Is Naseeruddin Shah really a hypocrite?

Two Iranian women from the Qajar dynasty (1779–1925). Image: hazine.info

Women of history

Power, murder and mono-brewing: In the harem of the Persian Shah

Today we travel to Iran and get to know the life of Tâdsch os-Saltane, the daughter of the Persian Shah Nâser ed-Din. Her story is dedicated to our loyal user Luca Brasi, whose tireless criticism of Eurocentrism is finally bearing fruit.

“The life of women in Iran has only two sides: one is black, the other white. When the women go outside and go for a walk, their form is hidden under the terrible black of mourning, and after their death they are wrapped in the white shroud. And I, who am one of those unhappy women, prefer the white shroud to those terrible mourners; I persistently refuse to wear this garment. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Tâdsch os-Saltane wrote these sentences down in 1914. They are part of her memoir - and the first that an Iranian woman put on paper.

Tâdsch os-Saltane (1884-1936) in European clothing. Her memoirs were published in 1996. Photo: Kulturologia

She was the daughter of the Persian Shah Naser ed-Dins, "God's shadow on the world", the ruler of Iran, who sat on the throne of the sun for almost 50 years - from 1848 to 1896. 26,000 precious stones adorn this chair. Its globe consists of 35 kilos of gold and over 51,000 jewels. The Shah loved glamor - and maybe he loved women even more.

Naser ed-Din Shah was the Shah of Persia for 49 years. At 17 he ascended the throne. Image: Hulton Archives

The royal harem

«His Majesty, my crowned father, had about 80 wives and concubines. Each of them had ten to twenty servants, so the number of women in the harem was 500, if not 600. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

So the Shah indulged in polygamy, but monogamy was also the norm in Iran in the late 19th century. The royal women all lived in a separate part of the Golestan Palace in Tehran, which was under the control of the chief eunuch and his approximately 40 also emasculated servants. They made sure that no one entered the women's rooms without authorization.

A eunuch and a young concubine with a water pipe: the Shah met many of the women on his travels, they often came from a humble background and escaped a life of poverty by being accepted into his harem

In order to enter this harem, we must first get rid of all westernized ideas, all orientalist dreams of a lolling, naked bunch of women.

First picture: The way we, i.e. the Tyrolean Johann Pinggera, imagined a harem around 1900. Image 2: Two women and a daughter Nâser ed-Din Shahs. Image: pinterest / kulturologia

The mono-brow was considered beautiful and if the female mustache was not naturally present, the women traced it with kohl. From the 1920s onwards, this was no longer seen as attractive, but on the contrary as backward and masculinized.

The Shah was also enthusiastic about the tutus of Russian ballet dancers, which he saw for the first time on one of his trips to Europe. He immediately introduced the short, drawn-up skirts to his court.

The Shah's favorite wife, Anis od Doule. The women wore headgear, often a camisole that left the belly exposed, stockings and the said skirt, modeled on the tutu. Photo: kulturologia

The harem was a place of power, not least because women could be used to approach the Shah. And that was all in royal Iran. All politics were aimed at him. There was nothing but personal loyalty to the ruler, all offices were assigned accordingly. There were no independent institutions, service was service to the Shah alone.

The women themselves also had a considerable influence on their husbands, although there was a strict hierarchy among them, which was measured according to the legal status of their marriage. Naser ed-Din had four real wives (Adqi), at least one of whom must have come from the royal family of the Qajars. The legitimate Crown Prince could only be born to a woman of the ruling dynasty. Our protagonist Tâdsch was the daughter of an adqi.

There were also temporary wives (Sighe), whose number was unlimited, and who mostly came from simple backgrounds. The Shah's favorite wife was called Sugoli. The rest of the harem was made up of the concubines and slave girls.

The Golestan Palace in Tehran. Winter headquarters and administrative center in the city center. Nâser ed-Din had the palace complex expanded over a quarter of a century. It was like a city within a city, with a throne room, reception rooms, a museum, a library, a school, the treasure house, the polytechnic and various gardens. Photo: shutterstock

The women were allowed to receive relatives and leave the palace veiled at will. Many of the ladies were large landowners, some even traveled to Europe, took on an administrative office or representative tasks. Nâser ed-Din's favorite wife, Anis ad-Doule, received the wives of the European ambassadors.

