Apr 7, 1768 - 1815

Mah Laqa Chanda

Rekhta Foundation

Mah Laqa Chanda
Chanda Bibi, a woman so beautiful that she was given the name Mah Laqa, meaning "moon-faced". She was the daughter of a courtesan and was a sought-after courtesan herself. Despite this, she was included in the ranks of the highest nobility and had 500 foot soldiers and drummers to announce her entrance. Her elevated status, despite all odds, was such that the tawaifs (courtesans) across Hyderabad ascended to the top of the hierarchy among performers and were given special privileges. Mah Laqa Chanda was a powerhouse who was at once, both a hardened warrior and a graceful performer; a wily politician and a kind-hearted woman who gave away all her possessions to homeless women upon her death.          

She was adept at javelin throw and archery by the age of fourteen. She would later fight along-side the Nizam in male battle attire. On one such occasion, leaving aside the usual gifts of jagirs (feudal land grant) that were bestowed upon her, she was conferred the title of Mah Laqa.

Not only was she a brilliant performer and a skilled warrior, she was also gifted with a sharp mind and had a way with words. She could spar with politicians like Mir Alam (Prime Minister of Hyderabad) as well as negotiate with the Marathas with ease and diplomacy.

Gulzar-e-Mah Laqa
Apart from her life at court, she was an accomplished poetess. She was the first woman to publish a Diwan (collection of Urdu ghazals) titled Gulzar-e-Mahlaqa. The book was authored and calligraphed by her in 1798. It contains 39 ghazals, each more beautiful than the other. 

Gulzar-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 5

"rahe nau-roz ishrat-aafriiñ josh-e-bahaar-afzaa
gul-afshaañ hai karam teraa chaman meñ dahr ke har jaa

na puuchho koii aish-o-ḳhurramii ko ahd meñ us ke
ki jis ke faiz se ghar-ghar hai daur-e-saaġhar-e-sahbaa

arastuu-jaah vo farruḳh-nazhaad-e-ahl-e-aalam hai
ki jis ke fazl-o-baḳhshish kaa jahaañ meñ hai alam barpaa

duaa hai ye mavaalii kii tasadduq se a'imma ke
rakhe saaye meñ apne lutf ke tujh ko alii maulaa

nahiiñ kuchh zeb ai mehr-e-siphar-e-ma'adalat is meñ
ayaañ 'chandaa' pe jo kuchh hai navaazish ye karam-farmaa"

About the ghazal
One of the ghazals by Mah Laqa Chanda in her diwan Gulzar-e-Mah Laqa. The ghazal was written in praise of Nizam Ali Khan Asaf Jaah the second, who was the Nizam of Hyderabad. She would often write long poems to please the Nizam and he would in return, grant her feudal grants.

Gulzar-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 37

"basant aaii hai mauj-e-rañg-e-gul hai josh-e-sahbaa hai
ḳhudaa ke fazl se aish-o-tarab kii ab kamii kyaa hai

bayaañ meñ kyaa karuuñ us ke shabistaañ kaa ta'al-allah
qazaa-o-qadr jis ke jashn kaa ab kaar-farmaa hai

saḳhaavat meñ koii ham-sar na ho us kaa zamaanae meñ
vahii kartaa hai puuraa jis ke dil meñ jo iraada hai

ḳhizar kii umr ho us kii tasadduq se a'imma ke
nizaam-ud-daula aasaf-jaah jo sab kaa masiihaa hai

bahii-ḳhvaan-e-karam se hai sadaa ummiid 'chandaa' ko
kisii kii bhii na ho muhtaaj tum se ye tamannaa hai"

About the ghazal
Another example of the lethal and effective combination of Mah Laqa's feminine charm and poetic prowess. She wrote this ghazal in an effort to please the Nizam, Asaf Jaah. It is said that he was enamored by her and often granted her favors out of turn.

