Bhopal, one of the most beautiful cities of India and the capital of Madhya Pradesh, has a history that often shouts glaringly for its due recognition. It’s the city of raja Bhoj, of erstwhile nawabs and begums, of rich culture, good food and everlasting peace and above all a heritage to be treasured by generations to come.

another case of justice delayed and denied

It attained worldwide notoriety post the 2nd December tragedy at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant which killed (and continues to kill) an estimated 23,000 (upper estimate) and severely injured many more. Children are born with disorders even today but Bhopal has always found reasons to smile and present itself as the City of Lakes (Upper Lake, a part of Bhoj Wetlands and a Ramsar Site is the most popular and supplies much of the city’s water needs) than the City of Sorrow. This small documented history is a personal salute to the people of Bhopal for having to bear the brunt of the world’s worst industrial disaster and the apathy shown by the government henceforth towards them.

bhopal as seen from upper lake, bhoj wetlands

Bhopal has a long history of monarchy but prior to the rule of nawabs and begums the legacy of 11th century Paramara king Bhoj stands out. Bhoj lends his name to the city and though etched in the conscience of Indians as a polymath and a philosopher was also a master builder, the best example of which is the unfinished Bhojeshwar Shiva temple in the town of Bhojpur (Raisen district). The temple houses the largest shiv linga in the world with a height of 18 ft and a circumference of 8 ft.

bhojeshwar temple, bhojpur, raisen

The state of Bhopal was formed in 1724 by an Afghan sardar, Dost Mohammad Khan, a commander of the Mughal army posted at Mangalgarh. It was the time when Mughal Empire was at its death-bed and Khan took advantage to usurp Mangalgarh and Berasia. He helped the Gondi queen Kamalapati execute her husband’s assassins and restore her rule and was duly awarded with cash, land and an everlasting friendship. After the death of the queen, he took possession of her land and formed his own rule with Jagdishpur as the capital which he renamed as Islamnagar. He built a bigger fort and a new capital at Fatehgarh near the Upper Lake but soon shifted his capital to Bhopal.

qudsia begum, the first begum of bhopal

Though he ruled over Bhopal but still acknowledged the suzerainty of the declining Mughal Empire. The Marathas who were getting stronger by the day kept on acquiring nearby areas but Bhopal remained a Muslim state under the successors of Dost Mohammad who took the title of nawabs.  Bhopal remained loyal and friendly to the British East India Company in its three wars against the Marathas in 1778, 1809 and 1817. The British Raj in turn awarded it a princely state status in 1818 under nawab Nazar Mohammad Khan whose wife Qudsia Begum was to become the first female ruler of the state after his death in 1819.

gohar mahal, bhopal

Qudsia was merely 18 at the time of her coronation but was a brave and able ruler and didn’t follow the purdah. She got the Gohar Mahal and Jama Masjid built under her able guidance. After her death, her daughter begum Sikander Jahan took the reins in 1844 (though Sikander’s daughter and Qudsia’s granddaughter Sultan Shah Jahan was the actual ruler till 1860) whom Qudsia had prepared well in advance as her heir.

begum sikander jahan, the second begum of bhopal

Sikander was a strong lady well adept in warfare and looked at her state and subjects well. The Moti Masjid and Moti Mahal were built during her rule. She rendered full support to the British during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. The maulvis of her state though revolted against her and declared jihad against the British and maintained contacts with Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Tatya Tope, Nawab of Tonk, Nawab of Banda and others. A maulvi, Abdul Qayyum, distributed 500 copies of a pamphlet issued by the rebels of Cawnpore (now Kanpur) which claimed that the British were interfering with the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims, and urged them to rebel against the British rule in India. Begum Sikander instituted an inquiry against the maulvi (who was charged of collusion with the rebels) and got a pamphlet published denying the charges of British interference in the religious affairs of Hindus and Muslims. Much of her political strength was because of the Anglo Bhopal Treaty of 1818 whereby the Company had helped the state have a strong army of its own which the begum successfully utilized to oust the rebels despite much discomfort and plundering by them in the wake of the Indian Rebellion.

moti masjid, bhopal

Sikander’s successor begum Sultan Shah Jahan, who ascended the throne in 1868, was as much passionate about architecture as her namesake of the Mughal Empire and got built for herself a huge palace, Taj Mahal, at her new-found capital Shahjahanabad.

begum sultan shah jahan, the third begum of bhopal

A lot many more buildings rich in architecture were built at her behest that are still found in various stages of decay or use in Bhopal. She also initiated the construction of Taj-ul-Masjid, one of India’s largest and most beautiful mosques and contributed generously towards the founding of the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh, which developed into the Aligarh Muslim University.

taj mahal, bhopal

Shah Jahan subsidized many important public works including railways and irrigation facilities and looked after the welfare of her people. During her time, Bhopal was one of the largest contributors to the Indian economy.

taj-ul-masjid, bhopal

She ruled till the wake of the 20th century when her only daughter, begum Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan took charge in 1901. She had her own palace, Sadar Manzil (which now serves as headquarters of Bhopal municipal corporation) but spent considerable time at a city founded on the name of her husband, Ahmedabad, at the outskirts of Bhopal.

begum sultan kaikhusrau, the fourth begum of bhopal

A palace, Qaser-e-Sultani, now serves as the prestigious Saifia College while another, Noor-us-Sabah, is a heritage hotel. She was the first president of the All India Conference on Education and the first and the only lady chancellor of the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University.

hotel noor-us-sabah, bhopal

She was the last of the four begums who ruled India’s second largest Muslim princely state with a majority Hindu population. It was an era marked with peace and notable achievements in the fields of architecture, public welfare, executive, judiciary, legislature, taxation, education etc and patronization of arts.

sadar manzil, bhopal municipal corporation headquarters

She bequeathed the throne to her son, nawab Hamidullah Khan in 1926 who continued to rule until India got independence in 1947 and further till 1960 when he died. He had served as the chancellor of the Chamber of Princes twice (1931-1932 and 1944-1947) and was one of the last to go with India after signing the Instrument of Accession in 1949.

ruins of islamnagar, bhopal

Hamidullah’s elder daughter, Abida Sultan, migrated to Pakistan in 1950 and thus his younger daughter, Sajida Sultan was made the begum of Bhopal in 1961 after his death in 1960. Sajida married the 8th nawab of Pataudi, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi in 1939. She ruled from 1961 for a decade till 1971 after which she remained merely the titular head until her death in 1995 relinquishing the title to his son Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi (who was also the 9th nawab of Pataudi till 1971 and then as titular head till his death in 2011). Mansoor married Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore in 1969 and has three children, Saif, Saba and Soha, two of whom are popular Bollywood actors presently. Mansoor died in 2011 leaving the title (of mutawali) to her elder daughter Saba Ali Khan while his only son Saif Ali Khan became the 10th Nawab of Pataudi.

ruins of fatehgarh, upper lake, bhopal

Bhopal state, which includes the present day districts of Bhopal, Raisen and Sehore was merged with Madhya Pradesh according to the States Reorganization Act of 1956 and was made the capital of the state. The city is still flourishing despite the ghost of the gas tragedy and with a population of nearly 1.5 million and such a wonderful history it has its share of pride etched in the minds and hearts of millions of Indians. May the city and its people grow unbound and achieve the pinnacle of glory and success.

(pics sourced from GOOGLE)


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Vivek Shrivastav on 16/01/2011 at 11:09 am

    bhojeshwar temple – nice place to spend one night over there..


  2. allooo


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