Each had their own accommodation and received the allowance corresponding to their status from the royal treasury, over which the Shah's mother watched with a stern look.

"If someone had asked the women: 'What is hardship?' They would certainly have looked at him full of astonishment and astonishment and, instead of answering, would have remained motionless and would not have understood what he meant."
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Some of the wives of the Shah. The word «harem» comes from Arabic and means «forbidden», «sacrosanct», «woman» and «forbidden place». Image: kulturologia

The harem ladies were devout Shiites and adhered to the times of prayer and fasting. Most of the afternoon was spent dressing up. Because every day the task was to overtake the other women and win the shah's affection. So if there was one thing they suffered, it was jealousy.

"As a result of the envy and jealousy which heaven has already instilled in women, the mighty king was never able to openly show his love and affection for any one of his wives or for his children."
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

In order to escape this predicament, the Shah turned his favor solely on Babri Khan - his beloved cat. Everywhere in the palace there were pictures of the animal, it had a surrogate mother, its own servants and was only fed the most selected delicacies. Whoever wanted to ingratiate himself with the Shah would do well to pay his respects to the cat first.

Some of the wives of the Shah, in the foreground the royal kitten. Image: Kulturologia

At this point Taj complains bitterly that her beloved father preferred his four-legged Babri Khan to the advancement of his country.

"Unfortunately, everyone was completely inactive during this time, no one had the slightest idea what it was to be truly human, they were all knee-deep in the quagmire of their wicked deeds and wickedness." 
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

At some point the women couldn't stand the cat any longer. This animal that stole the Shah's love from them. They grabbed it and drowned it in the well.

In order to find out more about the prevailing friendships and enmities of his harem, Nâser ed-Din invented the lamp-extinguishing game, in which the less noble women gladly took part:

“The game was that the lights were turned off and all women enjoyed absolute freedom in the dark. They were free to kiss, beat, bite, scratch out their eyes, bash their heads or break each other's arms. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Nâser ed-Din had an idiosyncratic way of indulging in the freshly introduced electricity: when he pressed the light switch, a deafening scream filled the room, the tender ones hid fearfully under the sofa, while the angry beat their rivals wildly. When the lights came on again, everyone laughed at the madness and the clothes that were hanging in tatters on their bloody bodies.

The injured were carried out and everyone was given money for new clothes.

A concubine of the Shah: Whenever the Shah brought a new wife to the harem on his travels, it was the duty of the noble wives to teach her a minimum of decency and morals, as Taj wrote. image: tumblr

Nâser ed-Din - A Shah in the gears of the European great powers

The Shah came from the Qajar family of Turkish descent who came to power at the end of the 18th century. Nâser ed-Din ascended the throne in 1848, when he was just 17 years old. He suffered from his grand vizier Amir-e Kabir, the second man in the state, who hovered over him like an overpowering father and tried to modernize the country with his persistent reform efforts. He founded the country's first newspaper and university, built dams, bridges and factories.

Fath Ali Shah, the second ruler of the Qajar family of Persia. He succeeded his cruel uncle Aga Mohammed Khan to the throne in 1797. Picture: tangsir2569

Amir-e Kabir was executed in 1852 at the initiative of the Shah's mother; the man's arteries were opened and he was strangled.

Nâser welcomed this development - at last he was no longer treated like a child. For thirteen years he did without a grand vizier, but then the Shah grew tired. The courtiers were incessantly hungry for money and did not hesitate to do their own dirty business with the Europeans.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Iran and Afghanistan increasingly became a buffer zone between two powers that avoided direct confrontation: the British tried to protect their crown jewel, India, while the Russians came closer and closer to the country from the north.

So the Shah granted concessions that were equivalent to monopolies. He sold his land to the Europeans: the British operated the telegraphs and exploited the oil, the Russians received extensive fishing rights and founded a bank. A part of the profits always flowed into the royal treasury.

Nâser ed-Din even left the reforms to the foreigners, thereby recognizing Europe's superiority in the technical field: the Russians reformed the Iranian army, while the Belgians reformed the customs system and the Austrians the postal system.

Their own compatriots often fell by the wayside. Their work was carried out by Europeans. With the help of the clergy, who were able to present themselves as advocates for the people, they knew how to prevent some concessions from being granted.

The Shah withdrew more and more from government affairs. He loved the hunt and often traveled around the country with his court - several thousand people. The grand vizier collected the huge sums that were needed for this. Preferably by taxing the population.

