Strings of past from Pilibhit: Fayyazi Begum

This seems to be a photograph from her early days of life. One can notice age & her aquiline typical Punjabi nose (a physiognomic feature of Arain females) in this portrait. It was small black & white photograph. In later years when Amma passed away, I got it converted by a studio in a colored portrait.

Urdu Columnist & Author, Shams Jilani memoirs connected with his mother, & moments from pre- Partitioned India.

Memories & moments spent with parents became an integral part of your life. When they left the material world, the same moments became a beacon for you. When the context is connected with special socio-political events such as Indian partition where hundred of human souls were uprooted from their hometowns, these moments became a bridge with bygone past. Noted Urdu columnist, & author, Shams Jilani shared memories of his mother with these precious portraits from his personal collection. During the days of lock down, he spoke with me from Richmond City, British Columbia that a place his residence from last three decades.

I asked, from paternal side you carried a great literary legacy from the days of your great-grandfather up to your late father. But today I am eager to know about your mother.

The conversation of past pushed eighty nine years old author back to his childhood days in India. Clearing the hoarseness of his voice & overcoming his emotions, he said, did you know that three females has a great role in my life. Today what I had achieved in my entire life from childhood days is due to their support, mentoring & guidance. First one was my maternal grandmother, Hamidun Nisa Begum, then my mother, Fayyazi Begum & then my better half, Quraisha Begum. All three of them has left for heavenly abode. Coincidentally, both my wife & my mother were from a small village, Khamaria.

An acknowledgement of Shams Jilani poetic account of Urdu, titled Urdu Sada Ba Sehra (published 2000 from Canada) to his nani, mother & wife. It read as ‘Dedicated to the daughters of eve those who had played a big role in constructing my life’. Then it continued with names of his nani, mother & wife.

Its a small village located 11 km south of district headquarters of Pilibhit. This district is tucked on Indo-Nepal border in Tarai plains of Himalayas. You know I had written a biographical account (Seerah) of Prophets, Ahlul Bait, & Rashidun Caliphs. This interest was inculcated by my mother & maternal grandmother (Nani). I still remember bed time Islamic stories interwoven with story telling style by my nani when we spends our vacations at village Khamaria. These childhood stories created a quest for exploring more on these subjects that later concluded as a books. The moral teachings embedded with this formative style learning always remained with me. My mother came from middle class orthodox family of Muslim zamindars. She was born in 1912 & received all her education in a traditional manner. In those days, it was rare from Muslim middle class from rural background to send the females for formal education. As you know my father, uncle, & their cousins were send to Aligarh University & one of them even to England but unfortunately this was not a case for females. She took the lesson of Quran, Arabic & Urdu from her mother. The grand village style haveli of Nana also hosted his Sufi master, Sayyad Meharban Ali Shah who belonged to far off land of Pashtuns & each year visited our district. He was affiliated with Nashbandi Mujaddidi order & his Sufi master was the famous Shahji Mian of Pilibhit who passed away in 1907. It was here in his company I received some most worthy spiritual lessons of my life as four years old kid. The learning from Nani & mother continued in all these days. In 1950 at the age of 19 years, I left for Kishore Ganj (East Pakistan) with my parents leaving behind my Nani. As our district witnessed riots so entire family decided to migrate. In those days, the passport was not required for traveling to East Pakistan. In 1952, I again visited hometown, I got married during this visit & parents stayed back in Pilibhit. My destiny took to me to Karachi in 1954 from East Pakistan. Now at age of twenty, I was away from my entire family. For reading more on this journey & story of his ancestors, please read this article.

Shams Jilani with his wife Quresha Begum (1935-05th March 2017), Pic source: Rehan Asad
A detailed interview of Shams Jilani on his ancestral connection & hometown Pilibhit located in Tarai Plains of Himalayas, Uttarpradesh, India.

Somehow during late 1954, the reunion started in phases. With one year old son, she traveled with her brother, Maqbool Ahmad. Then my mother & nani came in 1956. Finally, the last one was father who joined us in 1958. The village Khamaria of my childhood was divided in two quarters. The more spacious & well build quarter was occupied by middle class Arain Zamindars who were relatives as a member of an extended family of Sheikh Jaan Mohammad who migrated from Punjab in late 18th century. The Baithaks of their old homes in this quarter were place of intellectual discussions on diverse titles that varied from religion & poetry to politics. It was in this background my mother was raised by Hamidun Nisa Begum & her father, Sheikh Fida Hussain. The another quarter of the village was occupied by other communities who resided in the village as cultivators & peasants. This quarter was mainly mud homes lined by thatched roof but they maintained cordial bonds with the residents of another section.

A portrait of a ruined Baithak (Male Guest section) build in 1930s, Pic source: Rehan Asad
An old Baithak in Village Khamaria that dated 1930s, Pic source: Rehan Asad

Then he started to describe the portraits of his mother & intervened with a query, Can you find one similarity in all these three pictures. I gently replied, its your resemblance with face of your mother. He replied, yes off course but I am focusing of something else. Can you able to see a small nose pin. She always used to wear this nose pin as I remember from my childhood days to her departure from this world. This was a photograph pasted on her official traveling passport when she came from India in 1954. In second portrait where you can find me standing with mother & my eldest son, Shahid who left this world in 1959. As I could remember this was taken in 1958.

Fayyazi Begum, mother of Shams Jilani, 1954, Source: Personal collection of Shams Jilani
A portrait of Shams Jilani with his mother & eldest son, Shahid, Pic source: Shams Jilani, 1958

About third one I exactly don’t remember the year. It seems to be a photograph from her early days of life. One can notice age & her aquiline typical Punjabi nose (a physiognomic feature of Arain females) in this portrait. It was a small black & white photograph. In later years when Amma passed away, I got it converted in a colored portrait. You can notice the same simple nose pin adored her face as I told you before. By the time when we shifted to Canada from Pakistan, the original portrait was damaged by termites but fortunately a digital copy survived.

An old portrait of Fayyazi Begum that was later reconstructed with colors in 1960s, Source: Shams Jilani

In 1957, my Nani passed away & her grave is located in graveyard of PCS, Karachi. In year 159, my eldest son, Shahid met a fatal accident at the age of six while crossing a road to take a school van. After leaving his hometown in India, my father lived for three years, & in 1961, he left this world. A year later, in 1962, mother left us & was buried at Mirpur Khaas, Sindh, Pakistan, a place far away from her ancestral village Khamaria in Pilibhit, Uttarpradesh. I still remember that on the last night when she was unwell & I was sitting beside her, she said with gentle kindness by concealing her pain, my dear son, please go & take some rest. You will get tired if you will awake whole night by sitting beside me. She was survived by four daughters & three sons.

Mr. Kamaluddin, father of Shams Jilani born at Pilibhit in 1905 and passed away in 1961 at Karachi, Pakistan.
A short Urdu poetry written by Shams Jilani for his maternal grandmother & mother.

