Walking tour of Old Delhi- of queens and their lovers
Last week, I decided to take a tour of Shajahanabad and explore a few places. The basic idea behind this walking tour of Old Delhi was to see- first hand- the palaces of some Mughal queens.
These ladies were quite influential when they were alive; their reputation continues even today. Zeenat Mahal, Qudasia Begum, and Mubarak Begum were quite colorful in their lives and their names survive even today.
The life of Zeenat Mahal
We don’t know much about this favored wife of the last Mughal Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Most websites that say that Zeenat Mahal was born in 1823 in the Indian province of Avadh. When she turned 17, Zeenat was married off to the aged Mughal King, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Avadh is the territory that includes the modern day Lucknow, Barabanki, Ayodhya, Gonda etc.
Zeenat was the third wife of Zafar but rose in influence after entering his harem. I think Zafar married his fourth wife after obtaining Zeenat.
The names of the wives of Bahadur Shah were Ashraf Mahal, Taj Mahal, and Akhtar Mahal.
You would be surprised to know that Zafar had at least 32 sons and 22 daughters. It is difficult to say how many of these belonged to Zeenat but she definitely favored Mirza Jawan Bakht, her son from Bahadur Shah. Jawan was the 15th son of his father.
Zeenat Mahal was a clever lady indeed. She knew that the British were here to stay in India for a long time. Without them, Zeenal realized, she would not realize her ambition.
What was her ambition?
To place Jawan Bakht on the Mughal throne!
I hope that I will find out the grave of this prince in another walking tour of Old Delhi!
So Zeenat played her cards smartly. She stayed away from the rebels and also forced Jawan Bakht to have no truck with them. Remember, these men had killed 55 English men and women in the Red Fort Delhi during the 1857 mutiny!
But did she succeed later?
Not really. Though her son was spared by the British, Zeenat and her old husband Bahadur Shah Zafar were exiled away to Rangoon in Burma by the British! She died in British captivity in the year 1886.
Zeenat Mahal lived in great style while she was alive. Her haveli or mansion still exists in the Lal Kuan area of Old Delhi.
Haveli of Zeenat Mahal
The haveli of this Mughal queen lies in shambles today and only its front portion exists. It is located in the Lal Kuan locality of Old Delhi.
In the earlier days, this palace had 60 rooms, most of whom have been taken over by the government.
The mansion is guarded by a couple of spiked gates which are open at all the times. There are a couple of small chhatris or platforms on the top of the facade and are visible from quite a distance away. Locals say that in the earlier days, sentries sat there to guard the entrance.
To reach the haveli, you will have to ask for directions from the locals. The government, it seems, has forgotten this colorful begum of Red Fort Delhi. There are no signposts, no markers etc that will guide you to this ruined palace. Hopefully, my walking tour of Old Delhi will goad the authorities to put up some sign posts!
When you ask the locals about this place, they go
Randi ki Masjid
A few hundred meters from the Zeenat Mahal is the Randi ki Masjid. Join me in a walking tour of Old Delhi and explore this wonderful building.
The word Randi means a prostitute or a courtesan. So who was this Randi and why is this mosque named after her?
This honor goes to Mubarak Begum, one of the 13 wives of David Ochterlony, a British Resident in Delhi. She was a Randi or a courtesan but David found her to be an extremely beautiful person and therefore married her. Mubarak soon grew in rank and stature, after all she was the wife of the virtual Lord of Delhi. Her influence extended to the Mughal king whom she called as her son!
The orthodox Muslims of Delhi did not quite like this lady and called her names behind her back. Many Muslims in the Lal Kuan area today do not know that the Mubarak Begum of this mosque was a courtesan! When I pointed out this history to a few locals, they were aghast!
There are two Sunehri Masjids in Old Delhi. One is bang in the middle of the timeless Chandni Chowk while the other sits
Qudasia Begum like many other Mughal queens was a courtesan in her earlier life. The colorful Mohammad Shah Rangila, grandson of Aurangzeb, lusted after her and after a brief fling, made her his Begum. Qudasia soon became a very important person in the Badshah’s harem.
Like her husband, Qudasia was a very profligate person. According to some sources, she had once spent more than a million rupees on her birthday. No doubt, the Begum from Chawri Bazaar was as colorful as her husband.
Now, you would be astonished to listen that she had a secret lover too and his name was Jawed Khan. This wasn’t strange in those days of the Mughal rule as frustrated princesses and begums had had secret lovers. Jahanara had one and so did Roshanara, both sisters of Aurangzeb.
In the case of Qudasia Begum, the object of her attention was a eunuch, Jawed Khan.
Who was Javed Khan?
Khan was a superintendent of the Mughal zenana or harem and
After the death of her husband, she wanted all the support that was possible to strengthen her son, Ahmad Shah. Remember, that after Rangila’s death, the Mughal court had weakened greatly and there were pulls and pushes from all directions.
Haveli of Mirza Ghalib
Your Old Delhi walking tour would be incomplete without a visit to the house of Mirza Ghalib. He was a Persian poet and lived during the rule of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal king of Delhi.
Ghalib loved writing and reciting Persian poetry ; he was mad in love with his poems. So much so, that he considered other poets as ‘they’ and himself as ‘The Ghalib”.
He was always in debt because of his drunken and wayward behavior. Ghalib, most of the time, was pleading with the British officers to restore his pension which they had cancelled after the revolt of 1857. If you would like to see how the mansions of the wealthy Delhi people looked like several hundreds of years ago, then you must visit this haveli.
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