The Shah on the hunt with his favorite boy Malidschak, a sly little rascal who never washed and shot a eunuch in the leg for fun

Still, the Shah is described as compassionate and warm. He always held public audiences to hear the concerns of his subjects. He couldn't stand arguments at all. His need for harmony went so far that every time he quarreled, he immediately felt sick and vomited - or began to cry.

The Shah documented his court life with his camera, which he had received from Queen Victoria of England. Photo: wikimedia

In her memoir, Tâdsch tells about another side of her father - about his deep love for a young girl. She was the sister of one of his wives and was named Mahrokhsar, moon cheek.

«The strange thing was that this twelve-year-old girl openly expressed her love and affection for my father and underscored this love with sincerity and honesty with childlike gestures. As soon as she saw my father, the little one ran up to him, threw herself into his arms and said through tears: 'Oh! Did you finally come Today I was beaten ten times more, and only because my heart became so tight because of you and I cried and kissed your picture. ›»
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

"The Shah loves you too," Nâser ed-Din replied. Her father was caught in this love, Taj continues to justify, and this is understandable, because the love of this child was pure and the Shah was otherwise only surrounded by an army of hypocrites and droolers.

But the girl's big sister could not stand this love. The Shah tried to appease them with large sums of money, houses and expensive jewelry, but it did not help.

"In truth, she was the true ruler of Iran at that time."
Tâdsch os-Saltane on Mahrokhsar's sister

In order to be able to marry the girl after all, the "most unfortunate ruler" agreed to the sister's terms and furnished the child with an apartment outside the harem. The Shah found himself forced to sneak out of the palace at night "to indulge in his love".

Tâdsch os-Saltane - A spoiled child is married off

Tâdsch os-Saltane (1884-1936) in European clothing, by an unknown painter.Image: iranicaonline

Let us now dedicate ourselves to our stubborn protagonist, the Shah's daughter Tâdsch os-Saltane. Let it be said in advance that we encounter a very ambivalent personality from her memoirs. A child completely spoiled by her royal parentage who had experienced nothing but bows and unconditional devotion. But she does not fail to criticize herself shamelessly and with the utmost severity.

“If I had accidentally broken a valuable vase, for example, I would have been told that the vase was valuable and that it was a shame. But if I had purposely wanted to crush them, that would have been fine. I was always met with submissiveness and ingratiation. All sensitivity had been taken from me, as was the desire for revenge, only my complacency remained. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Taj tries to explain her life, her character and her country, everything that went so badly wrong.

She attributes all mistakes to a major shortcoming that she recognizes in all people around her and especially in women: the lack of education.

“On closer inspection, we see that we owe all the new achievements, the great, laudable discoveries, and our knowledge of trade, politics, and war to our mothers. Because all personalities who have achieved great things in history were the children of educated mothers who shielded and protected them and gave them their attention; they were raised by such mothers and by progressive, knowledgeable fathers. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, memoir

The favorite wife of Nâser ed-Dins, Adis od-Doule (below), with another wife of the Shah. Photo: kulturologia

For Taj, everything begins with the mother. If this is not educated, then their children will also develop bad character traits and moral inadequacies.

As was customary in the Iranian aristocratic circles, she herself was raised not by her mother, but by a body servant and a wet nurse. The mother did not breastfeed her child herself, and it is common belief that with the breast milk the child also took on the characteristics of their wet nurses.

Tâdsch loved her black body servant very much, she also writes against the attitude of slaves and servants who were humiliated by the Shah, his courtiers and harem ladies, only "in order to feel more respectable for themselves". Basically, however, what matters to her is that her teachers had “no decency and no education” and, much to her regret, this was carried over to her as well.

A noble child sits next to his personal eunuch slave. The slaves at the Qajar court were always black and most of them were emasculated. Photo: central library univeristy tehran

She accuses her mother of exchanging simple love and attachment to her child for a false formality. Taj suffers greatly from this withdrawal of love, and his relationship with his mother has cooled down to the freezing point.

At the age of seven, Tâdsch attended school in the palace and made life difficult for her head of house. The Shah's daughter is not to be chastised, even if she scorches the hated teacher with gunpowder.She just wanted a day off to play with her dolls.

