Madhya Pradesh/ Our Christmas was like Eid, tells Indira Iyengar of Bhopal’s Bourbon Family; this is the story of mixing of communities and cultures

Bhopal: In the princely state of the Begums in Bhopal a Christian family, the Bourbon Family. Indira Iyengar, a member of the same family and author of ‘Bourbon and Begums of Bhopal’, shared with Dainik Bhaskar the story of her mother Mandelin Bourbon. We are narrating the story in Indira’s words:

Indira says- Christmas at that time was just like Eid. We were a Christian family, but looking at us, no one could say that we were not Muslims. There was no difference in gait, veil (burka), speech, dress, and customs; the only difference was that our family members went to church for prayer. My mother Mandelin Bourbon dressed like a Muslim woman and wore a Bhopali dress. She was also married in a French family and first time she lifted her veil was when she came to the church for marriage.

There was a curtain in church: While there is no veil system in Christianity, at that time in the big church of Jahangirabad, there were men standing on one side and women on the other side, and there was a curtain between them so that no one could look at women. There is a trend of welcoming Christians with shaking hands, but the women of our family did not shake hands. On the other hand, they followed the Muslim ritual of bowing and said ‘aadab’. 

Prepared malpua instead of seviyan: Our Christmas was also just like Eid, in the same way, we used to send sweets to friends and used to visit friends and relatives. We only used to make malpua instead of only the seviyan. The cake was not popular then with us, nor is it even now. We used to make sweets like Gujiya, kalkal.

No dance parties: There are usually dance parties in France at Christmas, but there was a veil system here, so there was never any dance party here. Gradually, this custom changed over time and now we are neither a Muslim nor a complete Christian. South Indians celebrate Christmas in their own way and we celebrate Christmas in our own way.

Painting of Dulhan Sahib smoking hookah: Painting of Dulhan Sahib (Great Grandmother of Indira) smoking hookah. The Begums had given her a palace to live in – Dulhan Sahib Mahal. Indira says- Our mother has also lived in Gwalior for some time. There were many British soldiers there, so at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, two cannons were fired, which was slightly different according to Christmas celebrations.