Monday, September 20, 2010

City of Bhopal: Muslim-Hindu Cultural Story of Afghan Soldiers, Gond Warlords and Begums

Bhopal is the capital of Madhya Pradesh. This city was established by Parmara King Bhoj in 11thcentury but Afghan soldier Dost Mohammad turned it into a beautiful city. Bhopal was ruled by the Afghans, Mughals and Rajputs. During the reign of each ruler the city has seen various changes.
In the seventeeth century Nizam Shah, one of the several Gond warlords, known as the Gond raja, ruled Bhopal. Nizam shah had emerged as the strongest among the warlords, and he ruled from the fort of Ginnor. Located about 46 miles east of Bhopal, Ginnor fort was built on steep 2000-foot rock. Sheer cliff drops on each side and thick forests on all sides inhabited by beasts, left only one thin trail leading to the fort and were easily defended. He had taken for his wife Kamlapati, a woman of unmatched beauty, education, refined and superbly talented in the arts. A rival Gond-raja Alam shah ruled Chainpur-Bara, obsessed by the beauty of Kamlapati, he eventually poisoned Nizam shah, leading an insecure Kamlapati to invite Dost Mohammad Khan to avenge her honour. A sum of Rupees one lakh was promised as the fees. Dost Mohammad attacked and slayed Alam Shah. Rani Kamlapati, unable to pay him the promised sum of one lakh, offered him Bhopal instead. Dost took over and consolidated the Bhopal riasat, thus laying the foundation of Mirazi-
khel dynasty of Bhopal.

Several years later in 1723, after the death of Kamlapati, Dost sent hundred of his soldiers dressed as women in palanquins up the Ginnor fort. The unsuspecting guards of Kamlapati's son Nawal shah let the dolis through the gates of impregnable Ginnor fort, where Nawal shahs force was defeated and Nawal Shah was killed

An Afghan soldier of the Orakzai tribe Dost Mohammad Khan (not to be confused with the later Afghan King carrying the same name) laid out the present city at the same site following the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb in 1707.  He brought with himself the Islamic influence on the culture and architecture of Bhopal, the ruins of which can be found at Islam Nagar. However, a few generations later, owing to the absence of male heirs, Bhopal came under the rule of Begums. 

Bhopal, the second largest Muslim state in pre-independence India was ruled by four Begums from 1819 to 1926.  Qudisa Begum was the first female ruler of Bhopal City, who was succeeded by her only daughter Sikandari, who in turn was succeeded by her only daughter, Shahjehan. Kaikhusrau Jahan Begum was the last female ruler, and stepped down for her son. The succession of the ‘Begums’ gave the city such innovations as waterworks, railways and a postal system. Several monuments still stand in the city as reminders of this glorious period in its history.

During the 1857 revolution, the Begums in Bhopal maintained their loyalty to the British by announcing extra incentives to their army ranks for not joining the freedom struggle. The rulers in Bhopal also send a contingent of their army to fight for the British in the first world war as inscribed on the gate near the Hamidia hospital. Most Begums of Bhopal were aligned with the British for security of their state and hence a clear impact of English architecture can be seen in their palaces. The last ruler however, was Nawab Hamidullah Khan(1926-1949). In 1947 he refused to align with the Indian republic and supported Pakistan. Later under the fear of military action by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, he surrendered and Bhopal became a part of independant India on 1st June 1949, almost two years after the country’s independence from British rule.

Shairis and poetry recitals are popular in Bhopal. Bhopal is famous for its culture of parda and zardaParda is a curtain, which was used to veil the women of the house from outsiders,zardais a kind of tobacco product which is quite famous with Bhopalis. The official language of Bhopal City is Hindi, and Hindi-Urdu with a peculiar Bhopali accent is spoken in western and eastern parts of the city.

Bhopal has an extensive culture of paan eating, topped with variety of seasonings, the most common being chuna, kattha andsupari(nut).

Diwali is celebrated with equal pomp and glory as Eid. Eid is special to the city as all the Hindus take time out to visit their Muslim friends and greet them and get treated with delicacies, the specialty of the day being sweet sewaiya. Bhopali culture is such that both Hindus and Muslims visit each other on their respective festivals to greet and exchange sweets.

Bhopal has many mosques including Taj-ul-Masajid(one of the largest mosques in Asia, Dhai Seedi ki Masjid (one of the smallest mosques in Asia, Jama Masjid (built by Qudsia Begum in 1837) and Moti Masjid (built by Sikander Begum in 1860). Some of the major historical buildings in Bhopal include Shaukat Mahal (a mixture of Indo-Islamic and European styles of architecture).

Gohar Mahal (built by Qudsia Begum, fusion of Hindu and Mughal architecture),  Sadar Manzil (used by the Begums for public audience, now used as the head office of the Municipal Corporation) and Purana Kila (part of the 300-year-old fort of Queen Kamalapati, situated in the Kamala Nehru Park). Lakshmi Narayan Temple (or Birla Mandir), situated to the south of Lower Lake, is a temple devoted to Vishnu and his mythological consort Laxmi.



Bhopal is a very beautiful city filled with gardens, lakes, beautiful historical mosques and temples. The present day Bhopal has a population of 1.7 million. Hindus and Muslims consists the majority. Bhopal is divided into two parts: old town and new town. The old town is occupied mostly by the Muslims. Major languages include: Hindi, Urdu, English, and Marathi.



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1 comment:

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