A fifteen year-old Farzana caught the eye of the mercenary - Walter Reinhardt Sombre, who is also infamous as the Butcher of Patna as his troops had killed 150 Englishmen there. The 45 year old Austrian mercenary and the 15 year old dancing (nautch) girl soon became comrade-in-arms. She married him later and after his death, took over his mercenary Army. Her sharp wit and charm earned them favours in the Mughal court and soon they managed to secure the the feudal grant of the state of Sardhana (present-day Meerut). After the death of Sombre, she manipulated his son and placed him under house arrest. In her later years, she inexplicably converted to Christianity taking up the name "Joanna Nobilis Sombre" after her late husband.
Colored Portrait of Begum SamruRekhta Foundation
Begum Samru is the story of the dancing girl who ditched the Burqa and other norms of propriety to head a very successful mercenary Army of 4000 troops and ruled for 55 glorious years. One can appreciate this fact more as it was during this time that the Mughal Empire was crumbling and everyone wanted to take advantage of this vacancy.
In fact, such was her streak of success that people thought that she practiced witchcraft. She must have cut quite the figure at four and a half feet, wearing a turban and mounted on a horse as she led her troop into the battlefield.
In the picture: Begum Samru's court at the state of Sardhana. Notice the presence of Europeans in addition to the local people. It is said that she held her court adorning a turban and usually with a hookah in her hand. Such a brazen act gains more importance as this was during a time when women were veiled and confined to their households. Given her husband's history of butchering Englishmen, it is indeed a testimony to her crafty ways that she managed to not only survive but thrive. There had been many instances of her rumored alliances with various European men.
Begum Samru possessed many grand palaces and gardens, one of them was the "Churiwallon Ki Haveli". Situated in proximity to the Chandni Chowk tram-line, the palace was situated close to the Jama Masjid. She had built this palace for herself in Chandni Chowk which forms a very important part of her architectural legacy.
SBI Building (Colored Version)Rekhta Foundation
State Bank of India
The palace was used by the London Bank and was later purchased by a rich local resident. After many years and a bout of restorations, it is now being used by the State Bank of India as its office.
The Life and Times of Begam Samru of Sardhana
A comprehensive and detailed account written by Mahendra Narain Sharma. The account is important in the study of Begum Samru as it includes not only her political achievements and her prowess as a ruler and Commander-in-Chief but also her patronage of the arts and architecture. It combines all the historical facts with new-found knowledge of her life but its greatest strength is perhaps its objectivity. The book contains ten chapters, starting from the history and location of the state of Sardhana and ends with a look at her achievements and her legacy in women empowerment.
Book Cover: Begam Samru by Brajendranath BanerjiRekhta Foundation
A look at the celebrated Princess of Sardhana
Her original name was Zeib-un-Nissa. She was adventurous, crafty and ruthless. The lethal combination made her impossible to ignore. After her marriage to Sombre Sahib (an Austrian mercenary), she took the name "Samru". From abject poverty she rose to be an independent ruler for 55 years.
The Sardhana Pictures
A collection of the images of the paintings that hung at the Palace of Begum Samru in her province of Sardhana. The collection was published in 1914 and was compiled by Sir Evan Cotton. A picture is worth a thousand words and this compilation is proof of that.
Side: Basilica of Our Lady of GracesRekhta Foundation
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces
Much more than an architectural feat, the Basilica of Our Lady of Graces is an embodiment of Begum Samru's religious freedom and attracts many believers who come to bless the Begum.
A site of pilgrimage for many, it was designed after the St.Peter's basilica in Rome. It was built by the Italian architect named Antonio Reghellini.
Interior: Basilica of Our Lady of GracesRekhta Foundation
Basilica of Our Lady of Graces (Interior)
The Church also has an 18-foot sculpture of the Begum holding court, surrounded by her Indian and European courtiers.
Stack of Old BooksRekhta Foundation
(In order of their mention in this exhibit)
1. The Life and Times of Begam Samru of Sardhana
2. Begam Samru
3. The Sardhana Pictures
Holding Light Holding LightRekhta Foundation
OTHER EXHIBITS IN THIS SERIES
1. Jahan Ara
2. Begum Zeb-un-Nissa - A princess enchained
3. Mah Laqa Chanda
Prof. Anisur Rahman, Faiyaz Ahmad Wajeeh, Neha Malara