Dhaka Nawab Family

Dhaka Nawab Family
Nawab Sir Salimullah celebrating the Eid Day with his family

Dhaka Nawab Family reigned in Dhaka from mid 19th century to mid 20th century, after the fall of the Naib Nazims. The hereditary title of Nawab, similar to the British peerage, was conferred upon the head of the Family by the British Raj as a recognition of their loyalty in the time of the Sepoy Mutiny.[1] The Family is a legal entity, created by a Waqfnama back in 1854.[2] The self definition[3] is a Family instead of an Estate due to certain legal considerations imposed by the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950.[4]

They were not sovereigns, but played an important role in the politics of South Asia. The family was owner of Dhaka Nawab Estate, and were seated at Ahsan Manzil. Nawab of Dhaka was the title of the head of family and estate. Khwaja Alimullah was the first Nawab of Dhaka instated by the British Raj. Khwaja Abdul Ghani was the first person in the family to wield that title as a statesman.

Considerable infighting within the Nawab family lead to the decline of the estate. In 1952 the East Pakistan Estates Acquisition Act formally abolished the estate. Successive land reform in Pakistan and Bangladesh brought an end to the remaining landholdings of the Nawab family. In 1952 the East Pakistan Estate Acquisition Act relinquished the title of Nawab. Khwaja Habibullah Khan Bahadur was the last reigning Nawab of Dhaka.




The ancestors of the Khwajas are said to be Muslim traders in Kashmir and North India. The history of Dhaka Nawab Family begins with Khwaja Abdul Kader Kashmiri, who migrated from Kashmir to Sylhet sometime early 18th century. He married Asuri Khanam, the daughter of Khwaja Abdul Hakim Kasmiri, an Administrator of Kashmir. Abdul Hakim also migrated to Sylhet and died there. His son Moulvi Khwaja Abdullah, an alem, reached Dhaka and settled in Begumbazar. After his death in 1796 he was buried there with Shah Nuri.


The transition from Khwaja family to the Dhaka Nawab family was largely founded by Khwaja Hafizullah Kashmiri, a merchant prince of Dhaka, who acquired considerable wealth from trading in leather, salt and spices together with Marwari trading partners. He also purchased some floundering zamindari estates, on sale everywhere in Bengal under Permanent Settlement, and indigo factories in Barisal District and Mymensingh District.

Some of the major land acquisitions of Hafizullah were:

  • Atia pargana in the then Mymensingh district (now in the Tangail district). Hafizullah bought a 4-anna (one fourth) share of the pargana, including Dhamrai, the Atia Mosque built in 1608 and much of Madhupur forest, in 1806 on the strength of a mortgage bond for Rs. 40,000.[5] Profits from this purchase inspired him to buy more land properties.[6]
  • Aila Phuljhuri in the Bakarganj Sundarbans, a 44000 acres (180 km²) area bought for Rs 21000 in 1812, at a revenue demand of only Rs 372 annually. After claring of the jungle was affected, in the late 1870s, its estimated total rental income appeared as high as Rs 2,20,502.


Due to an absence of any surviving male successor of Hafizullah, his estate on his death descended on his nephew Khwaja Alimullah, son of his deceased elder brother Ahsanullah, whom he groomed as an astute estate manager. His landed acquisitions were added to those of his uncle, consequently making the united zamindari one of the biggest in the province. Before his death in 1854, Alimullah made a waqf for a united status of the zamindari which was to be managed jointly by a mutawalli.


On the succession of Khwaja Abdul Ghani (son of Alimullah) to the management that the prosperity of the house reached its zenith. Under him the land control of the family was extended to many parganas in the districts of Dhaka, Bakerganj, Tripura, and Mymensingh. For management he split the zamindari into 26 sub-circles, each governed by a kachari (office) headed by a naib (manager) with a number of amlas (officials). He was vested with the personal title of Nawab in 1875, which was made hereditary in 1877.

With Khwaja Abdul Ghani the Khwaja family for the first time developed interest in the politics and social works of the country. He also organised Dhaka people into panchayet mahallas, which was endorsed by the British Raj in view of his support to the Raj during the Sepoy Mutiny.


