Historical narratives do not exist in isolation. They tend to be heavily influenced by the societal structures that surround and constrict them. For a largely patriarchal society, this often translates into stories of women, especially their victories and accomplishments, being sidelined or erased.
Our history textbooks have ensured we instinctively associate Shah Jahan with the Taj Mahal or Akbar with the Agra Fort, but when it comes to monuments commissioned, designed, or built by women, we find ourselves clueless.
It’s time to rectify that. Here’s a list of five iconic Indian monuments built by women, as put together by The Better India.
1. Humayun’s tomb, Delhi
This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. A lesser-known fact is that it was commissioned by Hamida Banu Begum after the death of the Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1556. The grand structure, part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, was designed by an architect named Mirak Mirza Ghiyas. It is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’ as over 150 Mughal family members are buried in the cells.
2. Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal
Believed to be functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD, Virupaksha temple is the oldest and the principal temple in Hampi. It was built by Queen Lokamahadevi in the 8th century to commemorate the victory of her husband Vikramaditya II over the Pallavas.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is also often referred to as ‘Lokeshwara Temple’ after the queen.
3. Itmad Ud Daulah, Agra
The tomb is situated on the left bank of river Jamuna next to Chini-ka-Rauza. ‘Itimad-ud-Daula’ was the title given to Mirza Ghiyath Beg, father of Nur Jahan who served as the lord treasurer of Akbar. What is often missed, however, is that Nur Jahan is the one who completed the construction of the structure, casually referred to as ‘Baby Taj Mahal, nearly seven years after her father’s death.
4. Mirjan Fort, Kumta
Located around 22 kilometres from Gokarna, this 16-century fort boasts of cultural glory and distinguished history. The most popular version about its origin, traces it back to Chennai Bhariavi Devi, the Queen of Geroppa, also known as the ‘Queen of Pepper.’ It is believed that she used the Mirjan Fort as a location for shipping pepper and to take care of her business.
5. Lal Darwaza Masjid, Jaunpur
Also known as the Ruby Gate Mosque, the structure was built by Bibi Rajni, the queen of Sultan Mahmud Sharqi in 1447. It was dedicated to Maulana Sayyid Ali Dawood Kutubuddin, a Muslim saint of Jaunpur. The mosque was built especially for the Begum to serve as her private prayer hall.
The queen has also been credited with establishing a religious school named Jamia Hussainia near the mosque, which still exists, according to a report by The Better India.