RAJA Bhoj of Malwa (1010 –1053) was one of the greatest legendary kings in central India in known history. A great scholar of many subjects, King Bhojraj understood the concept of architecture, town and country planning so well that he wrote an entire encyclopaedia of eighty three chapters, the Samrangana Sootradhar on the subject. Bhojraj created three major cities using his vast knowledge and understanding of traditional Indian knowledge system. These were Mandapdurg, his capital Dharanagri, and the famous city of lakes Bhojpal, now known as Mandu, Dhar and Bhopal respectively.
It was due to the geographical advantage of the area that King Bhojraj decided to build the city of Bhojpal. The demography of the area was suitable for large reservoirs that would be the source of biodiversity and life to human settlements for many centuries. Strategically, Bhoj understood the importance of locating a city in the centre of India, thereby controlling the trade routes. Hence Bhoj found the great Bhimkund near Bhopal, expanding 648 square kilometres, along with the famous upper lake of Bhopal. Unlike the claims of most historians, Bhopal was not a small village. Bhojraj developed it as a well planned city with a square plan and a central square for business. One of the wives of Udayaditya Parmar, the grandson of Raja Bhoj is said to have founded a temple called the Sabha Mandal which was completed in 1184 and occupied the same site on which Jama Masjid of Kudasia Begum now stands. (Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908, volume 12 page 143). It is said that the premises of this temple complex was so huge that five hundred pundits stayed in its quarters.
The Parmar dynasty of Bhojraj ended in 1327. Dharanagri and Mandu fell to the Khiljis of Delhi, who went on a destruction spree destroying temples, Bhojshalas, and ancient knowledge institutions. In the fifteenth century, Hoshangshah destroyed the main wall of the legendary Bhimkund reservoir. It took three years for the water to drain out and another thirty years for the area to become cultivatable. Bhopal city, however, was protected against this cultural aggression by its native Gonds, who were the rulers of the great Gondwana Kindom, and a strong force in central India. Little did they know that very soon Bhopal was to become the centre of foreign cultural invasions for many years to come.
In late seventeenth century a womaniser Afghan, Dost Mohammad Khan of a village Tiraah in Afghanistan forcefully kidnapped the wife of a noble Pathan, killing her husband in the process. (Begums of Bhopal by Sheharyar Khan). The pathans sought revenge, and Dost Mohammad fearing for his life fled to India. He was given refuge by an old family friend in Delhi, which was a city under confusion and turmoil after the end of Aurangzeb. Dost soon became a warrior in the army of one of the aspirants to the Delhi crown. Although a good horseman and fighter, Dost Mohammad had no control over his weaknesses or his ambitions and soon ended up raping the daughter of the very person who gave him shelter. He found himself fleeing from Delhi on route to central India. His first stop was Bhilsa (Vidisha) where he worked for the King for some time. Soon, he wandered into the small kingdom of Mangalgarh, (now the Berasia tehsil of Bhopal). The aging King of Mangalgarh and his wife were old and ill and had no children. Dost Mohammad was quick to smell the opportunity to fulfil his ambitions. He won their hearts with his gallantry and loyalty, defeating other small zamindars who were a constant threat to Mangalgarh. Upon the death of the King, the widow Queen of Mangalgarh ruled for some time, with Dost Mohammad as her chief advisor and protector, and upon her death in 1712, Dost Mohammad Khan became the most eligible heir to their throne.
Dost Mohammad Khan was quick to visit Tiraah, his hometown in Afghanistan, returning with a few hundred Pathans, who were willing to fight anyone for money and women. Dost however, did not have the heart to challenge the local Gonds and Rajputs, who he feared for their bravery and might. So, he extended a hand of friendship to them, inviting them with their families for celebrating the festival of Holi with him. A huge complex of tents was set-up for the royal guests outside the beautiful city of temples, Jagdishpur located on the banks of the river Banganga near Bhopal. On the eve of Holi, the celebrations of alcohol and drugs went deep into the night, and when the guests were almost unconscious, the Pathans of Dost Mohammad Khan cut the ropes of the tents and set them on fire. They attacked the few soldiers that had accompanied the unsuspecting Rajputs and killed them mercilessly. Those trying to escape were chased on horses under the full moon and massacred. The royal Rajput women realised what was going on and themselves set their tents on fire, choosing Johar rather than captivity to Muslims. The merciless killings carried on to early morning, so much that the river Banganga went red with Rajput blood. Rejoicing his victory and the scenario, Dost Mohammad Khan proudly renamed the river ‘Halali’ (meaning a place where the Kafirs were sacrificed). Meanwhile the neighbouring town of Jagdishpur had an early alarmed dawn. The locals had been listening to the cries of the Rajputs all through the night and knew they were next. Many families disappeared into the dense forests before dawn. Others locked themselves inside their houses. The gates of Jagdishpur were broken early morning and the massacre started. Hindus were dragged outside the houses and killed. Women were carried away on horse backs. The sounds of screaming and crying enveloped the city. Many knelt down in front of the Khan seeking Islam and forgiveness to ensure their families survival. Those who converted were given the task of bringing down the temples of Jagdishpur as their first token of loyalty to Islam. Dost Mohammad Khan declared the city his capital and renamed it ‘Islamnagar’. In one night, Dost Mohammad had eliminated all local competition. He, along with his few hundred Pathans soon started fighting wars for other kings in return for money and earned the reputation of ruthless contract killers.
