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Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 83

Taj al-Iqbal: Tarikh-e Bhopal (‘The History of Bhopal’)

Kanpur: Nizami Press, 1872–3

Lithographed text in nasta’liq script on coloured paper; printed and hand-coloured decoration on title pages; illuminated frontispiece to part 3 in opaque watercolour including metallic pigments; brown goatskin binding with painted decoration and inlaid marble paper | 250 pp.; 33.1 × 21.7 cm | RCIN 1198705

This lithographic copy of Taj al-Iqbal, ‘The History of Bhopal’, written by its female ruler Shah-Jahan Begum (1838–1901), was printed in the typically ornate style of the famous Nizami  Press in Kanpur. The existence of such commercial presses and the development of a commercial book trade in India in the second half of nineteenth century gave rulers and wealthy individuals the unprecedented opportunity to disseminate their own writings to a wide audience across the subcontinent and beyond. An English translation of the text made by the Political Agent resident in Bhopal at the time was printed in Calcutta in 1876, numerous copies of which soon made their way to Britain.

Shah-Jahan Begum was the third of four strong female rulers of Bhopal, the second largest Muslim state in British India, who administered it in a subsidiary alliance with the East India Company and then the Crown from 1819 to 1926.  The first Begum, Qudsia (r. 1819–37), held her position in the teeth of British prejudice against female rulers, but by the time her daughter Sikandar Begum succeeded her,  Britain’s own ruler was Queen Victoria, which negated any official arguments against a woman’s ability to rule. 

The Begums of Bhopal were prolific writers in Urdu and Persian who published their works as part of a passionate campaign for educational advancement in their state. This three-part chronicle of the Bhopal dynasty grew out of work begun by Sikandar Begum who, ‘with great industry and perseverance collected from the ancient records of the State the materials for the work, which, in 17 years, had grown into a bulky volume’.[273]

This volume of Taj al-Iqbal is the finer of the two copies presented to Edward VII, when, as Prince of Wales, he visited the Begum of Bhopal in 1875. The title pages of its three parts follow a format that developed in early nineteenth-century Lucknow and spread across northern India: wide floral borders; an upper band of blessings in Arabic; a lower band giving the date and place of production; and the title and date of the work in an oval at the centre surrounded by a short description of its contents.[274] The addition of red and green ink was only used on special volumes such as this. Coloured paper separates the three sections of the book (sections one and three printed on pink paper, section two on purple) and part three, an account of Shah-Jahan Begum’s own reign thus far, was further embellished by hand in the style of a fine manuscript with an illuminated double-page frontispiece. 


  • [273] Taj ul-Ikbal, p. v.

    [274] Scheglova 1999, p. 15.

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