Apr 30, 2007

Bilqis Jahan

Nine months after her wedding, Sultan Jahan gave birth to her first child Bilqis Jahan, on 25th October 1875. Bilqis Jahan had been taken over by her grandmother, Shahjehan Begum, from the age of four. This was in keeping with the tradition in most Muslim families in which the first-born grandchild was brought up by the grandmother. Bilqis was a frail and sensitive child who increasingly became the object of Shahjehan’s motherly affection as she failed to produce another child of her own. As tension between the ruler and the heir apparent household increased, Bilqis became the only link between her mother and grandmother.

When Bilqis was around 12 years old, Sultan Jahan was alarmed at reports of Siddiq Hassan’s younger son, the 19-year-old Ali Hassan, who was already married, being groomed to marry Bilqis. He was made her constant companion at lessons and during free time, and rumors were soon circulating that Shahjehan would shortly announce Bilqis’ engagement with Ali Hassan. Shahjehan had built herself a new palace, suitably named Taj Mahal, and the two households were no longer adjacent. In 1887, Bilqis fell ill of a mysterious illness causing even greater concern to her parents. She was treated by doctors and hakeems and managed to make a partial recovery. After months of high anxiety, when Bilqis came to visit Sultan Jahan, she was a pale image of her usual self with dark rings around her eyes. Desperately agitated by Bilqis’ condition, Sultan Jahan and her husband decided not to send her back to Shahjehan.

This decision struck deep into Shajehan’s heart. She was incensed and raged about the palace decrying her daughter’s insensitive treachery. She then asked Colonel Ward to mount an attack on the heir apparent’s palalce to forcibly restore Bilqis to her. Ward called on sultan Jahan and when given the background, took no further action. Bilqis soon came to appreciate the circumstances and decided to stay with her parents. The little child again started her shuttle between the two palaces, constatntly attempting to reconcile her grandmother with her mother but to no avail. Soon, Bilqis’ illness reappeared and this time took a more serious turn. As she began to sink, Sultan Jahan decided to make an attempt to seek her mother’s forgiveness. Out of sheer desperation for her daughter, Sultan Jahan went unannounced to her mother’s palace. Surprisingly, it was the first time Sultan Jahan had set foot in the Taj Mahal. Sultan Jahan’s attempt at seeking her mother’s forgiveness ended in tragic failure. Bilqis died a few weeks later. The second time Sultan Jahan set foot in the Taj Mahal was 14 years later, eight days before Shahjehan died.

A crumpled note written by Bilqis’, that Sultan Jahan found in Shahjehan’s drawer after her death, highlights the desperate attempt of Bilqis to bring about reconciliation between her mother and grandmother:
My dear Grandmother, do you not love me still? She (Sultan Jahan) is thinking
about you just as much as you think about me. Please forgive her for my sake.
Tell me when you are going to call her to you. If you do not call her, I shall
know that you do not love me.

Apr 23, 2007

Sultan Jahan – The Heir Apparent

Sikandar Begum was considered mostly as a tough emotional ruler not given to general motherly emotions associated with women. However, the birth of her grand daughter Sultan Jahan added a softening dimension to her life. According to custom among Muslim families, the grandmother took over the upbringing and education of the first-born grandchild. Her momentous journey to Makkah provided an opportunity for her to write letters like a loving, caring and doting grandmother to her six-year-old granddaughter. Concerned at her daughter’s mismatch and her expansive love life and with images of her own turbulent marriage rolling through her mind, Sikandar began to fret for her little granddaughter’s future. Accordingly, she sent out her minister to various locations in a quest for a suitable groom. The minister reported back from Jalalabad (refer to the Dost Mohammad Khan connection) that a number of young, well-bred Orakzai boys were available. Accordingly, Sikandar decided to interview them personally. Among the invited came the recently widowed Mohammadi Begum with her 12-year-old son, Ahmad Ali Khan. Ahmad Ali Khan had no brothers, only one elder sister, Chanda Bi. Sikandra Begum took an instant liking for this strikingly handsome boy, as his upbringing and mannerism showed him to a thoroughbred aristocrat. Mohammadi Begum was requested to settle in Bhopal, and upon her arrival, little Ahmad Ali Khan was virtually taken over by Sikandar. He was given lessons in religious studies, literature, poetry, riding and hunting, earmarking him for the role of consort when time came for Sultan Jahan to marry.

