Historian Ruby Lal’s new Book ‘Vagabond Princess’ creating ripples


Our Bureau

Atlanta, GA

Acclaimed feminist historian and Emory University professor Ruby Lal has come up with her new book ‘Vagabond Princess: The Great Adventures of Gulbadan’. The book talks about Princess Gulbadan, the daughter of Emperor Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, and the aunt of Emperor Akbar. Considered the sole woman historian of the Mughal Empire, Gulbadan also led a group of women on the first collective female hajj.

Gulbadan was about 8 years old at the time of her father’s death in 1530 and was brought up by her older half-brother Humayun. When she was 17,  she got married to her cousin Khizr Khwaja Khan. She spent her middle years in a walled harem established by her nephew Akbar to showcase his authority as the Great Emperor. 

According to Lal, Gulbadan “lived a forceful, itinerant life surrounded by formidable women.” After traveling to Kabul, Agra, and Lahore, in her youth, she came to live behind the red sandstone walls of her nephew Akbar the Great’s harem. “At age 52, she defied her nephew to lead a group of 11 women on a pilgrimage across the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. After her return, at Akbar’s invitation, she wrote a chronicle in prose. “It was meant to be a source for the first official history of the Empire that Akbar commissioned,” Lal said, adding that the princess “was committed to recording women’s points of view, the places where they lived, what they thought, said and did.”

Lal initially came across Gulbadan while writing her doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford, while attending as the recipient of the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation Scholarship. “I first encountered the fabulous Gulbadan Begum in 1996 via Beveridge’s English translation,” she writes in her TIME essay.

A professor of South Asian Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies at Emory University, Lal  teaches courses such as “Powerful Women in Global History and India’s Women: Leadership, Power and History.” She holds an M.Phil in History from the University of Delhi and a D.Phil from the University of Oxford. Before Emory, she taught at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, in History and Anthropology, and served as associate director of the program for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality.

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