Ahsan Manzil-the palace of the Dhaka Nawab Family

Nawab Sir Khwaja Ahsanullah, Abdul Ghani's son, adopted a unique strategy to consolidate the zamindari control that was threatened by the operation of the Bengal Tenancy Act, 1885. When this Act was enacted, he started buying off intermediate tenures and raiyati rights with family surplus and settling them as khas. Under this arrangement the Khwajas became their own tenants. This strategy kept much of the estate intact when the zamindari system was abolished in 1951.


Nawab Salimullah, the eldest son of Ahsanullah took up the management of the zamindari in 1902. But soon family feuds started and Salimullah lost the grip on the estate. The estate management deteriorated to the extent of rising revenue arrears and estate debts. For political considerations, the government backed up Nawab Salimullah financially, which included a confidential official loan to Salimullah (1912) to clear up his personal debts.

The tottering Dhaka Nawab Estate was brought under the Court of Wards in September 1907. The first steward of the Estate was HCF Meyer who was followed by LG Pillen, PJ Griffith, and PD Martin, all members of the Indian civil service.

Nawab Khwaja Salimullah of Dhaka and the Muslim aristocrats who formed the bulwark of the Muslim League in 1906 inspired Muslim peasants against the Swadeshi movement (1905–1911) in support of Partition of Bengal. Together with Nawab Ali Chowdhury, he was instrumental in initiating A. K. Fazlul Huq into politics, who isolated Muslim League from peasants and defeated Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin at the Patuakhali Constituency in the election of 1937. Dhaka Nawab Family, together with the Ispahanis of Kolkata still kept a firm grip on a majority of Muslim students while the Bengal chapter of the All India Muslim Students Association was renamed as All Bengal Muslim Students League in 1938.


The Dhaka Nawab Estate was abolished in 1952 under the East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act (1950). Only the Ahsan Manzil complex and khas lands held under raiyati rights were exempted from the operation of the Acquisition Act. But due to many unresolved family claims many assets of the Estate were still controlled by the Court of Wards. The land reforms board, which is the successor of the Court of Wards, still holds those assets on behalf of the family.

The influence of Dhaka Nawab family on the Muslim Students League eroded after the partition, particularly after Muhammad Ali Jinnah's pronouncement on the state language issue in 1948. The anti-Khwaja faction of the Muslim League broke away from the All Bengal Muslim Students League, and established East Pakistan Muslim Students League in 1948. This Students League spearheaded the Language Movement that began that year.

Brief Genealogy

Pre-Nawabi heads of the family and the estate

  1. Khwaja Abdul Kader Kashmiri: (??) First migrated to Bengal from Delhi. Father of the following.
  2. Khwaja Abdullah: (? – 1796) Settled in Dhaka.
  3. Khwaja Hafizullah: (? – 1795)

List of the Nawabs of Dhaka

  1. Nawab Khwaja Alimullah: (? – 1858) First to assume the title of Nawab.
  2. Nawab Sir Khwaja Abdul Ghani Mian KCSI: (1813–1896) First to assume the title of Nawab as hereditery. Second Nawab of the family.
  3. Nawab Sir Khwaja Ahsanullah KCIE: (1846–1901) Third Nawab of the family.
  4. Nawab Bahadur Sir Khwaja Salimullah GCIE, KCSI: (1871–1915) Fourth Nawab of the family.
  5. Nawab Bahadur Khwaja Habibullah: (1895–1958) Fifth Nawab of the family.
  6. Nawab Bahadur Khwaja Hassan Askari: (1920–1984) First inheritor of the estate after abolition of titles. Sixth Nawab of the family.

Nawab Major Khawaja Hasan Askari, the last Nawab of Dhaka was born on 21 August 1921 at the Ahsan Manzil Palace in Dhaka .The eldest son of Nawab Habibullah Bhadur of Dacca and Shahryar Begum (the grand-daughter of Nawab Sir Ahsanullah), he became the Nawab of Dhaka after his father’s death in 1958.

Nawab Hasan Askari completed his early education from the maktab at the Ahsan Manzil Palace and later joined the Muslim High School. His mother died when he was only ten years old after which he was sent to study at the Aligarh School and College from where he completed his B.A in 1940. At Aligarh he was part of the cricket team and the captain of riding club and was also the recipient of the Quaid-e-Azam Award, an honor that bestowed upon him during Qaid-e-Azam’s visit to Aligarh University. On completion of his academic career he joined the Army in 1942 and then went on to do an internship in the south of India. He then went on to join the 7th Cavalry Regiment Armored Corp and took part in action on the Burma Front against Japanese. It is said he was the first Indian Officer who carried out operation with tanks on the Burma Front and is also reported to have sustained injuries on his legs and head during the war.

