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Stories of Bhopal, Part 1: Heritage Monuments

Bhopal, Central India’s capital city of Madhya Pradesh is home to numerous heritage monuments which are rich in history and culture of Bhopal that are located within the city. A few of the stories about these heritage monuments of Bhopal are as follows:

1. Kadimi Hamaam:  The hamaam is a Turkish-Muslim tradition of bathing, ritual cleansing and respect for water. This hamam was built in the early 1700s when the Gonds ruled the area. Kadimi Hamaam is a sauna-bath located close to the Vardhamaan Park situated near Bhopal Upper Lake. During the rule of the Nawabs, the responsibility of maintaining this bath had been given to the incomparable barber of the Nawab, Hammu Khalifa. There is a room before entering into the main hamaam which is maintained at a normal temperature even in the winters. The room adjacent to it is 12 feet in length, breadth, height, in which hot and humid temperature is maintained. The architecture of this steam room is special since it has two open vats of water, one of which is kept cool. Below the flooring of this room is a three-inch thick sheet of bronze, while below the vat of hot water is a metal heater. This hamaam is still in working condition and currently is used by the citizens of Bhopal.


2. Kamlapati Mahal:  Queen Kamlapati was was one of the seven wives of Nizam Shah who was famous for her striking beauty. Nizam Shah was poisoned to death by his nephew Alam Shah, who in turn wanted to marry Rani Kamlapati. Kamlapati offered Dost Mohammad Khan, a hundred thousand rupees to protect her honor and her kingdom, and to avenge her husband’s death. Khan accepted the offer, and Kamlapati tied a rakhi on his wrist (traditionally tied by a sister on her brother’s hand). Khan led a joint army of Afghan and Gond soldiers to defeat and kill Alam Shah. The slain king’s territory was annexed to Kamlapati’s kingdom. The Rani did not have one hundred thousand rupees, so she paid him half the sum and gave the village of Bhopal as the remainder amount.
In due course of time, Khan was also appointed the manager of Kamlapati’s state, and virtually became a ruler of the small Gond kingdom. Queen Kamlapati made the most fatal mistake of hiring Dost Mohammad Khan for avenging the death of her husband as Dost began pressurising the Queen to marry him. After killing her enemies, Khan killed her trusted bodyguards and her son, Nawal Shah and left her with no options, but suicide. In the year 1723, Queen Kamlapati jumped to her death off the fort and post her death Dost controlled the Ginnor fort and and other territories of Kamlapati’s kingdom.

Rani Kamlapati Mahal
Back View of Rani Kamlapati Mahal, Photo Courtesy: Bhopal Municipal Corporation


3. Gohar Mahal:  Gohar Mahal was built in 1820 by Qudisiya Begum, who was a great admirer of art and architecture. It was in the year 1819, after the assassination of her husband, Qudisiya Begum shouldered the responsibility of the princely state of Bhopal. She scrapped the conventional idea that women should be behind the veil and started working on women empowerment. None of her male family members dared to challenge her decision and she ruled till 1837, post her death she decided to pass her throne to her daughter, Begum Sikandar and prepped her for shouldering this responsibility as well.

Inside of Gohar Mahal
Inside of Gohar Mahal, Photo Courtesy: Bhopal Municipal Corporation


4. Shaukat Mahal & Sadar Manzil:  The Shaukat Mahal and Sadar Manzil displays a combination of Asian and Western styles of architecture which makes this building stand out in the crowd of the traditional Islamic architecture of Bhopal. Designed by a French architect, Nawab Jahangir Mohammad Khan with his Begum Nawab Sikandar Jahan had stayed in the Shaukat Mahal palace during the early phase of their reign. Nawab Shahjahan Begum, the erstwhile ruler of Bhopal had constructed the Sadar Manzil. In 1901, after the death of Nawab Shahjahan Begum, her only daughter Nawab Sultanjahan Begum after ascending the throne of the province converted this building into the royal durbar hall. The Sadar Manzil is currently the Head Office of the Municipal Corporation.

