Monday, October 20, 2008

'Grave neglect: The Begum of Awadh'

This is an article from the magazine : Himal Southasian (July 2008)

Grave neglect: The Begum of Awadh
By: Surabhi Pudasaini

In the Bag Bazaar area of Kathmandu, flanked by a rundown shopping mall on one side and what goes for a phone booth on the other, is a small area enclosed by neat piles of bricks. Inside, on a slightly elevated plane, stands a lonely tree surrounded by flowerpots, used plastic cups and advertisements for phone cards. It is an unremarkable space, and bears no indication of being the tomb of an extraordinary freedom fighter, Begum Hazrat Mahal.
Hazrat Mahal was the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh, which spanned large parts of modern-day Uttar Pradesh. She continued to live in Lucknow after the kingdom’s annexation by the British in 1856, and her husband’s subsequent exile to Calcutta. When the revolutionaries captured Lucknow during the first War of Independence, in 1857, Hazrat Mahal promptly rose to the occasion, crowning her 12-year old son Birjis Qadr king, and leading the revolutionary government as a regent-queen.
As the ruler of Awadh, Hazrat Mahal proved herself as a courageous leader and a fine strategist. She travelled great distances, rallying her people to oppose the British, and convincing Indian soldiers in the colonial army to join the rebellion. Lucknow was able to repel the British troops for six months, continuing to fight long after most other revolutionary strongholds had fallen. After the British recaptured the capital, the begum fled to a nearby fort, where she continued to incite rebellion. Even when defeat became a certainty, she refused all offers of clemency and wealth from the British, choosing instead to undertake a hazardous journey through dense forests to the safe haven of Nepal.
There is little reliable information about the more than two decades that Hazrat Mahal spent in Kathmandu. Having been granted asylum by the then-prime minister, Jung Bahadur Rana, by all accounts in exchange for her jewellery and treasures, she is said to have arrived in the valley sometime in 1858, with a small band of faithful supporters. Some narratives state that the Rana rulers gave her a palace in which to live, and also provided a military commission for her son. There is also speculation that Hazrat Mahal continued to play a role in politics from across the frontier.
There is a notable blank in historical records about Hazrat Mahal’s stay in Nepal. She died in Kathmandu in 1879 (some records put it at 1874), and was buried in the courtyard of the ‘Hindustani Masjid’, the mosque she is said to have built for her followers. Decades later, this structure was torn down and a new mosque, now known as the Jama Masjid, was built in its place. Today, the humble mound of bricks that is said to mark Hazrat Mahal’s resting place falls outside the grounds of the mosque. This tomb is certainly inadequate as a marker for the rebel Begum of Awadh, so far away from home in Kathmandu.


Free Music said...

well i like kathmandu a lot

Logi-call said...

I have written a post on Nawab Wajed Ali of Oudh on my blog Logi-call at Hope you will go thru it and comment on it. You will like it.

Credit Counseling said...

I also love Kathmandu

Anonymous said...

I will not concur on it. I think nice post. Particularly the designation attracted me to read the unscathed story.

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