In 1946 he left the British Indian army as his father required his assistance to campaign to gain the allegiance of most of Bengal for the newly emerging Pakistan. He rejoined the army after partition in 1948. In 1946 he was engaged to Bilquis Shehzadi,daughter of Nawab Hafeezuddin Khan of the State of Surat. He was married in 1948 in Hyderabad where they were the guests of Nizam of Hyderabad and the bridal party stayed in one of their palaces. They have one daughter and four sons.

Nawab Hasan Askari served in the East Bengal Regiment. In 1949 he was transferred to the Nowshera Armored Corp and in 1950 joined Governor General’s Body Guard as the First Adjutant when his uncle Khawaja Nazimuddin was the Governor General of Pakistan. In 1951 he returned to Dacca and served with the East Bengal Regiment in various parts of the country. In 1954 he was posted back to Rawalpindi and served with the famous 5th Regiment of the Armored Corp also known as the Probyns Horse regiment .He served between Rawalpindi and Manser Camp till 1959.

His father Nawab Habibullah Bahadur died on 21 November 1958 and Nawab Hasan Askari became the last Nawab of Dacca on 22 November 1958. The army then transferred him to East Pakistan and he simultaneously served at the army’s recruiting office in Dacca. Due to a heart problem in 1961, Nawab Hasan Askari requested to resign from the Army. During this period there was tremendous pressure on him by the people of Dacca and Pakistan to participate in politics. He contested the 1962 Elections and won a seat in the National Assembly with the support of people of Dacca and its surrounding areas. He was appointed minister of the provincial cabinet in East Pakistan with portfolios of communications, waterways and railways. He started the first rail car service in East Pakistan which was then followed in West Pakistan and is credited with having had started the work of the new railway system in Dacca.

During the 1965 war he the Chief Warden of Dacca and was later appointed Warden General of East Pakistan a post at which he remained till the fall of Dacca in 1971. He was awarded the Hilal-e-Khidmat by the President Major General Ayub Khan in the 1960s for his services to the nation. He was the President of East Pakistan Muslim League till the fall of Dacca.

He was the fore-bearer of family traditions and interacted with people from all classes. His house was open to anyone seeking any kind of help: monetary or legal assistance or the settlement of disputes. He maintained links with people who were involved with the political, military, academic, spiritual happenings in East Pakistan and West Pakistan as well as with foreign diplomats to be able to provide support for his people.

He also maintained links with the army, industrialists and political figures of West Pakistan to ensure that the policies of state supported the interests, the aspirations and the welfare of the people of East Pakistan. He was the arbitrator of communal issues and problems and used his status of the Nawab of Dacca and his personal qualities to provide assistance and support to the young nation. Nawab Hasan Askari was greatly respected for his kindness and support. It is said that he was a true prince and was almost always accessible to the common man. He believed in the ideals of and served the Muslim League devotedly and always remained a committed leader.

Khawaja Hasan Askari was the guardian of the various philanthropic institutions like the Nawab Salimullah Orphanage, madrassah’s supported by his family, Salimullah Medical College, Ahsanullah Engineering College also supported by Nawab of Dacca family. He was the director of P.I.A, I.D.B.P and various Banks, P.I.D.C, President of Pakistan Jute Mills Association, Dacca Club and Dacca Race Club, East Pakistan Cricket Board. He was also member of the chamber of commerce.

At the time of Bangladesh’s creation, Nawab Hasan Askari went through very difficult times. He remained in Dacca till 1975.Towards the end of 1974 at the request of then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was visiting Dacca, Sheikh Mujeeb- ur- Rehman agreed upon Nawab Hasan Askari leaving Dacca for Karachi. Sheikh Mujeeb -ur- Rehman was of the opinion that the Nawab of Dacca must stay in Bangladesh: in his country and with his people. In January 1975 Nawab Hassan Askari left East Pakistan for Karachi. He left behind a cause for which he and his family had strived for with great commitment, provided financial and political support for and had been part of the struggle for human rights and self determination of the Muslims of the Sub continent.

