Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Durru Shehvar: Last Princess of Ottoman Dynasty.Married To An Indian Prince, Not a Fairy Tale Ending

Durru shehvar (1914–2006) was the daughter of Abdulmejid II of the Ottoman dynasty, who was the last heir apparent to the Ottoman Imperial throne and the last Caliph of the Ottoman Caliphate.

The princess was ten years old when her family was banished from Turkey under the Ataturk reforms, following which they settled in Nice, France.

Durru Shehvar, the elder daughter-in-law of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan. She was born in Turkey, brought up in France but married to the son of the world’s richest man, the Nizam of Hyderabad.

The dawn of the 20th century was a very turbulent time for Europe. Think of the Russian Revolution, the First World War, and the infamous 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic.

Turkey, too, was going through all kinds of upheavals in those days, culminating in the ratification of a new Turkish Constitution in 1924, which spelled the end of the Ottoman dynasty as well as its Caliphate. The entire imperial family was forced to leave the country at less than a day’s notice.Princess Durru Shehvar

The princess was ten years old when her family was banished from Turkey under the Ataturk reforms, following which they settled in Nice, France.

She held the titles of Princess of Berar through marriage, and Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire by birth before the monarchy's abolition in 1922.

Marriage of Durru Shehvar Prince Azam Jah (1907–1970), the eldest son and heir of the last Nizam of Hyderabad State.

When the crown prince of Hyderabad, Azam Jah, came of age, the Nizam started looking for a suitable bride for his heir. Princess Durru Shehvar was the prime candidate. She had the striking looks and bearing of someone born to be queen. Her ancestry was impeccable and, most importantly, through her bloodline.

Princess DurruShehvar

Persuaded by Maulana Shaukath Ali and his brother, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan decided to send a life-time monthly pension of 300 pounds to the deposed Caliph, and allowances to several individuals in the family.

When Durru Shehvar, came of age, she was sought in marriage by several Muslim Royals including the Shah of Persia and the King of Egypt for their heirs.

Shaukat Ali prevailed on the Nizam to send a proposal to the Caliph asking for Durru Shever’s hand for his elder son, Prince Azam Jah. The deposed Caliph could hardly reject the offer from his benefactor.

But it was not that easy; the Mehr (the bride money) of 50,000 pounds that the Caliph demanded for his daughter was “too big”, the Nizam felt. But with the intervention of Shaukat Ali, the Caliph proposed to offer for the same Mehr, the hand of his brother’s daughter Niloufer, for the Nizam’s younger son, Prince Mauzam Jah. The Nizam readily agreed and sent his two sons to France.

The marriage of Princess Durru Shehvar with Prince Azam Jah, along with that of Prince Mauzam and Niloufer took place in Nice, in France, on 12 November, 1931, in a simple ceremony attended by only a simple affair with only the members of Sultan’s family at Nice, a few Turkish nobles and friends.

As well as representatives of the Nizam — Sir Akbar Hydari and Nawab Mehdi Yar Jung, who happened to be in Europe at that time to attend the Round Table Conference. The Khalifa himself performed the ceremonies. All the offices and educational institutions in the Nizam’s dominions were given a holiday on the day.

Durru Shehvar was 18 at the time, and significantly taller than her husband of 25, Azam Jah. Her father-in-law, the Nizam loved pointing out how much taller she was than his son, at their parties.

The Princess became the first woman to inaugurate an airport when she inaugurated the airport in Hyderabad in the 1940s. She is also credited with inaugurating the Osmania General Hospital.She set up the Durru Shehvar Children's & General Hospital for women and children in the old city of Hyderabad. 

She was subject to immense attention and adulation in the 1930s. “Jab woh paan khaati thi, toh halak se jaata hua dikhta tha (When she swallowed a paan, you could see it going down her throat!).reminisces a friend’s grandmother of the princess.

Following the birth of her sons Prince Mukarram Jah in 1934 and Prince Muffakham Jah in 1939, she took charge of their upbringing, the two princes being educated in Britain but got them married to Turkish ladies. The last Nizam- (Mir Osman Ali Khan) later bypassed his own son and nominated her first son and his grandson, as his successor.

Her marriage "mismatched" in every sense, “She was 5’10", her husband was 5 ‘3". She brought with her a completely cosmopolitan life, while most of Hyderabad was still under purdah.

She was of impeccable lineage but her family had very little money, and it was a typical rags-to-riches story. She knew of her husband’s 50 concubines but carried herself regally.”

Her marriage was not exactly a fairytale ending.

Her marriage "mismatched" in every sense, “She was 5’10", her husband was 5 ‘3". She brought with her a completely cosmopolitan life, while most of Hyderabad was still under purdah.

Perhaps this excerpt of a 1931 article in Time magazine, reporting on their wedding, can offer a hint. The Crown Prince Azam Jah,stated his views on marriage thus:

‘I like horses. They are more dependable than women. If a horse throws you it will stand by until you get on your feet.’ Nevertheless Crown Prince Azam Jah obeyed his father’s orders to marry last week.” It does sound a bit ominous, doesn’t it?

It was very difficult for her to adjust to the very conservative Muslim culture that permeated Hyderabad at the time.But she never went into purdah. There were also rumors at the time that the Nizam’s senior wife Dulhan Pasha wanted to poison her.

Relations between Azam Jah (her husband) and his brother Moazzam Jah were also strained. She always thought Hyderabad could never equal the Ottoman culture, and many Hyderabadis thought she looked down on them.”

Durru Shehvar knew of her husband’s 50 concubines but carried herself regally. However, there was a great gulf between the Princess and the Prince, Azam Jah and their marriage fell apart within few years.

It is an irony that when she was born, her father, the Caliph was the head of all the Muslims in the world; but was overthrown and sent away in exile.

After the divorce, Durru Shehvar stayed in Hyderabad for some years, and then moved to London, where she died in 2006, aged 93, with her two sons by her side. (Her ex-husband Azam Jah, had passed away in 1970, aged 63.). After her husband’s death,she divided her time between Hyderabad and London.

Each time she returned to Hyderabad for a visit, she attracted big crowds. She always remained a superstar, fondly remembered and frequently written about in the Indian press.

 Social activity of Durru Shehvar in Hyderabad

The Nizam called her his precious Jewel (Nagina) and encouraged her to participate actively in Hyderabad’s social life.

In Hyderabad, Durru Shehvar soon identified herself with the people. With a great passion for providing health care and education for common people, she set up a general and children’s hospital in Purani Haveli, which still runs in her name.

A Junior College for girls in Yakutpura, Bagh-e-Jahanara, is also run on the funds she provided. Durru Shehvar also laid the foundation stone of the Begum pet Airport building in 1936. Until then a small strip at Hakimpet served as the airport for Hyderabad.

She inaugurated the Ajmal Khan Tibbiya College Hospital in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

She ensured her sons, Prince Mukarram Jah and Prince Muffakam Jah, received the best possible western education in Europe and married Turkish brides, as she desired. Mukarram studied in Eton, where India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had earlier studied. 

Durru Shehvar was fluent in French, English, Turkish and Urdu and even contributed articles to French magazines. She believed that women should earn their own living and worked hard to remove the practice of purdah. 

She was upset about Turkish Government's attitude against her family members after declaration of the republic. Despite being a member of Ottoman royal family she refused to be buried in Turkey since she was upset that the Turkish Government refused in 1944 her father's burial in Istanbul. 

Princess Durru Shehvar, after shifting permanently to London, frequented the city. Her last visit to the city was in 2004, two years before she passed away in London at the age of 92. With her death, ended a glorious chapter of Hyderabad.

The End

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