Now only memories had left in all these decades. We visited India ten times after Amma & Nani passed away. My last visit to India was with entire family in 2012. Every time we used to visit the home of Nani & Amma that was connected with my childhood days. Stories of Nani reverberated my ears whenever I visited those landscapes in Pilibhit. Last year I got the news that the house where my mother was born has been left abandoned by our cousins as their extended families has shifted to city. I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit my home land from Pakistan & then from Canada also. Unfortunately, Nani & Amma didn’t able to go back after they shifted to Pakistan. This is how time flies, & people who experienced multiple migrations cling their memories of bygone days. Adding two verse of short Urdu poetry written by Shams Jilani for mother.
Meri Maan Jannat Nashin Jannat Makan
Sabr ka paikar thin aur azmat ka nishan
Zindigi bhar wo rahin sab par shafeeq
Marte dam mamta hi thi rukh par ayyan

My mother sits in heaven & dwells in heaven
She was portrait of patience, & sign of greatness
For entire life she remained kind to everyone
Motherly reflection predominated her face during time of death

A historic enclosure at Pilibhit

As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him.

Gateway of the park pic by Rehan Asad

Story of the neglected Ram Swarup park

Pic & Text |Rehan Asad

Located in the middle of the city, an old park without any plaques has an interesting story of its past. The gateway of a historic Ramswarup park got a recent facelift by a compromised municipal budget in a small city of Western Uttarpradesh (Pilibhit).  With few of the old remnants visible on the flank, almost the major portion of it has vanished with time. You will find traditional ear cleaners with red turbans wrapped on their imitating nineteenth-century occupational paintings left by the company painters. A small stall for exchanging torn currency & a man sitting for the repair of bygone days watch. This is the sight one can find in the front of Ram Swarup park located close to the ruined 19th-century colonial gateways build by British magistrate Drummond. Little is known about the exact date when this park was built. However it’s crumbled left kiosk with a cupola, the only left lakhori bricks structure in the historic square seems to be at least more than a century old. One could imagine its beauty when the nineteenth-century commercial enclave was adored by four beautiful gateways, & the square was nicely planned in the proximity of Northern & eastern gateways of Drummondganj.

The only remnant of old construction pic by Rehan Asad
Ram Swarup Park, July 2019, by Rehan Asad
Ram Swarup Park, July 2018 by Rehan Asad

It seems to be an extension of Drummondsganj. As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him. With a launch of famous non- cooperation movement Gandhi Ji took a tour to the small cities of United Provinces. On 31st December 1921, he visited Pilibhit after completing his tour to Shahjahanpur. He made several meetings with both Hindu & Muslim revolutionaries. The congress committees were formed even in the remotest corners of the district. It was here at this park, the father of the nation gave a speech to the audiences. From here he moved to neighboring district Lakhimpur. According to the district Gazette (1960), the visit made a huge impact & large number of British goods & clothes were boycotted. Along with the town, the village Sardarnagar (Amaria) & village Khamaria (Bisalpur) tahsil also witnessed active participation. Many of the youngsters from the district were arrested & jailed. Among them, my great grandfather, Sheikh Aminuddin & his cousin Sheikh Zakiuddin from village Khamaria were also arrested & put in district jail. Later on, they were shifted to District Jail of Lakhimpur for the next six months. The square of the historic park was surrounded by narrow lanes on its southern & eastern boundaries with old shops. Eighty eight-year-old Urdu writer & social worker Mr. Shams Jilani, a resident of Richmond City, Canada who was born (1931) at Pilibhit recalled that the square was known as Simons park in those days. Most of the shops were owned by the Punjabi Muslaman community. Still, the alley is filled with roadside hand-dyeing outlets, printing press & few old cloth stores running from generations.

Alley of Ram Swarup Park Pic by Rehan Asad

Another elderly resident of the city Ali Nazar Khan alias Abba Ji told: “I was seventeen years old when we were blessed with the gift of independence on eve of 15th 1947. I was among one of those who were engaged by municipal board to write on the gateway of the park “Yaume Azadi, with its date & year in Urdu script. The park was renamed after one revolutionary who laid his life in independence struggle as Ram Swarup Park”.

Portrait of Mr. Ali Nazar Khan, Pic by Rehan Asad

Slowly with the time, the boundary wall & gateway of the park crumbled. The enclosure left strayed for a long time. Till the last year, it was filled by the filthy waste material even though the new boundary walls & gateway has been erected. Fortunately this year some clearing of the waste took place even though the ground appears deserted. All the old plaques, construction dates have been lost in the ruins of the old buildings. Close to it, even the remnants of the Drumondsganj Northern gateway seem to be disappeared with time. The rest vanishes in history except the few heritage lovers & aged chroniclers were aware of the stories of its lost time.

Ram Swarup Park, July 2018, pic by Rehan Asad

Masjid Sheikh Kabir, a lesser known 18th century mosque at Pilibhit

Background: Masjid Sheikh Kabir is one of the foremost among the undocumented remnants of 18th-century Ruhela monuments at Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. It seems to be one of the earliest constructed mosques of Ruhela settlement at Pilibhit. Prof. Iqbal Hussian cited Kabirpur in district Bareilly as the settlement named after the prominent Ruhela officer of Nawab Ali Muhammad Khan, Sheikh Kabir who rose to higher ranks in time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Syed Altaf Ali Barelivi, a 1931 history graduate from Aligarh Muslim University wrote in a Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan titled “Hayate Hafiz” that Sheikh Kabir was among the earliest friend of Hafiz Rahmat Khan and accompanied with him from Tor Shahmatpur to Rohilkhand on the invitation of Ali Muhammad Khan in 1739. The Pashtun history expert  told me that Tor Shahmatpur is now the part of Mardan District in North West Frontier of Pakistan.  A small locality in Pilibhit city Kabir Ganj was also named after Sheikh Kabir.

The roof of the verandah has been replaced in modern times, & part of it was renovated by Sheikh Wasi Ahmad Alias Muhadith Surti during late 19th century| Rehan Asad

Description of Mosque: In Pilibhit as common with other Pashtun settlements in North India, each of the chief ( Sardar) has a mosque after his own. I was not able to find the exact date of its construction but it was constructed somewhere in between 1740 to 1750 as it predates from the construction of the Grand Jama Masjid in 1769. This mosque was built by Sheikh Kabir who was among one of the leading Ruhela Sardar during the time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Its located approximately one kilometer east of the Jama Masjid with its main gate located on the court road. The current name of the mosque derives due to the presence of the Bel (Wood Apple) trees present in the orchard of old graveyard lying on the eastern and southern flank of the mosque. With few modifications added in the later days, the main body of the mosque retained its old structure. Located on the plinth, the main section of the mosque is accessed by the ten steps from the northern gate. The old vaulted roof of the verandah seems to replaced during modern renovation. Five arched facades leads to the inner section of the mosque. The inner section still retains its vaulted roof, the arched facade for the entrance, mihrab & taakhs on the wall. Traditional lime mortar (Surkhi Chuna) has been used as the cementing substance for connecting  Lakhori/Kakiya (small) bricks.

