Sacralizing the City: The Begums of Bhopal and their Mosques
Princely building ventures in post 1857 colonial India included, among others, construction of religious buildings, even as their patrons enthusiastically pursued the colonial modernist agenda. This paper examines the architectural patronage of the Bhopal Begums, the women rulers of Bhopal State, who raised three grand mosques in their capital, Bhopal, in the 19th and early 20th century. As Bhopal marched on the road to progress under the Begums’ patronage, the mosques heralded the presence of Islam in the city in the post uprising scenario where both Muslims and mosques were subjected to retribution for fomenting the 1857 insurrection. Bhopal’s mosques were not only sacred sites for the devout but also impacted the public realm of the city. Their construction drew significantly on the Mughal architectural archetype, thus affording the Begums an opportunity to assert themselves, via their mosques, as legitimate inheritors of the Mughal legacy, including taking charge of the latter’s legacy of stewardship of Iam. Today, the Bhopal mosques constitute an integral part of the city’s built heritage corpus. It is worth underscoring that they are not only important symbols of the Muslim faith but also markers of their patrons’ endeavour to position themselves at the forefront in the complex political and cultural scenario of post uprising colonial India.
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