Zebunissa was born on 15 February 1638 as the daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb of the Mughal Empire and Dilras Banu Begum. Her name means Ornament of Womankind. By the time she was seven, she knew the Quran by heart. Surprisingly, her education resembled that of a Prince instead of a Princess. She began to write poems from about the age of 14, but she did so secretly as her father did not approve. She is described as “being tall and slim, her face round and fair in colour, with two moles, or beauty-spots, on her left cheek. Her eyes and abundant hair were very black, and she had thin lips and small teeth. In the Lahore Museum is a contemporary portrait, which corresponds to this description, “In dress, she was simple and austere; in later life she always wore white, and her only ornament was a string of pearls round her neck.”
Her father succeeded as Emperor when Zebunissa was 21 years old. He listened to her opinions and greatly valued her. Despite a betrothal to her first cousin, Prince Salaiman Skikoh, she remained unmarried all her life. She chose the name Makhfi (or hidden one in Persian) as her pen-name. She wrote approximately 5,000 verses and several books.
There is no apparent reason as to why she was imprisoned. It may have been tied to correspondence she had with her younger brother during the ongoing conflict of the succession. She was 43 years old when she imprisoned at Salimgarh. She poured her soul into her poetry during her long imprisonment. As the year passed, she began to lose the will to live.
“My heart might sing, glad as a bird.
Death comes, thou knowest, soon”
After this verse, she would have to wait six more years for the sweet release of death. She was ill for several days and died on 26 May 1702. Her father may have regretted imprisoning her as he ordered a magnificent tomb to be made for her. Sadly, it is gone now.1