Nawab Hassan Askari lived in Karchi for the remainder of his life. During the remaining year’s of his life till 1984 his health deteriorated- he never overcame the grief of leaving his home country and his people and felt distort over the breakup of Pakistan, a cause for which he and his family had strived. He died in Karachi on 9 August 1984 and has been laid to rest in Karachi at the Defence Army Graveyard where his wife Begum Bilquis Askari was also laid to rest in 1995.

Source : Family of Nawab Khawaja Hasan Askari

Also see: http://www.nawabbari.com/bios/hasanaskari.html

Palaces of the Nawabs

  1. Ahsan Manzil Palace
  2. Israt Manzil Palace
  3. Nishat Manzil Palace
  4. Shahbag Garden House
  5. Dilkusha Garden House
  6. Paribagh Garden House
  7. Baigunbari Park
  8. Company Bagan

Other members of the family

Extendaded kin of the Dhaka Nawab Family, mostly bearing the family name Khwaja, though not part of the direct lineage, featured prominently in the history of Bangladesh.

  • Khwaja Hafizullah: (? – 1815) Son of Khwaja Abdullah. Real founder of the estate.
  • Nawabzada Khwaja Atiqullah: (1882–1945) Third son of Khwaja Salimullah.
  • Nawabzadi Meherbanu Khanam: (1902–1954) Daughter of Khwaja Ahsanullah.
  • Nawabzadi Bilquis Bano Begum: (??) Daughter of Khwaja Ahsanullah. Mother of Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin and Khwaja Shahabuddin.
  • Nawabzada Khwaja Ahsanullah: (1915–?)
  • Nawab Khwaja Yusuf Jan, Khan Bahadur: (1850–1923) Builder of modern sewerage system in Dhaka, founder of the Mohammedan Association, and a leading agitator in favor of Partition of Bengal. A member of the Dhaka Municipality (1884–1923), Chairman of Dhaka Municipality (1897–1901; 1905–1916) and Vice-Chairman (1901–1905) of Dhaka Municipality. Chairman (1921–1923) and Vice-Chairman (1897–1905) of Dhaka District Board. Member of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly since 1907, as a representative of the municipalities of Dhaka Division. Honorary Magistrate of Dhaka for 28 years. He was awarded by the British government a Certificate of Honour (1903) and the titles of Khan Bahadur (1904) and Nawab (1910).
  • Khwaja Muhammad Afzal: (1875–?) Son of Khwaja Yusuf and disciple of noted poet Mahmud Azad, Khwaja Muahammad adopted the pen name Afzal to write diwans in Persian and ghazals in Urdu. His best known work is Gam-e-ma-Paikar, a three volume chronicle in verses.
  • Khwaja Haider Jan Shayek: (?-?) Son of Khwaja Khalilullah, an influential member of the family, Khwaja Fayezuddin adopted the pen name Shayek to write diwans in Urdu. His correspondence with Mirza Ghalib, where Ghalib addressed him as the Parrot of Bengal, is compiled under the title of Inshaye Shayek.
  • Khwaja Asadullah Kaukab: (?-?) A relative of the Nawabs, Personal munshi of Khwaja Abdul Gafur and disciple of Shah Najibullah, the eminent mystic of Bihar, Khwaja Asadullah adopted the pen name Kaukab to write diwans in Persian. His best known work is Durbeen, a collection of Persian devotional poems.
  • Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin: Politician/Statemsman
  • Khwaja Shahabuddin: Politician/Statemsman
  • Khwaja Khairuddin: Politician/Statemsman
  • Khwaja Nuruddin: (1900–1968) Son of Khwaja Mohammad Ashraf, publisher of Morning News, the first English daily newspaper in Dhaka, member of the Council of the Bengal Provincial League (1921), and alderman in the Calcutta Corporation.
  • Khwaja Abdul Halim: (1921–2006)Son of Khwaja Abdul Gafoor He joined the erstwhile East Pakistan Civil Service. He worked as a Magistrate in Moulvibazar, Sylhet. He also served in Chuadanga as an ASDO (Additional Sub-Divisional Officer) and in Pabna as a SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer). After the independence of Bangladesh, he was placed as a Section Officer in the Ministry of Commerce. Subsequently, he was also promoted to the level of Deputy-Secretary of the Local Govt & Rural Development Ministry. In 1973, he was ADC of Dinajpur and also held the charge of Deputy Commissioner there. In 1976, he joined Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) as Secretary and served there until his retirement in 1979. During the rule of President Ziaur Rahman, he was called back from retirement and was assigned Special Magistrate of Joydevpur. He was a good hockey player and played for Dhaka University. He also worked for East Pakistan Radio.
  • Farooq Sobhan: (1940– ) Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, High-Commissioner of Bangladesh to India (1992–95).
  • Khwaja Sharjil Hassan: (1946–2005), Acting Foreign Secretary, Bangladeshi Consul General to the US, UAE and Saudi Arabia, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Uzbekistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
  • Khwaja Moinul Hassan: Poet/educationist.
  • Khawaja Abdur Rahman: (1946–2004),Joint Secretary,Ministry of Foods, Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. Secretary, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.
  • Khwaja Saifullah: Son of late Nawabzada Khwaja Hafizullah & Grandson of Late Nawab Habibullah Bahadur, Nawab of Dhaka is working as Social compliance & Environmental Advisor in the Clothing Industry Working in GTZ: GERMAN DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION a Project of BMZ Germany Federal Ministry of Economics Cooperation & development with Ministry of Commerce Bangladesh Promoting social and environmental standards in clothing Industry.
  • Naim: Film actor in Bangladesh, married to Bangladeshi film actress Shabnaz.
  • Faisal: Model and actor in Bangladesh, married to Bangladeshi model and actress Joya Ahsan.
  • Khan Bahadur Khwaja Ismail Zabih (1885–1959)
  • Khan Bahadur Khwaja Muhammed Azam
  • Khan Bahadur Khwaja Mu'azzam
  • Khwaja Abul Hasan Mumtaz (?-1964)
  • Abdus Salim (1905–1967)
  • Khwaja Zakiuddin (1918–2003)
  • Khwaja Wasiuddin (1921–1992)
  • Dr. Khwaja Alqama



