Mah Laqa Bai

Mah Laqa Bai (7 April 1768 – August 1824), born Chanda Bibi, and sometimes referred to as Mah Laqa Chanda, was an Indian 18th century Urdu poet, courtesan and philanthropist based in Hyderabad. In 1824, she became the first female poet to have a diwan (collection of poems) of her work, a compilation of Urdu Ghazals named Gulzar-e-Mahlaqa, published posthumously. She lived in a period when Dakhini (a version of Urdu) was making its transition into the highly Persianized Urdu. Her literary contributions provide insight on such linguistic transformations in southern India. She was an influential female courtesan of the Deccan; the Nizam, ruler of Hyderabad, appointed her to the omarah (the highest nobility), and as a close affiliate at the court. In 2010, her memorial in Hyderabad, that houses her tomb, was restored using funds donated by the Federal government of the United States.

Mah Laqa Bai
Portrait of Mah Laqa Bai
Portrait of Mah Laqa Bai
Born7 April 1768
Hyderabad, India
DiedAugust 1824 (aged 55–56)
Hyderabad, India
Pen nameChanda
Occupationpoet
PeriodNizam of Hyderabad
GenreGhazal
SubjectLove, philosophy

LifeEdit

Born as Chanda Bibi on 7 April 1769 in Aurangabad in the present-day Maharashtra.[1][2]:120 Her mother was Raj Kunwar – a courtesan who migrated from Rajputana,[3] and father was Bahadur Khan, who served as a Mansabdar (military official) at Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah's court. Khan migrated from Delhi to Hyderabad Deccan where he met and married Raj Kunwar.[4]:107 Chanda Bibi was adopted by Kunwar's childless sister Mehtaab Ma who was the favored courtesan - almost a regular consort - of Nawab Rukn-ud-Daula, a Prime Minister of Nizam of Hyderabad.[5]

Nawab Rukn-ud-Daula took personal interest in Chanda Bibi's training and provided her with the best teachers. While growing up, she had access to a well-endowed library and was exposed to the vibrant culture of Hyderabad. By the time she was 14, she excelled in horse riding and archery.[6] It was second Nizam (Mir Nizam Ali Khan) who conferred her the title "Mah Laqa Bai".[7]:522 Due to her skills, she accompanied the Nizam II in three wars; dressed in male attire, she was noted for bow and javelin skills in the wars. Owing to her contributions, the Nizams awarded her with Jagir (lands) on various occasions,[6][4]:81 & 124[8]:172–3[9]:355–6 that include the neighborhoods of Hyderguda, Chanda Nagar, Syed pally and Adikmet.[10] On one occasion, she was conferred the title of Mah Laqa — meaning "Visage of the Moon". Though she never married, she was in love with Raja Rao Rambha Rao (a Maratha military chief who led a cavalry of 600 army men, fought against Maratha Empire under the second Nizam and became his favourite), and used to admire Captain Sir John Malcolm (an assistant of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the British Resident at Hyderabad).[4]:81 & 124[8]:172–3[9]:355–6[11]

She was an influential woman in the court of the second and third Nizam of Hyderabad.[12]:365–85 At that time, she was the only woman to be given recognition publicly in Hyderabad State. In addition, she was appointed to the omarah, the highest nobility. Mah Laqa was frequently consulted by the rulers of the state on policy matters.[4]:81 As a pride among the nobility in those times, a battalion of 500 soldiers was reserved to march with her while she visits any official.[13] She was also a courtesan while the Nizams held court.[14] She was a mistress of the Prime Ministers of the Nizams.[12] She died in 1824 and bequeathed her properties that included land, gold, silver and diamond-studded jewellery to homeless women.[2] Her residence which was located in Nampally, Hyderabad, today had been converted into a Government aided girls degree college.[10] Mah Laqa of Deccan was the contemporary of renowned poets like Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda and Khwaja Mir Dard in North India.[15] She died in Hyderabad in August 1824.[16]:178

