Harems ‘ Women’s Point Of View

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Queen Amara began her day with a scented bath, a skin rub of herbs and oils, a shampoo followed by the sweet fragrance of sandalwood being infused into her drying hair, and an application of custom cosmetics. After being dressed and jeweled by her many attendants, a blossom was tucked into her hair and she was given cloves to freshen her breath. The process took half a day but she was ravishing for the king. There was more to this influential and contented queen than her beauty. Her father was a still king in his own right so she entered the harem with sizeable personal wealth. In addition, she received a regular allowance and frequent gifts from her generous husband. When these gifts were land, they included the accompanying taxes and tolls from that property. She could even, through a eunuch, increase her impressive wealth through trade. She spent her money on additional personal upkeep beyond what she was lavishly provided. Additionally, she built hotels which were made available to travelers on her own land, and commissioned buildings and gardens to beautify the empire. She loved her life and today being Bazaar Day made it even sweeter. Because none of the harem could shop in the market, the women of the bazaar’s merchants brought luxury wares to them. They displayed piles of bangles, veils, jewels, caged birds, wine decanters, sweetmeats, and more for their wealthy audience. The bazaar women brought something else that was exciting: gossip. Thus the queen could count on learning of events occurring in the surrounding city, the marriages and births, the quarrels and the intrigues of women in other harems. Gulban, a concubine who no longer received more than an occasional visit from the king, could not accept the harem’s restrictions. Although she continued to be handsomely rewarded for her past attraction to the man who brought her here, she had been replaced by another pair of bright dark eyes brought into the City of Women. When a woman in the harem showed signs of pregnancy, Gulban became a jealous ‘sister.’ She had become expert in devising spells and potions for women whose wombs were more fertile than hers. Unexplained injuries and even deaths were facts of harem life. Gulban and others were known to injure or poison women even without the spur of pregnancy. The lack of men encouraged women to become quite inventive in ways to satisfy themselves without them. Bringing a man surreptitiously into the harem was too dangerous even for Gulban so physical yearnings were satisfied by an occasional eunuch. Or other women. Beneath the notice of the lofty queen and the once-favored concubine, was a woman who, along with hundreds of others, maintained the glitter and the cleanliness of the harem. Suti, who had been sent to the Royal Harem when she was twelve, lived in a single room. For her, life in the harem was one of long hours of work, small living quarters and a lack of possessions. She was content, however, realizing if she had remained in her village she would not know this dazzling environment, nor could she be certain she would have had a roof over her head and enough food to eat. She did not share the privileges of the royal women around her, but she shared their confinement. Although she was not cut off from communications with her friends and family in her home village but she would never see them again. When so large a group was brought together from throughout the empire and confined within the same walls, irritations and animosities arose. Particularly when the very family or clan a woman had been taught since childhood to hate or fear was now nearby on a daily basis. What was to be done with the natural intelligence and creativity pulsing within the confined women? To channel these talents and to increase the ‘value’ of the harem as a whole, educational opportunities were presented. Many women eagerly learned how to play a musical instrument, how to sing and how to dance. In addition, tutors were arranged for instruction in calligraphy, languages, poetry, and social graces. Women became accomplished scholars who competed with one another but never against men. Did women enjoy the pampered lives they led in the Royal Harem? Would you? ? Harems ‘ Women’s Point Of View


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