Harem is something peculair to Islam. No other religion accepts the concept of a harem. It is an exclusive place where the women are kept confined by the Muslim noblemen or kings for their pleasure. In India the concept of Harem was brought in by the Muslim rulers who ruled Hindustan for nearly 900 years. The harem and its ethos were imported from Turkey and Saudi Arabia and are sanctified by Islam.
Harem in India
The Muslims when they ruled India believed in the Islamic law of multiple wives and concubines. But as rulers they also thought it their right to have a number of Hindu Girls as part of their harem. Some of the girls were forcibly abducted or captured and in some cases pressure was brought on the local Hindu kings to give their daughters to the Muslim Kings. Some of the local chieftains like the Rajputs willingly gave their daughters and princesses to the Muslim rulers in return for petty benefits.
The Harem was a large place with an independent adminstration.The life was reasonably easy and comfortable, but the women were never allowed to go outside. Hindu women were forced to convert to Islam on threat of torture and death. But a few emperors like Akbar allowed their Hindu queens to continue their Hindu rituals inside the Harem or Zenena.
The Harems were guarded by eunuchs and no male was allowed inside,except the king or the ruler himself. The Harem was like a form of imprisonment and many women who entered it left only once they died. However the older women and mothers were given greater respect. The harem had a life of its own,in fact it was a world within a world.
The Mughal emperors kept hundreds of women in their Harems. Akbar reportedly had over 500 women. A lot many of them were Hindus. As the Hindus were a subjected lot they had no choice and in case an emperor liked or heard of the beauty of a Hindu princess, he would order that she be brought to his harem. In case the request was not complied with he would take punitive measures against the local raja. But in variably, the Hindu Kings handed their daughters into the harems. This is certainly a sad commentary on the state of affairs in India at that time. It was left to the British and the Raj to stop this practice and the Hindus could heave a sigh of relief.