"garche gul ki sej ho tis par bhi ud jaati hai neend"

Capturing the unease of a lovelorn heart, this ghazal perfectly captures the elusive feeling of love. The lover is unable to sleep on a bed of roses but finds solace at the feet of her beloved. Her soul finds comfort only with her beloved and she can forego any and every comfort to be with him.

"aalam teri nigah se hai sarshaar dekhna"

It takes a real wordsmith to make a lover's quarrel poetic. She beseeches her lover to look at her once as he looks at the world and in trademark combination of grace and playfulness, presents the varied reasons to do so. Her opening couplet speaks of the intoxication in the eyes of her lover and her wish to be included in all that her lover sees.

"dil ho gaya hai gham se tire daghdaar khoob"

The multi-talented Mah Laqa was second to none when it came to love verses. This specific ghazal is proof of her deep understanding of the pain of a lover. She writes that a lover gets so accustomed to the pain of being in love that it actually gives her strength. Such is the level of her acclimatization to pain that she actually gets intoxicated by it and learns to live in peace with it.

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa is the first authentic brief biography of Mah Laqa Bai Chanda. It gives a detailed description of life and times of the celebrated poetess. It is said that Chanda Bai used to seek counselling on her poems from a poet called Meer Alam. Meer Alam was madly in love with Chanda. In this connection, his Persian masnawi, Sarapa-i-Mah Laqa, is presented as a proof of his love for her. This masnawi contains 223 shers. Similarly, Maharaja Chandu Lal has  also praised her in addition to other poets like Ghulam Hussain Jauhari in his masnawi Sarapa Mah Laqa, Sher Mohammad Khan Eemaan in his masnawi of nineteen stanzas, and Ziyai have praised her for her numerous qualities. Many stories regarding her beauty did their rounds and that is how she was called the Cleopatra of her age.

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 26

Preparations for Mourning during the Days of Muharram

"With the arrival of the month of Muharram, Mah Laqa Bai would relinquish the taste of palate in reverence to Hazrat Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. All the women mourners whose count cannot be ascertained would donate amounts from rupee one to rupees five."

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 27

Preparations for Mourning during the Days of Muharram (Contd.)

"Mah Laqa Bai would give thousands of rupees to the devotees according to their status. Her grand palace was situated in Ailchi Baig. Since this place was used for the education of song and dance, a separate area was identified to construct a place for mourning. In front of the palace, a hall for drum beating was also constructed. During this period, the place was decorated in many remarkable ways. Entry to this area was prohibited except for those who were in a state of ablution, and also those who recited fatiha. Wearing red clothes was also prohibited. A dais covered with black velvet was set up for delivering the compositions on lamentation and to narrate the tragedy of Kerbala. In front of the hall of lamentation, poles were erected for lights and clothes were hung in a pattern. From the first to the last day of mourning, the area used to be lit up bright from evening to morning. The marsiya reciters would recite with great expertise. This was followed by breast-beating, which created a highly charged atmosphere of mourning and lamentation. If someone fell unconscious, rose-water was sprayed over him to bring him back to senses. Later, food of great variety was laid out. This continued for all the ten days of mourning. When the night deepened and people dispersed, some special ones would arrive for mourning."

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 28

The Fair of Khat Darsan

"The fair of Khat Darsan was held once every year. On this occasion, a sear of sweets was sent each to the fakirs, hafiz, reciters of the Holy Quran, and the spiritual guides. If a spiritual guide had his offspring and others in the family who could be even twenty in number, each one would receive a sear of sweets.

Next day, the fakirs belonging to different orders would congregate in the fair. For each one, arrangements would be made for dining. Sweets would be distributed to them. Fakirs from long distances of even hundred miles would also assemble.

On the third day, poor and handicapped persons would get together who would be around seventy thousand in number."

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 29

Mah Laqa Bai’s Observance of Daily Schedule

"When Mah Laqa woke up early in the morning, she found her admirers and attendants in waiting. They were ready with water containers and other utensil required for ablution. After her ablution, she said her prayers and engaged herself with other rituals of her prayer till the sunrise."

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 30

Mah Laqa Bai’s Observance of Daily Schedule (Contd.)

