PUNJABI women have always been considered among the most beautiful in the country. During the Mughal days, they were sought after by the Kings and Nobles to embellish their harems. There was Anarkali who became a legend as she allured Prince Salim with her grace and charm and even led him to stage a revolt against his father, the Emperor Akbar. Salim on ascending the throne as Jahangir built a mausoleum for Anarkali in Lahore and the famous bazaar of the city is named after her. Rana-Dil was another Punjabi beauty who enchanted Dara-Shikoh and Emperor Shahjahan allowed him to marry her and she was granted the same privileges and honour as other princesses. During the later Mughal period, we come across Lal Kunwar, a performing artiste, whose glamour and charm became part of folklore. Her adventurous romance with Emperor Jahandar Shah, the grandson of Aurangzeb, elevated her to the status of a queen with the title of Imtiaz Mahal and she came to be known as the "Singing Empress".
During the Sikh rule, there was a young Muslim beauty called Moran who enchanted the ‘Lion of Punjab’ — Maharaja Ranjit Singh — and became his favourite mistress. Then we had Maharani Jind Kaur, the youngest wife of the Maharaja, famous for her attractive looks and domineering personality. The surviving portraits of her bear testimony to her loveliness and eye appeal. According to Sir Herbert Edwardes, "she had more wit and daring than any man of her nation".
The institution of zenana and the purdah custom had come into vogue with the advent of Muslim rule and it continued until the beginning of the twentieth century. Punjab came under the British rule in 1849. By that time the racial gulf between the ruler and the ruled was firmly established. While till the early decades of the 19th century, it was quite common for the British civilians and soldiers to have native women as their bibis or unofficial wives, this practice came to be frowned upon and had virtually vanished by the time the British came to Punjab.
Some European generals employed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh had married Punjabi women. There is a fascinating painting, portraying General Jean-Francois Allard and his Punjabi wife, children and female servants, done by a local artist at Lahore in 1838. This painting represents a challenge to the British colonial culture in India. Sir Charles Metcalfe, one of the most distinguished and talented civilian of the East India Company, lived with a Sikh lady he had met during a diplomatic mission to Ranjit Singh’s court in 1809. His romantic and unorthodox liaison with this Punjabi woman was then a common topic of gossip but Metcalfe made no secret of it nor about his three sons from her.