The tomb of “Ganna Begum”
On that tomb there is a small epitaph in Farsi, “Aah, Gham-E-Ganna”……
Ganna Begum-whose life turned out to be a saga of misfortunes still lives in Ballads and memories of her tragic lore.
The now forgotten tomb of Ganna Begum lies in obscurity in Noorabad, 35km from Gwalior. It is near an ancient and beautiful bridge with minarets over the river “Saank”, built at the time of Aurangzeb in 17th century.
Bridge with minarets over the river “Saank”
According to a survey of Noorabad conducted by General Cunningham in 1862 A.D., the tomb was constructed in memory of the widow of Wazir of Sarai, Gajhiuddin in 1775 A.D.
Ganna was named thus, because her voice had the sweetness of Sugarcane. Remarkably, Emperor Mohammad Shah had fallen for beauty of Ganna Beghum.
Ganna Beghum was the daughter of Ali Kul Khan of the royal family of Iran. Her father Abdul Kuli Khan was an influential land lord in the Awadh province in late 17th Century. Her mother Suraiyya had been an acclaimed danseuse and singer in her youth, though she left the public life when she got married to Abdul Khan.
Suraiyya had trained her daughter-Ganna, in singing and dancing from a very early age and groomed her into a master of these skills.
Abdul Kuli Khan had a residence in Delhi also, hence after he passed away, Suraiyya and Ganna moved to Delhi. With the passage of time, Ganna grew up to be an exceptionally beautiful woman. It is said that her skin was so fair and delicate that when Ganna would chew Paan, one could see the pinkness on her throat.
As Ganna grew up she started getting marriage proposals from many royal families, but she also started catching attention of many rogue princes and noblemen. Aurangzeb’s death had led to Delhi being subjected to complete state of political instability and disarray. This had caused several worthy and unworthy princes and noblemen to wye for the throne and power. During Ganna’s youth, Mughal Sultanate was in decline in Delhi and in other states of India.
Ganna’s destiny had awakened for the worse and meted out misfortunes for her. Ganna by then had falleen in love with a Jat Rajput – Javahar Singh of Bharatpur. It was a love born at first sight and grew so strong that Ganna decided to move to Bharatpur with Javahar Singh. But when Jawahar Singh was bringing Ganna to Bharatpur, his father king Surajmal stopped them on their way near Peeli Pokhar, and refused to let Ganna become his daughter-in-law. This erupted in a small battle between the father and son in which Javahar Singh got injured and lost a leg for life.
Ganna had to return to her mother hiding for her life.
Meanwhile, Waziruddaula Shihabuddin, son of Gaziuddin, the Nizam of Hyderabad, was in Delhi and holding the post of Mir-Baqshi in the Sultanate. Shihabuddin a very sly and devious person. He tricked Safdarjung, a minister, who had introduced him to Sultan Ahmed Shah (son of Muhammad Shah Rangeela), and helped him get the post, by getting him imprisoned and convinced the Sultan to make himself a Minister instead.
This Shihabuddin also had eyes for Ganna and he forcibly brought her to his Harem. But Ganna never liked being with Shihabuddin. She still loved prince Javahar Singh and could not yet forget him.
Destiny had not been kind to Ganna and another mishap came her way. There used to be a Mughlani Beghum in Punjab. After the death of her husband she took up his post and became the lord of Punjab. While being in control of her fief, she indulged in extracting wealth illicitly and led her life without any social and moral restraints. She also had a daughter-Umda. She had engaged her daughter to Shihabuddin in agreement with Shihabuddin’s father Gajiuddin, when they were young children.
But after his father’s death Shihabuddin refused to marry the girl stating that he did not want to marry the daughter of a women of such ill reputation. Not only this, he even tried to wring some wealth out of Mughlani Beghum’s enormous accumulation, in which he succeeded to some extent.
In 1761 Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked on Delhi and perpetrated immense bloodshed and looted diamonds and gold silver worth crores a. But, influenced by Mughlani Beghum, he let Shihabuddin be free and made him the Lord of the looted and destroyed Delhi. This waiver though came with the condition that he will marry the daughter of Mughlani Beghum, and make Ganna her slave. Shihabuddin was so scared of Abdali’s might at that time that though reluctant he agreed to the condition and thus Ganna became his wife’s personal slave.
Ganna-the beautiful was forced by her fate to lead a menial life, though her heart longed for Javahar Singh. One day she overheard that Shihabuddin planned to kill Javahar Singh. This was very alarming news for her. Her companion named Umda, helped Ganna plan a runaway to meet Javahar.
Thus Gannna could finally meet Javahar and save his life as well. Javahar also was very happy finding Ganna again and promised that he would marry Ganna in very near future. But in few days Ganna found that he has already married his elder brother Nahar Singh’s widow and has wringed that poor widow off her wealth as well. This broke Ganna’s heart and she became very depressed.
Ganna was now faced the question, of what to do, where to go. At this time Umda helped her again and somehow overtime got her enrolled in Mahadji Scindia’s army as a Sikh young man. Mahadji Scindia was the ruler of Gwalior at that time. Knowing her capabilities Mahadji made her his personal letter writer.
But Ganna had not given her true introduction to Mahadji. She dressed herself like a young Sikh, called Guni Singh, and impersonated a man when with Mahadji.
As she knew Farsi, Arabi and Hindi languages she used to take dictation of Mahadji’s important political letters. One day when “Guni Singh” and Mahadji were crossing a river, Mahadji saw that Ganna was in the river and drowning. But with Mahadji’s alertness and alacrity she was saved. During this, when Guni Singh was unconscious, it was revealed that he was actually a woman and not a man. But Mahadji did not reveal this to anyone and let it stay a secret.
One time during a visit to Pune, Ganna saved Mahadji from a plot to kill him, and even got the assassinator killed. Mahadji by this time was very impressed with Ganna’s intelligence. Gradually the veil of secrecy disappeared from between them. She now became Ganna for Mahadji but continued to appear as Guni Singh for rest of the world.
Mahadji was also a poet. He found that Ganna too was an accomplished poet and also a fine singer. She gave her voice to many poetry written by Mahadji. She had a jewel studded Tamboora. When she would play it and sing some Ghazal or some poetry written by Mahadji, she would spread magic all over. Mahadji would get enchanted as well.
Thus, for one more time, Ganna’s life saw beautiful days. But this happiness and peace was short lived.
In 1774 Shihabuddin came to Noorabad. In those days some Muslim Faqeers were travelling all over the country, trying to unite the community, so that Hindu kings may not become too powerful and that they may not take over the central power. Shihabuddin was involved with such Faqeers and would even sponsor their activities. One such meeting was to happen in Noorabad, and Ganna decided to go to the meeting in disguise to find if there was any plotting planned against Mahadji, the ruler of Gwalior. She went to the meeting hiding in a Burqa and started to return at the end of the meeting. But she could not escape the sharp eyes of Shihabuddin who was also present there. He sent his men to capture her, which they did and found a hidden Kripan too with her.
Ganna was brought to Shihabuddin’s camp who became very delighted to see her and declared to spend the night with her. He was completely drunk. When he went out of the camp for something, Ganna asked for water and quietly and quickly took a little packet of poison out of her clothes. She mixed this with water and quickly drank it. By the time Shihabuddin came back she lost her conscious to never have it back again.
Thus she ended her life.
When Mahadji came to know about this, he was filled with enormous grief. He made a tomb of marble for her to express his love and respect for her and marked the words that he had earlier wished to put on his tomb – “Aah, Gham-E-Ganna”.
Ganna Begums Tomb