Monthly Archives: July 2016

Sardhana – A Tale of Acrobatic Diplomacy by a Courtesan Travelling Leaves from Uttar Pradesh – Advocacy

Organizing lesser known trails in Uttar Pradesh includes a visit to Sardhana the seat of Begum Samru a woman who traveled from a life of a courtesan to the position of powerful independent ruler am…

Source: Sardhana – A Tale of Acrobatic Diplomacy by a Courtesan Travelling Leaves from Uttar Pradesh – Advocacy

Sardhana – A Tale of Acrobatic Diplomacy by a Courtesan Travelling Leaves from Uttar Pradesh – Advocacy

Organizing lesser known trails in Uttar Pradesh includes a visit to Sardhana the seat of Begum Samru a woman who traveled from a life of a courtesan to the position of powerful independent ruler amidst fascinating group of wandering Europeans. Gratitude to UP. Tourism- Meerut Unit,and the Diocese of Agra. Contact:


ADVOCACY: It remains important that the Diocese of Agra is provided both resources and experts to restore and maintain this grand heritage. Between a mango tour and the Begum’s heritage, the entire stretch of surroundings around Meerut has untapped potential of sustainable, responsible tourism.

Begum Samru of the 18thc, is the quintessence of the tenacity and grit which a woman is empowered with. She evolved against and within the ‘turbulent phase’ – ‘Gardi ka Waqt’  a period marked by waning of the Great Mughal Empire  following the death of Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal Emperor in 1707 until 1857 when the Empire formally ended and Queen Victoria took over as Mallika-e-Hindustan or Empress of India.

Born as Farzana, the Begum after her mother’s demise was brought up by a reputed tawa’if * Khanum Jaan in the aureate space of glittering Chowri Bazaar in Delhi. And it is from here she starts her adventure with several Europeans with her taken as a concubine by a middle aged mercenary Walter Joseph Reinhardt. The uncertain times in India provided young ambitious soldiers who sought fortunes by lending their services. No ethics defined their greed and they changed loyalties often as their clothes and convenience. Mr. Reinhardt nicknamed Somre (samru) was no different.

On arriving on the shores of India, he left the ship and joined the French army, and from there he traversed to serve the Swiss Corp and various Indian rulers. While in the service of the Bengal Nawab, he was accused of mass killings of British in Patna. As the British gained their central position in India,  Reinhardt had to work his way diligently to get back on track.  Amidst his ventures, he  bought the teenage courtesan –  the young and beautiful Farzana, and made her his mistress.

In the entire trajectory of his revival, Farzana played an important role.  The couple located themselves in Delhi, and weaved their way amidst the torrid power dynamics of the crumbling Mughal Empire where local communities, and provincial powers like the Jats, Rohillas, Sikhs and Marathas along with rising Europeans powers vied to chart their empires. The couple through their influence on weak Mughal kings acquired the rich province of Sardhana located in present day Meerut District of Uttar Pradesh. It may be noted that Farzana. although a constant companion to Reinhardt Somre, remained as a mistress in the harem and thus was not formally married to Reinhardt.

Her evolution as a powerful landholding aristocratic ruler came only after the death of Reinhardt Somre, and this evolution combined contradictory nuances.  First she got herself converted to Christianity by a Carmelite monk and adopted the name Johanna ; but, she retained her moniker title ‘Begum’. While holding court she wore a Hijab but even in court which was dominated by men smoked a hookah. She was both compassionate as well as strictly just. If a person was found guilty she had no qualms and issued a death warrant.

A petite four and half feet tall she lost Reinhardt at 25 and yearned for love. Her first lover was George Thomas, an Irish dockworker turned mercenary, who she ditched and secretly married the flashy handsome French lover Armand Levassoult, and then after his death returned to Jahazi Sahab – Mr. Thomas!

The Begum exerted her multiple cultural identities and left behind the image of the tawa’if. On carrying out her duties she successfully executed agricultural reforms and enormous amount of  development work. not only that, she supported  the weak Mughals with her private army in a manner that Mughal Emperor Shah Alam gave her the title Zebunnissa . The British did not touch her or her province for, as an aristocratic landowner, her exotica attracted loads of wandering Europeans who she hosted and among who were Heber, William Fraser, and journalists from Asiatic Annual Register. In this period of increasing Christian Missionary activities, our Lady built the basilica with an independent Bishop in Sardhana, she conserved a church in Agra which is where Reinheardt is buried. So rose as a  Christian soul, and the British did not dare touch her. Between the British, Marathas, Jats, and Mughals, Begum Samru expertly practiced the art of acrobatic diplomacy and survival. Sadly, after her death, the British promptly took over the state, and the Agra diocese had to buy back most buildings at an auction from the British!