Sadar Manzil
Sadar Manzil, Photo Courtesy: Bhopal Municipal Corporation


5. Moti Mahal:  The 150 year old Moti Mahal and the Shaukat Mahal are parts of the important structures forming the royal quadrangle surrounding the Iqbal Maidan. Moti Mahal is situated west to Iqbal Maidan in Bhopal. Nawab Kudasiya Begum built this huge two-storey building to be used as the first darbar hall of the province.


6. Taj Mahal:  While the Taj Mahal in Agra has captivated the world for centuries, its less famous counterpart lies in the city of Bhopal in ruins. Nawab Shah Jahan Begum, Bhopal’s 11th ruler, was a connoisseur of art. Reigning between 1868 and 1901, the Begum built several buildings in the city, the Taj Mahal included. However, unlike the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal of Bhopal was built as the Begum’s residence, not as a mausoleum for her spouse. After 13 years of completion and total cost of the construction being 30 lakhs the Taj Mahal was finally built. The Begum was so overwhelmed after its completion that she ordered a three-year-long celebration Jasha-e-Taj Mahal (Celebration). The palace had 120 rooms and 8 halls. It is believed that Post-independence, the last ruler of Bhopal, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, had allowed Sindhi refugees to stay in the palace for almost four years before shifting to Bairagarh and as a result of which the beauty of the palace had been damaged.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal, Photo Courtesy: Bhopal Municipal Corporation


7. Benazir Bhawan:  The construction of Benzir Bhawan started in the same year as the Taj Mahal. Shahjahan Begum built it to be used as summer rest house. The decor of this house is extremely soothing and has a calming effect on the eyes. In 1929 its vast lawns had been used for Mahatma Gandhis’ public gatherings and meetings.


8. Gulshan e Alam Aka Golghar Museum:  Gulshan E Alam popularly known as Golghar, is situated in Shahjahanabad area of Bhopal. Gulshan E Alam had been constructed by Nawab Shahjahan Begum during her reign, as a zoological park and many species of birds and animals had been kept here. Currently a Museum in Bhopal, it showcases a variety of arts, handicrafts, and social life from the Nawab era.

Golghar Museum
Inside the Golghar Museum showcasing the life and rulers from the Nawab Era, Photo Courtesy: Bhopal Municipal Corporation


9. Central Library (Edward Museum Building):  The building was built in 1908, by Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum, a beautiful red stone building, with Teak wood and oak furniture, huge cupboards filed with thousands rare books, written by the Begums of Bhopal. The Begum had built Edward Museum Building to display the various gifts and artifacts presented to the royal family. This museum had been inaugurated in 1909 by the Viceroy of India, Lord Minto but had to close down due to lack of maintenance during the royal reign itself. In 1955, Maulana Azad Central Library was established in this building with nearly 60,000 books and manuscripts in Hindi, English, Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit language.


10. Minto Hall (Old Vidhan Sabha):  The foundation stone for Minto Hall was laid on 12th November 1909. The fourth and the last begum of Bhopal – Nawab Shah Jahan Begum conceived the very beautiful ‘Minto Hall’ to felicitate Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India. After India attained Independence in the year 1947 and formation of the state of Madhya Pradesh, it became a natural choice for the assembly hall for MP State Government.

Minto Hall
Minto Hall, Photo Courtesy:


11. Dhai Seedi ki Masjid:  ‘Dhai Seedi ki Masjid’ literally means the mosque of two and a half steps. The first mosque of Bhopal, the Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid, was also built in the year 1723, so that the fort guards could perform namaaz (prayers). One of the smallest mosques in Asia it is located right across Taj-Ul-Masajid. This simple yet austere mosque was built by the first ruler of Bhopal Nawab Dost Muhammad.


