Junagarh's "Lion Prince"
The Nawab who lost his kingdom for Pakistan
Junagarh and Bantva Manavadar were two Princely States that chose to accede to Pakistan but were annexed by India. Both royal families shared a common lineage, and both lost their Kingdoms.
The ruling family of both states belonged to the Babi family. Bantva Manavadar was granted by Nawab Muhammad Bahadur Khanji I to his younger brother Diler Khanji Babi in 1733. The family reigned there peacefully for two centuries. In 1818, the Princely State came under British protection.
In 1947, then Nawab Ghulam Moin ud-din Khanji acceded to Pakistan at the same time as his Babi cousin, the Nawab of Junagarh. Hostility and pressure from the local Hindu population, and meticulously organised agitation by local Congress Party thugs, the Nawab was forced to flee to Pakistan with his family. The Indian government annexed the state ten days later. In Pakistan, he continued to be officially recognised as royalty and was granted all the privileges of a ruling prince until he passed away at 91, on 13th February 2003, in Karachi. Junagarh too, was annexed in a similar manner for the same reasons. The last Nawab of the State of Junagarh, Mahabat Khanji III, along with his family, also fled to Pakistan for safety. The former Nawab died of a cardiac arrest in Karachi in 1959.
The late Nawab is known for little more than the tragic end of his reign. We want to introduce you to the same man in a different light: the man who was nicknamed the "Lion Prince" - Mahabat Khanji III.
Photograph of a composite of head and shoulder-length portraits centred around a large, central portrait of Sir Muhammad Rasul Khanji Babi, Nawab of Junagarh (1858-1911). The sitter wears the Order of the Star of India pinned to his chest.
The portraits surrounding the central portrait are, in a clockwise direction starting upper right:
Chunilal Sarabhai (Diwan), Purushottamrai S. Zala (Naib Diwan), M. S. Tripathi (Councillor), Sheikh Mahomed Bahuddin, C.I.E. (Vazir) and most importantly, Prince Shabzada Sherzaman Khanji, the Heir Apparent.
The Prince featured in the photograph, and his two younger brothers passed away. The throne of Junagarh was passed onto the then-fourth-in-line, Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III Rasul Khanji, who was the last defacto Nawab of the State of Junagarh and also known as the “Lion Prince”.
A committed conservationist, he set up initiatives to help protect local wildlife.
In the 1920s and 1930s, these initiatives helped to ensure the survival of the Kathiawari desert war horse.
He also had a major role to play in keeping alive a species of a local cattle breed.
He came to be known as the "Lion Prince" for singlehandedly saving Asiatic lions from extinction.
The range of the Asiatic or Gir lion Panthera leo persica formerly stretched across the coastal forests of northern Africa and from northern Greece across southwest Asia to eastern India.
The advent of firearms in the region led to their extinction over large areas. By the late 19th century, had become extinct in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The last known lion in Iraq was killed on the lower Tigris in 1918. One of the last sightings of a lion in Iran was in 1941.
In India, lions once ranged over most of the continent, but severe hunting by Indian royalty and colonial powers led to a steady and marked decline in their numbers, for both the British and Hindu royalty saw them as trophy animals.
By the turn of the 19th century, they were confined to the Gir Forest, which was a part of Mahabat Khanji III's lands.
He declared the forest his private hunting ground and refused all requests to hunt on his land. His refusal saved the species and preserved their habitat.
The area is now a wildlife sanctuary.