It was the 15th of October, 1812 when the powerful and furious army of the Marhattas comprised of Gwalior and Nagpur states numbering a force of 82,000 marched towards the Fatehgarh Fort under General Jagua Bapu, his deputy General Kachua and the Muslim General Sadiq Ali.
From Gwalior, Jagua was joined by one of his officers, Dan Singh. Jagua’s force amounting to 25,000 men was strengthened with 12 battalions of infantry and 30 guns. If that was not enough, the commanders of the infantry and cavalry, Ramlal and Krishna Bhau joined Bapu with their 15,000 men, horse and foot. And from Nagpur, General Sadiq Ali marched with an army of 30,000 men. So that is a force of 70,000 men out of the above-mentioned figure of 82,000. I am not aware what the rest of 12,000 was comprised of.
STRENGTH OF WAZIR’S ARMY AND HIS ALLIES
As compared to the gigantic Marhatta force, Wazir Mohammad Khan was able to convince his Rajput Allies and Sikh mercenaries to fight by his side against the Marhattas. And along with his ever loyal Pathan army, Wazir had a Rajput-Sikh alliance support of only 6000 horse-and-foot, and 2000 men provided by the zamindars of Tal pargana and Ratan Singh Thakur. Besides, the other support came from Namdar Khan of Tonk and his 3000 Pindaris. Namdar Khan was the nephew of Karim Khan who was once a prisoner of Sindhia for five years.
Wazir realized that such a small number of force is not enough to fight against them. So he considered a defensive approach and ordered his guards to close all the gates of Fatehgarh Fort with the entire population of Bhopal inside. Looking at the scenario, the enemies encircled the fort and stormed the gates every day or threw rope ladders over the walls at night. When they lifted from the ladders, they were welcomed by the Bhopalis pouring boiling water above them. The other alternative was to throw a barrage of rocks and stones over their heads to dissuade them from climbing.
The enemies cannonaded during the first few weeks. The friends of Wazir had the utmost difficulty in prevailing on him to abandon the tombs of his ancestors where the principal battery of the enemy was afterward raised.
Wazir and his army defended this way for a few weeks but then their spirits met a new low when all of Wazir’s allies, the Rajputs, the Sikhs and the Pindaris decided to quit and withdraw from the fort. I am not aware of the reason but most certainly they realized that was not their war to defend or sacrifice. They assisted as much as they can but being inside the gates for weeks was too much a favor.
Pindaris were in such a distressing situation due to being unable to procure forages for their horses. With the departure of his allies, the army strength of Wazir was reduced from 11,000 to 6,000.
Out of the remaining 6,000 force, Wazir posted and assigned half of them this way;
- 100 men at the old fort (guarded by Doongar Singh, a Rajput officer)
- 200 men at the Ginnor (guarded by Thakur Jay Singh)
- 200 men at the Gondwara gate (guarded by Mir Bakar Ali)
- 200 men at the Mangalwara gate (guarded by Nanga Sar meaning bearheaded)
- 200 men at the Itwara gate (guarded by Mulaim Khan)
- 200 men at the Jumarat gate (guarded by Khawaja Bakhsh)
- 400 men at the Sondwara gate (guarded by Moiz Mohammad Khan, son of Ghous Mohammad Khan)
- 200 men at the Humamil gate (guarded by Karim Mohammad Khan)
- 500 men at Wazir-gunj, a suburb outside the town (guarded by Gulshan Rao)
- 200 men for Fatehgarh (guarded by Dil Mohammad Khan)
- 100 men at Bala Fort (guarded by Zalim Singh)
- 100 men for Fatehgarh’s port (guarded by Soota Khan)
- 500 men for Wazir’s personal command
Ghous Mohammad Khan, to whom goes the credit of bringing this wrath on his Bhopalis gave up on hunger, depravity, and hardship. Because of him, Wazir had to negotiate safe passage to move him outside Bhopal in comfort under the company of eunuchs and courtesans. It is hard to visualize and measure the level of embarrassment and shame he brought on the efforts of the Bhopalis. His wife Zeenat Begum and her eldest daughter Qudsia decided to stay on in the fort to rally their people in resisting the siege. Qudsia in a few years became the first of the four female rulers to rule Bhopal typically termed as the Begums of Bhopal. Yes, you read it right, Qudsia was the daughter of this Ghous who was so worthless that even the enemies didn’t bother to take him as a hostage.