12. Taj Ul Masajid:  Also known as Jama Masjid which is situated next to Taj Palace is one of the largest Mosques in India and the second largest in Asia. The construction of this mosque started in 1832 on the orders of Nawab Kudasiya Begum. Nawab Shahjahan Begum dreamt of constructing the biggest mosque near her palace, even when her royal treasury was not in a good state. The mosque was not completed due to lack of funds and after the War of 1857, construction was resumed in 1971 by Maulana Sayed Hashmat Ali Sahab and Allama Mohammad Imran Khan Nadwi Azhari of Bhopal. The construction was finally completed in 1985. Aalmi Tablighi Ijtima is an annual three-day congregation that draws people from all over the world. It was held at Taj-ul-Masajid until it was shifted to Islam Nagar outside the city due to shortage of space.

Taj Ul Masajid
Taj Ul Masajid, Photo Courtesy:


13. Dost Mohammad Khan and Fatheh Bibi ka Maqbara:  Dost Mohammad Khan was the founder of the Bhopal, the capital of the Madhya Pradesh state. Dost Mohammad Khan ruled his state from his capital at Islamnagar. At the time of Kamlapati’s death, Bhopal was a village in the Gond Kingdom. One day, during a shikar (hunting) trip, Dost Mohammad Khan and his wife Fatah Bibi decided to rest in the Bhopal village. Dost fell asleep, and dreamt that an old saint had asked him to build a fort. On awakening, he told his wife about the dream, who asked him to construct a fort at the spot. This resulted in construction of Fatehgarh fort, named after Fateh Bibi. The fort was eventually expanded to encircle the village of Bhopal. It never fell to an enemy, and as late as 1880, the city was mainly confined to this fort. Dost and his wife Fateh Bibi had also ordered for the construction of another tomb in front of the Fateh Bibi ka Maqbara that was dedicated in memory of his parents.


14. Bada Baag ke Makbar and Bavdi:  Bada Baag spread over 30 acres was built by Nawab Kudasiya Begum, in memory of her minister father, Muhammad Khan. During that time it was called Vazir Baag. After the death of her husband, Nawab Nazar Muhammad Khan, she got his tomb built in this garden. Thereafter, this garden came to be known as Nazar Baag. Kudasiya Begum herself is buried near the tomb of her husband.


15. Tomb of Nawab Siddique Hassan:  The marble tomb of Nawab Siddique Hasan, the second husband of Nawab Shahjahan Begum, was built by the Begum in 1890. Nawab Siddique Hasan was a renowned scholar who was well versed in Arabic, Persian and Urdu.


16. Saint Francis Church:  Saint Francis Church is among the oldest monuments of the city. Many English families were settled in this area of Bhopal due to the British army cantonment located at Sehore during British rule. Nawab Sikandarjahan Begum, the 8th ruler of Bhopal, granted the permission to construct a Catholic Church. The church was finally constructed under the supervision of Father Bernard Pistoia in 1824 A.D. during the reign of Shahzaad Masih, Salvador Valthazar’s successor. In the year 1963, it was renovated and converted into a cathedral which holds high religious importance for the Catholic Christians of Bhopal.


17. Fategarh Fort:  The Fatehgarh fort was built by Dost Mohhamad Khan in 1722. He established Bhopal province and commissioned a fort to be built after the name of Queen Kamlapati at Fatehpur. Queen Kamlapati had hired Dost Mohammed Khan to avenge her husband’s death as a result of which in due course of time, he put pressurise on Queen Kamlapati to marry him. The Queen had made a grave mistake for avenging her husband’s death by Dost Mohammed Khan. Khan killed her bodyguards and her beloved son, Nawal Shah which left her with no options other than suicide. After her death, he renamed her fort ‘Fatehgarh’. However he renamed the fort on the name of his wife, a Rajput girl called Fateh Bibi. Fatehgarh Fort is the largest of living heritage sites in Bhopal. A very large part of the fort is now in use by Kasturba Gandhi Medical College Bhopal and Hamidia Hospital.


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