The central arched entrance to the inner section of mosque| Rehan Asad
Mehrab of the mosque in inner section/Rehan Asad

All the three ends were surrounded by the gardens that have been replaced by thick human settlements by the centuries except the eastern end. The main entrance that might be added later on is now located on the Northern side of the structure. Built on the pattern of the late 18th century mosque on first floor, the Northern wall gave space to the couple of shops. The verandah open in the courtyard and this section has been replaced by the later stage renovations. It was in 1871, one of the notable students of Mufti Muhammad Masood Muhadith Dehalvi of Fatehpuri Masjid, Sheikh Maulana Wasi Ahmad alias Muhadith Surati opened a school of Hadith in the premises and extensions of Sheikh Kabir mosque. Sheikh Wasi Ahmad was buried outside the prayer section in the premises of the mosque in 1913 after his death. It was from here the second name of the mosque derived as Muhadith Sahab Ki Masjid. Interestingly while I was exploring for the mosque, I came to know that great Urdu legend Ale Ahmad Suroor offered his Friday prayers during his childhood days with his father Maulvi Karam Ahmad in this mosque when he was deputed at Pilibhit during Colonial days as a postmaster. During 1974, this was narrated by the legendary poet to my father when he got a chance to meet him at the home of Prof. Ansarullah Nazar Sahab at Aligarh. The crossroad near the mosque also derived the name Belon Wala Chauraha from the nearby Bel (Wood Apple) trees standing in the graveyard of Sheikh Kabir Mosque.

One of the few Wood apple trees left in graveyard close to the mosque/Rehan Asad
Multiple shops were opened in the southern wall of the mosque| Rehan Asad

The local community is not aware of more than two and half centuries old mosque carries many layers of the historical timeline with it. The cupola shaped merlons sandwiched in between the parapet shaped design on the walls of the mosque are some of the remnants from its old construction. More popular as Belon Wali Masjid, except the old generation, hardly people could recall it as Masjid Sheikh Kabir.

Zafar: The Last and the Lost Emperor of Hindustan

A reflective article by Khalid Siddiqui


The last Mughal emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar was a gentle soul and a great poet, he was a nominal emperor and his rule was limited only to the city of Delhi (Shahjahanabad). He was a noted Urdu poet and his ghazals were compiled into “Kulliyat-e-Zafar“. He failed to champion the cause of revolt of 1857, but this cannot deny the fact that he had an undying spirit of patriotism within him. He adored India as a nation and his motherland which is quite evident from his poetry. This write-up of mine is an attempt to look at Zafar from a different vantage point especially through the eyes of a common Indian and not from the Victor’s frame of reference.

History is almost always written by the victors and conquerors and gives their view.


Zafar and his contemporaries were quite different from East India Company (EIC) with respect to their values, ideals, institutions and methods. While they lived for honor, were generous, believed in poetic mannerisms and patrons of beauty; the EIC on the other hand had not come to India to adore these art forms and ideals but believed in imperialism.

The imperialist war was the striving of the capitalists for profits and the exploitation of others and to partition the world and enslave weaker nations


They had the sole aim of exploiting India and find a market for their finished goods and raw materials for their industries back in Britain.

Why is there war today, if it is not for the satisfaction of the desire to share the spoils? These large holdings cannot be sustained except by violence, veiled if not open. Western democracy as it functions today is diluted Nazism or Fascism. At best, it is merely a cloak to hide the Nazi and Fascist tendencies of imperialism.


In the nutshell there was a complete contrast in approach of the two forces.
The aged Zafar was not good at arms, but that doesn’t take away a bit of his patriotism, infact he was one of the first champions of idea of nationhood.  


The logical question which readily comes to my mind is, How these Mughals were different from the EIC? The answer lies in the question itself i.e. Why the Company did not clinch the Emperorship of India from Mughals after their victory in Battle of Plassey in 1757? The reason was that despite the heterogeneity of the Indian society, dissimilarity in culture, different religious faiths, languages and all the anomalies of a divided nation, the general masses had faith in Mughals; even the Maratha’s who rose to the power in those times never attempted to dethrone Mughals. So the paramount powers of those times found it pertinent to maintain the status quo and continue with the Symbolic figure of Mughal Emperor with real powers in their hands, to avoid antagonizing the masses.
Second question, Why the masses had such faith in the Mughals? The masses in general believed that and rightly so, that Mughals never raped India like the Company and always considered India as their own country, that is they earned in India and spent in India which was quite unlike the Company which took away the Indian riches and fed their industrial engines in Manchester and Lancashire. The Industrial Revolution never came to India; in fact it destroyed the Cottage industries and the businesses of Indians. The Indians were economically battered.

It was the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand-loom and destroyed the spinning-wheel. England began with driving the Indian cottons from the European market; it then introduced twist into Hindostan, and in the end inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons

Karl Marx in “The British Rule in India” (1853)

On the onset of the revolt in 1857, the rebellious soldiers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry stationed at Meerut proclaimed the aged and powerless Bahadur Shah the Emperor of India. This spontaneous raising of Mughal king to the leadership of the country was recognition of the fact that the long reign of Mughal dynasty had made it the traditional symbol of India’s political unity. Much of the strength of the revolt lay in Hindu-Muslim unity. For e.g. wherever the revolt was successful, orders were immediately issued banning cow-slaughter out of respect for Hindu sentiments.

Battle of Plassey was the start of Economic Drain of India and Drain Theory became the focal point of economic critique.

Dadabhai Naoroji popularized the Drain Theory in his book “Poverty and Unbritish Rule in India“, to quote Dadabhai “Materially British rule caused only impoverishment, it was like the knife of sugar“. He argued that large part of Indian capital goes into salaries and pensions of British officers, for maintaining army, funding war etc. Later British Government was forced to appoint the Welby Commission to enquire into the matter.

R C Dutt retired ICS officer, in “The Economic History of India” meticulously examined the entire economic impact of colonial rule from 1757.

The times after 1857 revolt were dreadful, Company did the reprisal killings, systematically massacred the masses; the Royals, Kings, Nawabs etc. in order to safeguard their selfish gains turned pro British.

Scindias of Gwalior; Holkars of Indore; Nizams of Hyderabad; Raja of Jodhpur; Nawab of Bhopal, Rulers of Patiala; Maharaja of Kashmir gave active help to British in suppressing the revolt. Governor General Canning remarked that these rulers and chiefs “Acted as the break-waters to the storm which would have otherwise swept us in one great wave“.

Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner; the royal princess were captured and butchered on the spot. He was tried and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862, lamenting bitterly the fate which had buried him far away from the city of his birth:
Kitnā hai bad-nasīb ‘zafar’ dafn ke liye
Do gaz zamīn bhī na milī kū-e-yār meiñ

During the course Zafar was mocked about the frailty of Indian might:
Dumdamein Mein Dum Nahin, Khair Maango Jaan Ki,
(Your fort is crumbling down, pray for your life)
Aey Zafar Thandi Hui Shamsheer Hindustan Ki
(The Indian sword, O Zafar, has lost its sheen and might)

But Zafar had an undaunted faith in Indian nationalism and its spirit of perseverance:
Ghaziyon mein Boo Rahegi Jab Tak Imaan Ki,
(So long as the soldiers retain their faith and pride),
Takht London Tak Chalegi Tegh Hindustan Ki
(The Indian sword will not relent till it humbles London’s might.)

On British atrocities against Indians he once said:
Ye riyaya-e-Hind tabah hui, Kahun kya jo in par jafa hui,
(The Indian people were brought to ruin by the ruling lords)
Jise Dekha Hakiye Waqt Ne, Kaha Ye To Kabile Dar Hui
(They thought him fit for the gallows, anyone they came across.)


