While the Nawabs and Kings formed a major pillar of the Awadh dynasty throughout its 136-year of rule, the contribution of royal women or the Begums is equally fascinating and worth mentioning. They kept the spirit of Awadh alive even at the testing times and played an unforgettable role in sustaining and nurturing the Awadhi culture, which still reigns in the veins of the modern day Awadh or Uttar Pradesh.
The timeless saga of eminent personalities of the likes of Nawab Begum, Bahu Begum, Badshah Begum (Wife of first Awadh King Ghazi-ud-din Haider), Malika Kishwar (Wife of King Amjad Ali Shah and mother of King Wajid Ali Shah) and last but not the least, Begum Hazrat Mahal is inevitable, perhaps inspiring. The life and times of three of these most profound Begums of Awadh unfolds right here.
She was the daughter of first ruler of Awadh, Nawab Sadat Khan, the wife of second ruler, Nawab Safdar Jung and the mother of third ruler Shuja-ud-daula’s. This introduction is fair enough to sense the essence of Nawab Aliya Sadrunissa Begum or Nawab Begum. She, along with her daughter-in-law Bahu Begum lived in the strictest of segregation from men, yet dominated the polity and policies of the early Awadh history.
She stood rock solid to protect the Awadh dynasty from the attack from Nadir Shah after the death of Burhan-Ul-Mulk. She in fact prompted Nawab Safdar Jung to declare war against Nadir Shah, which the Awadh ultimately won. The Begum also played the key role in the development of the Awadhi culture, maintaining its distinct style, and underpinning it with the Shia faith and practices. Here presence spread peace, prosperity, and livelihood among the people of Awadh. She died in 1796 to leave all her courtiers, and well wishers heartbroken.
Bahu begum managed the scattered and broken establishment of Nawab Begum in her own distinctive stride after the latter’s demise. Born as Amat-Uz-Zehra and popular as Janab Aliya Muta’aliya Bahu (daughter-in-law), she was married to Shuja-ud-daula. She belonged to a rich Persian family and was herself the owner of an enormous wealth that tantalized the who’s who of Awadh and even the British Empire. She helped bring back the throne, which her husband lost to British after the battle of Baksar in 1764 by handing over a big part of her dowry including two million rupees, precious gold and jewelry. After this incident, the Nawab entrusted all his finances to Bahu Begum.
Bahu Begum outlived five rulers in her life and saw the sixth ruler becoming heir to the throne. She was upset with the rude and jealous behavior of her family due to her magnanimous lifestyle. Consequently, she made East India company the caretaker of her entire property of seven million rupee. Bahu Begum died in 1815 but not before making Faizabad a prosperous city under her aegis.
Begum Hazrat Mahal
Born as Muhammadi Khanum in 1820, Begum Hazrat Mahal was one of the queens of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Tajdaar-e-Awadh. While Nawab and Bahu Begum were famous for their affluence and their gesture toward saving the Awadh rule with their financial credibility, Begum Hazrat Mahal is more identified for her bravery. She was one of the kingpins of the in-famous revolt of 1857 from Awadh. After the British annexed the Awadh state and sent her husband Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in exile to Calcutta, Begum decided to took the charge back from the British in 1856.
She even managed to seize control of Lucknow with the support of her loyals in the Awadh, and made Birjis Qadr, her 14-year son, the king of Awadh on July 5, 1857. She contributed exceptionally in the war of independence along with the legends like Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope, Firuz Shah, Rani Laxmi Bai, Bakht Khan, and a slew of other revolutionaries from North India. However, she again lost to British in 1858 and was compelled to part ways with the kingdom of Awadh. The queen later on migrated to Nepal with her son, where she died in 1879 at the age of 59.