At the age of 13, Sultan Jahan saw her mother, descendant of the proud Orakzai conquerors of Bhopal, marry a non-Pathan clerk, Siddiq Hassan. Sultan Jahan writes in her memoirs that Siddiq, in an attempt to consolidate his hold on power, attempted to break the betrothal between Sultan Jahan and Ahmad Ali Khan and to substitute his elder son, Nurul Hassan – though already married – as Sultan Jahan’s consort. Sultan Jahan adamantly refused to contemplate such a union. Eventually, in 1874 Shahjehan called in the family elders and sought their advice on Sultan Jahan’s marriage. They were unanimous that Sultan Jahan should marry Ahmad Ali Khan. The Viceroy was informed, and soon gave his approval after considering the views of Sultan Jahan in the matter. The engagement was announced, with the wedding to be held a year later. However, Siddiq Hassan used this period of one year to harass Ahmad Ali Khan, whose life started to resemble that of a state prisoner. Everything possible was done to irritate him, like placing sentries outside his sleeping apartment, and no one permitted to access him. Eventually the wedding took place on 1st February 1875. The friction between the heir apparent and the ruler started escalating day by day, and they set up separate households in palaces next to each other. Shahjehan made it known that she wanted a son from Siddiq, increasing Sultan Jahans sense of insecurity. However nine months after wedding, Sultan Jahan gave birth to her first child Bilqis Jahan, on 25th October 1875. Three other children followed in quick succession - Mohammad Nasrullah Khan, born on 4th December 1876, Mohammad Obaidullah Khan, on 3rd November 1878 and Asif Jahan, on 5th August 1880. Mohammad Hamidullah Khan was born on 9th September 1894, after a gap of 14 years.

However Shahjehan failed to conceive Siddiq’s child. The couple tried doctors, hakeems, saints and rustic witch doctors – nothing worked. Although Siddiq’s first wife, Zakia, gave Siddiq three children when she was well into middle age, about 47 years old. Shahjehan had also given birth to two children from Umrao Doulah. The 1877 durbar in Bhopal and the Calcutta visit saw the tension between mother and daughter turn into an unbridgeable chasm. Shahjehan refused to invite Sultan Jahan to official ceremonies or to receive her during festive occasions. She even refused to release the income from Sultan Jahan’s Jagir and formally objected to her being addressed to as princess. Sultan Jahan would recount to Abida Sultan, her granddaughter that weeks would pass without a square meal for the family and taking pity, old servants would steal gram intended for the royal stables to feed the heir apparent’s family. The only link that remained between mother and daughter were the visits of the bright and intelligent Bilkis who was taken over by Shahjehan at her childhood.

Apr 15, 2007

Syed Siddiq Hassan

Syed Siddiq Hassan was born on 14th October 1832 in Bareilly. He was from a distinguished family of theologians who, as Syeds, traced their ancestry back to the Prophet. Descendants of Hazrat Ali, Siddiq Hassan’s Shiite ancestors first settled in Bokhara and then migrated to Multan. There they became guardians of mosques and holy places until the family moved again, nearer to the center of power in the United Provinces, where they spread themselves in the well-known bastions of Shiite culture, Bareilly and Kannauj. Siddiq Hassan’s grandfather was an acclaimed scholar and theologian. He was employed in a high post in Hyderabad and was comfortably off, owning lands and property. The family prided itself on its erudition and scholarship, engaging itself in the doctrinal debate between various Muslim schools of thought.

Siddiq Hassan’s father, Syed Awlad Hassan, was also steeped in Islamic scholarship and became an ardent disciple of the Muslim reformers, Syed Waliullah and Syed Ahmad Shahid. These scholars belonged to the school of thought that believed in the puritan values of Islam, drawn directly from the Quran and Sunnah. They opposed the sanctification of Pirs and the Sufic rituals that had spread across the Sub-continent. They also believed that the Door of Ijtehad (signifying a consensus between the four Sunni schools of theology and legal interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah, the Hannafi, Hambali, Maiki and Shafi – that no further interpretation was warranted) should not be regarded as closed and were consequently ranged against the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence of which the Hanafi was predominant in south Asia. This doctorine was called Wahabism, named after the Arab evangelist Abdul Wahab.

