The life of an outstanding woman the late 18th and early 19th century Hyderabad. She is the first woman 'sahib-e-diwan', a poet whose works have been put together as a collection.
She was a well known poet in Persian and Urdu. She is the first woman sahib-e-diwan, a poet whose works have been put together as a collection or diwan. Her Persian works have been lost; her Urdu works survive in some libraries. Not only was she intelligent, beautiful but could sing, dance write, had a great sense of humour and a gift of repartee.
Mahlaqabai is seen in a palanquin accompanying Asaf Jahi ruler Nizam Ali Khan, Nizam II on a hunting expedition. This watercolour painting is by Rai Venkatachalam, from the late 18th century.
She was a celebrated courtesan in the Asaf Jahi court of Nizam Ali Khan, Nizam II and Sikandar Jah, Nizam III. Born in 1767 to Medabibi (also known as Raj Kunwar) and Basolat Khan Bakshi-e-awwal, a descendant of Mirza Sultan Nasr, a nobleman of Balkh (now in northern Afghanistan), who had migrated to India during Mughal emperor Shahjehan’s reign and had worked in the Mughal administration. He came to Hyderabad with Ameen-ul-umera and was killed in a war against Dawood Khan Pathan. Medabibi had two daughters. First Mehtab, from her first husband Haakim of Dewalha. Mehtab got married to Nawab Rukn-ud-dowla, the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. Mehtab had no children; so Medabibi gave her second daughter Chanda to her. Chanda thus grew up in the prime minister’s residence with comforts and luxuries and was called Chandabibi
Chandabibi learnt singing and dancing and grew up to be very beautiful. The Asaf Jahi ruler Nizam Ali Khan, Nizam II took Chandabibi who had learnt horse-riding and archery, along with ten of her companions with him when he went to the battles of Kolar, Nirmal and Panagal. He gave her the title Mahlaqa (visage of the moon).
Chandabibi was very religious and a devotee of Hazrat Ali. Her mother Meda’s mausoleum is at the foot of hillock at Maula Ali in Hyderabad, which she got constructed herself in Mughal-Rajput architectural style. Along with the mausoleum there is a mosque, a decorated pavillion and two step-wells in the complex. She is also responsible for the construction of Ashur Khana Chandabibi and another three storeyed arched step-well at Tarnaka.
She received big jagirs (tracts of land) like Nampally, Adikmet, Hyderguda etc. She started a school with 300 girl students, as she believed women should be empowered with education and be independent like her. She adopted two girls Husn Afza Bano, Haseen Laqa Bano and a boy Mohammed Maqbool. She used to organise a mela (fair) at Lingampally Bagh in Hyderabad every year for seven days where men of religion, literary repute, artisans and fakirs (ascetics) would gather and interact under her aegis, and be honoured by her. She had a love for knowledge, built a library full of books on arts and sciences and commissioned the Mahnama, a new history of the Deccan.
1. Salar Jung Museum Bi-annual research journal, Vol. XXVII-XXVIII, 1990-1991/Alladin, Bilkiz, Hyderabad: Salar Jung Museum.
2. White Mughals/Dalrymple, William, New Delhi: Viking, 2002.
Deccan Studies, May 2010/Scott, Kugle Hyderabad: Centre for Deccan Studies.
3. INTACH Hyderabad Chapter - Heritage annual 2012/Reddy, Anuradha ed., Hyderabad: INTACH, 2012.
4. Daastan-e-Hyderabad/Varma, Anand Raj, New Delhi: Classical Publishing Company, 2017.
Exhibition Script, Curation, and Compilation – Soma Ghosh
Photography – M. Krishnamoorthy and Bahadur Ali
Special thanks to – Dr. A. Nagender Reddy, Jt.Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad and all other staff.