AccomplishmentsEdit

PoetryEdit

 
The first page of Mah Laqa Chanda's Dewan

Mah Laqa was influenced by the literary work of mystic poet Siraj Aurangabadi (1715–1763),[2]:121[17]:4109 and learned poetry from Nawab Mir Alam who later became the Prime Minister of Hyderabad State. Her first language was Urdu, and she was also fluent in Arabic, Persian and Bhojpuri languages.[4]:118 & 123 She was the first woman poet to author a diwan, a complete collection of Urdu ghazals. The collection, named Gulzar-e-Mahlaqa, comprises 39 ghazals, and each ghazal consists of 5 couplets. The collection was published in 1824 after her death.[2]:121–2[18] The Diwan e Chanda is a manuscript collection of Mah Laqa's 125 Ghazals, compiled and calligraphed by her in 1798. It was signed and gifted to Captain Malcolm on 18 October 1799, during a dance performance at Mir Alam's residence. It is now preserved in the British Museum.[19][20]:521–2

Her Nom de plume was Chanda. The Urdu words Bulbul (songbird), Gul (rosebud) and Saqi (one who serves wine) recurred as themes in her ghazals.[2]:121–2[18] Her popularity in reading poetry made her the first poetess of the region to participate and present her poetries in a mushaira (poetic symposium) which was earlier reserved for men. Along with her poetry, sometimes she sang the songs composed by the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah and Sultan of Bijapur Ibrahim Adil Shah II.[4]:81 & 129 From her Diwan of 39 Ghazal collection, one Ghazal "Hoping to blossom (one day) into a flower" translates as:

Hoping to blossom (one day) into a flower,
Every bud sits, holding its soul in its fist.

Between the fear of the fowler and (approaching) autumn,
The bulbul’s life hangs by a thread.

Thy sly glance is more murderous than arrow or sword;
It has shed the blood of many lover.

How can I like a candle to thy (glowing) cheek?
The candle is blind with the fat in its eyes.

How can Chanda be dry-lipped. O Saqi of the heavenly wine!
She has drained the cup of thy love.[2]:121–2

Dance and singingEdit

 
Mah Laqa dancing in court
 
Mah Laqa singing poetry

Mah Laqa learned singing and classical Indian music specialising Thumri from Khushhal Khan a master musician of her time,[21]:16 and a great-grandson of the Tansen, the maestro of Mughal court. She excelled in Ghazal singing in multiple raga (melodic modes) and Taal (rhythms); she was adept at the Yaman raga and Khayal Tappa which she use to sing at special occasions. Mah laqa preferred using Bhimpalasi raga in romantic Ghazals. When singing Sufi songs she used Dhrupad raga mixed with taal chautala and raga Bhairavi.[4]:118 & 128 Mah Laqa excelled in singing love lyrics accompanied by Deccani style of Kathak dance.[22][23] She established a cultural centre in which 300 girls were trained by her along with other masters.[5] Maha Laqa's library contain manuscripts and books on poetry along with the arts and the science collections.[24] She sponsored and supervised the publication of Mahnama, a historical book about the revival period of Hyderabad State. Although Mah Laqa practiced Islam, she was influenced by the understanding of Hindu books and philosophy. One author studied her writings and said that "her verses had a distinct darbari ring in which she eulogized the king and nobles, a common style employed by poets during the 17th and 18th centuries."[4]:81 & 122

MistressEdit

After the Battle of Kharda in 1795 AD the Nizam II was defeated by Maratha Madhavrao II which lead to the Treaty of Kharda. According to treaty the Nizam II had to cede some of the Maratha territories along with Arastu Jah—(the then Kiladar of Aurangabad) as hostage in Poona. After his two years confinement, in the year 1797 Arastu Jah had successfully managed to influence some of the Maratha leadership to channel his release and had reinstated the ceded territories of Nizam II. This diplomatic success of Arastu Jah had impressed Nizam II and he was made the Dewan of Hyderabad. Mah Laqa Bai was initially introduced to Nizam II by Arastu Jah to influence the Nizam II and wanted to be aware of his herem, it was under Arastu Jah patronage Mah Laqa began her career as a poet and upon Arastu Jah initiative her collected of poetry was published in the form of Dewan in 1798 AD.[25]:169–70[26]:336–39