Syed Awlad Hassan announced publicly that he had converted from Shiism to become a Sunni. This action led to ostracization from his family and from the Shiite fold. He also renounced subsequently all interest in material benefits, notably the land and property that his family owned. Thus, Syed Awlad Hassan’s missionary evangelism led his family into self-imposed penury. Syed Awlad Hassan died in 1937 when Siddiq was only five years old. His mother brought up Siddiq in hard times – often saved by friends and associates of his late father who ensured that Siddiq received a proper education in Arabic, Persian, Quranic studies and Hadith. Siddiq was a worthy student. As soon as he was 17 years old, he began looking for work and in 1854 landed in Bhopal, which was a haven for Muslim scholars and theologians. Siddiq arrived in Bhopal selling perfume, but sooom found a job as a schoolteacher, augmenting his meager income by preaching at moques where he gave vent to the Wahhabi views held by his father, opposing the Hanafi school of jurisprudence and propagating a return to Islam’s pristine values. Eventually, in 1857, he fell foul of a leading Hanafi Mualvi in Bhopal, Abbas Chiryakoti, who had him shunted out of the state. Siddiq moved on to neighbouring state of Tonk, but when the mutiny swept across India, returned to Kannauj to protect his family. During these difficult days, Siddiq suffered from extreme poverty and anguish. He had only one change of clothes and his family spent days without a proper meal.

Eventually, Prime Minister Maulvi Jamaluddin, who had taken a liking to the scholarly intelligent Siddiq, persuaded Sikander to allow Siddiq’s return to Bhopal. Sikander commissioned Siddiq to write a history of Bhopal, paying him a substantial salary. He was soon employed by Maulvi Jamalluddin as a clerk in his office. In 1860, Siddiq married Maulvi Jamalluddin’s 39-year-old widowed daughter Zakia at the age of 28. By the mid-1860s Siddiq started climbing the administrative ladder, supported by his father-in-law. By 1865, Siddiq at the age of 33, was given the responsibility of acting as the private tutor to the vivacious, feisty 27 year old heir apparent Shahjehan. It was not long before rumours started circulating that Siddiq and Shajehan were emotionally entangled, being closeted alone for hours, ostensibly studying Arabic, Persian and Hadith! After Shahjehan became Begum, she promoted Siddiq to be her Chief Secretary. The private meetings grew longer as a result, and the scandal more intense. Shahjehan started addressing Siddiq as Syed Siddiq Hassan "Khan", indicating an imaginary pathan lineage.

Siddiq Hassan soon ousted his father-in-law, Maulvi Jamalluddin, from corridors of power, using the emotional and intellectual grip that he had over the besotted Shahajehan. He was promoted to madar-ul-maham (Chief Minister), and made a word get through to Major Edward Thompson, Political Agent of Bhopal, that Shahjehan was pregnant with his child. He managed to convince Thompson that honor could be saved through immediate marriage. On 8th May 1871, a wedding ceremony took place, while the British made it clear that Siddiq Hassan will play a non-executive role. On Shahjehan’s insistence, the British accorded Siddiq Hassan with the title of Nawab Wala-Jah on 15th October 1872. There was wide spread resentment and dislike among the local Bhopalis over this alignment. Incidentally no child was born during the first year of the marriage.

As said earlier, Siddiq soon took over all control from Shahjehan, asking her to go back into Pardah. However the British stated seeing Siddiq as a man who sought power through the propagation of anti-British Wahabi extremism that called for jehad against the ruling infidels. At the time, an undercurrent of Islamic revivalism opposed British domination of the Middle East and Asia had emerged in Sudan under the leadership of the Mahdi and in Turkey under the Turkish sultanate. The British were therefore particularly sensitive towards Islamic nationalism rearing its head in India.

