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Bangash Ka Kamra - Delhi

In a tightly congested area of the old city, and among the poorest parts of the metropolis is Bangash Ka Kamra—(kamra means a chamber or room). Over two centuries ago, this residential haveli (mansion) was constructed by an Afghan soldier-adventurer who came from Bangash, a hill in eastern Afghanistan (the modern Kohat, Kurram and Paiwar). The people who came to Delhi from there were known as Bangash.

Of these people, Mohammad Khan Bangash was typical—an adventurer who, when 20 years old, joined a party of Pathan freebooters who hired themselves out to the Hindu chieftains to fight their internecine wars. Mohammad Khan Bangash was an outstanding soldier and rose quickly. As a reward for his services, he was granted a tract of land around modern Farrukhabad, that soon became a center of Afghan power. During the reign of Emperor Mohammad Shah Rangila, Bangash became a first grade mansabdar (revenue collector). He was attached to the Mughal court in Delhi and built the legendary Bangash Ka Kamra.

Later, he was made imperial Viceroy over Allahabad and Malwa. He was probably the only Afghan noble to join the Emperor Mohammad Shah against the Saiyads of Barah. In 1720 on the defeat of his enemies, Mohammad Khan Bangash set up a second Afghan center at Farrukhabad.

Due to his courage and enterprise, Bangash rose rapidly and when the Marathas attacked the crumbling Mughal Empire, he was ready to join forces against them. This he was ordered to do by Mohammad Shah Rangila. The Marathas proved too strong to be driven out, and Bangash did the next best thing: he entered into a secret pact with them, agreeing to pay them one year’s chauth (money-tribute).

What was Mohammad Khan Bangash really like? He was clearly a man of great energy. His habits were, however, simple and soldierlike. He was rich, but he dressed simply. He never boasted, so it is related, and his hospitally was unbounded. But every man has weakness and his was women. Chief among them was a woman of remarkable ability—Bibi Saheba.

When Ahmed Shah succeeded his father Mohammad Shah Rangila, egged on by his wazir, (prime minister) Safdar Jung, he decided that there were too many Afghans in Delhi and that the best way to destroy them was to set one group against another. Safdar Jung conrived to capture Bibi Saheba and her five sons and imprison them outside Delhi, but a trusted friend of Mohammad Khan Bangash discovered where she was and brought her and her sons home. They were chased by Safdar Jung but managed to escape.

The Pathans in Delhi protested but not very effectively, for they were full of tribal divisions. The story goes that one day a soldier in SafdarJung’s army bought a reel of yarn from a Pathan woman, and paid the price. A month later he demanded his money back. The woman protested and he roughed her up. The Pathans then rose en masse and went to Bibi Saheba who had become a legend for her strength and leadership. She advisedthem to accept Mohammed Khan Bangash as their leader, and they routed Safdar Jung’s forces.

Bibi Saheba’s influence steadily grew. She settled in Delhi. As a woman of great piety, she built a huge serai (inn) near Khari Baoli and named it Bangash Ka Kamra. It needed imagination and compassion to do all she did. Travellers particularlymerchants from Afghanistan found comfort in it. A market sprang up in the area which still exists and is known as Gadodia Market. Bibi Saheba also constructed a bridge and a canal close by, and the waters of the canal once flowed into Delhi. Neither the canal nor the bridge now exist, but Bangash Ka Kamra, is not what it once was. The name of the woman most closely associated with it survives as a symbol of piety and devotion. It is still said by the common people of the area that she lived in accordance with the saying of Muslims. “He is not dead who leaves behind him on earth

Bridge and mosque, well and travellers’ rest-house.”

Bibi Saheba will live forever in the hearts of the people.

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