Patriotism is not only the expression of valor displayed in the battlefield but it can be expressed with other means and methods also. While writing this post in my soliloquy, I was questioning; Am I sounding like a practical idealist and an irrepressible optimist?; but my subconscious quickly took me out of my dilemma that it doesn’t matter even if I sound like that because these two are the main elements of Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha which I try adhere to .

The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. They adopted the policy of Divide & Rule to break this unity so as to weaken the rising nationalist movement. Immediately after the revolt they repressed Muslims, confiscated their lands & property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favorites. After 1870 this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn upper class and middle class Muslims against the nationalist movement.

We are all deeply moved and affected by the acrimony, feeling of hatred and buzz of extreme Chauvinism and Jingoism in the present Indian context. The seed of hatred between Hindus and Muslims were actually sown by British and I must acknowledge that they have been quite successful so far in their endeavors. Sometimes in my pensive mournfulness of the prevalent political and social milieu, I feel that although we have won our freedom from the foreign captors but there is still a larger freedom we need to attain from the clutches of our stereotypes, diffidence, prejudices and proclivities.
I am quoting the great visionaries who have witnessed this expression from different viewpoints:

Save democracy from becoming mobocracy and make it people friendly and finally transform it into swaraj. A mobocracy sometimes becomes more dangerous than dictatorship. They who are in a mob have no mind and no premeditation. They act in frenzy.


To imbue the minds of people with an abnormal vanity of its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations by exhibiting trophies won from war, and using these schools in order to breed in children’s minds contempt for others, is imitating the West.


Let us not allow our insecurities to hijack our minds & spirits and exile into the darkness of ignorance and hatred. Let us muster courage to pursue fraternity and be perceptive enough to show the light of truth, faith, fraternity to our next generation.
We need to start enlightening our self & be pragmatically prudent and stop rationalizing our misdeeds, misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. Our strength lies in the composite culture of our country; and I firmly believe that we are all Hindus by culture, a term coined by Achaemenids for the people living across the river Sindhu; they called them Hindus as they pronounced ‘s’ as ‘h’. Hinduism to me is a way of life and not specifically a religion but a faith which we Indians believe in i.e of tolerance, openness and compassion. Let us celebrate our diversity! This is just not a moral plea but one of our Fundamental Duties also, as mentioned in Article 51 A of the Indian Constitution.

Promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Article 51 A, Fundamental Duty ‘e’, Indian Constitution

Value and preserve the rich hertage of the country’s composite culture.

Article 51 A, Fundamental Duty ‘f’, Indian Constitution

To sum up, we the Indians irrespective of caste, creed or religion have more to rejoice and enjoy are diversity than to fight over our dissimilarities. Indian culture which is an amalgamation of Vedic, Dravidian, Buddhist, Jain, Persian, Turkish and English cultures, is nothing but the Hindu culture in totality. This Hindu identity of ours which emanates from so many different colors make us more colorful, bright, vibrant, scintillating and vivacious. And the vital cog in the wheel of this Indian philosophy is the tolerance, acceptance and accommodation; we never force ourselves on others instead we believe in the credo of Agree to Disagree. Let me quote Nehru on his vivid account on India which resonates with mine as well!

India is a geographical and economic entity, a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads. Overwhelmed again and again her spirit was never conquered, and today when she appears to be a plaything of a proud conqueror, she remains unsubdued and unconquered. About her there is the elusive quality of a legend of long ago; some enchantment seems to have held her mind. She is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive.


Authors information: Khalid Siddiqui is currently working as a Senior Director Software Applications Development at Imaging Endpoints a company based out of Arizona. A history buff, he has a penchant for writing, reading, food etc.

Maulana Azad ancestral connection with 19th Century Shahjahanabad

Excerpts on the illustrious ancestors of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from his autobiography.

Fading Facts: Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi Contributions towards the Aligarh Movement

Text by Rehan Asad| A review for the educational services of Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi, a shared piece of the 20th century South Asian Colonial History

On 27 December 1894, at the Mohammedan educational conference, a twenty-five lawyer who returned recently from England wrote and recited eulogy for the Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in English. Few lines of the poem are presented here.

The sacred Brick of this grand Hall,
The boarding house, the College Rooms,
And this great conference, each and all
Forever the national heirlooms
Priceless and Loved, Shall Waft, your name
Sir Syed through the coming days,
What our nation might befall
Immortal lo, shall be your frame
Never waning, but in numerous ways,
Be ever more, the joy of all!

Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi, born on 10 March 1869 and passed away on 07th January 1932. The portrait is taken from the family collection by courtesy of Mian Hassan Farrukh who also runs a webpage collecting a valuable history and background of Mian Family, Baghbanpura, Lahore.

Introduction to Mian Muhammad Shafi

The twenty-five-year young lawyer cited above was born on 10 March 1869 in historic “Mian family” of Arain tribe at Baghbanpura near Lahore. Many of his illustrious ancestors were conferred with titles and acknowledgments from the time of the Aurangzeb up to the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Punjab. Started his education from the vernacular middle school, he completed his education at Lahore University. On August 1889 AD, Shafi was sent to England to pursue studies at Bar. Fortunate enough to secure the admission at the honorable society of the Middle temple where his cousin Mian Shah Din was already studying for the Bar from last two years. In 1890 AD, elected as president of Anjuman-I- Islamia, London and in the same year, he competes for a scholarship in international and constitutional law and constitutional history at prestigious Middle Temple. At England, he actively participated at every forum that addressed the welfare of Indian students such as Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts, National Indian Association, and the society of encouragement and protection of Indian Arts. He holds the membership of Paddington parliament, an esteemed political society that constituted Member of Parliament, Barristers, Solicitors, and merchants. In 1892, he left England and started his legal career at Hoshiarpur although enrolled himself at both Allahabad and Lahore high courts.

Engagement with Aligarh Movement from the time of Sir Syed up to the approval of University Bill in 1920 during his tenure as the educational member of Viceroy Executive council

