The Firoz Khel Dynasty


The ruling house founded in 1713 by Muhammad Diler Khan, an Afghan adventurer of the Firuz-Khel clan, of the Orakzai tribe. A contemporary and cousin of Nawab Dost Muhammad Khan of Bhopal, Diler Khan, seized Kurwai and several surrounding villages. He received high appointments and titles from the Emperor, but ultimately lost his life in a quarrel with his former comrade-in-arms.

Nawab Izzat Khan, the eldest surviving son of Diler Khan, succeeded his father and enjoyed an equally distinguished military career. He joined forces with the Marathas and augmented his father’s conquests, eventually serving at the disastrous third Battle of Panapat in 1761. Severely wounded in action, rescued and nursed back to health after his maternal uncle had recognised him on the field. After his recovery, he joined Ahmad Shah Abdali, receiving high commands, titles and lands. He returned to Kurwai full of honours, but eventually succumbed to his wounds.

Nawab Hurmut Khan, son of Izzat, succeeded to his father’s inheritance but soon fell foul of his Maratha allies. He spent three years in prison, enduring torture and ill treatment as they attempted to extort territory and treasure from him. He eventually gave in, ceding several villages and agreeing to an indemnity of Rs 3 lakhs. The incident rankled and he soon set about searching for new allies. He soon found common cause with the rising British power, hoping that their victory over the Marathas would result in the restoration of lost territory. They disappointed him by annexing those territories along with their other conquests.

The successors of Hurmut Khan ruled their tiny state, largely in peace and quiet. The male line died out  when Nawab Muzaffar Khan and his brother Nawab Najaf Khan, both died without leaving surviving sons. After an unseemly tussle with the Nawab of Basoda over the succession, the musnaid was settled on Munawar ‘Ali Khan, grandson of Najaf Khan, through his eldest daughter. Nawab Munawar also died without issue, whence the throne passed to his younger brother, Yaqub ‘Ali Khan.

Nawab Yaqub ‘Ali Khan married his widowed sister-in-law, by whom he produced an only son and four daughters. He died at the relatively early age of thirty, from a mastoid while visiting to Bhopal. His only son, Nawab Sarwar Ali Khan, succeeded aged only four years. The Government of India appointed a regency council under the Nawab’s redoubtable mother, Umar un-nisa. Together with her British advisers, she not only arranged to prepare her son with and advanced education but also began a programme to transform the administration. Almost no part of it escaped her eagle eye, least of all the suffering of the meanest agricultural class amongst her son’s subjects. Known to all as "Sarkar Amma" or Mother of the Government, she established welfare institutions, a rural bank providing interest-free loans and the distribution of seed.

Nawab Sarwar Ali Khan and his sisters received a liberal education, far removed from anything that their ancestors had enjoyed. He studied at both the Daly College at Indore and Mayo College in Ajmer, then went as a cadet to Sandhurst. Passing-out in 1921 he received his commission in the Worcestershires, serving with them until his mother demanded his return to assume ruling powers in 1923. At one point, his regimental duties included the guarding of Mahatma Gandhi, during one of his frequent spells in British custody. Three years later he was married to the Heiress of the larger and more prosperous sister state of Bhopal. The marriage agreement included the stipulation that the eldest son of the marriage would succeed to Bhopal. As matters ensued, the marriage proved not to be a happy one. An only son, Shaharyar Muhammad Khan, was born in 1934. The Royal couple then parted, the Nawab taking other wives and eventually producing a new family.

Throughout his reign, Sarwar Ali Khan sought to emulate his mother and devote himself to the welfare of his people. He transformed the little state by building new roads, bridges, government offices, schools, courts and police stations, a civil hospital, powerhouse and gaol.  He improved sanitation and installing a telephone network throughout the state. He paid particular attention to creating a modern system of administration and government, eventually setting up a Legislative Assembly, a rare thing indeed amongst the smaller princely states of India. He saw out the transfer of power in 1947, but remained in India throughout his life, involving himself with the welfare of his people for many years. He was a staunch supporter of social reform and strove hard to encourage greater acceptance of the excluded castes. A friend of the Harijan leader, Jagjeevan Ram, he publicly supported their increased participation in the political process and campaigned against the dowry system and forced marriage. He died in 1986, greatly missed and sincerely mourned by his former subjects, twenty-three years after his revered mother had made the same journey.

In accordance with the agreement made at his first marriage to the Bhopal princess, the headship of the Kurwai family passed Sarwar Ali Khan’s eldest son by his third wife, Nawab Zafar ‘Ali Khan.


A shield with a tower overall in the centre, between in the chief; dexter, a sun in splendour, with a face; sinister, a crescent (upward sinister). Crest: A cannon. Supporters: horse and mashir. Motto: ... sable over the crest. A compartment from which hangs a riband with "Kurwai State".

A horizontal tricolour of verdant green, black and yellow.

The ruling prince: ‘Ali Jah, Nawab (personal name) Khan Bahadur, Firuz Jang, Nawab of Kurwai.
The Consort of the ruling prince: Nawab (personal name) Begum Sahiba, with the style of Her Highness.
The Heir Apparent: Nawabzada (personal name) Khan, Wali Ahad Sahib.
The younger sons of the ruling prince: Nawabzada (personal name) Khan Bahadur.
The daughters of the ruling prince: Nawabzadi (personal name) Begum Sahiba.
Note: Mian, is often used as a prefix for male and Bia, for female descendants of a ruler. However, this is essentially a term of respect used informally and not the formal title.

Male primogeniture.


Major C. Eckford Luard, IA, MA (compiler). Chiefs and Leading Families in Central India. Government of India, Calcutta, 1916.
Molvi Hanfi Haji Sheikh Manj Husain Khan Sahib. Jamai Tawarikh Volume I, Part 2. Lucknow.
Russell Harris (comp.), The Lafayette Photographic Collection at the V&A Image Library, Kensington, London, 2000.
Momtaaz Jung. A Brief History of Kurwai State, based on the Waqa-e-Dileri translated by Munawar Ali Khan of Kurwai. Bedford, UK, 2004.
Memoranda of Information regarding certain Native Chiefs. Volume IV, Central India. IOR (L/PS/20/F76/4), Oriental & India Office Collection, British Library, St Pancras, London.
Political (Internal) Dept. Collection: Indian States Non Salute States: Central India Agency: Kurwai Affairs 1936-1946. IOR (L/PS/13/1538).
Rulers, Leading Families and Officials in the States of Central India, Fifth Edition. Manager of Publications, Delhi, 1935.
Sharharyar M. Khan, The Begums of Bhopal: A Dynasty of Women Rulers in Raj India. I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., London, 2000.

Munawar Ali Khan of Kurwai, Rawalpindi.
Father Lawrence Ober, SJ.
Mirza Samir Baig.
Nawab Muin ud-din Haider Jilani Bijli Khan, Nawab of Wai.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have changes, corrections or additions to contribute. If you do, please be kind enough to send me an e-mail using the contact details at: Copyright© Christopher Buyers

Copyright©Christopher Buyers, December 2004 - December 2014