"Later, she recited the Holy Quran to Babar Ali, alias Ladley sahib. This was followed by the laying of breakfast. Even though many kinds of delicacies were served but she ate very little. The items not eaten were distributed among the attendants and companions. Then she went upstairs to take rest. After that, she said her zuhar prayers and engaged with repeating the names of God on the beads of rosary. In the late afternoon, a long carpet was spread in the hall and the seating areas were decorated with round pillows. Her munshis, attendants, and other workers joined for a conference. After this, a few men of learning used to come over for conversation and fruitful exchanges. Works like Rauzat-us-Safa, Habib-ul-Aseer, Jala-ul-Ayoon, and Nadir Nama came in discussion. At evening, maghrib and Isha prayers were said in time. Later, the experts in music came over to conduct education in music where female attendants played music instruments and sang one after another."

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa - Pg. 34

It is said that Chanda had no parallel in narrating anecdotes and cracking jokes. Once she was on her way somewhere, a small container of lime fell from her carriage. Someone who watched this said that an egg from Bai’s carriage has fallen down. Mah Laqa got back instantly in good humour and quipped, “How nice, the chick started chirping as soon as it fell.”

E-Book (Rekhta)
Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

An accomplished musician 
Mah Laqa was mentored by a a reputed classical singer, Khush Hal Khan who was the great grandson of the renowned singer Tansen. She was well-versed with the raagas and often used unique combinations in her compositions. She was especially skilled in love songs and would accompany the music in the Deccani style of Kathak (traditional Indian dance form). 
Landmarks of the Deccan
The Landmarks of the Deccan is a definitive guide to the  major historical landmarks that dot the city of Hyderabad. Thoroughly researched, the book also serves as a reminder of the glorious yet neglected past of the city. 

Landmarks of the Deccan - Pg. 13

Landmarks of the Deccan - Pg. 14

Landmarks of the Deccan - Pg. 16
Khush-Hal Khan was Mah Lada Bai's music tutor. The excerpt here mentions the mosque and the garden that she built where she would ultimately be laid to rest.

Mah Laqa's Grave - 1,231 Hijri (1,815 A.D.)

The tombstone of Mah Laqa Chanda reads:

"nazr-e-maula Chanda Bibi bint Raj Kunwar Bai ke az'huzoor Nawab Ghufraan Maab Asaf Jaah Sani Meer Nizam Ali Khan ba-khitaab Mah Laqa Bai sar-afraaz dar san 1231 hijri murattab saakht"

"Chanda Bibi, daughter of Raj Kunwar Bai upon whom was conferred the title of Mah Laqa Bai by His Highness Nawab Ghufraan Maab Asaf Jaah II, Mir Nizam Ali Khan prepared this in 1231 A.H. (1815 A.D.) dedicating it to Maula (Ali)"

Mah Laqa's Grave - 1,231 Hijri (1,815 A.D.)

The tombstone of Mah Laqa Chanda reads:

"nazr-e-maula Chanda Bibi bint Raj Kunwar Bai ke az'huzoor Nawab Ghufraan Maab Asaf Jaah Sani Meer Nizam Ali Khan ba-khitaab Mah Laqa Bai sar-afraaz dar san 1231 hijri murattab saakht"

"Chanda Bibi, daughter of Raj Kunwar Bai upon whom was conferred the title of Mah Laqa Bai by His Highness Nawab Ghufraan Maab Asaf Jaah II, Mir Nizam Ali Khan prepared this in 1231 A.H. (1815 A.D.) dedicating it to Maula (Ali)"

(In order of their mention in this exhibit)

1. Gulzar-e-Mah Laqa

2. Hayaat-e-Mah Laqa

3. Landmarks of the Deccan

Rekhta Foundation
Credits: Story

Rekhta Foundation

Suman Mishra

Prof. Anisur Rahman, Faiyaz Ahmad Wajeeh, Neha Malara

Pulkit Sachdeva

Aalok Soni

Mohammad Wasim, Anas Khan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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