Culture History

Cultural Landscape Of Bhopal

By 1923, 200 years after Dost Mohammad Khan had founded the state, Bhopal presented a picture of settled, well governed, fair and tolerant society. Over the years, Bhopal had also developed its special culture, influenced by a century of women’s rule and their deliberate emphasis on simple living and caring governance. Bhopal’s dress was singular; the fashion set by the ruling family themselves. The men wore a safa (turban) for a headdress as it was considered improper to go around bare headed. These safas were four to six meters long and tied in the Rajputana style. Traditionally each major household selected a particular color and distinct style in tying its turban. Sultan Jahan selected turquoise as the color of her household and at ceremonial occasions her entourage consisted of men dressed in white sherwanis and turquoise safas. With the passage of time the common folk in the street soon took to the Turkish cap, especially after Sultan Jahan returned from Turkey.
Up to the time of Bhopal’s merger with the Indian union, Bhopali Muslims wore the soft, dark red Turkish cap with a black tassel (in contrast with the hard, bright red Turkish cap worn in Egypt or Bahawalpur). For formal occasions, men wore sherwanis with white cotton pyjamas that were neither too tightly fitted (like the choori-dar pyjama of United Provinces) nor too loose (like the flabby, Allahabad style pyjama). Only women in the home wore the shalwar prevalent today in Pakistan. The Hindu community wore the dhoti at home, but wore pyjamas with Jodhpur-style coats outside and on formal occasions. As a headdress they too wore safas but not the Turkish cap. Instead they wore the white, boat-like Nehru cap. The Bhopali women also adopted a distinctive dress, which was graceful, and elegant. It consisted of a Turkish-style kurta that flared in a circle flowing down from a tight fitting waist. The kurta was made of the finest cloth, often bordered with golden and silver linings. In addition, Bhopali women carried a dopatta that measured 4.5 meters elegantly carried across the body and over the shoulder. These dresses were sewn by special seamstresses and dyed to matching and dyed to matching and contrasting colors with the pyjamas. Unlike the men, women wore tight calf-hugging pyjamas made from rich colored material.
In the field of literature, Bhopal’s special culture produced its own accent in spoken Urdu and Hindustani and a lexicon of words that are typically Bhopali and barely understood in other parts of India. Bhopal produced its erudite scholars, poets and religious philosophers, but typical of Bhopal was the tradition of non-Muslims writing Urdu and Farsi prose and poetry. Shahzad Masih, the Bourbon, was a poet who wrote under the nom de plume of Fitrat.
There were also settlers of Portuguese extraction who composed in Urdu poetry so that Bhopal’s Urdu and Farsi literati included somewhat incongruous names of Hakeem Ilyas De Silva, Thomas Batista and a lady named Flora Sakis.
Bhopal’s cultural scene was also dominated by sport.
Shikar, especially big game, was abundantly available in Bhopal and was a pastime for most people who could afford to maintain a gun. Apart from shikar, Bhopal was famous for polo – Hamidullah having an outstanding nine-goal handicap – and for field hockey, which, somehow, caught the imagination of the common man. Bhopal became famous as a home of hockey with the legendary Bhopal Wanderers winning every major tournament in India. By 1923, a yacht club was built and sailing became a fascinating sport for the gentry while the townsfolk sat crouched around the lakeside, placing bets on the boats racing in the regattas.

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