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The Making of The Awadh Culture

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The Making of The Awadh Culture
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The Making of The Awadh Culture

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Item Code: NAL975
Author: Dr. Madhu Trivedi
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789380607788
Pages: 346 (4 Color and 28 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.5 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 620 gms
About the Book

This book makes an extensive study of the art and culture of Awadh during the Nawabi period (c. 1722-1856), with a focus on the city of Lucknow. Its strength lines in its profound deployment of evidence scattered in a variety of primary and secondary sources, especially in the Persian and Urdu languages, in its study of visuals and artefacts, as well as of the performance traditions and craft techniques which are derived from the period. It also discusses how under the fostering care of the nawabs, Awadh came to epitomize all that was magnificent, refined, and cosmopolitan, and Lucknow emerged as a cultural node during the nineteenth century. It also traces how the rules of Awadh presided over the creation of the Shi’a heritage in northern India which had strong associations with Indian cultural traditions.

Highlighting the literary milieu of the period, and the developments in the period, and the developments in the realm of music, painting, architecture, and the industrial arts, this volume also explores how some of the arts and crafts assumed considerable European colour due to the interaction between European and the Awadh elite, and demonstrates how the ethos of the syncretic Indo-Persian culture, the renowned ganga-jamuni tabzib that represented Persian aesthetics and Indian cultural values, remained intact.


About the Author

Dr Madhu Trivedi is Associate Professor in the Department of History, School of Open Learning, University of Delhi. She culture, especially on the history of musical arts, in medieval north India.



This book attempts to look closely at various facets of art culture of Awadh with its focus on the city of Lucknow which supported a vital intellectual and cultural life during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It shows the composite nature, the dynamism and resilience of the cultural and artistic traditions nurtured under the rules of Awadh who were great patrons of art and culture. Their period witnessed the full fruition of the ganga-jamuni tahzib that represented Persian aesthetics and Indian cultural values.

The spelling and transliteration of Persian and Arabic words and technical terms is largely based on the system followed by F. Steingass in his Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary. In some places, however, I have diverged from him when transliterating word combinations and compounds, especially in those words and proper and proper names wherein the Arabic article al is used as a conjunctive. I have written Ghazi al-Din, while Setingass would have transcribed it as Ghazi d- din. Diacritical marks are applied to transliterated words and personal names throughout in the text. This system is also followed in case of words and terms from Indian languages especially Awadhi, Braj- bhasha and Hindi. A dot under ‘d’, ‘r’ and ‘t’ as in dhari, thumri, and tappa represents the harder sounds of the letters in these languages. As endnotes offer explanations or short definitions of the technical terms and phrases occurring in the text, I have not provided the glossary of terms separately.

It is difficult to properly acknowledge the scholarly debts of my friends and mentors which I have incurred in the making of this book. I acknowledge my gratitude to my teachers, the late Professor S. Nurul Hasan, Professor Irfan Habib, Professor Iqtidar Husain Siddiqi, the late Professor Zameeruddin Siddiqi (my supervisor) and Professor Z.U. Malik, Professor M. D. N. Sahi, Professor Saiyid Nabi Hadi, and Professor A. J. Qaisar. I am also thankful to Professor B. D. Chattopadhyaya, Professor Kabir Ahmad Jayasi, Professor Ishtyaq Ahmad Zilli, Professor Iqbal Husain, Professor Mushirul Hasan, Professor K. P. Singh, Dr. Namita Singh, Professor G. J. V. Prasad, Professor N. Kamla, Professor H. C. Verma, and M. S. Ganesh and Karan Trivedi Trivedi for their help and advice during the course of writing this book. I have benefited immensely from their comments.

I have no appropriate words to express my debt to the late Shahab Sarmadee Sahib who taught me to appreciate the finer nuances of north Indian music and Urdu literature. A very special debt is owed to the late Professor M. A. Alvi and Professor S. P. Verma for the help I received in delineating the technical details in my chapters on architecture and painting respectively. I must thank Professor Muzaffa Alam for his suggestions. Above all, I am extremely grateful to Professor Shereen Ratnagar, who read the entire manuscript and has given many useful suggestions. She was generous with her time, whenever I needed help from her.

My grateful thanks are due to the staff of the Seminar Library, Centre of Advanced Studies in History and Maulana Azad library at Aligarh; Raza Library and Saulat Libarary, Rampur; Library, Lucknow University, Amir-ud Daulah Library, U. P. State Museum, Husainabad Baradari and Marris College of Music, all at Lucknow; Sate Archives, Allahabad University Library, and Public Library, Allahabad; Bhartiya Kala Bhawan and Benaras Hindu University Library, The American (now shifted to Gurgaon) and Palace Library, Ramnagar; at Varanasi; National Museum, National Archives, Archaeological Survey of India, and Kathak Kendra, New Delhi; Indian Museum, Kolkata and India Office Library, London .

Words are not sufficient to express my debt Kiri, Kaustubh, Anshul, Shanivi and Amanita. Their lover and affection had been a source of Strength to me. Their optimism gave the confidence to keep going and has been the mainstay of this work.



Of all the successor states that emerged during the crisis of the Mughal Empire, Awadh was the largest in extent, the richest in resource generation, and the best governed. Like Bengal and Haiderabad, it was carved out independently on the basis of its own resources and nurtured in its formative years at the expense of the waning Mughal power. Its administration continued broadly with the Mughal institutional framework and its elite shared the traditions and values of the Mughal court.

