Unwept, unhonoured and unsung, - forgotten by a hustling present, buried by a mute past, sandwiched between a petrol pump and a public lavatory, lies in eternal sleep Begum Hazrat Mahal, in a tomb, "not with a line carved, not a stone raised, and left alone in her glory."
Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of Wajid Ali Shah and a respected name of 1857 Sepoy Mutiny of India, took asylum in Nepal after the abortive revolution and stayed till her death. Though not as much well known as the Rani Luxmi Bai of Jhansi she was one of the women whom, an imminent Britisher, Lord Russel described as "a better man than her husband and lord (Wajid Ali Shah)."
An interesting sketch of the life of the Begum with the background of Sepoy Mutiny in given hereunder :-
India's First War of Independence revealed in an astounding manner, qualities in Indian woman often associated with great generals of history. It is said that Sir Huge Rose who commanded the British armies at the time of the war was of the opinion that the course of war might have gone different and against us had the command of the Indian Forces at Gwalior or Kalpi been conceded to Laxmi Bai. From the date of the Sepoy Mutiny July 30, 1857 at Chinhut till the last phase of the rebellion of 1857-58, the revolutionary history of Oudh was over-shadowed by a woman who was in no respect less illustrious than Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. She was Hazrat Mahal, first wife of King Wajid Ali Shah. After the victory of Chinhut, when the revolutionary forces captured the city of Lucknow leaving only the Residency, the leaders felt the necessity to try out a royal symbol to take control under whose banner diverse interests could be united. In that troubled hour the royal insignia was borne with amazing courage by the Begum, by crowning her son Birjis Qadr as king and herself acting as Regent.
Birjis Qadar was crowned on 6th August, 1857 at Lal Baradari (Lucknow) with a salute of 21 guns before the generals of the native forces. The Begum in the name of the minor King Birjis Qadar led a Government with top revolutionary leaders in key positions, under whose banner different section of the soldiery assembled to form a united front. For about six months the revolutionary government held the city of Lucknow, under its control and invested the Residency continuously for twelve and a half weeks. During all these operations the Begum was obviously the supreme commander. Under the seal of the King Birjis Qadar she issued proclamations to the people in general, and to the Zamindars & Taluqdars of Oudh in particular to unite under the banner of the new Govt to fight the English. It is understood she even toured the province to stir up feeling against the foreiegn role. She was in direct correspondence with Nana Saheb and with the noble time hounoured Talukdars and Zamindars who actively participated in the investiture of the Residency and later in the battles of Lucknow. Among her important associates were Rana Beni Madho, Raja Drig Biraj Singh of Mohana, Khan Ali Khan of Shahjehanpur, Maulvi Ahmed Ullah Shah, Raja Man Singh and Raja Jaya Lal Singh. The scrappy information available about the Begum's career as a sovereign reveal the statesman in her. To fortify the city of Lucknow against the advancing English forces she sanctioned 5 lakhs rupees to "have a wall built round the city". Then when she was informed that the English had purchased the friendship of Rana Jung Bahadur of Nepal with the promise of Gorakhpur and a share of Oudh, she immediately made a counter offer of "Gorakhpur, Azimgurh, Arrah, Chupra and the provinces of Benares, if he would unite with her." Her battle tactics bear the stamp of an expert schemer. Through efficient agents she contacted the officers of the Indian regiments serving the English at Cawnpur and settled with them that when they were to face the Begum's forces the regiment should fire blank ammunition and afterward turn upon the Europeans. She even personally appeared in the field ( on Feb 25, 1858) on elephant back along with other officers to supervise the defense operations.
After the capture of Lucknow the Begum was listed by the English as No. 1 of the enemies still at large. From Lucknow she retired with a large following across the river Ghagra and posted herself in the fort of Bundi, in Bahraich district. She fortified the stronghold heavy guns and armed men. A correspondent of the Govt. reported "… a force is encapped on all sides of the fort numbering about 15,000 or 16,000 including followers. Among these are 1,500 cavalry and the rest are nujeebs & followers".
While the English were busy in re-establishing their authority in Lucknow, the Begum once again succeeded in stirring the rest of Oudh to rebellion. In fact 1858 saw a series of sporadic outbursts in different areas of Oudh, and the English experienced some of the toughest encounters of the whole history of the rebellion. The heroes were mainly and obviously the Talukdars and Zamindars of Oudh, and there is enough evidence on record to show their attachment to the Begum.
After the Queen's proclamation, the English wanted to win her over by offers of royal clemency and pension of 12 lakhs. She turned down all offers with a frown which led Russel remark : "Vanquished though she was the Begum remained faithful to her cause to the last and maintained a never failing resolution of purpose. She was determined not to fall into the hands of the English and leaving the fort of Bundi in December, 1858, she wandered in the dense jungles of the sub-himalayan tarai with a handful of soldiers, "half armed half fed and without artillery," eluding the English. She ultimately crossed over to Nepal Rana Sir Jung Bahadur honoured her and King Birjis Qadar according to the position they had lastly lost. Jung Bahadur fixed her residence near the Singh Durbar near his own palace. The Begum died at Kathmandu in 1879 and buried at the Hindustani Masjid.
BIRJIS QUDER ASSASINATION