Who I Call a Mother: A Historical Reading of a Narrative versus Performative Construction of the Identity of a Mother and Motherhood in the Mughal Culture

    • Cover Venice
    • Presentation speakers
      • Sehar Khwaja, University of Delhi, India


    In the Mughal Culture, motherhood finds little reference in historical writing, even as mothers form a well-respected and recorded part of the community. Typically, the Mughal tradition transcribed an ‘ideal’ Mughal mother as selfless, nurturing, forgiving and as someone showing firm and constant allegiance to the Empire. In this respect, every woman was ‘born a mother’ in an idealised Mughal society. Expectedly, motherhood was a given monolithic position of femininity that deployed the abstract emotions of care and nurturance in their interaction with their sons or Princes of the Empire. The expected duty of a Prince in return of the motherly nurturance and loyalty was provision of lifelong protection to their ‘mothers.’ However, this paper travels through the journey of a Mughal Prince from his mother’s womb to his own tomb to discover a tormented, tense and fragile relationship with his mother(s). Through the case study of the lived experience of the Prince, we are confronted with multiple performative identities of mother and motherhood that both conform and conflict with the narrative identities of the same. The paper aims to provide the modern readers with a historical perspective to understand that the meaning of a mother and motherhood could be quite different from its narrative representation; and that mother or motherhood are not a given and naturalised state or trait but a performative relation, constituted continually and interactively yet circumscribed historically and socially.