Chronicle of the forgotten female warriors: Begum Hazrat Mahal

- Md. Yousof Alam

The Begum of Awadh , Begum Hazrat Mahal was the second wife of Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. No, this is not only her identity, the main and adequate reason we should remember her for the leading role she had in the rebellion against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.Born Muhammadi Khanum, she got married to Nawab Wajid Ali of Awadh. She received the title of ‘Hazrat Mahal’as gratitude from Nawab himself after the birth of their son BirjisQadir. But, it was not as simple as it is sounding.Muhammadi Khanum is believed to be born in an extremely poor family in Faizabad. Her father is said to have been a slave called Umber. At a very little age, she was sold into the royal harem as Khawasin (attendant) and trained in royal ways and etiquette. She was beautiful, intelligent & creative, and soon became a part of Royal Pari Khana (House ofFairies).The Royal Pari Khana was an institute set up by the last Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah himself, where the talented females were trained to become professional dancers and singers.

The Nawab was a great patron of Art & Culture.Young Muhammadi gradually grabbed the notice with her talent and climbed the rank of Mahak Pari, also becoming one of Nawab’sMutah Wives (Temporary Contractual Wife). Soon after she became his Mutah, Nawab gave her the title of Iftakar-un-Nissa (Pride of all Women).It isnoticed that she was highly envied by the other members of the Royal family, but much loved by the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.
But all these didn't last for long. The Cultured and Land of Poetry Awadh was annexed by the British East India Company in 1856 and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh was sent into exile to Calcutta from where he never could return. Hazrat Mahal decided to stay back in Lucknow along with her son and her people. With her leadership quality, she was maturely controlling different internal crises.When Ruler less Awadh was getting skimpy, on that period 8th April 1857 Mangal Pandey was hanged in Barrackpurlater which acted as a mutiny and spread like wildfire and was titled the First War of Independence for Indianness.The people of Awadh were already furious as their ruler was deposed to Calcutta and were adamant to stand up and be counted as a rebellious soldiers from Meerut & Bengal poured in. In the absence of Nawab people wanted 12-year-old BirjisQadir to lead the revolution. Officially he became the crown prince and it was Begum Hazrat Mahal who took over the reins of the administration & strategic planning during this crucial period she led from the front which was already a big surprise for all as discovered a Muslim woman as a rebel who was always behind Purdah or Veil.The Begum proved herself as a dedicated and powerful leader by uniting Hindus & Muslims against the British. She also motivated women to join the war and created a separate women’s battalion. Her leadership gave a new thrust to the revolutionaries of Awadh. Her military and administrative ability came to the fore during those testing times. It is said that in no time the rebellion spread to all parts of the Awadh.It turned into a people’s uprising.


Showing exemplary military skills and statesmanship, Begum Hazrat Mahal raised a large army with the backing of the people of Awadh and was believed to have given a fierce resistance to the British forces. Nana Saheb and Maulvi Ahmad Ullah Shah were her closest allies in this war. It is said that her leadership was so inspiring and tactful that the British lost control of most parts of Awadh and were confined to the Lucknow Residency building.
According to Lucknow Historian Rosie Llewellyn- Jones, the Begum contemptuously rejected Outram's offer of a peace treaty with Queen Victoria and the pension of one lakh rupees. And she rode an elephant along with soldiers to attack Britishers in and near the Lucknow Residency building not only once, for nine times which is enough to discourse her bravery and patriotism for the holy land of India.

All her efforts went to the vein when King of Nepal Jang Bahadur agreed to send Gorkha Troops to help British Army and fight with the joint army of British & furious Gurkhas Begum lost the battle and also lost Lucknow. After losing Lucknow when she saw that the Company Rule was wearing a new shirt of British Monarchy and the humiliation by the Gorkha forces to the peopleamplified not glorifying the ruleof a brave warrior,she somehow with young Birjis escaped to Nepal Border where the same king who betrayed India provided her refugepassage.

Although the British tried to lure her back to Lucknow by offering a huge pension of One Lakh Rupees and other luxuries, she denied it. She made it clear to them that only an Independent Awadh state and nothing else was acceptedby her.

She longed to come back to Awadh, but all her efforts proved futile and she died in Nepal in 1879. She was buried in an unmarked grave close to the Jama Masjid in Kathmandu. She helped to build a mosque there in Kathmandu named “Hindustani Masjid”. Her country lived in her till the last breath.However, her son came back to Indian soil after the death of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in 1887. Nawab also died in a tragic & mysterious way after attending a dinner with his other son Khursheed.

The present Vice President of India V. Naidu once wrote on his Facebook page describing the bravery of Begum,- “Begum Hazrat Mahal was a pathfinder and a woman of substance, who believed in living with pride and self-respect rather than being a slave of the British. I offer my salutation to the brave warrior queen who despite facing many challenges at a very difficult time in history fought for the motherland”.She was trained and educated in different languages and her writing reflects her love and passion for her motherland; these couplets were one of the last few writings of Begum Hazrat Mahal, the great Indian warrior queen of Awadh who had all but stayed in the footnote of Indian History.


"Woh RutbaPaaye The HumneWatan Me, Usi Ki Badaulat Hui YehLadai.
AdooBankeAaye Jo The DostApne, Na The Jiski Umeed, Ki Woh Burai."


Which means,“The glory we had in the country, This fight is for that
Our enemies came disguised as friends, They did the evil things that we never expected.”


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