Kulsum Zamani Begum- A Daughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar

Zeenat Mahal and Bahdur Shah Zafar

How Bahadur Shah Zafar’s daughter had to flee from Delhi after he lost his empire.

Description of Kulsum Zamani Begum’s escape from the Red Fort.

This is the true story of a female dervish who suffered through the travails of life. Her name was Kulsum Zamani Begum, and she was the pampered daughter of Delhi’s last emperor, Abu Zafar Bahadur Shah.

Although she died a few years ago, her story is a tale of bizarre happenings.

She was a sincere devotee of Mehboob-e-Ilahi Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya and was so attached to his dargah that she would often come there. Whatever is written down here has been told either by her or her daughter, Zainab Zamani Begum, who is still alive and lives in Pandit ka Kucha, Delhi

Kulsum Zamani Begum’s story is narrated below in her own words:

“The night my Babajan lost his empire and the end was near, there was a tumult in Lal Qila. The very walls seemed to be weeping……..
“The pearly white marble palaces had been blackened by soot from the gunfire and cannon shots in the past four months. No one had eaten for a day and a half. Zainab, my daughter, was a year-and-a-half old and crying for milk. Neither I nor any of the foster mothers were lactating because of the hunger and trouble all around us. We sat disconsolately when Hazrat Zill-e-Subhani’s special khwaja sara came to call us. It was midnight and the pin-drop silence was broken by intermittent cannon shots. We were terrified, but since Zill-e-Subhani had called us, we immediately left our palace and presented ourselves before him.
“Huzur sat on his prayer mat with a rosary in his hands. I stood before him and presented three salutations. Huzur called me close to him with great affection and said, ‘Kulsum, I entrust you to the care of Khuda. If fate permits, we will meet again. Go away immediately with your husband. I am also leaving. I don’t want to separate myself from my beloved children at this stage, but I don’t want to embroil you in my problems. If you are with me, destruction is certain. Maybe if you are alone, God will open a path of escape for you.’
“He raised his shaking hands in prayer and cried out to Allah, ‘Dear god, I entrust this orphan girl into your care. Brought up in magnificent palaces, they now venture into the wilderness and desolate jungles. They have no friends or protectors. Please protect the honour of these princesses of the Timurid dynasty. Preserve their honour. The entire Hindu and Muslim population of Hindustan are my children and trouble surrounds them all. Don’t let them suffer because of my actions. Give them relief from all troubles.’ With that, he patted my head, embraced Zainab, gave a few jewels to my husband Mirza Ziauddin, and sent us off along with Nur Mahal Saheba, who was Huzur’s begum.
“We left the Qila before dawn. My husband, Mirza Ziauddin, and the Badshah’s brother-in-law, Mirza Umar Sultan, accompanied the three women: myself and two other ladies, Nawab Nur Mahal and Hafiza Sultan, whose daughter was married to one of the emperor’s sons.
“When we climbed into our bullock cart, it was dawn. Only the morning star still twinkled in the sky, and all the other stars had vanished. We cast a last glance at the royal palace. We wept and yearned for what had once been our happy abode. Nawab Nur Mahal’s lashes were laden with tears and the morning star was reflected in them.
“We left the Lal Qila forever and reached Kurali village, where we rested for a while in the house of our cart driver. We were given bajra roti and some buttermilk. We were so hungry that the food tasted better than biryani and mutanjan.
“That night was spent peacefully, but the next day jats and gujjars from nearby areas came to loot Kurali. They were accompanied by hundreds of women who encircled us like witches. They took away all our jewellery and clothes. While these coarse women snatched the jewellery off our necks, we got a whiff of their breath which smelt so foul that we felt nauseous. After this, we didn’t even have enough money to buy ourselves our next meal. We didn’t know what was in store for us now.
“Zainab began to howl with hunger. A zamindar was passing by and I cried out, ‘Bhai, please give some water to this baby.’ The blessed man brought some water in an earthen cup and said, ‘From today, you are my sister and I’m your brother.’
“He was a well-to-do person from Kurali, and his name was Basti. He brought his cart and said he would take us wherever we wanted to go. We asked him to take us to Ijara, where Mir Faiz Ali, who was the shahi hakim and a long association with our family, lived. But when we reached Ijara, Mir Faiz Ali was extremely discourteous and refused to shelter us. ‘I am not going to destroy my house by giving you shelter,’ he told us.
“We were heartbroken and didn’t know what to do. Penniless and homeless, we were scared of the British forces chasing after us. Those who were eager to follow every glance of our eyes and obey even our slightest gestures had now turned away from us.
“And then there was Basti, who didn’t leave our side and fulfilled his covenant of calling me his sister. We left Ijara and set our destination as Hyderabad.”