Extended kin of the Dhaka Nawab Family played a vital role in the history of Urdu-Persian literature in Bengal. Khwaja Haider Jan Shayek, Khwaja Asaduddin Kawkab, Khwaja Atiqullah Sayeda, Khwaja Muhammad Afzal and Khwaja Nazimuddin and others contributed considerably to Urdu and Persian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. The family maintained close connection with highly noted literary figures like Mahmud Azad and Hakim Habibur Rahman.

  • Khwaja Muhammad Azam wrote Islami Panchayet Dhaka (1911) in Urdu. His son, Khwaja Muhammad Adel, co-edited Jadu, a monthly journal with Hakim Habibur Rahman.
  • Khwaja Abdur Rahim Saba (d 1871) wrote Urdu poems. His manuscript, Daste Saba is preserved in the Dhaka University Library.
  • Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah wrote Urdu poems by his pen-name Shaheen collected in Kulliat-e-Shaheen, and a history of his family collected in Tawarikh-e-Khandan-e-Kashmirian. He was also a composer and lyricist of thumri songs, and a finacer of Ahsanul Kasas (15 February 1884), an Urdu weekly magazine of Dhaka.


It was in the later part of the 19th century that the art of photography got its momentum in Dhaka under the patronage of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah and his son Nawab Khwaja Salimullah. Khwaja Ahsanullah joined the Calcutta based Photographic Society of India in 1888.

See also


  1. ^ Christophe Jaffrelot and Gillian Beaumont, A History of Pakistan and Its Origins, page 39, Anthem Press, 2004
  2. ^ Sharif Uddin Ahmed, Dacca: A Study in Urban History and Development, page 52, Riverdale, 1986
  3. ^ NawabBari.com
  4. ^ Muzaffar Ahmed Chaudhuri, Government and Politics in Pakistan, page 257, Puthighar, Dhaka, 1968
  5. ^ Protection of heritage: Judicial response in South Asia by Taslima Islam
  6. ^ Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report – note by GA Grierson


  • Ghose, Loknath The Modern History of Indian Chiefs, Rajas & Zaminders, Calcutta,1879
  • Buckland, C.T. Sketches of Social Life in India, London, 1884

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