MemorialEdit

Near a hillock in Moula-Ali, Hyderabad, Mah Laqa constructed a walled compound where she frequently held mushairas. Inside this compound, she built a tomb for her biological mother in 1792. After her death, Mah Laqa was buried next to her mother.[21]:14[27] The tomb was constructed in the Mughal and Rajasthani architectures style in the Char Bagh pattern. Along with mausoleum, the complex contains a pavilion in centre that is decorated intricately with stucco work, a Caravanserai, a mosque and two stepwells.[13][19] On a carved teakwood over the door of her mausoleum, an inscription in Urdu can be seen which translates as:[21]:13

 
View of the campus area that contains the tomb and a mosque.

Cypress of the garden of grace and rose-tree of the grove of coquetry,
an ardent inamorata of Hydar and suppliant of Panjtan.

When the tidings of the advent of death arrived from God,
she accepted it with her heart, and heaven became her home.

The voice of the invisible speaker called for her chronogram,
Alas! Mah Laqa of the Deccan departed for heaven 1240 A.H.

Scott Kugle, a Professor at Emory University and a researcher, studied the life of Mah Laqa Bai. During his study, he came across this memorial in a dilapidated condition. Kugle proposed the idea of renovating it. In the year 2010, by using funds from the Federal government of the United States through the Consulate General's office in Hyderabad, the Center for Deccan Studies spearheaded the year-long renovation project.[14] The Muslim Educational, Social and Cultural Organization also provided support to the project. In this renovation project, the debris was cleared, water channels were rebuilt, trees, bushes, the buildings and their exquisite decorations were restored.[14][28][29]

Legacy and influenceEdit

 
Mah Laqa in Palanquin-(A cutout from a scene of hunting caravan of Nizam II)

According to Sajjad Shahid, Mah Laqa Bai was the inspiration for Mirza Hadi Ruswa's famed novel Umrao Jaan Ada (1899), Umrao Jaan Ada is referred to as the first true novel of Urdu literature.[30] Abdul Halim Sharar presented Mah Laqa Bai in his Urdu novel Husan Kay Dakoo (the robbers of beauty) (1913-1914) as a well-informed lady who got benefits from the modern educational system.[31]:472 Narendra Luther, posits that Mah Laqa Bai, the first women poet of India whose anthology was ever published "brought much pride to Hyderabad".[29] In a seminar "Mad and divine women"-(2011) Scott Kugle-a Professor at Emory University, expressed that Mah Laqa Bai, besides being an aristocratic courtesan, was a devoted mystic, and was enamored by Sufi and bhakti elements.[23]

