Stories related to the bygone era, are incomplete without the mention of the begums of Awadh.
The story of Awadh is culturally and artistically diverse but it also tells us a sad tale of devastation, loot and plunder. Though remarkably extraordinary, the kingdoms of Awadhi rulers were destroyed most tragically, after reaching their zeniths. But such stories related to the bygone era, are incomplete without the mention of the begums, who did remarkable things during the nawabi period. So we have collated the stories of four prominent Awadhi women and if you have a soft spot for history, read on!
The Begums of Awadh Vs British East India Company
Nawab Begum, the wife of Nawab Safdurjung
Nawab Saadat Ali Khan's daughter and the widow of Nawab Safdurjung, Amat Jahan, popularly known as Nawab Begum, inherited a fortune of about 90 lakhs in 1739. Along with being the richest woman of her time, she was a great philanthropist and a patron of art, which led her to create a maqbara called Moti Masjid. Being politically aware, she instilled the desire of fighting against the British East India Company in her son, Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula.
Janab-e-Alia, popularly known as Banu Begum
Being politically sharp-witted like her mother-in-law, Banu Begum mortgaged her possessions and raised 40 lakhs after the Nawab lost in the Battle of 1764, since the Awadh treasury was bankrupt. Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula was so impressed with his wife's financial acumen, that on his death he left his entire wealth to her. A tomb was constructed in the 18th century, to commemorate her victories near Aliganj, which has been converted into a Hanuman Temple.
In 1775, after the death of Shuja-ud-Daula, his son, Asaf-ud-Daula, became the Nawab but he inherited an empty treasury and the legacy of two wealthy domineering women, which made him move away from Faizabad. As his first act as a nawab, he declared Lucknow to be the nawabi court, steering clear of his influential mother and grandmother.
Since the Nawab was indebted to the British, he executed a clever plan to remove both the ladies from their position of power and helped Warren Hastings, a British official, to capture the fort of Faizabad. Imprisoned and tortured by the British troops, Bahu Begum succumbed to the cruelty and died in 1815.
After that, Lucknow became the nawabi city and Faizabad lost its light. This gruesome act of the Nawab and Warren Hastings infuriated even the British community in India, and led the mother and wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah to be a prominent part of the revolt of 1857.
Malika Kishwar, mother of the last Nawab of Awadh
In 1856, the British East India Company annexed Awadh under the Doctrine of Lapse, on the pretext of maladministration, which made Nawab Wajid Ali Shah leave for London, to put up a plea in front of the Queen for his kingdom. He was humiliated and captured in Calcutta on his return, which made his mother, Malika Kishwar (also known as 'Rajmata') leave for London to plead the release of her son. She demanded to make a case for the injustice levered on her son and her family's heritage and kingdom, in front of the British parliament but they dismissed her petition.
The Mutiny of 1857 made matters worse and the vengeful British were now unwilling to restore the kingdom back to her son, under any circumstance. They refused to release her son and a disheartened Malika started her return journey but due to the coldness in the weather, she fell gravely ill and breathed her last in Paris.
Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
Begum Hazrat Mahal's maiden name was Muhammadi Khanum and she was known as THE Begum of Awadh, majorly due to her phenomenal success after the Revolt of 1857. Despite her unconditional love for her husband, she disliked the fact that he gave up his kingdom without a real fight.
After the British lost temporarily in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Begum's son Birjis Qadar, was chosen to be a leader but as he was barely 11 years old, Hazrat Mahal became the regent. The taluqdars, who had expected her to be a mere figurehead following instructions, were appalled to see a strong-willed woman with a mind of her own.
She showed extraordinary administrative abilities and soon reorganized her army and the women regiment, along with Uda Devi, under the leadership of military commander Raja Jailal Singh. Both the regiments showed extreme valour in the battle but could not defeat the British, due to which, Begum Hazrat had to flee to Nepal to find asylum.
She died in 1879 and was buried in a nameless grave, on the grounds of Kathmandu's Jama Masjid. Later, to commemorate her victories, Begum Hazrat Mahal Park at Lucknow's Qaiser Bagh, was constructed.
These four iconic queens, Nawab Begum, Banu Begum, Mallika Kishwar and Begum Hazrat Mahal, proved that the women of Awadh are not just embodiments of grace and sophistication but they also epitomize courage, honour and strong leadership. So if you are aware of any other Begum of Lucknow who portrayed such heroism, then please add to the comments and we will do our due research.