27 January, 2021

Forgotten Heroine

A nautch girl who made it big

Forgotten Heroine
THIS is the story of a Muslim nautch girl Farzana, born in 1760, brought to Delhi from her birthplace some 50 miles away, by her tawaif mother. The mother died on arrival, but the child was saved and brought up and trained in a kotha in Chauri Bazaar. A star pupil, Farzana "grew into a young beauty with flashing eyes, a pearly complexion and lively wit". She performed at a mehfil and a day later was given away in marriage as a concubine to an Austrian adventurer, Walter Joseph Reinhardt of Luxemburg. This occurred in 1765. The association with Reinhardt lasted for 13 years till his death in 1778. Meanwhile, her husband who had assumed the title of Sombre, was granted a jagir in 1776. After his death, the jagir was transferred to Farzana by the Mughal emperor Shah Alam in 1779. Even since Farzana was known as Begam Samru, a slight variation of her husband's name.

Farzana was converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1781. She was baptised Joanna. It seems that an old church existed in Sardhana from Akbar's time and permission was obtained by...



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