The Shah's favorite wife, Anis od Doule. Tâdsch writes the following about them: image: kulturologia

"She was so intelligent and well-mannered that, although she was not blessed with a beautiful appearance, because of her good demeanor she rose to be the first woman and enjoyed a high reputation." Image: pinterest

Only two years later, Tâdsch is married to Anis od-Doules, the Shah's favorite wife. With a plump boy named Hasan, who is about a year older than her. His father commands the Shah's guard - and he is already ruler of his own palace, a house full to the brim with his own personal servants.

Taj runs away as soon as she sees him for the first time.

At her engagement party, the eight-year-old girl wears a cotton hat with two artificial ears from which earrings studded with gemstones dangle. She has to be lifted onto the golden chair, her feet dangling half a meter above the floor.

Taj becomes ill and becomes emaciated.

«Is there any greater misfortune than having a child or a husband at the age of eight? A husband for whom neither heart nor mind have decided, but rather who was chosen by mother and grandmother on the basis of old-fashioned, meaningless ideas? "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

An Iranian girl in traditional Qajar dress, late 19th century. The picture comes from the Iranian photographer Antoin Sevruguin. Picture: pinterest

She was to live in the harem for another four years. Then her beloved father is murdered. And she has to move in with her husband.

The assassination attempt on the Shah

Because the Shah was close to his subjects all his life, it was easy to get rid of him. On the day before his 50th anniversary in government, Mirza Reza Kermani approaches the ruler who is accessible to all as a supplicant - and shoots him.

In order to keep the death of the king a secret for the time being, his body was put upright in the carriage and the grand vizier Atabak waved to the crowd with the stiff hand of the Shah.

Muzzle care for Nâser ed-Din Shah. Image: kulturologia

Kermani had taken revenge. For the atrocities inflicted on him by Taj's brother Kamran. He was the deputy of the Shah when he was traveling. And he had Kermani imprisoned and tortured. He had squeezed a false admission out of him.

Kermani admitted to being a Babi, a follower of an ostensibly religious community that had formed in 1844 and above all criticized the government ruthlessly, which was responsible for so many injustices and grievances in the country: the unjust tax levies, the immense influence the great powers, the censorship. Last but not least, the Babis also called for an improvement in the situation of women. They were severely persecuted under Nâser ed-Din, more than 20,000 Babis were tortured and executed.

The Shah murderer Mirza Reza Kermani in the year of his public execution, 1896. Tâdsch reports that the Grand Vizier Mirza Ali Asgahr Khan Atabak was also involved in the murder, but that is very unlikely. Photo: wikimedia

Kermani was not one of them; he had just written a critical letter to the Shah. Instead, Taj's brother Kamrani let him watch his son being whipped and his daughter dishonored.

When the news of the attack reached the harem, the women broke into appalling mourning suits and ran into the streets unveiled. Tâdsch is just about to dye her eyebrows black, the tint is still hanging over her eyes, when she storms out of her room and runs into her mother's arms.

"Why do you have to dye your eyebrows today?" Asks the mother angrily - and punishes the disrespectful daughter with a few hard blows. Confused and afraid, Tâdsch tries to wash off the paint, but it just won't come off. So she shaves all her eyebrows off and learns about the murder of her father in this undignified guise.

"In addition to my grief, I looked pretty ridiculous."
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

The laying out of Nâser ed-Din Shahs. Picture: wikimedia

From now on, every night is filled with the whimpering of the widows who are busy during the day to remove their jewels and other belongings from the harem.

Because with the arrival of the new Shah, Taj's brother Mozaffar ed-Din Shah, they had to vacate the palace. The new ruler had his own wives, his own servants, and relatives to whom he intended to give titles. Only the Grand Vizier Atabak retained his post.

«When I think back to that time today, a shiver runs through me and I am amazed at how unstable this world is; I regard all privileges, all power, size, wealth and happiness with contempt. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

For Taj, Iran is now finally lost. Her beloved kingdom was in ruins, her brother was selling it off to foreigners for good, and the court was like a house of bliss.

Nâser ed-Din's successor Mozaffar ed-Din Shah ruled from 1896 to 1907. Photo: wikimedia

The brother brought in a bunch of uncivilized rags who disregarded any royal protocol. Musicians and prostitutes went in and out of the palace, nothing but fornication was carried on in these honorable four walls. Some of the noble ladies even claim to have seen a photo that shows the Shah having sexual intercourse with a mare.