The Heritage of Sardhana is Manifold:Basilica of Our Lady of Graces: The Internet has many articles on this unique church designed by the Italian Anthony Reghelini,but there are a few nuances that remain unique:5 storey basilica

THE CHURCH- The Sculptural Relief Begum with the Decree: The large relief has on top the Begum holding the Sanad or Decree which formally granted her Sardhana. The entire relief is Italian in nature. The Old man on the right has details of evident nerves – symbolizing the Begum’s compassion. On the left is a lady wearing a veil carrying but holds a snake which symbolizes her strict rule. On the side is a tall Greek Lady holding a mace and standing on a lion. This symbolizes that though the Begun was just 4 and half feet, she was in control of her state and as fearless like a lion. Last in the relief is the Begum holding her durbar smoking a hookah amidst men.

Samru holding her sanad     Samru- compassion Samru's qualities- Compassion shown in the visible nerves

Samru- Quality- Burqa, serpant - justice Samru's quality- brave as lion, strong Samru assembly hookah

The Statue of Jesus: Is made of paper-mache and therefore extremely lightweight, the mold from which the statue was created is made of Rubber and was imported from Germany.

.Paper mache Christ- German  rubber mould


priest and motorbike Basement of the palace

The Begum’s Old Palace : Bought from Marathas, the palace is now the St. John’s Seminary and has an amazing underground structure in which Begum Samru lived in Summers. Of course, it was wonderful it have priests on motorcycles.


Palace 2- Samru Palace auctioned and bought by Agra Diocese

Decor in Samru's hamam -1 Hamam

The Begum lived only for One year in this beautiful palace. It has a wonderful Hamam with gold work, Now converted into an inter college, it was bought by the Agra diocese at Rs.25000 from the British.


Cemetery Girls in the cemetery - Sardhana

The Catholic Cemetery is under the Archaeological Survey of India. It has amazing structures. One of them is an unknown grave, which Hindu worship as a ground an evolved Hindu ascetic and the Muslims worship it as a Sufi grave. The other is the elaborate tomb of Juliana, the senior wife of Reinhardt. The tomb has elaborate etching of Greek figures along with muqarnas. There are 4 graves Juliana and 3 children. Finally is the grave of Italian designer and architect Anthony Reghelini

Syncretic shrine in cemetery- Sardhana Reinhardt's first wife Juliana's tomb Inside Juliana's tomb-2 Engineer's gravestone


Tawaif : A courtesan in North India, the system prevailed until about 1950s. She as a public lady was similar to a geisha in Japan.

The Great Mango Tour Exhibiting Cultures & Advocacy on Conserving Heritage Idea for Tourism in Uttar Pradesh

This article is on the Agrarian skill and culture of Mango growing  – of  the best grafted mangoes in the world. It  views the heritage of Mangoes as a potential innovative tourism activity in Western Uttar Pradesh. The article represents enjoyment with advocacy for Traditional skills.

Group Mango tree- 1
The Mango Tour in Western Uttar Pradesh



The idea of Heritage is much broader than ideas of and on historic buildings and their related landscapes. None of the built heritage would be possible unless there were hosts of human skills comprising of intangible heritage. With the assistance of UP Tourism in Meerut district, an innovative mango tour was curated. A visit was organized to the Rajdhani Nursery in Shahjahnapur- qasbah Kitore, Meerut district. The Meerut branch of UP tourism had invited  Amirullah Khan a mango grower who has developed over 45 varieties of mangoes to share his passion, as well as the problems which farmers faced. The narrative presented on this heritage was done by Navina Jafa together with Amir Sahab and comprised of qualities and varieties of mangoes, nuances of cultivation, maintaining orchards, business formats, along with stories, myths, rituals and beliefs on Mangoes.

It was a remarkable drive through the lush green Indo-Gangetic plain in the Meerut district of the Indian state province of Western Uttar Pradesh. What a journey! Negotiating monsoon clouds and experiencing the marvellous terrain of the Mango belt in qasbah Kithore in the area known as Shahjahanpur. Qasbah is sociologically an important feature in the geographical and morphological makeup of medieval urbanization process in North India, it is made of “…smaller towns of the countryside. Even predominantly ‘agricultural’ districts had a generous scattering of places which could by some measure be described as urban… (They) were embedded in the fabric of rural society. [1] The phenomenon of the qasbah led to development of professional neighborhoods in satellite spaces surrounding a center. The perception of a qasbah beyond doubt lends itself to the formation of certain cultural dynamics and in this case it was the skill of cultivating grafted Mangoes.