On the other hand modern historians see Siddiq Hassan in heroic proportions. He is regarded as one of the earliest anti-colonial stalwarts who used the power of the pen to assert Muslim nationalism. These historians consider Siddiq Hassan’s writings neither extremist nor seditious. They accuse the British of deliberately misinterpreting Siddiq’s works in order to strike down any political or religious movement that smacked of a nationalist revival. These historians regard Siddiq’s political views as a courageous expression of anti-colonial sentiment, representing the first stirring of Islamic nationhood. The humiliation and persecution he suffered at the hands of the British is seen as a badge of honor.

Update: This character sketch of Nawab Siddiq Hassan Khan is from a book titled "Begums Of Bhopal" authored by Shaharyar M Khan, grandson of Nawab Hamidullah Khan. From the comments, it is apparent that some take offense to this post. Anybody interested is invited to write a post on this for the BLOG, which will be published on the BLOG and credit will be given to the author.

Apr 12, 2007

Technorati favorite exchange

Participating in Dosh Dosh's Technorati favorite exchange program is certainly a good idea. That way at least somebody will read this blog . By the way, the idea is put across very aptly by BetShopBoy as "I scratch your back, you scratch mine".
So, if anybody out there cares to get into the list of technorati favorite of Bhopale, this is the golden opportunity. Just click here, and on finding out about you (either from technorati or via trackback) I’ll mark you as a favorite in my technorati, with immense gratitude. All the best, and hope you did not forget to mark me as you technorati favorite!
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· The Million Dollar Experiment Down Under - Rob St George
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· My Online Collections - Saw Htoosayhei
· I Thought, Therefore I Blog - Bet Shop Boy
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· A Daily Dose of Internet - Mani Karthik
· Madhur Kapoor’s Blog - Madhur Kapoor
· Digital Point – Autorave
· Quasi Fictional - Diogenes

Apr 10, 2007

Shahjehan Begum, The eleventh ruler of Bhopal

On 16th November 1868, at a durbar held 17 days after Sikandar’s death, Shahjehan was crowned Begum of Bhopal. The agent to the Governor-General, Colonel Meade, read out the Viceroy’s proclamation and announced that ten-year-old Sultan Jahan would be heir apparent. During her 33-year tenure, Shahjehan Begum presided over a settled reign. This was mainly due to the momentum of Sikandar’s trail-blazing reforms and to the support provided by the British. Shahjehan was in a different character mould to her mother and grandmother. She had aspirations to being a poetess, loved the sound of music and was coquettishly feminine. Widowed at the young age of 29, Shahjehan was not averse to being courted by ambitious young men. However she soon became besotted by one man who spun a web of charm and allurement around the Begum and who became the love of her life.

He was Syed Siddiq Hassan. Siddiq Hassan was the married to Maulvi Jamaluddin - the Prime Minister of Bhopal. Siddiq Hassan soon ousted his father-in-law from corridors of power, using the emotional and intellectual grip that he had over the besotted Shahajehan. He was promoted to madar-ul-maham (Chief Minister), and made a word get through to Major Edward Thompson, Political Agent of Bhopal, that Shahjehan was pregnant with his child. He managed to convince Thompson that honor could be saved through immediate marriage. On 8th May 1871, a wedding ceremony took place, while the British made it clear that Siddiq Hassan will play a non-executive role. On Shahjehan’s insistence, the British accorded Siddiq Hassan with the title of Nawab Wala-Jah on 15th October 1872. There was wide spread resentment and dislike among the local Bhopalis over this alignment. Incidentally no child was born during the first year of the marriage.

Siddiq’s next maneuver was to insist that Shahjehan adopt purdah. Siddiq started ruling Bhopal by proxy. He started spreading out his articles, books and pronouncements using his emissaries who established contact with counterparts abroad, in Sudan, Arabia, Turkey and Burma. To the British, Siddiq’s books bordered on sedition and soon state funds were being used to promote the more politically active ulema into creating a ground –swell of opposition against the British, based on religious grounds. Sir Lepel Griffin, representing the British government, called a restricted meeting on 27th August 1885. He read out passages from Siddiq’s book, which were considered seditious if not treasonable. Siddiq was forced to accept that some of his passages were anti-British, and promised to not repeat this in future. Shahjehan even issued a memorandum publicly proclaiming that Siddiq would not interfere in state affairs. However, the British gathered from their intelligence that this was only lip service, and Siddiq continued his treacherous ways. Sir Lepel Griffin, finally, charged Siddiq Hassan of sedition in a special durbar, and withdrew all his titles. He was allowed to stay in Bhopal but in a different palace then that of the Begum. The British eventually nominated a British administrator, Colonel C. H. E. Ward as Chief Minister, after the upright Abdul Latif Khan could not survive more than four months of Chief Minister ship. Shahjehan Begum kept trying to resurrect Siddiq by all means, though in vein.

