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Dona Juliana: A Forgotten Christian in Mughal Harem

-By Shivam Pathak

14th Century marked the advent of Portuguese in the Indian Subcontinent. Portuguese trade and commerce were flourishing in India because they were the first among other European nations who first discovered a direct sea route to India. The advent of Portuguese in India also laid the foundation stone of overseas romance in the exuberant peninsular region in south-central Asia. During 17th and 18th century Mughal Empire was started losing hold on the Indian peninsula because of the surging British extension on the landscape. Shah Alam also known as Bahadur Shah First ascended himself on the peacock throne of Delhi Sultanate after a vigorous fight with his father Auranzeb for his succession on the throne. Among the supporters of Shah Alam was a Portuguese Woman named Dona Juliana. She served the future king Shah Alam faithfully when the latter was in captivity after rebelling against his father. When Shah Alam was proclaimed King Juliana becomes his wife and her rank was above all the nobles in the court. It was believed that whenever Juliana would ride, she was escorted by five or six thousand men on foot. According to Italian Jesuit Ippolito Desideri, Juliana’s influence was so extraordinary on Shah Alam that she brought him to the brink of Baptism. The latter would kneel before Jesus in the prayer and send blessings to churches, and it was gossiped that he had become Christian on his deathbed. Her firm presence can be noticed in the Mughal court from one more instance when she persuaded the king to declare Surat a duty free port for the Portuguese because it was an important port in respect of trade and the emperor done so for her.With the course of time she was christened as “Bibi Juliana”. She was also conferred with several other titles such as “Fidavi Bahadur Shah Juliana” (Juliana, loyal servant of Bahadur Shah). Desideri also referred Juliana’s position in the moughal household (Harem) as a significant one. Dona Juliana throughout her life maintained diplomatic relations with Europeans, especially the Estado de Portugal. She can not only be identified as a diplomat, but also as a proxy for the Jesuit spiritual mission in India. It’s very important to observe that her influence wasn’t faded after Shah Alam’s death, but advanced even after his death. According to an Article written by historian William Irvine in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Bibi Juliana died at the age of 75 in the year 1734. Likewise Moughal sources like “Tarikh-i-Muhammadi”, documented that a firangi woman who was dearest to the Late Bahadur Shah first, died in Delhi in 1734. Consequently Dona Juliana Diaz da Costa was a Portuguese woman whose credentials marked immense accomplishments in terms of enormous power and influence at the court of the Moughal king, Shah Alam. History can never consign to oblivion the memory of Juliana, whose existence was absolute in her own being.

Julianna Dias Costa

Sources of information used in this article are- Piece of Dr, Taymiya R. Zaman’s writing on the website of the University of San Francisco, Pankaj Vohra’s article “Juliana:The Mughal Princess from Portugal” in the Sunday Guardian and the article “Note on Bibi Juliana and the Christians at Agra”  by historian William Irvine, published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.