Of sarpech and Farshis: The Begums of Rampur

One of the richest states ruled by the Nawabs in Awadh, Rampur is also known for its cultural affluence, its craft indulgence and its abundant love for jewels. The Paasas, sarpech and haathphools, worn over dazzling sheraras and farshis created from the finest pure gold brocade, embellished with zardoz, mukaish and other forms of embroidery.

Not just the women, but also the men indulged in jewellery, especially the famed seven-string of evenly shaped basras, strung in perfect gradient and worn often by Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, the grandfather of the present Nawab of Rampur, Kazim Ali Khan. A couture stylist and a conservationist, Kazim Ali is known to keep this love for jewels and his eye for detail. Both of which came alive at the recent wedding of his second son, Nawabzada Haider Ali, with Ananya Dagar, alias Shaukat Zamani Begum at their ancestral home, Noor Mahal. Shares Kazim Ali, “Our family is known for keeping our traditional heritage alive and we are lucky that both our daughter-in-law respect this legacy as much as we do. Both of them dressed in the bridal costume of my grandmother at their wedding. As for my elder son, he got married in an achkan I had worn as a groom.”


Nawabzada Haider Ali Khan and Shaukat Zamani Begum


Shaukat Zamani Begum in a pure farshi that belonged to her grand mother in law


Nawad Syed Kazim Ali Khan, Nawabzadas Haider Ali Khan and Ali Mohammad Khan of Rampur


Nawab Hamid Ali Khan


Rafat Zamani Begum or Bari Begum Saab


Firdaus Zamani Begum of Rampur


Aayat Zamani Begum with Nawab Syed Kazim Ali Khan of Rampur

A small, intimate affair attended by the family’s veritable inner circle turned into a moment of revelry for the entire city. What with the parents’ Nawab Syed Kazim Ali Khan and Firdaus Zamani Begum along with the grand patriarch Rajmata Mehtaab Zamani Begum of Rampur enjoying a deep, and opened their home and their hearts for the people of Rampur.

Relives Princess Chandni Kumari, a close friend of the family and hailing from neighbouring Seohara that, “Noor Mahal was a vision dressed up in all colours of festive yellow going into ochre. The Nawabs, known for their culinary prowess, had their royal kitchens and trusted khansamas rustle up quite a mouth-watering spread of niharis, the famed Moradabadi Daal, the galawatke kabobs, the sheer mal and the biryanis.” 

A two-day affair, it began with the welcome evening where the Nawab invited the swirling dervishes to lend a sufiana air to the ceremony. As a few guests from all across the country gathered to be part of the functions, there was a formal welcome to the stunningly beautiful bride, dressed in a traditional farshi by the women of the family: The mother wearing a vision in white pearls and the grandmother looking her divine and beautiful self. 

Joining him in making every guest comfortable was the slender and beautiful elder bahu begum Shazli Ali Khan alias Aayat Zamani Begum who had flown in with her husband, Nawabzada Ali Mohammad Khan, an investment banker from New York.

The nikaah next day saw the family air their heirlooms. Both the bahus wore historic costumes that belonged to the erstwhile begums of Rampur. Shazli sparkled through in the green Karchob Gharara worn by her grandmother in law: the Begum Saab Mahtaab Zamani Begum, who was married into Rampur from the state of Loharu in Rajasthan. The bride herself looked divine in a karchob Farshi worn by her great grandmother in law the famed HH Rafat Zamani Begum, whose beauty is fabled even today. 

The nikaah rendered both in the Shia and Sunni style had a 104-year-old Mirasin sing blessing to the bride and groom. “Just like she had sung at my grandmother’s wedding, many moons ago. She was then a little girl, “shares Kazim Ali. The bride was a vision, her face covered in a ceremonial dupatta as she sat behind a phoolonkichadar, whispering a shy qabool to her husband, Haider Ali. An aspiring politician and a dynamic one at that, Haidar is already making deep inroads into the heart of the city and its folks. 

The state of Rampur was founded by Nawab Ali Muhammad Khan, the adopted son of Sardar Daud Khan, the chief of the Rohillas in Northern India. The Rohillas were Afghans who entered India in the 18th century as the Mughal Empire was in decline and took control of Rohilkhand, at the time known 
as Katehr.

In 1737, Nawab Muhammad Khan received the territory of Katehr from Emperor Muhammad Shah, only to lose everything to Nawab Wazir of Oudh in 1746. Two years later, he assisted Ahmad Shah Durrani in his conquest of India, recovering all his former possessions.

Over the next two centuries, the Rampur royals, earlier a warring clan, struck deep roots, and with the blessings of the British, began to build one of the richest principalities in the country. A love for manuscripts brought alive the Reza Library that possibly houses some of the oldest manuscripts in Urdu. And the fact that Begum Akhtar, better known in that era as Akhtari Bai Faizabadi, was discovered by the Nawabs of Rampur!         – Anshu Khanna

For images click here: Of sarpech and Farshis: The Begums of Rampur