Kulsum Zamani Begum eventually reached Hyderabad with her family and lived there for some time. For some time, her husband made a living by making and selling calligraphic pieces and teaching the Quran but as the British influence spread to Hyderabad and they lived in fear of being arrested they were more or less housebound. Whatever jewellery had escaped loot on the way to Hyderabad had been sold off.
The son of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s spiritual master Kale Miyan Saheb Chisti Nizami Fakhri, heard of their plight and arranged finances for them. They left for Mecca to make the Hajj pilgrimage. Basti, who had stood by them like a rock, was sent home from Bombay with whatever reward they afford for his invaluable services.
“Aboard the ship, whoever heard that we were the Shah-e-Hind’s family was eager to meet us. We were all dressed in the clothes of dervishes. One Hindu, who owned a shop in Aden and had no idea who we were, asked us which sect of fakirs we belonged to. The question inflamed our wounded hearts. I replied, ‘We are the disciples of the Mazloom Shah Guru. He was our father and our guru. Sinners have snatched away his crown and separated us from him and exiled us into the wilderness. Now he longs for us, while we are restless and yearn for a glimpse of his face. That is the truth of our faqeeri.”
“The Hindu began to cry when he heard our story and said to us, ‘Bahadur Shah was our father and guru but what could we do? It was Lord Ram’s will, and an innocent man was destroyed.’

They lived in Mecca for several years before returning to Delhi.

“When we came back, the British government took pity on us and fixed a sum of ten rupees per month for us. I laughed at this pension. They had taken away my father’s empire and offered us ten rupees as compensation.
“But then I remembered, this land belongs to god and he gives it to whoever he wants and takes it as he pleases. Man can do nothing about that.”

Fate of other ladies of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s Family:

The worst sufferers were the women of all classes including the women in the Mughal royal family. In the light of the above account of the treatment and sufferings, it is surprising that history is largely silent about them.
List of the Mughal princesses who were found roaming around Delhi and other places after September 1857/58

  1. Princess Quraishiya Begum daughter of Bahadur Shah
  2. Princess Kulshum Zamani Begum daughter of Bahadur Shah
  3. Princes Gauhar Begum daughter Qudsiya Begum daughter of Bahadur Shah
  4. Princess Malka granddaughter of Bahadur Shah
  5. Princess Gul Bano daughter of Mirza Dawal Bakht son of Bahadur Shah
  6. Princess Gul Bano, daughter of Mirza Dara Bakht
  7. Princess Nargis Nazar, the daughter of Mirza Shah Rukh ibn Bahadur Shah
  8. Princess Sultan Bano daughter of Mirza Quwaish Bahadur
  9. Princess Naz Bano daughter of Mirza Quwaish Bahadur
  10. Princess Zainab daughter of Mirza Ziauddin
  11. Princess Lalah Rukh daughter of Mirza Mughal
  12. Princess Mah Jamal daughter of Khurshid Jamal
  13. Princess Ghamzah Begum daughter of Mirza Abu Bakr
  14. Princess Gauhar Ara Begum
  15. Princess Muzaffar Sultan Begum
  16. Princess Qamar Ara Begum
  17. Princess Zohra Begum
  18. Princess Qaisar Jahan Begum
  19. Princess Birjish Dulhan
  20. Princess Qamar Jahan Begum
  21. Princess Muhammad Zamani Begum
  22. Princess Ahmadi Begum
  23. Princess Ruqayya Begum daughter of Akbar Shah
  24. Queen Nawab Nur Mahal
    In Begmaat ke Aansoo, Khwaja Hasan Nizami has described the story, which he heard from the princess herself
    Her name was Sultan Bano and she was the daughter of Mirza Kavaish Bahadur. When she met Khwaja Hasan Nizami she was 66-years-old but still remembered everything vividly. He recorded it in Begmaat ke Aansoo as Shahzadi ki Bipta.

Another tale of ruin as told by niece of Bahadur Shah Zafar:

Her name was Sultan Bano and she was the daughter of Mirza Kavaish Bahadur. When she met Khwaja Hasan Nizami she was 66-years-old but still remembered everything vividly. He recorded it in Begmaat ke Aansoo as Shahzadi ki Bipta.

She tells her story to Khwaja Hasan Nizami:

“Although the ghadar took place 50 years ago I still remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. I was 16-years-old then. I was two years younger than my brother Mirza Yavar Shah and six years older than my sister Naaz Bano, who died.”
“My name is Sultan Bano. My father Mirza Kavaish Bahadur (he was appointed the Crown Prince by the British in 1856, over the claims of Zeenat Mahal’s son Mirza Jawan Bakht). He was a favourite and able son of Hazrat Bahadur Shah.”
“We sisters were very fond of our brother Yawar Shah and it was reciprocated fully.”

Aqa Bhai had a whole range of tutors who taught him every range of subject and various arts. He had expert calligraphers, Arabic and Persian scholars and ace archers teaching him.”

