Qudsia Begum-The Tale of an Empress, in Fame and Notoriety.

Qudsia Begum aka Udham Bai an Empress, a Mother Dowager and the Emperors-her husband and son and also an Eunuch

Udham Bai – (c1705 – 1754) was a Mughal queen. She was married to Emperor Muhammad Shah (1719 – 1748).


Udham Bai entertained

Artist: Mir Miran (1742)

Collection: San Diego Museum of Art

She was the consort of Mohammed Shah Rangeela aka Shahanshah Nasir-ud-Din Muhammad Shah, Abu Al-Fatah Nasir-ud-Din Roshan Akhtar Muhammad Shah (1702-1748) also known as Roshan Akhtar, who was the Mughal emperor between 1719 and 1748.


Mohammed Shah Rangeela

Emperor Mohammed Shah with four courtiers, smoking Hukkah

Emperor Muhammad Shah with four courtiers, smoking huqqah, ca. 1730,

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

He was son of Khujista Akhtar, the fourth son of Bahadur Shah I. He had ascended the throne at 17. Muhammad Shah the frivolous emperor, was a great patron of the arts, including musical, cultural and administrative developments, his pen-name was Sada Rangila (“ever joyous”).

The Rise and her fears-Udham Bai aka Qudsia Begum

However, Udham Bai’s destiny, underwent a phenomenal rise from the status of mistress of Mohammed Shah Rangeela she rose to be his official queen-Nawab Qudsia Begum.

But neither her humble origin, her unaccepted past, nor her power behind the Hijab (veil) could ever match the dignity of a noble queen in the harem. Despite her now noble status her private life remained scandalous. Owing to which she had fallen under royal disfavour during the later period of her wedded life. She was disallowed in the palace precincts and not allowed to see her son.

Another Mistress of Mohanmed Shah Rangeela-Nur Bai was Qudsia Begum’s arch rival. They were naturally both jealous of each other and though she gained the queenship, Qudsia Begum suspected that the emperor might one day replace her with the craftier and more generously bestowed Nur. “Bulbul ki awaz, hoor ka sarafa” (bulbul-voiced with Hour-Glass like appearance) were among the praises heaped on Nur Bai.

Memories of Udham Bai

Udham Bai aka Qudsia Begum, whether in fame or notoriety, lives on in the memories of people. She lives on, because of the Mosque, Baugh and Palace she had commissioned. The Mosque is still preserved and so is her memory.


Qudsia Gateway (Delhi)

Old entrance gateway of the Qudsia garden


Ruins of Qudsia Begum’s Bagh

Qudsia Begum, built a large garden on the Western bank of the river Yamuna in about AD.1748. The original palace and other buildings have disappeared and only a lofty western gateway with a cusped arched entrance remains at the site.

Commisioned by Nawab Qudsia Begum aka Udham Bai, in 1748, the nautch girl who later became wife of Emperor Muhammad Shah, the sprawling garden with a palace and a private mosque, extended up to the banks of the Yamuna. It was built in 1748 as a garden fortress exclusively for herself in the same year that her husband died.

Remnants of Qudsia Bagh are located near Kashmiri Gate, Delhi. The garden dates back to the mid-eighteenth century and had once housed a palace, waterfall, a mosque, a summer lodge and a beautiful flower and fruit garden.

(Later however, a greater part of the garden was used to construct the Inter State Bus Terminus and the adjacent tourist campsite).

Developed in a typical Persian Charbagh style, the only remains of the Bagh are its grand western gateway, the Qudsia masjid located near the intersection of Ring Road and Boulevard Road and a couple of pavilions in carved red sandstone.


The heavily damaged Shahi mosque (Qudsia Masjid-Delhi) after the 1857 rebellion

(Source: British Library archives)


Qudsia Masjid Delhi (Now)

Qudsia Masjid was the private mosque of the emperor and his wife, and was built in a very simple style. Surmounted by three domes, the mosque has three arched openings and was repaired in 1833-34 by Bahadur Shah II.


An artist’s representation of Qudsia Palace

(Source: British Library archives)

It is said that the Qudsia Palace was built like a fort, enclosed by high walls. However, this palatial building along with other buildings was destroyed during the 1857 war.


Qudsiya Bagh-little-known garden in North Delhi

After the war, the British appointed the able gardener Smith to look after the garden. His cottage is still there.

Sunehri Masjid


Painting of the Golden Mosque, in 1843


Sunehri Masjid, near the Red Fort

The Sunehri Masjid (Red Fort) was constructed between 1747 and 1751 by the order of Qudsia Begum for Nawab Bahadur Javed Khan, a nobleman during the reign of the Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur. The Sunehri Masjid is made of bassee jung, a light salmon-coloured stone not usually used for building mosques, which gives the building a singular and picturesque appearance.