Meanwhile, the King of Gonds Nawal Shah, who ruled most of central India from his capital Ginnaurgarh, fell prey to his enemies, who were the rulers of Badi near Bhopal. They poisoned his milk and attacked Ginnaurgarh. The beautiful Queen of Nawal Shah, Rani Kamlapati, was known for her beauty and talents far and wide. Fearing the intentions of her husband’s assassins, she moved to her palace in Bhopal, which was much safer due to the loyalty of the locals there. Here, she heard about Dost Mohammad Khan and summoned him to her palace in Bhopal. She hired him to kill her husband’s assassins in return of fifty thousand currency. Dost Mohammad Khan, was shocked to see the prosperity and wealth of the Gonds. Bowing down to her in honour, he had secretly developed a greed not only for the Kingdom of Ginnaurgarh and Bhopal, but also for Queen Kamlapati. (Bangana Se Halai, by Niranjan Verma and Begums of Bhopal, by Sheharyar Khan). Dost was quick to attack the Queen’s enemies at Badi, and using his advantage of surprise, he smoothly finished them in a matter of days. On his return to Bhopal after his victory, Dost Mohammad Khan was a changed man. He landed in the Queen’s palace and stayed on for days, taking complete undue advantage of the Indian hospitality traditions and breaking protocol on many occasions. Gradually, his intentions became clear to Rani Kamlapati, who politely asked him to leave. An annoyed Dost Mohammad asked for more money and wealth in the name of his damages in the war. The furious Queen threw her keys on the floor. To her surprise, Dost Mohammad quietly picked them up and walked away. A tearful Rani Kamlapati saw her wealth being carried away through a long fateful night. Dost Mohammad returned to Islamnagar, but could not take his greed away from either Rani Kamlapati or Bhopal. So, he made a plan. He sent a word to Queen Kamlapati to either marry him and convert, or face his attack. That same night in 1723, before Rani Kamlapati could design a defence, Dost Mohammad along with his Pathan soldiers attacked an unguarded palace in Bhopal. The Queen’s only son died for his mother’s honour fighting the Khan and his Pathans. Left with no options, Queen Kamlapati committed suicide in the upper lake of Bhopal. Her body was quickly recovered by the loyal Brahmins of Brahminpura (now Ibrahimpura) and given a Hindu funeral before Dost Mohammad could get his hand on it. Dost Mohammad Khan finally conquered Bhopal, but could never conquer the strength of Rani Kamlapati.
His happiness however, was short lived. As the news of the incident spread, the furious Marathas attacked Bhopal from the west. Seeing an opportunity, the Nawab of Hyderabad attacked him from the south. Scared and defeated, Dost Mohammad signed surrender. In 1724, he gave half of his state to the Marathas and as had no money to pay to the nawab of Hyderabad, he mortgaged his son Yar Mohammad Khan till he paid up. Pay up he could never, as he died a sudden death 1726, within three years of the suicide of Rani Kamlapati. His divided and weak state soon went heirless and the daughters came to rule. The Begums maintained a close relationship with the British, and declared additional bonus for their Bhopal army in 1857, fearing the spread of anti-British sentiment in their ranks. More than nine hundred soldiers of the Bhopal state were sent to fight the first world war for the British in 1914. Years later in 1947, the last ruler of Bhopal Nawab Hamidulla Khan decided to go with Pakistan. It was under the fear of a direct threat of military action by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel that he surrendered the state of Bhopal to the Union of India and Bhopal finally gained freedom on June 1, 1949, almost two years after the country gained Independence from British rule.
Bhopal is not just a city, but a great civilisation that started with the vision of a great king who designed it excellently with reservoirs,knowledge institutions, temples and markets. Centuries later, it was a sheer face off between nobility and greed, between culture and mad fanaticism that saw constant attempts to destroy the values, morals and icons of this great civilisation. However, years of consistent and deliberate efforts to manipulate its history and identity have all gone in vain. Today, the days of the nawabs when even lamps could not be lighted on Deepavali, and bells could not be sounded in the temples are over. This great city of Raja Bhoj has rediscovered itself in the light of modernity and is asserting to take the route its fonder had destined it for.
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