Her name means literally "princess with a body like a flower" in Persian. She was a descendant of the lines of highest Central Asian aristocracy: Timur through his son Miran Shah, and Genghis Khan through his son Chagatai Khan. Her mother was Dildar Begum and she was sister to Humayun, the second Mughal emperor.
She also finds reference throughout, Akbarnama, the Book of Akbar, written by Abul Fazal, and much of her biographical details are accessible through the work.
When Princess Gulbadan was born her father had been lord in Kabul for 19 years; he was master also in Kunduz and Badakhshan, had held Bajaur and Swat since 1519, and Qandahar for a year. During 10 of those 19 years he had been styled "padshah", in token of headship of the house of Timur and of his independent sovereignty. Two years later Babur set out on his last expedition across the Indus to conquer an empire in India. Gulbadan Begum was brought to India at the age of six, was married at 17, and had at least one son.
Humayun and his sister
In 1540 Humayun lost the kingdom that his father Babur had established in India to Sher Shah Suri, an upstart from Bihar. With only his pregnant wife, one female attendant and a few loyal supporters, Humayun first fled to Lahore, and then later to Kabul. He was in exile for the next fifteen years in Afghanistan and Persia. Gulbadan Begum went to live in Kabul again. Her life, like all the other Mughal women of the harem, was intricately intertwined with three Mughal kings – her father Babur, brother Humayun and nephew Akbar. Two years after Humayun re-established the Delhi Empire, she accompanied other Mughal women of the harem back to Agra at the behest of Akbar, who had begun his rule.
Writing of Humayun Nama
Akbar commissioned Gulbadan Begum to chronicle the story of her brother Humayun. He was fond of his aunt and knew of her storytelling skills. It was fashionable for the Mughals to engage writers to document their own reigns (Akbar’s own history, Akbarnama, was written by the well-known Persian scholar Abul Fazl). Akbar asked his aunt to write whatever she remembered about her brother’s life. Gulbadan Begum took the challenge and produced a document titled Ahwal Humayun Padshah Jamah Kardom Gulbadan Begum bint Babur Padshah amma Akbar Padshah. It came to be known as Humayun-nama.
Gulbadan wrote in simple Persian without the erudite language used by better-known writers. Her father Babur had written Babur-nama in the same style and she took his cue and wrote from her memories. Unlike some of her contemporary writers, Gulbadan wrote a factual account of what she remembered, without embellishment. What she produced not only chronicles the trials and tribulations of Humayun’s rule, but also gives us a glimpse of life in the Mughal harem. It is the only surviving writing penned by a woman of Mughal royalty in the 16th century.
The memoir had been lost for several centuries and what has been found is not well preserved, poorly bound with many pages missing. It also appears to be incomplete, with the last chapters missing. There must have been very few copies of the manuscript, and for this reason it did not receive the recognition it deserved.
Translation of Humayun Nama
A battered copy of the manuscript is kept in the British Museum. Originally found by an Englishman, Colonel G. W. Hamilton. it was sold to the British Museum by his widow in 1868. Its existence was little known until 1901, when Annette S. Beveridge translated it into English (Beveridge affectionately called her Princess Rosebud).
Historian Dr. Rieu called it one of the most remarkable manuscripts in the collection of Colonel Hamilton (who had collected more than 1,000 manuscripts). A paperback edition of Beveridge’s English translation was published in India in 2001.
Pradosh Chattopadhyay translated Humayun Nama into Bengali in 2006 and Chirayata Prokashan published the book.
Begum, Gulbadan; (tr. by Annette S. Beveridge) (1902). Humayun-nama :The history of Humayun. Royal Asiatic Society.
Humayun-Nama : The History of Humayun by Gul-Badan Begam. Translated by Annette S. Beveridge. New Delhi, Goodword, 2001