path to the Kaabah: sanctity resides in the heart.
Squander your life, suffer! God is right here.

Oh excruciating face! Continual light!
This is where I am thrilled, here, right here.

There is no book anywhere on the matter.
Only as soon as I see you do I understand.

If you wish to offer your beauty to God, give Zibunisa
a taste. Awaiting the tiniest morsel, she is right here.


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