Nawab Hamidullah Khan (1896-1960), the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Bhopal, was very fond of celebrating Navratri and other Hindu festivals – a secular tradition later carried forward by his three daughters, say historians.
“Sir Raja Awadh Narayan Bisariya was chief minister to Nawab Hamidullah Khan. His grandson used to be my classmate and I was a regular to his home, which still exists near Royal market. Navratri used to be celebrated at Bisariya’s residence with all pomp and fervour and the Nawab himself used to come to take part in those celebrations,” says historian Syed Akhtar Husain who was 10 years old when India got independence in 1947.
The Nawabs were also fond of celebrating festivals like Dushhera and Diwali. “In fact, Dushhera was one of two official festivals of Nawabi Bhopal, Eid, being the other. Hamidullah was also very fond of playing Holi. He used to attend large gatherings to participate in the festival of colours. There were some areas where people used to wait for the Nawab Saheb to come and play Holi with them,” says Sikandar Mallik, a young historian from Bhopal.
According to Hussain, before every festival the Nawab used to order for a public declaration that if anybody creates any sort of nuisance before or after a festival, that person’s face will blackened and he would be treated with a donkey-back ride.
“Every festival used to be a gala event for all. Hamidullah used to admire Hindu festivals and even appreciate the traditional decoration and lighting. There was so much tension across the country in those days but Bhopal was in peace,”says Husain, adding Bhopal has always been a secular city where people of all castes and religions thrive peacefully.
“And this is not just about the present. This has been a legacy which was carried forward by his daughters Abida Sultan, Sajida Sultan and Rabia Sultan after his death in 1960. Sajida, in particular, was very up front when it came to celebrating Hindu festivals,” says Husain.
“Though independence came a little late to Bhopal as it was one of the last states to sign the instrument of accession, all the festivals were celebrated in Bhopal too with all zeal that year too. Even prior to 1947, every Hindu festival used to be celebrated with much revelry,” he says.