Munni Begum

Munni Begum (?-1813) the second wife of mir jafar who was appointed nawab by the east india company after the defeat of sirajuddaula. She was born to a poor mother in village Balkunda near Sikandra, the burial place of akbar. Her mother sold her to Bishu, a dancing girl of Delhi. Bishu taught her the art of dancing. Munni travelled to different royal houses of India with Bishu's dancing troupe. The fame of her beauty and dancing skill spread far and wide.

At the wedding of Ikramuddaula, the adopted son of ghaseti begum and nawazish muhammad khan, Bishu's dancing troupe was engaged to perform. Munni Begum, who was in the troupe, attracted the attention of royalty by her beauty and musical and dancing skill. The ceremonies over, Bishu's troupe stayed back in murshidabad as the city offered better opportunities for the dancing girls.

Munni Begum, who was the prettiest of the girls, soon found a place in the harem of the chief of staff of Nawab Alivardi's Army. Her youthful beauty won the heart of Mir Jafar. She was very intelligent and in due course became the principal lady of Mir Jafar's harem. She even overshadowed Shah khanam, the first wife of Mir Jafar. Mir Jafar had also married Babbu Begum. But the intelligence, beauty and devotion of Munni made her the chief consort.

After the death of Mir Jafar on 5 February 1765 Munni gained possession of his vast wealth. She was a good friend of robert clive, who consoled her by saying that he and the officers of the company would treat her as their mother. She gave five lakhs of rupees to Clive and thus managed to place her son nazmuddaula on the masnad. Munni Begum rose to prominence among the Begums and became the head of the inner household. She took responsibility for the disbursement of twenty-three thousand rupees a month as the wages of servants, maintenance of the women of the Zenana, entertainment of visitors, and religious ceremonies and festivals. To assist the young nawab, the company appointed reza khan as naib nazim. Gradually Reza Khan took control of every department of the nawab's administration. Najmuddaula died in May 1766 and was succeeded by Saifuddaula, the second son of Munni Begum. In March 1770 this boy also died and Mubarakuddaula, the son of Babbu Begum succeeded him. Munni Begum's influence waned and Babbu Begum came to the forefront.

But Munni Begum did not sit idle. The company also got annoyed with Reza Khan and set up an enquiry commission to investigate corruption. Reza Khan was found guilty and, to the delight of Munni Begum, removed from the office.

warren hastings appointed an English officer to look after the administration and Munni Begum was again installed as Head of the harem administration. Raja Gurudas, son of nanda kumar, was appointed the deputy of Munni Begum. rani bhabani, the zamindar of Natore, sent her a palki (Palanquin) with thirty bearers. For the maintenance of the palki bearers the Rani gave land as a gift to Munni Begum.

Munni Begum used to converse with high officials of the company from behind a silk curtain. Lord Valentia, an English officer, has written about such meetings. She used to smoke a hukkah. Instances of her benevolence are also found in contemporary records. She used to help orphan girls and widows. In the Governor General's Council there were some opponents of Hastings. They reported to the Court of Directors in London that Munni Begum, by bribing Hastings, got herself appointed guardian of the young nawab, jeopardising the claim of Babbu Begum, his original grandmother. Consequently the Court of Directors removed her from the guardianship.

Munni Begum died on 10 January 1813 at the ripe age of ninety-seven, leaving behind a vast fortune in cash, gold and jewels. At Fort William the Union Jack was hoisted half-mast and ninety guns were fired as a mark of respect to her. She was buried at the family graveyard of Mir Jafar. [Shahryar ZR Iabal]