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Begum Hazrat Mahal, also known as the ‘Begum of Awadh’, was one of the earliest female freedom fighters during the First Indian War of Independence. She was the first wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and possessed the courage and leadership to rebel against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. After the British annexed their territory and the King of Awadh, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was sent away in exile to Calcutta, she took the responsibility of managing the affairs of the state in her own hands. Later, in association with the revolutionary forces, she seized control of Lucknow and declared her son as the new King of Awadh. She played a pivotal role in the first war of Indian independence and fought the British forces along with other revolutionaries. But the British troops attacked Awadh again and after a long siege were able to re-capture it, forcing her to retreat. She refused to accept any kind of favors and allowances offered by the British rulers. Finally she sought asylum in Nepal, where she died after some time. She was the only major leader never to surrender to the British, and she maintained her opposition through twenty years of exile in Nepal until her death.

She was born as Muhammadi Khanum in 1820 in Faizabad, Awadh, India, to a poor Syed family, descendants of Prophet Muhammad.

She was a courtesan by profession and after being sold by her parents, she was taken into the royal harem as a ‘khawasin’. Later she was sold to Royal agents and was promoted to be a ‘pari’.