European Woman in Mughal Dress
India, possibly Mughal, 19th century
The text surrounding the portrait is in Urdu and refers to an incident which, if factual, would have occurred some time between 1748 and 1753. My translation follows:
Mubarak Begum, First Wife of King Ahmad Shah
When Ahmad Shah sat upon the throne of the Mughal Empire, he too indulged in decadence like his late father Muhammad Shah Rangeelay. One day Mian Safdarjung, the Wazir of the realm, invited Ahmad Shah to a feast in honor of his sons’ circumcision. The provisions were lavish. Servant-girls stood by respectfully. The king declined to dine among the public and instead feasted within the harem where the hostess was Safdarjang’s lady-wife. When the adorned servant-girls stood facing the king in rows, the dining king’s glance fell upon the servant-girl Mubarak and he immediately became enamored. Soon after, Ahmad Shah queried Safdarjung’s lady-wife, “This servant-girl is very beautiful, how did you come by her?” As this servant-girl was a favorite of Safdarjung, Lady Safdar felt it was prudent to remain silent but the repeated questions of the king obliged her to respond.
Thus the lady called the servant-girl and said, “The Lord King, the Shadow of God’s Grace, desires to speak to thee. Come forth respectfully and answer.”
Hence Mubarak came forward in a composed manner and sat by and answered Ahmad Shah’s question thus, “Lord, my name is Mubarak and I am from Koh-e-Qaaf.”
Ahmad Shah startled and said, “Koh-e-Qaf is where fairies live, how would man survive there?”
Mubarak responded, “Lord, men live there too.”
The king said, “I have doubts about your humanity.”
Lady Safdar said, “Even I will attest that Mubarak is human and not some demon or fairy.”
Ahmad Shah spoke with her and his infatuation increased. But Lady Safdar, apprehensive of her husband, remained completely silent.
After dining the king left for his palace and Ahmad Shah made many efforts to make Mubarak his wife but his Wazir Safdarjung would not be convinced. Eventually the king insisted so much that Safdarjung was persuaded and turned Mubarak over to Ahmad Shah.
The day Mubarak came to Ahmad Shah’s palace, Ahmad Shah was so delighted it was as if he had won seven realms. But by his ill-fortune, the lady fell ill with epilepsy the same day, a condition of which Safdarjung had not been aware. A few days after the wedding an epileptic attack occurred and Mubarak fell to the ground. When Ahmad Shah became aware of this, he immediately returned to the palace. On seeing Mubarak’s state he became frightened. Under the advice of the head eunuch he became convinced that she was under the shade of some fairy, and from then onward he began to hate the sight of the innocent invalid.
After the recent Tumblr conversations (especially via @medievalpoc) on western narratives about people of color, I thought it would be interesting to share this non-European narrative about a woman of possible European origin.
Note that if this portrait is indeed from the 19th century, it cannot be a live portrait of Mubarak. That raises interesting questions about who the sitter is and who commissioned it.