In Indian cultural ethos, mangoes lends itself to poetic imagination as a symbol of fertility, of love in union. While the coming of its flowers attracts the presence of the singing Indian cuckoos who enjoys the trees until the end of the season, the entire season of mango carries with it the pregnant sensuality symbolized in the lush fruit which creates emotional havoc in hearts of lovers. Several festivals such as  Hariyali teej  in Uttar Pradesh is about women going to their maternal home, applying henna on hands in which the paisley which is the mango motif is popular, swinging on swings hung from mango trees and singing songs on love and rains. This was beautifully depicted in the award winning Hindi feature film Junoon (intoxication) in 1978, when women sat in a mango garden enjoying swinging and singing ‘sawan ki aayee bahaar re’­  a song  about rain and love.[2]

The mango season in the Indo-Gangetic plains which starts with the blossoming of flowers in  the spring, ends amidst the monsoon season. It is  a time when roaming husbands and lovers come home, and there is love in union in the air with peacocks mating calls enhancing the environment. Poetic images on this are seen in Sanskrit poetics of Kalidas (4th-5th  AD) to folk-songs in dialects of Hindi – Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Braj which illustrate the seminal place of mangoes and the relief from the hot summer provided by the monsoons  which together entwine and enhance  emotions of love and fertility in the lives of the cultural space.

In his descriptive poem ‘Ritusamhara’ on six Indian seasons in the sixth canto ,  Kalidas describes the Indian Cupid – Kamadeva/Madan as one whose bow is made of sugarcane, the string of which is made of bees. Kamadev shoots not one but five arrows made of five flowers of which one is the Mango blossom on helpless lovers .

From this one heritage program, there were two conclusions:

One, it is suggested that Mango tours can be developed for three to four months, by encouraging farm homestays.  However, it is essential that not only logistics related to safety, cleanliness etc. are ensured but there must be well trained personnel on the art of exhibiting cultures, and the art of presenting cultures which is a skill in itself.

in discussion with Amir Sahab

Second, as an activity there is a possibility to launch developmental and responsible tourism where these occasions creates awareness on matters and problems of mango growing and farming. For example, in this trip during the Mango lunch, some of the issues which were discussed were countering a disease called black tip which is due to coal brick kilns, improving packaging through design intervention, concerns of dealing of means of increasing its longevity, building brands of the mangoes in Uttar Pradesh, of dealing with low prices during the season of a bumper crop, question on export license and developing Mango wine.

Amir Sahab, and other's in Mango Farm
The Great Mango Growers
After the Mango Lunch
After the lunch


The Grand Mango lunch comprising of exotic varieties included – Rataul, Gulab Jamun, Langra, Chausa (also called Badshah pasand or King’s choice), Deenga and Tukhmi safeda. Amir Sahab peeled each mango which he took out from a pail of water and with refined etiquette ( nazakat) he fed each of us to experience paradise. In conclusion, to digest, we were served  purple berries –jamun, allowed to climb trees, take photographs and were generously gifted mangoes.

Peacock on the mango tree
The peacock in the mango tree

As we climbed our mini bus, and drove back to Delhi on a winding road bordering a beautiful canal, we saw the red and gold of the sun set, and far away  heard the thunder of the monsoon clouds which was synchronised with the mating call of the peacocks perched high on the Mango trees of the orchard we left behind.

[1] Bayly, C.A: Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society In the Age of British Expansion- 1770-1870, Cambridge University Press, 1983, Chapter – the Indigenous Origins of the ‘colonial economy’ – Pg. 346

[2] Film Impressions: Saawan Ki Aayi Bahaar (Junoon) [HD],, accessed July, 2016



Ethnography of Mangoes & Christian Heritage of a Courtesan – A one day tour with Dr. Navina Jafa

Curating cultural experiences,exhibiting Cultures and interpreting Heritagescapes is an extremely complex art or should I say, it is a choreography. This month I am presenting an intricate trajectory  in and of Western Uttar Pradesh. The themes are Ethnography of Mangoes and the Christian Heritage of a Courtesan. In this day and age all three  themes could perhaps be debatable and provocative

Mango Tour - 2
The Great Tour on Ethnography of Mangoes

i) Theme of the Courtesan – Disrespected  woman- yet exotic – Tawa’if  (on whom I have researched for over 30 years)

ii) Mango orchard as part of the idea of  Islamic idea of Garden of Paradise

iii) Christian Heritage

The academic theatrical exhibit curated as a one day tour will cover the Heritage of Farzana a courtesan from the by-lanes of Old Delhi who became Begum Samru when she married a mercenary. Yes, this country has fascinating narratives on adventurous Europeans mercenaries. The Begum who raised private armies, asserted her power through architecture, lived like a fashion diva and was no less than a Imelda Marcos. A spicy, tangent flavour to her character will be captured in the narrative when presenting her heritage in her principality Sardhana.

This will be followed by a visit to a Mango Orchard. An exotic aspect of the Garden of paradise, the Mango of North India acquires a unique character by the way varieties are developed, named. How the identity of mango evolves as a symbol in art, songs, rituals and imagination in poetry. The life of a Man who grows and cultivate Mangoes, historical anecdotes related to Mangoes and not to forget creation of a cuisine map.

One Day Tour (9 th July) on Ethnography of Mangoes & Christian Heritage of a Courtesan in Western UP with Dr. Navina Jafa. Register by email on website : Few Seats Left