Tehsin ki Masjid

Tehsin ki Masjid

With the exception of Razia Sultan, who was the ruler of Delhi between 1236 and 1239, in the male dominated society and the strict purdah system of the Muslim elite, the only other mention of Muslim women who have been influential in the affairs of the State is that of Chand Bibi of Ahmad nagar in the later part of 16th century and that of Noor Jahan, the Moghul Empress, half a century later.
But in Awadh, where the rule of Nawab was established in 1722 and finally ended in 1858 with the fleeing of Birjis Qadr to Nepal, we find at least three women in the royal household who were quite influential in the affairs of the State, besides managing vast estates of their own directly under their control. Their names are Bahu Begum, the wife of the third Nawab, Shuja-ud-Daulah, Badshah Begum, the chief Queen of the first King of Awadh, Ghazi-ud-din Haider, and Begum Hazrat Mahal,the wife of the last King of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah who was illegally deposed by the British in February 1856.

Under normal circumstances, these Begums were required to confine themselves within the gynaeceum of the royal palaces, usually referred to as Khurd Mahal, and the only way they could seek outside information and convey their instructions and advice to the officers of the administration was through the services of eunuchs who had access to both the interiors of the royal household and the world that existed beyond it.
The chief of these eunuchs was called Khwajasara. He was not only important but often had great influence and power with which he could manipulate matters that were placed into his confidence.

Tehsin Ali Khan was a Khwajasara who was initially with Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah as a manager of his gynaeceum at Faizabad. Coincidentiy, he was also a favourite of his chief wife Bahu Begum, a powerful person, against whom even the Nawab's will could not prevail.
Tehsin was appointed the Darogha (superintendent) of the Tosha khana by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah and maintained the personal effects and valuables of the ruler and the royal household. He was so attached to Asaf-ud-Daulah that on the death of the latter he left all his worldly belongings and remained at his grave as its keeper, wearing the garments of a faqueer (mendicant) in mourning. The son of Asaf-ud-Daulah, Wazir Ali, the next ruler, persuaded him to return to the palace. He bestowed upon him the khillat (robe of honour) and elevated him to the post of Naazir (estate superintendent) for the royal palaces. However, his relationship with the young Nawab who hated the British could not remain cordial for long. One day when the Nawab was extremely annoyed with him and intended to punish him severely, he took refuge in the Residency. The British Resident provided him shelter and security, and in lieu of the favour, utilised his services for proving that Wazir Ali was not the real son of Asaf-ud-Daulah. Since Asaf-ud-Daulah had declared Wazir Ali as his heir apparent in his lifetime and had also celebrated his marriage with great pomp and fanfare spending over 30 lakh (according to a British estimate), their efforts failed to convince the masses and it was not possible to declare that Wazir Ali was an illegitimate offspring. The British then used the other ploy of 'misrule' to dismiss Wazir Ali in January 1798, within four months of his installation. The British appointed Saadat Ali Khan, the stepbrother of Asaf-ud-Daulah and uncle of Wazir Ali as the next ruler and rewarded Tehsin Ali Khan by reinstating him in his earlier position of Naazir.
Tehsin Ali Khan had been the favourite of Bahu Begum and also managed her affairs. She kept in touch with him whenever she was at Lucknow, where she had her own palace known as Burj Tilai or Sunehra Burj (the palace with a golden canopy). The sisters of the ruling Nawab and other female relatives at Faizabad resented the control of Bahu Begum and Tehsin Ali Khan in their matters. They petitioned the Nawab to dismiss Tehsin in August 1812. He obliged, but as was expected, the British Resident Colonel John Baillie intervened on behalf of Tehsin Ali Khan and bullied the Nawab to reinstate him and forced him to recall the dismissal order. The Begums came all the way from Faizabad and staged a dharna (sit in) at the Asafi Imambara for four months, but to no avail, so they returned back in desperation.

Tehsin Ali Khan [who was married despite being a eunuch] was childless. He made a Will appointing the British Resident as the receiver of his property. On his death on August 27, 1818, Sir John Baillie assumed the receivership of Tehsin's property which included a Serai and a masjid (mosque) that he had built. Baillie [as per Tehsin's Will] also built a maqbara (mausoleum) over the grave of Tehsin adjacent to his mosque. The maqbara was later converted into an Imambara.
There is a very interesting aspect of the construction of Tehsin's mosque popularly known as Tehsin ki masjid situated in Chowk . It is believed that it was constructed from rubble obtained during the construction of the great Asafi Imambara (Bara Imambara) built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah as a project for famine relief in 1784 to provide employment to his suffering subjects. In order to enable persons belonging to respectable families to avail of this employment opportunity, the Nawab ordered that construction work should continue after sunset, to evade recognition of respectable persons involved in the labour [who could then work in the night shift without being identified]. Naturally, because they were not skilled, the work done by them was below standard and had to be demolished at daybreak, when skilled workers took over and completed the job satisfactorily. This resulted in the accumulation of a lot of rubble.
Tehsin Ali Khan begged Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah to allow him to cart this discarded material at his own expense. It is with this material that he is said to have constructed the mosque, which still exists today in a fairly good condition near the Akbari Darwaza, the famous gateway in the old city.

Hindustan Times, City Scan, A Time in History
Wednesday 19.11.1997 — The eunuch who upstaged a King