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The ladies of the contemporaneous Ottoman harem were, for most of its history, organised as follows:

  • The sultan's mother, under the title of Valide Sultan, stood at the apex of the hierarchy.
  • Next came the sultan's four favourite concubines, having the title Kadın.
  • Next came those concubines whom the sultan had slept with at least once, having the title of Ikbal.
  • At the bottom of the hierarchy were the other concubines and servant girls, having the title Cariye.

The most senior kadın, for example, would be styled, in full, as Devletlu İsmetlu [given name] Başkadınefendi Hazretleri, and might be addressed as Başkadınefendi.

Is it possible to draw up a similar hierarchy and titulary for the ladies of the Mughal harem?

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    Interesting. I think some difference arose from the Turkish vs Mughal culture with the Mughals having subsumed more Persian influences. I'll investigate my sources later if no one replies by then. By the way, I recommend the tag women to categorize this further. – gktscrk Jun 13 at 8:49
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    Thanks. I'll follow through on your recommendation. – chancellorofpaphos Jun 13 at 12:19
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According to the book Royal Mughal Ladies and Their Contributions by Soma Mukherjee, "female officers of the harem were divided into three categories: the high (Mahin banu), the middle (Paristaran-i-hudur) and the low."

  1. Mahin banu: "The internal harem administration was in charge of women officials called Matrons or Daroghas. These Daroghas were appointed by the emperor and it was a very honourable post. [...] Another important post in the harem was that of the Mahaldar. They were selected from among the Daroghas. She was like a female majordomo and and even acted as a spy in the interest of the emperor.
  2. Paristaran-i-hudur: "In the next grade of harem staff came the supervisors whose duty was to keep control over the maid servants and the dancing girls. It was their duty to keep a check on the harem expenditure and to give away the salaries and allowances to the harem inmates. [...] Another category of harem officials was that of the Tahwildars, who were in charge of the accounts of the harem. It was their duty to keep a check on the harem expenditure and to give away the salaries and allowances to the harem inmates.
  3. Low: "The low category of harem staff consisted of the slaves and servant girls. They were usually known as bandis, and also as Khawas or Paristas. Their duty was to serve the emperor, the princes and important harem ladies."

I will also mention two other titles I've come across. The Padash Begum was something like a queen. I'm not sure if she was considered to have role within the harem, but if so, she would presumably fall under the Mahin banu. There were also female guards in the harem of Tartar and other foreign ethnicities, known as urdubegis. I assume this was a low position.

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  • Upvoted, but—without looking at the sources—is this specific to a certain time period; when did this structure develop or was it like this from the creation of the Mughal state? – gktscrk Jun 13 at 21:34

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