Total Pageviews

Popular Posts

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Kochi Girl in the Mughal Court - 1707-1732

                                           Cochin -1656
Portuguese had ruled Cochin for nearly 160 years between 1503 and 1663 before the Dutch invasion. Although the capital of Portuguese India was shifted from Cochin to Goa in 1510, Cochin continued a favourite destination for the Portuguese and many Portuguese families chose to stay on in Cochin, soaking in the sun and sand, gossiping and leading their exclusive fidalgo life. (Fidalgo literally means 'son of somebody' and refers to nobility.)
Juliana was born in 1658 in Cochin to Agostino Diaz da Costa and his wife. She grew up as a frolicsome young girl, playing on 'the sandy beaches, where my sister and I could run with the waves lapping our feet'. When she was five, fate struck in the form of the Dutch who invaded Cochin in 1663. Just before the Dutch attack started, the da Costa family managed to flee to Goa, although they lost all their baggage in a ship wreck. The family then decided to try their luck in another Portuguese enclave, Calcutta, but by the time they reached there, Portuguese there had earned such a bad name through their indulgence in piracy and slave trade that  the conditions were not considered favourable for their relocation to Calcutta.
It was then that the da Costas decided to move down to Agra where the father had been invited to attend on the Emperor. It was here that Juliana got to know the doctor who attended to the Mughal emperors whom she married later. Juliana herself was adept at home remedies, having picked up some from her stay in Goa and from Garcia de Orta's book Colloquios published in 1563. (We in Kerala know much more about Hortus Malabaricus which was published more than a hundred years later in 1678. Garcia was himself a medical doctor - unlike Van Rheede who depended on local vaidyans like Itty Achuthan)
Juliana got to know the royals closely through her husband and even had an audience with Aurungzeb, thanks to the influential Jesuit priest Fr. Magalhaes (a colourful character who worked assiduously for promoting Society of Jesus in India and China). Juliana recorded faithfully the experience of an audience with the Alamgir who had a reputation for being brusque and curt. 'The old emperor was sharp, but I was amazed at the amount of time he spent talking with me. He asked me a great deal about the Malabar region, of the Portuguese interests, and of the Deccan interaction with the Portuguese'.
Juliana was soon appointed as Superintendent of the Zenana, looking after the women in the Palace and teaching the young princes and princesses. Juliana soon came to be known for her piety and her ability to work miracles - putting out fires with consecrated palm fronds and curing illness through prayers. She was particularly close to Prince Muazzam who carried the title Shah Alam and was later to be crowned as Bahadur Shah in 1709, after killing his brother. 
 Juliana continued in the Mughal Court even after the death of Bahadur Shah in 1712 and continued to serve the Mughal household with her advice, prayers and cures. Farukhsiyar ascended the throne in 1713 after another bout of internecine blood-letting, but Juliana not only survived the intrigues of the powerful Sayyid brothers who had the Emperor under their control, but even had powers to get the Emperor to issue firmans. 
British colonial historians have been asserting that it was the English surgeon, William Hamilton who had cured Farukhsiyar of a painful carbuncle and obtained a firman  for trading without duties. But, apparently, it was Juliana who had cured the Emperor with her herbal concoctions (and a liberal dose of Christian prayers). She records that she had got firmans out of Farukhsiyar not only for the Portuguese, but even for the English traders!
Mohammed Shah
courtesy: wikipedia
The crowning glory of Juliana's days in the Mughal Empire was in 1719 when she was asked to physically crown the new Emperor, Mohammed Shah (Rangila)! The day she chose for this was, of course, the day of St.John the Baptist, her Patron Saint. She wrote: 'At mid-morning today, I , Juliana Diaz da Costa, actually crowned the emperor! I carried the crown and placed it on the head of Prince Mohammed Shah'.
Donna Juliana (she had been conferred the title for her services to the Church and the Jesuits) continued in the service of the Mughals. A letter written in 1727 testifies: 'The Chief Surgeon of Bacaim is in the Court, who has been called to look after the mother of the king. The treatment is pending the arrival of Donna Juliana to the palace, to touch and give medicines to the patient with the help of the Surgeon mentioned'.
Juliana passed away in 1732 and was buried in Agra in an unnamed grave! Thus ended the saga of the girl from Fort Cochin who wielded great influence in the Mughal Court during an era when heads around her were rolling in the relentless wars of succession.
Source : Forgotten (2010) by Bilkees I. Latif, Penguin Books


  1. Juliana was a very interesting lady, certainly worthy of detailed study. She was one of those selfless characters, i suppose...thanks for introducing her to the readers...

  2. Congrats for the scoop, Very interesting.

  3. In Delhi Sarai Julena, a Malayali enclave, situated near the Escorts and Holy Family hospitals. is believed to be named after Doña Juliana Dias da Costa.

  4. Very interesting. t is quite possible that Juliana became Julena as our friend Thoufeek suggests.

  5. Thanks, Maddy and Premnath. One does not know whether someone has studied the life of Juliana in detail. She appears to have brought some semblance of order and stability in those turbulent times when fratricide was a recognised form of succession.

  6. Thanks, Geetha, and welcome to the blog!

  7. Thoufeek - thank you for this additional information. We would like to pursue it at the Delhi end.

  8. Yes, PNS. Thoufeek's sources are usually very reliable! We shall find out more about Sarai Julena. Many names of streets, mohallas and even baolis are continuing from Mughal days.

  9. S.R. Sharma's, Mughal empire in India: a systematic study including source material, Volume 2.
    Gives some details about Juliana(1658- 1732), ie not only her Husband Her father was also a doctor who served Aurangazeb and Bahadur Shah. Apart from that in this book Sharma mentions that She was given the house of Dara Shikon (Son of Shaj Jahan and Mumthaz Mahal)in the town. She as also given special titles which are variously recorded as "Khanum","Bibi","Fidwi Du'ago Juliana".
    And I believe Present Malayali enclave "Sarai Julena" (Sarai is a resting place or an inn for travellers during the Mughal era.) in Delhi was named after this privileged Portuguese lady of Fort-Cochin. considering her valuable contributions to Mughal empire.
    or even named by the Jesuits mission of India for her valuable contributions for the missionary purpose and helping the poor.

    Thank you Mr.C.K.Ramachandran and Mr.P.N.Subrahmanian for accepting my humble points...

    Hope this would another tip off to Calicut Heritage Forum to explore about Senhore / Doña Juliana Dias da Costa.

  10. Thoufeek thanks for the enlighting notes.It is interesting to read how a lady who is not a believer in Islam had a such an influence in the royal Mughal circle

  11. According to Gil Harris Juliana was one of those first firangis "who found a home in the royal female apartments of the emperor's palace , known variously as the zenana , the mahal and the harem.

  12. Many thanks, Amiya Chatterjee for visiting the blog and for introducing Prof. Gil Harris' work on Firangis. Harris also discusses another firangi of more interest to Calicut Heritage - that of Chin Ali, the slave turned admiral of Zamorin of Calicut who fought along side Kunhali Marakkar.

  13. Today one book " Juliana Nama" was released in Portuguese Embassy in Delhi .

  14. Many thanks, Deep, for informing about the release of the book on Juliana. It appears to be a monumental work by two authors who have toiled on it for close to three decades. A description of the book can be read here:


Powered by Blogger.