A captivating biography of one of the world’s greatest adventurers, the itinerant Mughal Princess Gulbadan, based on her long-forgotten memoir
“Finally, a serious consideration of Gulbadan’s achievement.’”—Kirkus Reviews
Situated in the early decades of the magnificent Mughal Empire, this first ever biography of Princess Gulbadan offers an enthralling portrait of a charismatic adventurer and unique pictures of the multicultural society in which she lived. Following a migratory childhood that spanned Kabul and north India, Gulbadan spent her middle years in a walled harem established by her nephew Akbar to showcase his authority as the Great Emperor. Gulbadan longed for the exuberant itinerant lifestyle she’d known. With Akbar’s blessing, she led an unprecedented sailing and overland voyage and guided harem women on an extended pilgrimage in Arabia. Amid increasing political tensions, the women’s “un-Islamic” behavior forced their return, lengthened by a dramatic shipwreck in the Red Sea.
Gulbadan wrote a book upon her return, the only extant work of prose by a woman of the age. A portion of it is missing, either lost to history or redacted by officials who did not want the princess to have her say.
Vagabond Princess contemplates the story of the missing pages and breathes new life into a daring historical figure. It offers a portal to a richly complex world, rife with movement and migration, where women’s conviviality, adventure, and autonomies shine through.
Ruby Lal is an acclaimed historian of India, a professor at Emory University, and the author of three books and numerous essays, op-eds, and literary pieces. Her book Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan won the Georgia Author of the Year Award in biography and was a finalist in history for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
“A historian of India reveals the lush world of a 16th-century Mughal princess and her extraordinary pilgrimage to Mecca. . . . The author’s impressive scholarship encompasses Gulbadan’s immense influences and distinctive style. . . . Finally, a serious consideration of Gulbadan’s achievement, long ‘sidelined by modern historians.’”—Kirkus Reviews
“Gulbadan, literate, observant, intelligent, a central observer to the establishment of the Mughal Empire, is a historical figure well worth discovering. Lal’s enthusiasm for her is infectious. . . . [Lal] is a fluent writer, with a good grasp of atmosphere and description [and who] knows how to tell a good story.”—Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books
“An astonishing work by one of the most exciting historians writing today. Vagabond Princess is more than just a brilliant page-turner of a biography, narrating in vivid detail a story few people know. It is a passionate and compelling argument to place the extraordinary Gulbadan among the pantheon of great adventurers like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. I loved this book.”—Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and An American Martyr in Persia
“Vagabond Princess is a deeply feminist text interrogating the making of archives, obsessed with imagining the spirit of freedom and love of learning in certain Mughal women, with a stunning buildup of the concept-metaphor of mujawir as ‘vagabond.’ A splendid teaching text, but also a reading text for sheer instructive pleasure; as we follow the epistemological performance of the making of the book with the book itself.”—Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, author of Other Asias
“In Vagabond Princess, Ruby Lal brilliantly illuminates the remarkable life and talent of Princess Gulbadan Begum, daughter of Emperor Babur and historian of her own times. Lost and forgotten for many centuries, Gulbadan and her work live again through Lal’s magisterial account of the 16th-century Mughal court.”—Amanda Foreman, author of The Duchess
“A work of meticulous scholarship and brilliant storytelling, Vagabond Princess is both an epic historical tale and a compelling personal account of one of the most interesting women to have lived during the Mughal Empire.”—Daniel H. Weiss, Homewood Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and president emeritus of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Meticulous archival research combines with a strikingly imaginative evocation of the world inhabited by Mughal women in Ruby Lal’s writing. Whether set against the dust and grit of imperial caravans, salt-lashed sea voyages, or the manicured precision of Mughal gardens, her vagabond princess, Gulbadan, surprises us at every turn. A superb achievement.”—Nandini Das, author of Courting India: Seventeenth-Century England, Mughal India, and the Origins of Empire
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