In 2013, during the Hyderabad heritage festival, a monologue stage play "Maha Laq Bai Chanda" on the life of Mah Laqa was sponsored by Andhra Pradesh State Tourism Department. The play was directed by Vinay Varma; Ratika Sant Keswani played the role of Mah Laqa bai.[6][32]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "MNC to help restore Chanda tomb charm". The Times of India. 20 August 2010. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Tharu, Susie J; Lalita, ke (1991). Women Writing in India. New York: The Feminist Press. ISBN 978-1-55861-027-9.
  3. ^ Shahid, Sajjad (30 December 2012). "The elite performer". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Latif, Bilkees (2010). Forgotten. India: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-306454-1. Archived from the original on 20 March 2018. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Latif's Forgotten salutes women". Hindustan Times. 8 March 2011. Archived from the original on 8 June 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Rajendra, Rajani (19 April 2013). "Glimpse into Mah Laqa's life". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  7. ^ Aftab, Tahera (2008). Inscribing South Asian Muslim Women. Brill. ISBN 978-9-0-04-15849-8. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  8. ^ a b Dalrymple, William (2002). White Mughals. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-303046-1. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  9. ^ a b Leonard, Karen (2011). "Hindu temples in Hyderabad: state patronage and politics in South Asia" (PDF). South Asian History and Culture. 2 (3): 352–373. doi:10.1080/19472498.2011.577568. S2CID 132551060. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Iron lady Mahlaqa Bai Chanda's haveli reduced to rubble". The Siasat Daily. 18 April 2013. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  11. ^ V, Govind Krishnan (7 May 2013). "A poet called Moon". Fountain Ink. Archived from the original on 26 February 2018. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  12. ^ a b Scott, Kugle (2010). "Mah Laqa Bai and Gender: The Language, Poetry, and Performance of a Courtesan in Hyderabad" (PDF). Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Duke University Press. 30 (3). ISSN 1548-226X. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  13. ^ a b Nanisetti, Serish (22 February 2013). "Rediscovering Mahalaqa Bai". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.
  14. ^ a b c "US Consulate funds renovation of Mah Laqa Bai's tomb". Daily News and Analysis. 19 August 2010. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  15. ^ Pande, Rekha (2012). "Women in the Hyderabad State in 19th and 20th centuries". Journal of History & Social Sciences. 3 (1). ISSN 2229-5798. Archived from the original on 4 July 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  16. ^ Haq, Mohammad Shamsul (2008). Paimana-e-Ghazal (in Urdu). National Book Foundation. ISBN 978-969-37-0278-1. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  17. ^ Lal, Mohan (1992). Encyclopaedia of Indian literature: sasay to zorgot (Volume 5 of Encyclopaedia of Indian literature). 5. Sahitya Akademi. ISBN 978-81-260-1221-3. Archived from the original on 23 July 2016.
  18. ^ a b "'Wah', once again please". Live Mint. 29 April 2011. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  19. ^ a b Nanisetti, Serish (4 August 2009). "Towering blunder at Moula Ali dargah". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  20. ^ Aftab, Tahera (2008). Inscribing South Asian Muslim Women: An Annotated Bibliography and Research Guide. Brill Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-15849-8. Archived from the original on 20 March 2018.
  21. ^ a b c Bilgrami, Syed Ali Asgar (1992). Landmarks of the Deccan. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services. ISBN 978-81-206-0543-5.
  22. ^ Ganesh, Prashanti (27 December 2011). "Mad and divine women from India celebrated". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  23. ^ a b "Mad and Divine women; mystic saint poets of India and beyond". Kartik Fine Arts. 25 December 2011. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  24. ^ "India: For the love of a woman". The Daily Telegraph. 8 October 2002. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  25. ^ Scott, Kugle (2016). When Sun Meets Moon. UNC Press Books. ISBN 9781469626789. Archived from the original on 6 March 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  26. ^ Haidar, Navina Najat; Sardar, Marika (2015). Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy. Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 337. ISBN 9780300211108. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  27. ^ Nanisetti, Serish (16 February 2010). "A slice of history". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  28. ^ "Refurbished Garden Tomb of Mah Laqa Bai Inaugurated by Consul General". Consulate General of the United States, Hyderabad. 6 March 2011. Archived from the original on 2 May 2013. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  29. ^ a b "Mah Laqa Bai's tomb restored, to be reopened on March 6". The Times of India. 4 March 2011. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  30. ^ Shahid, Sajjad (30 December 2012). "The Elite Performer". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  31. ^ Hina, Gull i (2012). "Modernist trends and varied responses: reflections on Muslim women in Urdu prose by male authors of South Asia (1900-1936)" (PDF). A Research Journal of South Asian Studies. University of the Punjab. 27 (2). ISSN 1026-678X. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  32. ^ Praveen, Priyanka (22 April 2013). "The accidental performer". Deccan Chronicle. Retrieved 6 June 2013.

Further readingEdit

  • Rizvi, Shafqat (1990). Divan-e Mahlaqa Bai Chanda (in Urdu). Lahore: Majlis-e-taraqqi-e-adab.

External linksEdit

External video
  Refurbished tomb of Mah Laqa Bai on YouTube