Bhopal is a city in central India, and the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is roughly 360 miles south of the Indian capital, New Delhi, and has a population today that approaches 1.5 million. Bhopal's population was only 850,000 in 1984 when, as a result of the Union Carbide gas leak, half a million people were exposed to deadly chemicals.
The capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal was built on the site of the 11th Century City of Bhojpal, founded by the Parmara King Bhoj (1000-1055). The city was originally known as Bhojpal, named after Bhoj and the dam('pal') that he is said to have constructed to form the lakes surrounding Bhopal.
The present city of Bhopal was founded by one of Emperor Aurangzeb's Afghan soldiers Dost Mohammed Khan, who took advantage of the chaos that followed Aurangzeb's death in 1707 and managed to establish his small kingdom in Bhopal. Although the kingdom was small, it survived wars and became a princely state in British India in 1818.
Bhopal reached its height of culture, arts and public works under the enlightened rule of the Begums, a 19th century dynasty of Muslim women. Although not officially recognised as a Begum, Mamola Bai (1744-95) ruled for 50 years from 'behind the curtain' (purdah) on behalf of her late husband's ineffective sons. The accepted rule of the Begums dates from the accession of the 18 year old Qudsia Begum (1819-37), who seized control after the assassination of her husband. Although she was illiterate, she was brave and refused to follow the purdah tradition. She declared that her 2 year old daughter Sikander would follow her as the ruler of Bhopal, and none of the male family members dared challenge her decision. She was legendary for the care that she took of her subjects, eating her meals only after receiving the news every night that all her subjects had taken meals. She also invested in public works, building the Jama Masjid of Bhopal and a beautiful palace, the Gohar Mahal. Qudsia carefully prepared her daughter Sikandar to rule, laying the foundations for what would become Bhopal's golden age.