Love hate relationship with history

Udham Bai aka Qudsia Begum shares a hate love relationship with history. Historians have recorded her in fame as a Moghul Queen. Qudsia Begum was named Reham-dil Begum though she was accused of many things but at the same time respected for being a great patron of women and the poor. She became known for her extensive selfless charity towards the nephews and grandsons of the former emperor who were subjected to neglect and abject poverty in the palace, as well as poor outside the palace, by giving them a comfortable and descent life.

More frequently, she was not favoured by historians, as they write that Udham Bai a former public dancing girl had been introduced to Mohammad Shah. Smitten by her, the emperor raised her dignity to that of a queen.


Tomb of Mohammed Shah Rangeela

(Hazrat Nizamdudin,Delhi)

With her husband’s death (1748) her son Ahmad Shah Bahadur (1725 – 1775) succeeded to the Mughal throne, but remained under the influence of Udham Bai, and the eunuch superintendent of the harem, the emperor’s vicar Javīd Khan. Both had exerted considerable influence over political affairs.


Ahmad Shah Bahadur

With her Son Ahmad Shah Bahadur accession to the throne, the wheels of fortune once again revolved in her favour and she was conferred the titles of Malika-i-Zamani, Sahiba Mahal, Bai Jiu Sahiba, Nawab Qudsia, Sahiba –us-Zamani, Sahibjiu Sahiba, hazrat and Qible-i-Alam.


1748-54 De facto co-ruler Queen Udham Bai of the Mughal Empire

A mansab of 500,000 horses was conferred upon her and her birthday used to be celebrated with great pomp and lavishness. But her notoriety increased when on 21 January 1754, she spent two cores on celebrating her birthday, at a time when soldiers were mutinying for long overdue salary and the government could not even accumulate two lakhs. So much so that a young Ass and a Bitch were tied at the palace gate, by the soldiers, and nobles when coning for Durbar were asked to Salute the representation of Nawab Bahadur (The eunuch Javid Khan) and Qudsia Begum the Queen Mother!

Her family too enjoyed the taste of royalty, as the brother of Udham Bai-Man Khan, a vagabond of the streets who used to be the male dancer behind singing girls was given the position of a 6 Hazari peer with a title of Mutaqad-ud-dauah-Bahadur.

Udham Bai, in her attempt to imitate Noor Jahan (Jahagir’s consort) used to hold court and tackle the reins business in person. Daily the high officials used to sit down in her porch (Deorhi) and she used to hold discussions with them from behind a screen, with eunuchs as the medium. All petitions (Mutalib) were sent to the harem and she used to pass orders on them. The court historians have recorded the lament of officials upon receiving the orders.

However, Qudsia Begum-the queen mother’s personal predilection for men scandalized the court, especially when she became enamoured of the eunuch Javid Khan, who was later killed (1752).


Javid Khan the eunuch

Javid Khan the eunuch, had been the assistant controller of harem servants, but after the accession of Ahmed Shah, Udham Bai aka Qudsia Begum’s son he was raised in power as 6 Hazari and titled as Roz-afun Khan, the nazir suprintendant of the harem. He was old and suffered from weakness and rheumatism in the legs. Soon after he was elevated further and all real power was given to him as the Suprintendent of Diwan-i-Khas. He could now control the entry of honest councillors in the court, intelligence department, imperial elephants and confirmed the appointments (arz-i-mukarraro). He even controlled the estate of Begums and privy purse of the emperor. The Ahmad Shah now left all duties on his favourite Javid Khan and retired in the harem. Javid Khan had now become 7 Hazari Mansab and had been bestowed with the title of Nawab Bahadur( Emperor’s Vicar). He was given insignia of the highest honor, namely Mahi-o-Maratib, standard, banner, kettle drums and a fringed palki. The eunuch had been so exalted that no noble could be compared with him.


Marble Tomb of Nawab Bahadur Jawid Khan (Aliganj)

The grave is a marble monument standing on a double platform of which the lower one is of red sandstone while the upper is of marble. The tomb is reputed to belong to Nawab Jawid Khan, a eunuch and a great favourite of emperor Ahmed Shah. It was built in A.D. 1752.

Javid Khan was now fifty years of age, completely illiterate, had no knowledge of administration and never had seen a battle in his life, but now he was deciding on war and peace, revenue of the kingdom as a supreme authority. He had attained this position by pampering the emperors vices and humouring the queen mother-Qudsia Begum aka Udham Bai.


The Eventuality

Qudsia Begum did nothing to strengthen her son’s hold on the throne, suffered when he was ousted from power by Imad-ul-Mulk and his Maratha allies  (June, 1754). The queen was imprisoned and died in captivity soon afterwards. Ahmad Shah was blinded and remained a prisoner until his death twenty years later.

Compiled from:

Ø Fall Of The Mughal Empire- Vol. I (4Th Edn.), Volume 1

By J. Sarkar

Ø British Library

Ø Encyclopaedia Britannica

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