Many times, the defense of the fort was in jeopardy and the measures had to be taken in haste. One day, the enemies broke into the fort by attacking the guards on the Budhwara Gate. The gate was wide opened for the Marhattas to finally march and enforce a possible bloodbath but Wazir’s commander-in-chief and the most loyal of all the Barrukat Pathans, Sardar Bakhshi Bahadur Khan, bravely fought the enemies at the gate. Bhopali women assisted Sardar by throwing stones and pouring boiling water on them. When the news of the attack reached to Wazir, he came to the rescue and successfully defended the gate. Sardar served severe gashes but his gallantry boosted the morale and augmented the much-needed courage among the Bhopalis.
With the weeks passed, the normal consumption of food was deadly compromised. Bhopalis began to eat leaves and boiled shoe leather. During this painfully ravenous time, Wazir’s loyal Rajput allies, Ratan Singh and Aman Singh, the zamindars of Rajput, helped the Bhopalis by arranging grains enough to feed them. So when the food was required, Wazir would seek help from them and agree to reach on a certain spot after midnight. Then Aman and Ratan (or their men, I am not sure here) would bring cartloads of grain through the jungle to an agreed spot on the far side of the lake overlooked by the fort in the darkness of the night.
On the other side, Wazir with his few loyal companions including Bakhshi Bahadur would carefully leave the fort through the gates and swim across the lake carrying empty mushuks (water bags) to fill with grain and return with weight. These were the times which we will never imagine to exist. Escaping from your enemies by slipping from the gates and trying to reach at a spot on an agreed time and trying to return safely again from their enemies while carrying the weight. Too much to ask but that is loyalty to defend while resisting the siege.
Grains were not enough. Wazir somehow contacted the Hindu corn merchants who were commissioned to supply wheat to the Marhatta army at one rupee for five seers. He knew that the merchants will not supply wheat to the enemies of the Marhattas and that too on this rate. So he paid exorbitant sums to convince the dealers. Therefore, the merchants black marketed the wheat to the Bhopalis at 10 rupees per seer. Wazir risked his life and spent a huge fortune to feed his people, leaving the conclusion on God. Pure madness but the gem of example to determine the leadership.
This continued for six months. An abnormality of a life survival was on the count and many people began giving up or became treacherous due to lack of food and water, and sanitation. Observing the Bhopalis breaking their courage, the Marhattas began bribing the guards to open the gates. Looking at these circumstances, anyone at Wazir’s position would have either committed suicide or waved a white flag but he patiently waited.
Zeenat Begum bravely led the Bhopali women, both Hindus and Muslims, and supported their men’s army. They supplied them food and water, learned musketry and the other arts of combat. The women put themselves to exercise to fill cannons with gunpowder and fire so that made it easy for the men to take rest and let the women, dressed as men, stand to guard at nights.
Zeenat Begum unified all classes of women into one. Under her, there was no difference between the rich and the poor women. They all sat together beside her at the table meeting. She led with examples. One day, Zeenat ordered her 14-year-old daughter Qudsia to give two chapatis to a cleaning woman after being informed that her children were starving for a couple of days. Qudsia gave one and hid the other for her brother Faujdar. When Zeenat inspected, she scolded her daughter.
On the other occasion, Zeenat’s other son Moiz was wounded by the enemy musket-fire and fell unconscious. Her mother came for the rescue, dressed her son’s gashes with her dopatta and loaded and fired cannon herself for several hours until Moiz revived. Yes, it is really hard to believe that she was Ghous’ wife.
