Shahjehan Begum Bhopal

On 16th November 1868, at a durbar held 17 days after Sikandars death, Shahjehan was crowned Begum of Bhopal. The agent to the Governor-General, Colonel Meade, read out the Viceroy’s proclamation and announced that ten-year-old Sultan Jahan would be heir apparent. During her 33-year tenure, Shahjehan Begum presided over a settled reign. This was mainly due to the momentum of Sikandar’s trail-blazing reforms and to the support provided by the British. Shahjehan was in a different character mould to her mother and grandmother. She had aspirations to being a poetess, loved the sound of music and was coquettishly feminine. Widowed at the young age of 29, Shahjehan was not averse to being courted by ambitious young men. However she soon became besotted by one man who spun a web of charm and allurement around the Begum and who became the love of her life.
He was Syed Siddiq Hassan. Siddiq Hassan was the married to daughter of Maulvi Jamaluddin – the Prime Minister of Bhopal. Siddiq Hassan soon ousted his father-in-law from corridors of power, using the emotional and intellectual grip that he had over the besotted Shahajehan. He was promoted to madar-ul-maham (Chief Minister), and made a word get through to Major Edward Thompson, Political Agent of Bhopal, that Shahjehan was pregnant with his child. He managed to convince Thompson that honor could be saved through immediate marriage. On 8th May 1871, a wedding ceremony took place, while the British made it clear that Siddiq Hassan will play a non-executive role. On Shahjehan’s insistence, the British accorded Siddiq Hassan with the title of Nawab Wala-Jah on 15th October 1872. There was wide spread resentment and dislike among the local Bhopalis over this alignment. Incidentally no child was born during the first year of the marriage.
Siddiq’s next maneuver was to insist that Shahjehan adopt purdah. Siddiq started ruling Bhopal by proxy. He started spreading out his articles, books and pronouncements using his emissaries who established contact with counterparts abroad, in Sudan, Arabia, Turkey and Burma. To the British, Siddiq’s books bordered on sedition and soon state funds were being used to promote the more politically active ulema into creating a ground swell of opposition against the British, based on religious grounds. Sir Lepel Griffin, representing the British government, called a restricted meeting on 27th August 1885. He read out passages from Siddiq’s book, which were considered seditious if not treasonable. Siddiq was forced to accept that some of his passages were anti-British, and promised to not repeat this in future. Shahjehan even issued a memorandum publicly proclaiming that Siddiq would not interfere in state affairs. However, the British gathered from their intelligence that this was only lip service, and Siddiq continued his treacherous ways. Sir Lepel Griffin, finally, charged Siddiq Hassan of sedition in a special durbar, and withdrew all his titles. He was allowed to stay in Bhopal but in a different palace then that of the Begum. The British eventually nominated a British administrator, Colonel C. H. E. Ward as Chief Minister, after the upright Abdul Latif Khan could not survive more than four months of Chief Minister ship. Shahjehan Begum kept trying to resurrect Siddiq by all means, though in vein.
Sultan Jahan was a builder of mosques, palaces, monuments and even a tramway that connected the Taj Mahal to Nawab Siddiq Hassans residence. She made a sizeable donation for the oldest mosque in UK, which is named after her. She started the long association of Bhopal rulers with Aligarh University by donating for the foundation of Muslim University of Sayyed Ahmad Khan. She wrote Urdu poetry under the pen name of Tajwar and Persian poetry under the name Shirin. Her published Urdu work includes Mathnawi Siddiq-ul-Bayan, Taj-Ul-Kalam and Tehzib-un-Nissa and Persian work Dewan-e-Shirin. However the greatest contribution of Shahjehan was opening of the railway. The real credit for this far-sighted project goes to Qudsia and Sikandar, who financed the project initially. The opening of the railway line took place during Shahjehan’s reign with the consequent economic and political benefits to the people.

2 thoughts on “Shahjehan Begum Bhopal

  1. 'Lost emperor', you have also lost your brain. Shahjehan Begum had indeed spent a huge sum for laying railway line from across Bhopal, up till Hoshangabad. She and her mother had paid a princely sum of Rs 50 lakh together though Bhopal was not a very rich state then. Kindly read history. The 'railway' which you are mocking it, and funnily talking about, was a sort of 'tram' which had nothing to do with it. As her husband was involved in anti-British activities, he was kept in captivity in the other palace, and the tram or a bogey took her to his palace. The Begums were definitely visionaries and much better than their counterparts in other states.

  2. Railway! lol, Bhopal railroad was a single stretch of tracks that connected the Taj Mahal to the Noor Mahal.

    The Taj Mahal in the Benazir complex served as the Shahjahan’s palace and Noor Mahal named after Siddiq Hasan’s son Noor-ul-Hasan was built for her second husband by the lady ruler.

    Bereft of an engine the so called railway saw men drawing a purdah covered cart on the tracks when the Begum visited Siddiq Hasan.

    Bhopali ingenuity saw the ‘railroad’ being termed the Thele Wali Sadak (the road of the hand drawn cart.)

    Need I write more!

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