Taj is glad she can escape this place. But their marriage lives on like another chapter in their unhappy life.

Trapped in an unhappy marriage

In 1897, thirteen-year-old Taj moves into the palace of her husband Hasan Khan.

"I found myself extraordinarily beautiful like a queen or a goddess, and I was amazed that my husband did not kneel down in front of me and worship me."
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

When they first get together, Hasan crouches on the floor in their shared room and begins to tinker with paper demons. Tâdsch thinks he recognizes her dead father in one of these cardboard figures. "Hasan wants to mock me!" She thinks and tears the snippet demon to shreds.

Tâdsch os-Saltane as a girl, probably photographed by her father. picture: wikimedia

Two children who don't like each other are trapped in a marriage here. He never washes his hands, she rebukes him for it, he defiantly smears the dirt on the velvet curtains. Both fall in love with other people, he mainly with young dancers without beards, with whom he has countless affairs.

Meanwhile, the Shah's European trips are bringing the country to the brink of ruin. He brings nothing home but trees that wither along the way and itching powder, which he sprinkles on the beds of his valets and then amuses himself with their ridiculous contortions.

A year later, Tâdsch has their first child, a pretty little girl. It may have been the trigger for the young woman to be more and more interested in education, upbringing and the rights of Iranian women. She is learning French and taking history lessons.

And as she recognizes nature as the driving force of the universe, her god gradually begins to fade. Taj loses her faith. All evil dies with him, she no longer fears disobedience to her husband, damnation has become an empty threat.

Tâdsch os-Saltane before she took off her veil. Photo: teyit

The spoiled and headstrong young woman begins to develop a fighting spirit, she no longer just wants to accept the events of her country. But their struggle has its price.

"Man was created to determine himself and to be free."
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Tâdsch puts on European clothes, takes off her veil and forces herself into a corset, which would have made it impossible for her to do the ritual washing anyway. Your prayers have stopped. Undeterred, she wants to follow the path of progress, even if she scolds her mother for being a baby.

Tâdsch's reform ideas and their fight for women

“Unfortunately, Iranian women can hardly be assigned to the human species, they are more like cattle or wild animals. They spend their entire lives in a prison with no hope whatsoever, facing immense pressure and excruciating misery. In doing so, however, they learn that elsewhere women are demanding their rights, that in Europe women fight for their rights and that they seriously claim them. They want the right to vote, they want to have a say in the political and other affairs of the kingdom. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

Taj demands equality between women and men. This is the only way to win the fight against ignorance and foreign determination, and only then to lead your country into a better future. Iranians should educate themselves equally, work equally - and instead of being forced together through arranged marriages, they should unite through love and of their own free will.

A couple in love, painting from the Qajar dynasty, early 19th century. image: Pinterest

But first the veil must fall:

«As in all civilized peoples on earth, women and men want to see one another; the fact that the woman is veiled destroys the kingdom, it is immoral and undignified and causes all action to be unsuccessful. "
Tâdsch os-Saltane, «Memoirs»

But Taj has to watch her homeland wither away under her brother's hand while she is trapped in a joyless marriage. She wants to go to Europe.

"This desire got stronger and stronger and finally made sure that I left my husband." Tâdsch's memoir ends with this sentence. And in him the sadness about her uprooting resonates, which will accompany her until the end of her life.

Tâdsch os-Saltane without veil. Photo: wikimedia

In 1907 their marriage ended in divorce. It is the year in which the Shah resignedly signed the decree that paved the way for the election of a parliament and a constitution.

Tâdsch marries two more times, the one marriage is immediately divorced, none of her new relatives likes the women's rights activist, who is assumed to be casual with men. She was nothing more than a whore.

Her third marriage did not last either, and Tâdsch was single again in 1921. By this time she had already written down her memoirs and she continues to stand up for the cause of women. She tries to kill herself three times. And once she is kidnapped and raped by a group of men.

Then it becomes quiet around them. Taj's last testimony is a petition to various Iranian prime ministers complaining about their financial difficulties. On January 7, 1936, the veil was banned for Iranian women. A month later, Taj dies, ill, bedridden and impoverished in Tehran.

PS: Dear users, with this I will disappear into my creative vacation. But you are not rid of me. From November I will bother you again, willy-nilly. Until then, no land damage!

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