A TREASURE OF HOPE
The resistance of siege continued until they tolerated the deprivation. The time length of the ultimate wait in the line of defending the land was outnumbering due to the succumbing of the women and children. After nine months to the siege, Wazir held a meeting and decided to negotiate with the enemies a safe passage for the women and children through Qazi Mohammad Yusuf and Molvi Nizamuddin so the remainders in the fort can launch a suicide attack because there was no other way to conclude of what Wazir decided for his people.
This decision was agreed and both, Qazi and Molvi, were sent to the enemy as the envoys. During all this, Wazir went to a faqeer for the spiritual guidance. Pir Mastan Shah was known as the dancing Pir living in Bhopal for past 12 years. Wazir dropped his turban and sword, and placed at his feet and asked for the final blessing. Inclined towards the circle of devotion, Pir chanted ‘Fatah Fatah, Nacho Nacho’ (Victory Victory, Dance Dance) and indicated a location in the fort to discover and dig. Expecting it to be a God’s sign of the lasting hope, Wazir reached a secret chamber of the fort where he discovered around 500 bags of dynamites. Not a confirmed source but the legacy is that long time ago, an old servant of Wazir’s great-uncle and Ghous’ grandfather, Yar Mohammad Khan hid or stored those dynamites there. Wazir found the courage and postponed the likely surrender for a day making Qazi and Molvi think if they were deceived by altering the agreement.
SADIQ ALI’S DREAM
Wazir assembled his force to revise the plan but had no idea to the situation inflicted around his enemies. Major General Sir John Malcolm has accounted for an interesting turnaround in one of his books about Sadiq Ali.
One day out of nowhere and beyond anyone’s expectations, Sadiq Ali announced that he had a horrible dream about some force from the ground cursing him for joining hands with the infidels against the people of his faith. He was further warned by the force to dissuade from fighting against them as the period of nine months without genuine progress was certain evidence of not breaking the defense of the Bhopalis because they were protected by the divine powers.
With the explanation of such a dream, he ordered his army to withdraw. Dan Singh and other Sindhia commanders struggled to convince but there was no stopping. Sadiq Ali and his army raised the siege and left to Sarangpur.
Moreover, Jagua Bapu’s army suffered a dreadful attack of cholera taking Bapu’s life which further weakened and reduced the opposing force. So when Wazir and his army went on for the final assault finally after nine months, only the weakest force was left. Women from the ramparts fired with cannons. Bakhshi Bahadur bravely fought and faced severe injuries again. Jagua Bapu’s deputy Kachua committed suicide by swallowing the diamond dust.
After nine months of Bhopal’s siege and self-arrest of the entire population, the historic Fatehgarh Fort was not invaded. In one of the most incredible circumstances, Bhopal was saved from the Marhatta Army under the most ideal leadership of Wazir Mohammad Khan and proved to be the true bloodline of his great-grandfather, Dost Mohammad Khan. True to his noble tradition, Wazir declined to claim the title of Nawab. He pensioned off Ghous to Islamnagar.
After the victory, the dancing Pir disappeared…
- Begums Of Bhopal: A Dynasty Of Women Rulers In Raj India (Shahryar M. Khan)
- A Brief History Of The Bhopal Principality In Central India: From The Period Of Its Foundation, About 150 Years Ago, To The Present Time (Major William Hough)
- Muslim Women, Reform And Princely Patronage: Nawab Sultan Jahan Begam Of Bhopal (Siobhan Lambert-Hurley)
- Census of India 2011 Madhya Pradesh: District Census Handbook Bhopal
“Entering in 2019, these kind of stories are impossible to believe to exist. Because things are drastically changed, the soldiers do not wait for their opponents to come out from their place for nine months. There have been many sieges. To my surprise, Bhopal’s siege is hardly available on the internet. Many names I mentioned in the story here cannot be detected by any search engine. Which actually proves that there is still a lot of treasure to gain from the books which cannot be found on the internet. My piece from Hindustan’s history is a favor to the global readers who can treasure this through my blog and benefit to the coming generations. Thank you for reading.”