THE Princess Zeb-un-Nissa was the eldest daughter of the Mogul Emperor Aurungzebe of India, and was born in 1639. She came of a distinguished line, in direct descent from Genghiz Khan and Tamerlane. Her Emperor-ancestors were famous not only for their valour and statesmanship, but as patrons and inspirers of art and learning, and, moreover, they themselves possessed distinguished literary gifts.
At seven years old she was a Hafiz—she knew the Koran by heart; and her father gave a great feast to celebrate the occasion. We read that the whole army was feasted in the great Maidan at Delhi, thirty thousand gold mohurs were given to the poor, and the public offices were closed for two days. She was given as teacher a lady named Miyabai, and learned Arabic in four years; she then studied mathematics and astronomy, in which sciences she gained rapid proficiency. She began to write a commentary on the Koran, but this was stopped by her father. From her early youth she wrote verses, at first in Arabic; but when an Arabian scholar saw her work he said: “Whoever has written this poem is Indian. The verses are clever and wise, but the idiom is Indian, although it is a miracle for a foreigner to know Arabian so well.” This piqued her desire for perfection, and thereafter she wrote in Persian, her mother-tongue. She had as tutor a scholar called Shah Rustum Ghazi, who encouraged and directed her literary tastes. She wrote at first in secret, but he found copies of her verses among her exercise-books. He prophesied her future greatness, and persuaded her father to send all over India and Persia and Kashmir to find poets and to invite them to come to Delhi to form a fitting circle for the princess. This was the more wonderful as Aurungzebe himself cared little for poetry and used to speak against the poet’s calling. He had forbidden the works of Hafiz to be read in school by boys, or in the palace by the Begums, but he made an exception in favour of Zeb-un-Nissa.