In the year 1802, during the celebration of the Persian New Year in the court of Mir Nizam Ali Khan of Hyderabad, an event was held to honour soldiers and courtiers with gifts, titles and grants. Amidst the multiple men who received these was a 34-year-old woman, standing elegantly with dark, plaited hair reaching her knees. She was at that point, arguably, the most influential woman in the Deccan – playing multidimensional roles – that of a poet, a courtesan, a warrior, a political advisor, a patron of arts and an educationist.
In the event, the Nizam bestowed upon her the formal court title ‘Mah Laqa Bai’ or ‘Madam Moon-faced’ and granted her jagirdari over large areas of land with the right to collect revenues, making her independently wealthy. Additionally, she was given a bodyguard of 100 soldiers and the right to be carried around in a palanquin and have her way cleared by the beating of drums. She was the only woman to be given the rank of Senior Omrah (reserved for the highest nobility) by the Nizam.
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