We learnt embroidery, stitching and other household arts from Mughlanis.”

The children that Huzur-e-Wala was very fond of would partake breakfast with him every morning. Zill-e-Subhani was very fond of me and I was always called for breakfast with him”

” We didn’t observe purdah then or now. Strangers would come and go from the zenana mahal without a problem. But I was shy and I always kept my head covered and didn’t like coming in front of strange men. But I had to obey the orders of the Huzur, even though various male cousins also came there.”
The saving grace for me was that because they were in the presence of the Emperor they all kept their gaze lowered. No one could look up or speak out of turn.”

“As per custom, Huzur-e-Moalla would offer a morsel from some special dish to a few of his children, that person whether young or old, male or female, would get up from their seat and go close to him and present three salams by bending from the waist.”
“One day I was called and Huzur gave me a portion of a special Irani dish that had been mde that day. He said, “Sultana, you only peck at your food. It’s good to be respectful but you should not go to the extent that you get up hungry from the dastarkhwan.”
“I presented three salams to him but only I know how I went there and came back. I was quaking and tripping over my feet.”

Alas! Where did those happy days go? What happened to that era?”

We would be roaming about in our palaces without a concern. Zill-e-Subhani’s shadow was on our head and we were addressed as Malika-e-Alam. Such are the ups and downs of life.”
“I remember the day clearly when Huzur-e-Moalla was arrested in Humayun’s maqbara and a gora shot my Chachajaan Mirza Abu Bakr Bahadur then Mirza Sohrab ran towards him with a naked sword. But he was shot by another gora and he fell down with an aah on chahchajaan’s corpse and died. I was standing there, still as a statue watching it mutely.”
“A khwaja Sara came and said, “Begum why are you standing here? Your Abbajaan is calling you.”

” In a state of stupor I followed him.”
“Near the river gate, my father, Mirza Kavaish Bahadur was seated on a horse, bare headed and anxious. Abbajan’s hair was covered in dust and straw. He started crying when he saw me and said, “Farewell Sultana, I too am leaving. The light of my life, my young son, who I wanted to see with a sehra of pearls and flowers hiding his face in his wedding, was killed in front of my eyes by a Sikh soldier. ” I screamed loudly and started calling out, “O my brother Yawar.”

” He dismounted and pacified naaz Bano and me and said, “Beti, now the goras are looking for me. I don’t know how much longer I can escape them or how much longer I have before my life is snuffed out. You are Masha Allah young and sensible pacify your younger sister and place your trust in God and be patient.”
“I don’t know what will happen to either of us. I don’t want to leave you both alone but one day or the other you will be orphaned. Naaz Bano is a child, look after her and live a righteous life.”
“Naaz Bano you are no longer a princess don’t throw tantrums or make demands. Just give thanks to Allah and eat whatever you can get. If someone is eating, don’t look at them or people will say Princesses are very greedy.”

“He put us in charge of the Khwaja Sara and said, “Take them to where the other members of our family have gone.”
He embraced us and spurred his horse into the jungle. That was the last we saw of him and have no idea what happened to him after that. The Khwaja Sara was an old servant of our family and he set of with us.

Naaz Bano walked for a little while but she had never walked in her pampered and protected life and soon her legs gave way.
“She started crying. I had never walked much myself but somehow I managed and pulling Bano along stumbled my way through the streets where we once rode elephants in state processions.”
A thorn pricked Naaz Bano’s foot and she fell down crying. I picked her up and tried to remove the thorn. The accursed Khwaja Sara kept watching, making no effort to help. He started pushing us to hurry up.
Naaz said, “Apajan I can’t walk anymore. Please ask the steward to send a palanquin for us.”
” I started pacifying her through my tears. My heart felt as if it would burst with sorrow.”
“The Khwaja Sara said rudely, “That’s enough. Make a move now.”
“Naaz Bano was high-spirited and was used to obeisance from servants and would always keep them in their place. She scolded the Khwaja Sara. The accursed man flew into a rage and slapped the poor orphaned princess.”
“Bano trembled with shock. No one had ever laid a hand on her. Even I started crying also with her. The Khawaja Sara walked off leaving the two of us crying there.”

Somehow the two of us stumbled our way to the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya RahmatAllah Alaihe.”
” Thousands of people from Delhi and our family had taken refuge here. Each was caught up in their own troubles and fears. No one was talking to the other or enquiring after them.”
“A wave of epidemic diseases, which spread in the wake of the ghadar, claimed my sister’s life.”
“I was now all-alone.”
“Though peace returned to Delhi, there was no peace for me.”
“The British government fixed a pension of Rs 5/pm for all of us and I still get that.”

Khwaja Hasan Nizami-A translation taken from one of the many stories collected by Khwaja Hasan Nizami about the survivors of the Mughal emperor’s family and also Begamat ke Ansoo

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