The participation of the Mian Muhammad Shafi in Aligarh movement traced from the time of the formation Anglo-Muhammadan Defence Association of Upper India in 1892. He represented Punjab province as a member of the association with Mr. Syed Mahmood and Mr. Theodore Beck (the then Principal of Aligarh College) as the joint secretaries. After his return from England in 1892, he participated in all annual meetings of All India Muhammadan Educational Conference. Several times, he presided female education and other sections of the conference. In the year 1898, the same year when the Great leader, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan departed from this world, he took a bigger responsibility of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College. This was the appointment of Mian Muhammad Shafi as the as the trustee of Aligarh College. By the time of the sad demise of the great leader, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the College has marked as one of the best residential institutions in India. In the coming years, he was engaged in his political and legal career along with active participation in Aligarh movement. The coming years was the tough time for the Aligarh College as its regulatory body got afflicted with factional politics due to the rift between Aftab Ahmad Khan and Ali brothers? During these years, Mian Muhammad Shafi distanced himself from controversies. By 1910, the efforts for the University campaign were revived. All India Muslim University association was formed under the leadership of His Highness, the Agha Khan and Nawab Viqarul-Mulk to centralize the efforts required for the elevation of the College to University in 1910. Mian Muhammad Shafi was elected as vice-president of All India Muslim University Association, and Honorary general secretary of the Punjab Province. For the next two years, Mian Muhammad Shafi put all his efforts for the cause and raised a fund of more three hundred thousand Rupees for the upliftment of the College to University. He himself donated five thousand Rupees in 1912 for the noble mission. In May 1911, a delegation went to meet Sir Harcourt Butler, the then education member of Viceroy executive council for discussing and finalizing the draft of University constitution. Mian Muhammad Shafi was one of the three representatives responsible for the negotiations with education members on the behalf of delegation. On September 25, 1911, Mian Muhammad Shafi represented as a spokesperson for carrying negotiations between the government and University promoters association. On 9 August 1912, Butler gave an official answer from the authorities at London regarding the rejection of University Bill.  In the background of factional politics, Justice Shah Din, the cousin of Mian Muhammad Shafi presided Agra session of Muhammadan educational conference of 1913. This was the second occasion, the Muhammadan education conference was presided by Justice Shah Din. The first time, he presided ninth session of All India Muhammadan educational conference in 1894 during the lifetime of Great Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Lady Shafi and Lady Shah Din represented Punjab on the opening ceremony of the girl’s section new building by Begum of Bhopal in 1915 at MAO College. Mian Muhammad Shafi presided the thirtieth session of Mohammadan educational conference, held at Aligarh, December 27-29, 1916. On this occasion, Mian Muhammad Shafi played an important role in bringing both factions on the table to accept the University approval on the terms and conditions of government. He sensed the risk of losing University funds and demand of the University seems to be jeopardized. The delegation of University committee meets Sir Nair, the successor of Butler as an education member in August 1917. The demand of the University committee was again rejected on the grounds of old boy’s association representation in the University court and control of trustees. The resignation of Sir Sankaran Nair from the seat of education member in June 1919 changed the direction of Aligarh University movement in the coming year. Imperial government as a successor of Sir Nair selected Mian Muhammad Shafi, a man with the long association with educational movement in India. He took the charge of the office at Shimla on 28 July 1919. Sir Butler now the lieutenant governor of United Province favored for reframing University constitution as a provincial University. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi as an education member disagreed with Sir Butler suggestion of its provincial status. As an old associate of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, he was the firm believer of All India status of Aligarh University. On March 20, 1920, Mian Muhammad Shafi met the delegation of Muslim University committee as an education member. Muslim University bill was submitted to him. As an education member, Sir Muhammad Shafi introduced the bill on 9 September 1920 to Viceroy Executive council and got it approved. Sir Mian Muhammad Shafi efforts fulfilled the dreams of Late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and all those members who were struggling for the cause from 1898. On 1 December 1920, the  Muslim University act was passed and Mr. Mohammad Ali Khan, Raja Saheb of Mahmudabad was appointed as the first vice-chancellor of the University.

Aligarh Movement Leaders at Vice Regal Lodge Shimla to demand the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University, 1911 AD. Standing on number thirteen from left to right in the portrait. The picture retrieved from

Who could have imagined that one of the spokespersons from the delegate that went to meet the education member, Sir Butler in 1911 would himself passed and approved the University bill after nine years as the education member of Viceroy executive council?

Educational services and contributions as education member  

The British Government rewarded Mian Muhammad Shafi with C.I.E in 1916  and was Knighted in 1925. During his tenure as the education member of Viceroy Executive Council, the Decca, Nagpur, Rangoon, Lucknow, Aligarh and Delhi Universities were established. The bill of Aligarh Muslim University that was lingered in backwater from last one decade was finalized by his efforts. Government sanctioned the reforms for Allahabad and Madras Universities in his tenure. For his remarkable efforts, the Aligarh Muslim University conferred a D.Lit. (Honoris Causa) on 28 December 1922 on the eve of its first convocation. Delhi University conferred him Doctor of Law and Viceroy gave him the honorary nomination as Pro-Chancellor of the University in the same year. He was also responsible for Indianization of education department. From the time of his joining the office in 1919,  the number Indian officers twenty-nine and that rose to one hundred twenty during his tenure.The man took a farewell banquet from Viceroy executive council on 24 September 1925 and passed away in Lahore on 07 January 1932. An old associate of Sir Syed and member of its first syndicate, the Aligarh movement was always his priority even after reaching the zenith of his career as Vice-President of Viceroy executive council in November 1922. Why Aligarh forgot a man whose soul and the body was embedded in the noble mission for more than forty years. From the time Sir Syed up to difficult days of factional politics, he never turned away his services from Aligarh. As an acknowledgment, the Aligarh University remembered members of the first syndicate by naming departments, hostels, and Halls after their name. Unfortunately, there is not a single building in University named after a man whose efforts led to the creation of the University in 1920 after a struggle of twenty-two years. His larger contributions in the creation of my alma mater were lost somewhere in research articles and journals. The write-up is with an intent to pay the tribute to one of the core members of its first syndicate whose name is difficult to trace outside the sphere of academic articles.


  1. Eminent Muslamans, Madras, GA, Natesan & Co., 1922, 1st ed.  
  2. In Memorium: Mian Sir Muhammad Shafi (1932). The Islamic Review, XX(2-3), 41-46.
  3. Lelyveld, D. (1975). Three Aligarh Students: Aftab Ahmad Khan, Ziauddin Ahmad, and Muhammad Ali. Modern Asian Studies9(2), 227-240.
  4. Reddy, S. (Ed.). (2013). Mapping the Nation: An Anthology of Indian Poetry in English, 1870–1920. Anthem Press.
  5. Mehra, P. (1985). A dictionary of modern Indian history, 1707-1947. Oxford University Press.
  6. Minault, G., & Lelyveld, D. (1974). The campaign for a Muslim University, 1898–1920. Modern Asian Studies8(2), 145-189.
  7. Rizvi, S. A. A. (1993). Mian Muhammad Shafi: An Analytical Study of his Activities and Achievements (1869-1932). South Asian Studies10(1), 87.

The legacy of eighteenth-century French adventurers of Maratha army at Aligarh

Text by Rehan Asad & Photos by Ovais Ahmad|Sulaiman Hall at Aligarh Muslim University was once a garden house of French Army commandants De Boigne and later his successor Perron who served Maratha leader Madhaji Sindhia. It was widely popular among locals as Saheb Bagh.

Gateway of  French Commandants residence, Saheb Bagh. Now the main gate of Sulaiman Hall at Aligarh Muslim University.

Background and history of Aligarh: Aligarh, a city located 140 km southeast of Indian capital city, New Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The name of Aligarh that came to prominence after the establishment of Mohammad Anglo-Oriental College by Sir Syed Khan (1875) traced as “Kol/Koil” in historical records. During Doab expansion of Qutub-Uddin Aibak in the late 12th century, it was mentioned as a fortress. Hisam-Ud-Din Ughlabuq, a Turkish noble during Aibak regime held the seat of Koil as a governor before his transfer to Oudh. It was during the reign of Ibrahim Lodi, the Koil was assigned to Muhammad Khan, a son of Suri Afghan, Umar Khan who built a fort here and the place was known as Muhammadgarh. During the reign of Farrukhsiyar and Muhammad Shah, a Turkman chief Sabit Khan was appointed as a Governor of Koil. During his reign, many major buildings were constructed and fort of Lodi days was renovated. The place was named after him as Sabitgarh. After the death of Sabit Khan, the Koil entered in turbulence as common with most of the North Indian districts due to struggle between Marathas, Jats, and Afghans to gain the control over declining Mughal Empire. In 1754, the Jat leader Suraj Mal appeared to took the possession of the central Doab and made Sabitgarh as a capital for a short period. Najaf Khan (1777) established imperial authority in entire Doab and Koil came under his governance until his death in 1782. It was during this period when Najaf Khan, Deputy Afrasyab Khan gave the name “Aligarh”. With the death of Najaf Khan, the politics over the seat of the reagent started at the court of Shah Alam II with Mirza Shafi Khan, Afrasyab Khan and Madhaji Scindhia as the main contender. This resulted in a bloody conflict with Mohammad Beg Hamdani, the Governor of the Agra who was reluctant to grab the power in decaying central administration. Finally, the Madhaji triumphed in the bloody conflict. Madhaji acquired the Aligarh fort from the brother of Afrasyab Khan who was responsible for the defense of the castle after the death of his brother. It was from this date Aligarh remained under Maratha control until its acquisition by British forces in 1803.