Sultan Jahan was a builder of mosques, palaces, monuments and even a tramway that connected the Taj Mahal to Nawab Siddiq Hassans residence. She made a sizeable donation for the oldest mosque in UK, which is named after her. She started the long association of Bhopal rulers with Aligarh University by donating for the foundation of Muslim University of Sayyed Ahmad Khan. She wrote Urdu poetry under the pen name of “Tajwar” and Persian poetry under the name “Shirin”. Her published Urdu work includes Mathnawi Siddiq-ul-Bayan, Taj-Ul-Kalam and Tehzib-un-Nissa and Persian work Dewan-e-Shirin. However the greatest contribution of Shahjehan was opening of the railway. The real credit for this far-sighted project goes to Qudsia and Sikandar, who financed the project initially. The opening of the railway line took place during Shahjehan’s reign with the consequent economic and political benefits to the people.

Apr 2, 2007

The Mishti-Khel Of Bhopal

The second (first family being the Bourbons) family that made a deep impact on Bhopal was that of Bakhshi Bahadur Mohammad Khan, the brave Commander-in-Chief of the Bhopal army during the siege. Bakhshi Bahadur was the descendant of Kilig Khan, son of Bayazid Khan, who belonged to the Mishti Khel clan of the Orakzai tribe and came to Bhopal from Tirah with Dost’s family. After Dost’s death, Kilg’s son, Umar Khan, loyally served Bhopal’s second Nawab, Yar Mohammad Khan, and Umar’s son Alif continued the family tradition and became Nawab Faiz Mohammad Khan’s force commander. Alif passed on the banner to his son, Mohammad Khan, who served Hayat during Chottey Khan’s administration. Mohammad Khan’s son, Bahadur, continued the long family tradition and became the outstanding military figure of the time. During Wazir’s rule, Bahadur Mohammad Khan earned his spurs for extreme bravery and became known as a legendary fighter and military strategist. Bahadur was given the title of Bakhshi – Commander-inchief of the Bhopal forces – and remained totally loyal to Qudsia Begum during her regency. Along with Shahzad Masih, he helped to scotch the revolts that were hatched by Qudsia’s male relatives. Eventually, having to choose between serving Nawab Jahangir Mohammad Khan and the Begums, ousted by British, he escorted the Begum’s palanquin to Islamnagar with his two teenage sons, Sadar and Baqi, walking with swords unseathed on each side.

On Bakshi Bahdur’s death in 1849, his elder son Sadar took over the command of the Bhopal forces. His younger brother Baqi was made Deputy. Sadar died relatively young in 1851 and was served Sikandar Begum as loyally as his father had Qudsia. Eventually, Sikandar rewarded generations of unstinting loyalty by the Mishti-Khel Pathans by ordering Baqi to marry her only daughter, Shahjehan, giving him the title of Umrao Doulah. Bakshi Bahadur’s family was brave, fearless fighters who gave their total loyalty to their leader. Typical of Bakshi Bahadur’s legendary bravery and loyalty was an incident during the siege when Wazir decided to hold a council of war and seek amnesty. Bakshi Bahadur turned to his ruler and said, “Young man, you can offer amnesty if you like, but every drop of blood is dedicated to defending these barren rocks of Bhopal. You go, I will stay.” They all stayed.

This form of total devotion seems a specialty of the Sub-Continent and of the princely states of India where loyal followers made the greatest personal sacrifices without demur, sometimes to the most capricious whims of their masters. Umrao Doulah died in 1867. His only surviving daughter from Shahjehan (he had several children from earlier marriages) was Bhopal’s last Begum, Sultan Jahan.

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...