Begum Hazrat Mahal, also called Begum of Awadh, was the second wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Wajid Ali Shah met her in his palace. She revolted against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
She found refuge in Nepal onto Hallaur where she died in 1879. After her husband had been exiled to Calcutta, she took charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and took control of Lucknow. She made her son, Prince Birjis Qadr, the Wali (ruler) of Awadh. But she was forced to leave this role after a short reign.
Mahal’s name was Muhammadi Khanum. She was born in 1820 in Faizabad, Awadh, India. She was a courtesan by profession. After being sold by her parents, she had been taken into the royal harem as a khawasin (attendant). Later promoted to a pari, and was known as Mahak Pari.
She became a begum after being accepted as a royal concubine of the King of Awadh. After the birth of their son Birjis Qadra, the title ‘Hazrat Mahal’ was given to her.
She was a junior wife of the last Tajdaar-e-Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. The British had annexed Awadh in 1856 and Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta.
After her husband was exiled to Calcutta, she took charge of the affairs of the state of Awadh despite her divorce from the Nawab, which then was a large part of the current state of Uttar Pradesh, India.
Indian Rebellion of 1857
During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, from 1857 to 1858, Begum Hazrat Mahal’s group of supporters, led by Raja Jalal Singh, revolted against the forces of the British. Later, they seized control of Lucknow and she declared her son, Birjis Qadr, as the ruler (Wali) of Awadh.
One of the principal complaints of Begum Hazrat Mahal was that the East India Company had casually destroyed Temples and mosques just to make way for roads.
In an announcement issued during the final days of the revolt, she mocked the British claim to allow freedom of worship:
To eat pigs and drink wine, to bite greased cartridges and to mix pig’s fat with sweetmeats, to destroy Hindu and Mussalman temples on the pretense of making roads, to build churches, to send clergymen into the streets to preach the Christian religion, to institute English schools, and pay people a monthly stipend for learning the English sciences, while the places of worship of Hindus and Mussalmans are to this day entirely neglected; with all this, how can people believe that religion will not be interfered with?
When the forces under the control of the British re-captured Lucknow and most of Oudh, she was forced to leave. Hazrat Mahal worked in association with Nana Saheb, but later joined the Maulavi of Faizabad in the attack on Shahjahanpur.
Ultimately, she had to retreat to Nepal, where she was initially refused shelter by the Rana prime minister Jang Bahadur but was later allowed to stay.
She died there in 1879 and was buried in an unknown grave on the grounds of Kathmandu’s Jama Masjid. After her death, at the time of the jubilee of Queen Victoria (1887), the British Government pardoned Birjis Qadr and he was allowed to return home.
Begum Hazrat Mahal’s tomb is found in the central part of Kathmandu near Jama Masjid, Ghantaghar, not far away from the famous Darbar Marg. It is looked after by the Jama Masjid Central Committee.
On 15 August 1962, Mahal was honored at the Old Victoria Park in Hazratganj, Lucknow for her role in the Great Revolt. Along with the renaming of the park, a marble memorial was constructed, which includes a marble tablet with four round brass plaques bearing the Coat of Arms of the Awadh royal family. The park has been used for Ramlilas and bonfires during Dusshera, as well as Lucknow Mahotsava (Lucknow Exposition).
On 10 May 1984, the Government of India issued a commemorative stamp in honor of Mahal. The first-day cover was designed by C.R. Pakrashi, and the cancellation was done by Alka Sharma. 15,00,000 stamps were issued.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs, Government of India has started the Begum Hazrat Mahal National Scholarship for Meritorious Girls belonging to minority communities in India. This scholarship is implemented through the Maulana Azad Education Foundation.
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