Benoit De Boigne (1751 1830). He became the member of the city council of Chambery in 1816 after his return from India. After his death, the son of his Indian wife Noor (Hellene) was considered as his legitimate heir. Picture from wiki images.

French Commandant in service of Madhaji Sindhia: In 1788, Ghulam Qadir Khan Rohilla, the grandson of Najib-Ud-Daula, stormed the fort of Aligarh when Madhaji Sindhia was engaged at war with Rajputs of Jaipur. He left behind small encampment at Aligarh after collecting a large amount of the booty. The Maratha leader ejected the armies of Rohilla leader and assigned Aligarh to the French officer, De Boigne. De Boigne was born as Benoit La Borgne at Chambery in Savoy, southeastern France in 1751. At the age of nineteen, the young De Boigne received his military training in Clare’s regiment of French Irish brigade. In 1776, he joined Russian army as the subaltern officer that was supporting Greek revolt against Ottoman occupation. Leaving Russian army, he turned to seek fortunes in India. Landed at Madras in 1778, he secured his job in the British army and commissioned as an officer in Madras (1783) in the bodyguards of Lord Macartney. Sought permission and recommendation letters from East India Company, the young adventurer moved to the court of Oudh at Lucknow. He accompanied with a British Officer, Major Robert Brown who was moving to Delhi on Emperor Mission.  It was in Delhi (1784); he came in the service of Madhaji Sindhia who was controlling all the affairs of Hindustan (North India) as a reagent of the Mughal Empire. Madhaji himself a military genius identified the worth of De Boigne and gave a responsible role in his army. De Boigne was asked to raise two battalions on the line of European warfare and handsome salary was allocated for his efforts. De Boigne recruited both Natives and Europeans for these battalions. He himself supervised every task from the preparation of uniforms to the procurement of ammunition. The battalions raised by De Boigne displayed an extraordinary performance to subdue Bundelkhand in an expedition led by Maratha chief, Appa Khande Rao. De Boigne played an important role in rescuing the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II in October 1784 from Agra who was held captive by rival camp headed by Mirza Mohammad Beg Hamdani. Whether it was the battle of Lalsot (July 1787), a rescue of blinded emperor Shah Alam II from the clutches of cruel Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, internal feuds of Sindhia with Holkars, the De Boigne military tactics played a key role in establishing Maratha success in North India. 

Establishment of Maratha garrison in Aligarh on European line under De Boigne: In 1789, the Aligarh was conferred as a jagir to the French general, De Boigne by Madhaji Sindhia. With Koil (Aligarh) as an administrative unit, the total jagir was divided into fifty-two pargana. The revenue generated from the Aligarh was used for westernization of Maratha troops of Madhaji in Hindustan (North India).  Within the short span of one year, De Boigne has raised two brigades with hundred cannons on European pattern. By 1792, De Boigne was able to raise an army of twenty-four thousand soldiers trained on French warfare along with one hundred thirty-two units of artillery. Aligarh became a training camp for the troops raised by French General. The soldiers recruited from different ethnic and religious background of India represented in Europeanized Maratha army of De Boigne. Telinga and Najeeb (predominantly Muslims, Rajputs and Purbea) battalions of Maratha army were trained to use flint matchlock. The De Boigne troops trained at Aligarh were tested at the battle of Marita in 1790 AD, where they succeeded over chivalrous Rathore Rajputs. In the same year, the De Boigne military leadership and his trained troops of Koil brought victory to Sindhia army against joint forces of the Raja of Jaipur and Ismail Beg, the nephew of his arch-rival, Mirza Mohammad Beg Hamdani. For accommodating a large number of troops, De Boigne constructed barracks for the soldiers and apartments for the officers at Aligarh. Agra, Meerut, Shikohabad, and Aligarh in Doab became the hub for arms and ammunition factories. De Boigne and later on his successor Perron renovated historic fortress of Lodis on the design of French engineers. It was a polygon shaped structure having ten sides and bastion on each angle. A thirty-two feet deep ditch around the boundary was created to provide an additional defense to the fortress. As a skilled administrator, De Boigne managed his province in an effective manner. The revenue collected from fifty-two pargana was raised from two million INR/per annum to three million INR/annum during his reign. The brigades represented officers from France, Scotland, and England. The soldiers mainly natives comprised both Hindus and Muslims from different ethnicities of India. Thomas Twinning, a young civil servant who visited De Boigne in 1794 at Aligarh sketched that blend of eastern and western practices was reflected in cuisine, and culture of De Boigne durbar. Historical records showed De Boigne even started negotiations with John Murray for the restoration of Taj Mahal. He has two children, one son, and daughter from his Indian wife Noor Begum later baptized as Hellene.

The retirement of De Boigne and succession by Perron: On 12 February 1794, the Madhaji Sindhia died at Poona. The fifteen-year-old Dault Rao Sindhia was appointed as a successor of one of the most powerful leaders and Army chief of Hindustan. Daulat Rao gave command of army and governance of all the Maratha domains located North of Chambal to De Boigne. At this moment of time, De Boigne commanded one of the strongest armies of Hindustan and governing a vast dominion. Even East India Company sought armed assistance from De Boigne when the mutiny broke out at Bengal in 1795 AD. The deteriorating health of De Boigne in the same year compelled him for retirement in 1796. Claude Martin letters cited the death of Madhaji Sindhia and retirement of De Boigne as an initial event that leads to the fall of Martha power in 1803.

Titles awarded by Mughal emperor to French Adventurer for successful expeditions for Maratha army. It was inscribed by the Perron on the tablet placed at the gateway of Saheb Bagh. Both Gregorian and Hijri dates are inscribed in the Urdu text.

Perron, another French officer of Maratha army took the position of De Boigne in 1796. Perron original name was Pierre Cuillier, and he came to India in 1780 as an officer. After serving short tenure at Rana of Gohud and Bharatpur, he was recruited by De Boigne in 1790 in the army of Madhaji Sindhia. His successful expedition at Battle of Kurdla (1795) against the Nizam army led by another Frenchman, Raymond raised his credentials as a successor of De Boigne.  For the next seven years, Perron governed the military affairs of Hindustan from his seat at Aligarh. Soon after resuming De Boigne position, Perron subdued defiant Sawai Pratap Singh of Jaipur who refused to pay tribute to the Imperial government of Mughals controlled by Maratha chief. He was honored with the Imperial title of “General Perron Bahadur Muzzafar Jang, Intizam-ud-daula, Nasirul-Mulk” along with mansab of haft hazari. On the zenith of his career, General Perron was the military in charge of the forts at Agra, Aligarh, Ajmer, Khurja, Delhi, Saharanpur, and Firozabad in Hindustan. In addition, he was ruling over the twenty-seven district in Aligarh region. With changing the equation of British and Oudh relations, the entire Rohilkhand and Doab provinces of Oudh were ceded to East India Company in 1801.

