Qudsia Begum: The Lost Mughal Queen

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Qudsia Begum: The Lost Mughal Queen

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Qudsia begum was born in 1705 and her name according to most of the sources was Udham Bai. She married Muhammad Shah I or Muhammad Shah “Rangeela” and handled the empire with the help of the nobles as the emperor used to be busy in merry making. Before marrying the emperor, she was a dancer and an entertainer in the Mughal court. She was Emperor’s favorite, whose fondness for her ended up in her marriage with the Mughal Emperor, thus from being an entertainer and a dancer, she used her charisma to elevate herself to be one of the wife of Mohammad Shah I.

The main Gate of Qudsia Bagh ,partially destroyed and not in a good state. This Grand gate is one of the only two buildings remaining inside the Qudsia Bagh

One Source, Tazkirah e Alam mentions that Qudsia begum’s name was Zainab before marrying the emperor, and was Shuja ud Daulah’s daughter and was married to Shah Alam II instead and was dearly loved by the Nawab and everyone in the household. Her birth was considered auspicious for Shuja ud Daulah as he won over Marathas and never failed in any military campaign after her birth. As a child, she was given religious knowledge in the beginning of her studies and then the secular education after her basic religious studies. She was trained in soldiership by the nawab himself at the young age of 15-16. Nawab Shuja ud daulah married off her to the Mughal Emperor for his own political gains as that would strengthen his position at the Mughal court and new territories might come under his rule. She died in 1774 and was buried in karbala because of her piousness. This is what we get from only one source i.e of tazkirah e alam, apart from that we don’t find any source supporting it.

One of the surviving minarets of the Gate, which shows a typical late Mughal architecture

Popular view is that in 1724, Qudsia Begum married Muhammad Shah I a.k.a Muhammad Shah Rangeela. Muhammad Shah I(1702-1748) became the ruler of Mughal Empire at a very young age of 17 i.e is in 1719. Before being the emperor, he was confined to his harem and did not receive the kind of knowledge and education a future king should get. He comforted himself in the privilege that was given to him in the harem. Even after becoming the king, he did not took any interest in administrative functions of the empire and the nobles divided the empire under his nose and fought with each other. He was addicted to opium and used to drink heavily, he was always involved in merry making, skipping his duties of court justice and seeing administrative affairs. In his 28 years of rule, he hardly went out of Delhi, he used to go out only for seeing the animal fair at Garh Mukteshwar and for visiting parks. only twice he went to the battlefield. Seeing all this , Nadir Shah invaded the Mughal Empire and looted and plundered Delhi for many days, took the famous diamonds of Koh e Noor, Darya e Noor and Taj e Mah, and also took away the famous ‘Peacock Throne’ or Takht e Taoos.

The Arched Gate of Qudsia bagh has chambers in it, with staircase leading to the top of the gate.

Qudsia Begum , turned from mistress to the official queen of the mughal empire. Due to Muhammad Shah’s affection for her, she was made a mansabdar due to her sound knowledge in administration and she built a cavalry unit of her own as well.

Her son Ahmad Shah Bahadur, in 1748 became the emperor of the Mughal Empire but had little support for himself apart from his mother Qudsia Begum so he could not sustain himself in the position and was later arrested by Feroze Jung and in 1754 he was removed from the throne. His mother,Qudsia begum could not garner enough support for her son during the time she had influence and her son himself was not powerful enough and was influenced by his mother.

Qudsia Bagh’s Shahi Mosque, which was built for Qudsia Begum to pray,  was damaged in the Mutiny of 1857

It was alleged that Qudsia Begum had an affair with Nawab Bahadur Javid Khan, a eunuch who was a close associate of her and helped her in many of her important works. Javid Khan was later assassinated and was burried in Ali Ganj. After Ahmad shah was imprisoned and dethroned while she herself died in the prison and we do not find any tombstone of her.

Safed Masjid or Nawab Qudsia Masjid inside the Shah e Mardan complex is used by the local people for praying.(Credits: Rana Safvi)

Her Main contribution is of construction of three mosques and one palace in Delhi.

Just outside the Red Fort she made a mosque with golden domes which is called Sunehri Masjid. She made this mosque for Javid Khan.

Sunehri Masjid is located just outside the Red Fort near the parking lot

One mosque she built in the Dargah Shah e Mardan Complex which is known as Nawab Qudsia Masjid or locally by the name Safed Masjid. A marble engraved near its front gate reads that it was made by her with the help of Javid Khan.

The last mosque she built was in her palace. Her palace was known as Qudsia bagh and was built in a persian charbagh design with gardens in four blocks, near the bank of Yamuna and the mosque was on one of its corners by the name Shahi Masjid. This Qudsia Bagh was destroyed in the 1857 mutiny and its charbagh style was changed by the British and all the buildings inside it were destroyed apart from its main gate and the mosque which were still heavily damaged.

All these places are very famous but the one who made these is not and she is burried in history with controversies , speculations and allegations. Despite all this she made a valuable mark in history which we fail to recognize even after seeing all these monuments built by her.

Sources-

1.Tazkirah e Alam by Maulvi Abdur Rahim Baksh Dehelvi

2.Fall of the Mughal Empire vol.1 by J.N.Sarkar

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About Mohd Rafay Hussain

An undergrad History Student at Delhi University who is keenly interested in cultural anthropology and historical development of societies, cultures,traditions and religions

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