Motilal Nehru was born on 6 May 1861 in the house of Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani. The Nehru family lived in Delhi for generations and Gangadhar Nehru was a Kotwal in that city. During India’s freedom struggle of 1857, Gangadhar left Delhi with his family and moved to Agra, where some of his relatives lived. Through some accounts, the Nehru family home in Delhi was looted and burnt during mutilation. In Agra, Gangadhar quickly arranged the marriage of his two daughters, Patarani and Maharani, into suitable Kashmiri Brahmin families. He died in February 1861 and his youngest child Motilal was born three months later.
At this time Motilal’s two elder brothers Bansidhar Nehru and Nandlal Nehru were nineteen and sixteen years old respectively. When the family lost almost all their property in the upheaval of 1857, Jiyarani turned to his brother, Amarnath Zutshi of Sitaram, a market in Old Delhi, until his sons could start earning. He had received some assistance from her, but during the recent uprising, all the people of Delhi were extremely afflicted and could not be helped in the open. Within a few years, Nandlal worked as a clerk in the court of a king of Khetri and supported his mother and brother.
Thus Motilal spends his childhood in Khetri, the second largest Thikana (feudal estate) within the princely state of Jaipur, now in Rajasthan. His elder brother Nandlal favored Raja Fateh Singh of Khetri, who was the same age as him and rose to the rank of Diwan (Chief Minister; effectively manager). In 1870, Fateh Singh became childless and was succeeded by a distant cousin, who had little use for his predecessors. Nandlal left Khetri to Agra and found that his former career at Khetri equipped him to advise him on matters. Once he realized this, he demonstrated his industry and flexibility to study again and pass the necessary exams so that he could practice law in British colonial courts. He then started practicing law at the Provincial High Court in Agra. Subsequently, the High Court shifted the base to Allahabad, and the family (including Motilal) moved to that city.
Thus began the family’s association with Allahabad, which many believe is the city from which the Nehru family lives. Motilal received an excellent and modern education in both Agra and Allahabad, thanks to Nandlal’s commercial success and generosity. The visionary Nandlal ensured that his brother (and his own son) became one of the earliest Indians to receive a Western-style college education. Motilal passed the matriculation examination from Kanpur and enrolled in Muir Central College, Allahabad. He died on 6 February 1931.