Following expansionist policy for North India, the East India Company ended the peace treaty with Marathas that was signed in 1781 for North India. In 1803 AD, the British army under command of Lord Lake moved towards Aligarh with a cavalry of eight thousand.  Perron ordered all his brigades to join him Aligarh. Before the start of Battle, the English officers and soldiers from different Brigades deserted their French general as they refused to fight with the fellow citizen. Captain Stewart and Captain Carnegie were among the first English officers on the list who deserted Perron. It was at this moment Perron opened a secret talk when he finds the doors of truce were closed by General Lake. At Sasni, the Perron met British forces with eight thousand cavalries but fled from the battle in the early stage. He took a confinement at Munda, a village located eight miles from Aligarh. Colonel Pedron with two thousand trained army held charge of Aligarh fort after flight of Perron. The forces of General Lake captured the fort on 4 September 1803 at the expense of fifty-five casualties with the death of some experienced British officers. This battle marks the end of the more than one-decade French legacy in Hindustan. After negotiations, the general Perron was given a safe passage and he left for Europe after the short stay at Lucknow and Calcutta. In the same month, 1803, the British forces captured Delhi after a battle with Bourquin another French officer of De Boigne days and Marathas lost their ground in North India.

Tablet inscribed at Aligarh fort depicting the name of the British forces who lost their lives in 1803 during takeover of the fort from French troops of Maratha Army

The apartment of De Boigne and later used by Perron in Saheb Bagh. This was later renovated by University authorities probably on the same design and used as Provost Office of the residential hostel at AMU.

Saheb Bagh

De Boigne made a beautiful mansion close to the historic fort of the Aligarh. It was a huge garden complex bounded a wall and gateway built in Indo-Saracenic style. Located on Anupshahr road between fort and city, the area around the Saheb Bagh became a cantonment of French General. Delhi Gazette (1874) cited the residence of De Boigne in these words: “De Boigne lives in his famous mansion, called Saheb Bagh, between the fort and city and on leaving for France he gave it to Perron who considerably improve the building and garden which was well laid out with all description of fruit trees procured from different climes. He adorned the place that was said by French officers that garden was next to that of Ram Bagh, on the Agra River, so beautiful was the scenery”. The gate of Perron garden house withstands the time of more than two hundred years. The tablet with the inscription written in both Persian and English is still present on the main gateway to the Sulaiman Hall. It mentioned the name of the Perron and date of inscription i.e., 1802 AD in English. In Persian, the titles conferred by Mughal emperor to the Perron were inscribed on the tablet: “Khudaya Bagh Nasir Ud Daula, Intizamul Mulk, General Perron Bahadur Muzzafar Jang hamesha bahar abaad, and Date: 1802 Gregorian and 1217 Hijri”.  Perron garden house was allocated to Aligarh Muslim University and it was converted as a residential hostel in 1945 AD by Dr. Sir Ziauddin Ahmad, then vice-chancellor of the University. It was named after ex-Judge (1923 AD) and Vice Chancellor (1929) of the University, Sir Shah Mohammad Sulaiman. The residential apartment of Perron Garden house is converted to Provost Office after necessary renovations. Today it lodges more than six hundred fifty students. The strategic fort of Maratha period is used as botanical garden of University. The tablet inscribed at fort displayed the name of the British officers killed during Anglo Maratha war of 1803 AD. Today these two monuments are the testimony of the De Boigne and Perron (stalwarts of Sindhia army) days at Aligarh (a power center of Hindustan during late 18th century). Now the residential locality in the area lying in the front of Sulaiman Hall is identified as Saheb Bagh. Quite a few of the residents know the actual story of the Sahib Bagh and story of the name engraved on the gate of Sulaiman Hall.

The only preserved structure of Saheb Bagh. Designed in Indo-Saracenic architecture, the Perron garden house gateway is two hundred fifteen-year-old structure at Aligarh Muslim University.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mr. Ovais Ahmad, a student at Aligarh University for providing photographs.


Atkinson, Edwin Thomas, ed. Statistical, Descriptive and Historical Account of the North-Western Provinces of India: 2. Meerut division part 1. Vol. 2. North-Western Provinces Government, 1875.

Burke, Edmund. The Annual Register, Or, A View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year. Printed for J. Dodsley, London, 1799.

Keene, H.G., 2000. The Fall of the Moghul Empire. Atlantic Publishers & Dist.

The European military adventurers in India.* the last few years, the spectator archives, 1893. retrieved from:

Nevill, H. R. “Aligarh: a gazetteer, vol. VI of the District Gazetteer of the United province of the Agra and Oudh.” (1909). Printed at Government Press, Allahabad, United Provinces.

Marshman, John Clark. History of India from the Earliest Period to the Close of the East India Company’s Government. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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Singh, K., 1999. Obituary: Lt-Col Michael Skinner. Retrieved from:


The royal caravan at Rampur during Mirza Jawan Bakht journey to Lucknow: A narration from an oriental source

Introduction: The eighteenth century India is documented as one of the most turbulent phases in history where one can find power brokers controlling the Imperial authority at Delhi. The Nawabs of Oudh, Marathas, Afghans, and British East India Company were main ruling forces in North India (Hindustan) that were fighting with each other to regain the control over titular Mughal Kings of “Qila-e-Moalla” in Delhi (Red Fort). On 23 April 1774 AD, after the final defeat of Rohilla Afghans by joint forces of British East India Company and Nawab of Oudh, led by Colonel Champion and Shuja-ud-daula, the princely state of Rampur was came in existence. Nawab Faizullah Khan retreated with his army in foothills of the Himalayas known as Lal Dhang after the death of Rohilla chief, Hafiz Rahmat Khan in the battlefield. After a guerilla war of five months, it was on 7 October 1774 AD, the joined forces of East India Company and Nawab Oudh opened the talk with retreated Rohilla armies in Lal Dhang. This resulted in the creation of the princely state of Rampur and Nawab Oudh occupation over the vast Rohilla territories in Katehar. History documented this agreement between Nawab Shuja-ud-daula and Nawab Faizullah Khan as the treaty of Lal Dhang. Nawab Faizullah Khan was considered as founder and first ruler of the princely state and it continued as an independent state until the freedom of India on 15 August 1947 AD.The Mughal Empire loses its central control and regional powers exert a greater influence. Even though the imperial power has lost but history witnessed symbolic regard and respect for Mughals from Marathas, Rohillas, and East India Company up to the time of last Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. One can find sporadic incidents of humiliation for example; insane Ghulam Qadir Rohilla, the unworthy grandson of Rohilla leader Najib Ud Daula, showed an act of barbarism toward the descendants of Babur and Akbar.

