Benazeer: Riyasat-e-Shahjahani

“Riyasat-e-Bhopal kinishaanihain char batua, chuneti, begum aurtaal”.

Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh was formerly a land locked Nawab kingdom known as Bhopal state. Bhopal; a city with royal blood line from Gond tribes to Nawabs. A city which holds a royal folklore, scenic beauty and modern urban planning. An epitome of ‘Ganga Jamunatehzeeb’ and amalgamation of past and present. Bhopal was the first garden city of Mughal India as reflected from its emblem “mahamaratib” representing 76 baagh and baghiya (big and small gardens). The transformed identity of the city comes with numerous manmade lakes built by the rulers giving it title “THE CITY OF LAKES”. Bhopal presents a multi- faceted profile-the glittering bazaars, the large and magnificent mosques, the palaces , the gardens and avenues; leaving behind an aristocratic imprint of its former rulers. All the functions of this city are man-made since it was formed with no river located near it. It is indubitably a very peaceful place with harmony and secularism.


The city was actually formed under the reign of a very popular king Raja Bhoj during eleventh century and was named Bhojpal. It was then followed by the Gond tribe for many years. The modern Bhopal city was established by SardarDost Mohammad Khan (1672-1728), an Afghan Pashtun solider in the Mughal army. Khan received the territory of Bhopal in lieu of payment for protecting Maharani Kamalapati kingdom from enemies.


During the early 1720s, SardarDost Mohammad Khan transformed the village of Bhopal into a fortified city. Khan’s support to the Sayyid brothers earned him the enmity of rival Mughal nobleman Nizam-ul-mulk, who invade Bhopal in March 1724 forcing khan to cede much of his territory. Nizam convinced the Yar Mohammad to return with khan and with permissions of British law he crowned the child Nawaband the child was then renamed as NawabYar Mohammad Khan. This was how Nawab’s came into existence in the history of Bhopal state.


The best phase Bhopal had seen was under the ruling of four ‘begums’ (Queens) between 1819 and 1926. Qudsia Begum was the first woman ruler, succeeded by Sikandar Begum, who was succeeded by Shahjehan Begum and finally Sultan Jahan Begum. They were the role models of holding supreme power, wealth and regalia, famous for their dynamism and charisma. The city speaks for itself due to its culture, education and immense architecture the Begums brought to this city.


Shahjehan Begum was crowned Begum of Bhopal after the death of Sikandarjehan Begum. She was a great connoisseur of arts and music. A lady of learning and piety, Shahjahan was credited with the authorship of several books in Urdu. She was instrumental in initiating the construction of largest mosques in India, the Taj-ul-Masajid, at Bhopal. The construction however remained incomplete and was later abandoned after her death work was later resumed only in 1971.

She also contributed generously towards the founding of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental Collage at Aligarh, which was developed into Aligarh Muslim University. She also subsidized the cost of railway to be constructed between Hoshangabad and Bhopal. Shahjahan Begum was the first lady pilot of India.

Splendid buildings- The Taj Mahal Palace as well as the Benazeer Palace were built during her reign. The architecture of the Shahjehan’s buildings had British, French, Mughal, Arabic and Hindu influences.


The ambitious development of Shahjahanbad was started under Shahjehan Begum in 1870. Shahjahanabad was a suburb towards the north of Bhopal. It was complete with ‘bazaars’ (markets), ‘gallamandies’ (grain markets), store houses, ‘serais’, residential quarters and institutions. An Id-gah (mosque) was located at the highest point in the landscape and Shahjahanbad was enveloped by a city wall. Three terraced lakes were created in this area with water from one cascading into the next. These formed the central area of Shahjahanbad. The palaces and residences of the elite were located along these lakes. The three lakes were dependent on the surface run-off water from the seasonal rains. To maintain the balance and the level of water in these lakes, an additional reservoir was constructed to the north of Shahjahanbad. An elaborate system of bricklined vaulted drains exited to collect water and bring it to the lake. These channels passed through important buildings before delivering water to the Talab. The channels were transformed into splashing fountains, gurgling cascades, and silent ‘chadars’ (sheets of water) or passed through beautifully carved stone streams. Rose water or ‘kewda’ was added to this water to cool and freshen the air.


Benazeer, was the pleasure pavilion in the garden city and was essentially built as Shahjahan Begum’s summer palace in 1875 and a place to accommodate state dignitaries. Lord and Lady Minto stayed here during their visit in 1909. Benazir overlooked the expanding landscape to its east and from it the arrangement of the three water bodies could be seen – the Motia Talab which was the uppermost, the intermediate Siddique Hassan Talab and the lowermost the Munshi Hussain Talab.

The H shaped building enclosed green stepped terraces and gurgling fountains; and a series of steps and plinths descended down to the water. The ground attached to the palace was used for ceremonial processions, parades and was also congregation ground for the subjects. Steps on two sides of the ground provided sitting space for the people during sports. The luxurious ambience and the lacy treatment of the palace is almost akin to the zardozi veil of the burkha that Shahjahan Begum so vehemently advocated.

Made of steel columns with louvered wooden partitions, extensively carved hammam, the Benazir Palace cleverly control the temperature. Its ornamental gate, the most ornate in the city, was added later. It has multi-foliate arched openings and stair cases leading to chhatris, or domed kiosks, with pitched eaves.

The architecture of the palace is quite complex, with a large number of passages and stairs that can puzzle any layman, but they added more than beauty to the palace, they served a purpose, back in its functional days. Like many other palaces this was built in a very scientific manner, its architecture keeps it cool in the summer and all the rooms are well ventilated. The wind blowing from the lakes keeps the palace cool, while the three lakes themselves are a fine example of surface-water harvesting. One can feel the difference in temperature even in the ruins. Ducts were provided beneath the palace to allow the run-off and drainage water into the ponds.

Also, the water from the tanks were pulled up through gravitational force into the overhead tank and used in the Hammam (royal bath) just by the side of Motia Talab.

This documentation of Benazeer Palace was carried out by students of the Faculty of Architecture and Ekistics, Jamia Millia Islamia for the Louis I. Khan Trophy, NASA. All content owned by the students of the Faculty.

The students who carried out this documentation are; 1. Arshmah Alam, 2. Maria Seby, 3. Maryam Akhtar, 4. Abdullah bin Masood, 5. Mueed Ahmed, 6. Tushar Mondal, 7. Lijo Mathew, 8. Gaurav Varshney, 9. Humair Subhani, 10. Asad Ahmed, 11. Sanjar Javed, 12. Aamir Suhail, 13. Anas Aseem, 14. Saurav Chaudhary, 15. Shahzeb Ejaz, 16. Akbar Khan, 17. Mobashshar Sultan, 18. Yusra Yasmeen, 19. Zahra Jabeen, 20. Sadan Malik, 21. Anshul Abbasi, 22. Zeeshan Husain, 23. Rahil Malik, 24. Tanzeel Ahmed, and 25. Mohd. Muhibuddin.