Translation of the narration: While reading an oriental text on Rohilla history titled as “Akhbar US Sanadid” Vol 1, by Hakim Maulvi Mohammad Najmul Ghani Khan Najmi, I found a narration that reflected the etiquettes and respect delivered by Nawab Faizullah Khan towards the Royal Princes from the house of Babur in the reign of Shah Alam II. “Mirza Jawan Bakht who was in charge of the affairs at Delhi in absence of Shah Alam left “Qila-e-Moalla” on 1198 Hijri (1784 CE) for traveling to Lucknow. When they reached Rampur, Nawab Syed Faizullah Khan offered Nazr, gifts and completed the rituals of hospitality with great pomp and show. On Tuesday, Jamadiul Akhir, 26, 1198 Hijri (corresponds to 17 May 1784 CE), the royal caravan of Shah Alam, with two princes, Mirza Javan Bakht and Mirza Sulaiman Shikoh left Delhi and reached Moradabad. In evening, Syed Faizullah Khan came to know about the arrival of Royal Caravan in Moradabad. In morning, the caravan of Mughal princes moved towards Rampur. Nawab Sahib received the Royal Princes at a distance of four miles from Rampur on the road to Muradabad. With all respect, the Mughal princes were brought to the fort of Rampur. Cash, essential commodities, elephant, horses, weapons, and tents were presented to them. In anecdotes of Shah Alam, these items were described in details. It was written that Nawab Faizullah Khan, the In charge of Rampur gifted two thousand Rupees, two Elephants, few horses, and many camps were presented to the royal princes. The Mughal princes stayed in Rampur for four days. On Friday, they offered congregational Friday prayers in Jama Masjid of Rampur. Mirza Jawan Bakht presented “Khillat” (a customary gift presented by the rulers) to the speaker of the mosque. With the intent of leaving, the prince mounted on his horse and caravan moved towards Bareilly. Nawab Faizullah Khan escorted the princes along with his sons and chiefs of the state. He escorted them up to the place where the tent of the Royal Princes was fixed. The royal food prepared with a variety of dishes was sent to the camp of Mirza Jawan Bakht and his fellow travelers by Umar Khan alias big mustache. Mizra Jawan Bakht sent a “khillat” for Nawab Sahab through Umar Khan. Mirza Jawan Bakht also gifted a turban and Shawl was gifted to Umar Khan. In morning, the royal caravan started to move towards Bareilly, the next station on the way to Lucknow“(Akhbar Us Sanadid).

Description of Mirza Jawan Bakht: The prince described above in the narration was the eldest son of Shah Alam II. As an heir apparent, he was responsible for running the affairs of “Qila-e-Moalla” in the long confinement of his father in Allahabad fort after the battle of Buxar. The oriental biographical dictionary of Beale and Keene (1894) mentioned the arrival date of Prince Jahandar Shah (titular name of Mirza Jawan Bakht) at Lucknow as April 1784 CE. The difference might appear due to the conversion of Hijri date to Gregorian from primary sources. The crown prince escape to Lucknow was intended primarily to hold talks with Warren Hastings and Nawab Oudh for rescuing the seat of Delhi from the Maratha control. The call of the prince was put on hold as both parties didn’t want to engage in direct confrontation with Sindhia who was in charge of the affairs at Qilla e Mulla. As a crown prince and symbolic authority from the house of Timur, the Governor General issued an order to keep the prince in his own camp away from the Sindhia at Lucknow. A generous stipend of five lakh per annum and an accommodation according to his rank was provided to the prince at Lucknow. In initial days of his stay at Oudh, the crown prince developed a close relationship with Asifuddaula but the relationship got strained in the coming years, which forced the prince to shift his accommodation at Benares. In Benares, Mr. Hastings provided him an accommodation and monthly stipend of twenty-five thousand rupees from Nawab Oudh. The unfortunate prince passed away in Benares on 25th Shaban, 1202 AH (1 June 1788 AD) and buried with Royal traditions close to the tomb of the venerated Muslim saint. All the principal citizens and British resident of Benares attended the funeral of the Jawan Bakht.

“A PORTRAIT OF PRINCE MIRZA JAWAN BAKHT, COMPANY SCHOOL, LUCKNOW, INDIA, CIRCA 1786. It was attributed to the celebrated Scottish artist Charles Smith. Smith was a contemporary of Johann Zoffany and an adventurer-artist who traveled widely throughout India under the protection of his countryman, the Governor-General, John Macpherson. Painting and account retrieved from

Prince Jawan Bakht died at an early age of thirty-nine years in efforts to save the seat of his ancestors in the backdrop of late 18th-century factional politics of Hindustan. The Governor-General Warren Hastings himself wrote about the prince as “gentle, lively, possessed of a high sense of humour, of a sound judgement, an uncommonly quick penetration, and a well-cultivated understanding, with a spirit of resignation and an equality of temper almost exceeding any within reach of my own knowledge or recollection“.

Jawan Bakht left behind an account titled “Biyaz Inayat Murshidzada”.  He was an excellent poet of “Rekhta”. The paintings of Prince that was attributed to Charles Smith, a celebrated Scottish painter and letters published in Proceedings of Indian History Congress by Kali Kinkar Datta (1949 AD) reflected the position although only symbolic held by the Prince Jawan Bakht as a crown prince from the house of Babur among the British administration. The hospitality of Faizullah Khan towards the Royal caravan as narrated by Ghani was the customary tradition followed by all the princely states of Hindustan. The symbolic generosity of British and other regional power towards the house of Timur and Babur finally ended with fall of Delhi in 1857 AD. The destiny forced to join the last Mughal emperor as the leader of mutineers marked the end of the dynasty but recorded the name of Bahadur Shah Zafar as the leader of first freedom movement of British India.The recitation of the couplet by an aged Emperor after the defeat reflected the similar valor of his ancestors and love for his homeland.
Ghaaziyon min bu rahegi jab talak imaan ki
Takht-e-London tak chalegi tégh Hindustan ki
As long as there remains the scent of faith in the hearts of the valiant
The sword of Hindustan shall flash from here till the throne of London (Translation by Rana Safvi, 2015).

Nazr: A customary gift offered to Indian princes and Royals in the days of Mughal India.

Khillat: Honorary robe or any gift offered by the Imperial government.

Rekhta: A form of Urdu dialect. The rekhta style poetry was famous in 17 and 18th century.

Qila-e-Moalla: It means fort of exalted dignity. A term used for the Red Fort in the 18th and 19th century.


Najmul Ghani Khan Najmi Rampuri, Akhbaar-US-Sanadid,  (Maktba Munshi Nawal Kishore(Lucknow), Urdu, 1918). Republished by Raza Library Rampur, 1997.

Husain, Iqbal. The Ruhela Chieftaincies: The Rise and Fall of Ruhela Power in India in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, USA, 1994.

Datta, Kali Kinkar. “CALCUTTA-OUDH CORRESPONDENCE RELATING TO JAHANDAR SHAH, 1788 AD.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. Vol. 12. Indian History Congress, 1949.

Beale, Thomas William, and Henry George Keene. An Oriental Biographical Dictionary: Founded on Materials Collected by the Late Thomas William Beale. WH Allen, 1894.

Rana Safvi, 2015. Art and Culture, Exploring the last Mughal’s poetry as it intertwined with his life. Hindustan Times, Retrieved from