The rulers of Awadh owed their origins to Persia. Sa’adat Khan Burhan al-Mulk (1680-1739), the founder of the dynasty, belonged to an elite Saiyid family of Nishapir (Khurasan), a place well known for its cultural and intellectual life in the Islamic world since the time Samanids (874-999) and Seljuqs (1037-1157). Immigrants from Nishapur had enjoyed high esteem at the Mughal cot. The family, well trained in the imperial traditions of Safavid Iran, had migrated to India during the early years of the eighteenth century. Added to this was advantage that they imbibed the rich traditions of thee Mughals who had leanings towards Persian culture.

The Awadh court, initially located at Faizabad (c.1764-75) and then at Lucknow (1775-1856), very soon became the refuge of the tradition Mughal culture in northern Indian. Awadh came to epitomize all that was magnificent, refined, and cosmopolitan in the regional courts of eighteenth and nineteenth-century northern India. The rulers of Awadh, better known as ‘Nawab Wazir’ as they did not declare their independence until 1819, extended discerning patronage to the fine arts, to various crafts, and to Persian and Urdu literature. Professionals flocked to Faizabad from different directions, particularly from the Mughal capital Shahjahanabad whose splendor was fading. Lucknow also became renowned for its luxury products and flourishing trade. The rulers of Awadh became the very symbols of artistic virtuosity, to the extent that ‘even in their final decadence… they achieved an awful distinction which rivaled the less tarnished splendor of reigns’.

The history of Nawabi Awadh goes back to the year 1722, when the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah (1719-48) appointed his ambitious general Sa’adat Khan Burhan al-Mulk governor of the province. Sa’adat Khan governed like a monarch, suppressing refractory local chiefs, and extending his domain in all directions. His military expenses and operations, as well as the surplus he left suggest that he made sharp reduction in his financial commitments to the empire over the years of his subadari in Awadh. The claims of his over Awadh were thus established mainly during his lifetime. The assumption of power by a subadar in his territory in this manner was not a instance. Similar developments could be seen elsewhere also, like Bengal, Orissa, and in the Deccan during the eighteenth century. The subadars of these regions took full advantage of the waning of the waning authority of the Mughal empire. By mobilizing local resources in their favour they became the focus of power and virtually assumed independent stance in their territories. Even the Rohila chiefs could defy the central authority in Rohikhand. However, Sa’adat Khan was the first subadar who moved a step and chose his own successor. His son-in-law was able to succeed him in his office spite of the reservations of the emperor.

Under his able successors Abu-1 Masur Khan Safdar Jang (1739-54) and Shuja ‘al-Daulah (1754- 75), Awadh passed from the status of a Mughal province into a mature state in this own right. The Nawab wazirs independently engaged in wars, made treaties, levied taxes, and appropriated revenues as they willed. They were the absolute masters of their territory. Shuja ‘al-Daulah even made a daring effort to challenge the growing power of the East India Company in 1764, but failed, and was defeated at the Battle of Buxur (1764). Although his territory was restored to him by the Treaty of Allahabad (1765), the fortunes of Awadh were now tied to those of the East India Company: he had to provide quarters for the British troops in this domain and also meet their expenses. In 1773 a Resident was appointed who began to intervene in the affairs of the state on the pretext of ensuring the regular payment of subsidies.

After the Battle of Buxur, Shuja ‘al-Daulah finally settled down in Awadh, after which the Awadh court began to assert its distinct cultural and political identity. Intensive building activity was initiated in Faizabad, and a contemporary historian remarked that ‘Shuja ‘a’Daulah was very keen to advance the prosperity and enhance the beauty of his capital, and had he lived for a few more years, there would grown another Shahjahanabad [here]’. The nawab engaged the services of Antoine Louis Polier, the Company’s chief engineer at Fort William, Calcutta, to look after some civil works, and especially to improve the defences of the city. He also constructed a huge fort, the Calcutta-khurd, by the banck of the river Ghaghra. In 1775, about 200 Frenchmen and other Europeans were in this service of the nawab, J.J Gentil the most prominent among them. Gentil was an adviser and intimate friend of Shuja ‘al-Daulah and remained remained to the Awadh many court for about twelve years till the nawab’s death. He introduced many Frenchmen to the Awadh court.

The style and culture of the were redefined by the next rules, Asaf al-Daulah (1775-97). According to a contemporary traveler, Thomas Twinning, the Awadh court was at its most magnificent under Asaf al-Daulah. The centre of art and culture now shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow. Asaf al-Daulah was also a great builder; the building of the famous Bara Imambara belongs to his reign. Lucknow emerged as a renowned centre of industrial arts under his brother and successor, Sa ‘adat ‘All Khan (1798-1814), who was also a great builder and gave the Awadh capital a distinctly Western look.

During Ghazi al-Din Haidar’s (1814-27) rule, Awadh was declared an independent state on 9 October 1819. It is true that the conferment of the title of ‘King on Ghazi al-Din Haider by the East India Company was merely a formality and the new arrangement was intended to ‘detach the rich and populous province of Oudh from all generally,. Yet his accession marks an important phase in the cultural history of Awadh. His coronation ceremony shows a break Indian courtly culture in many respects: he was te first Indian rules adopt the European symbols of kingship. His crown, coat of arms, and coronation robes had a clear European origin, while his throne, for which his court Robert Home had prepared the lined drawin, had a design blending Indian and European art traditions. The throne was surmounted by a chhatr (umbrella) in the Indian fashion. For the occasion Ghazi al-Din Haidar also issued coins that were designed by his artistes Roshan Lal and Jam ‘iyat Rai with a peculiar admixture of Indian and European motifs. These had the Awadh coat id arms, of distinctly English origin, consisting of two rampant tigers bearing a banner; between the two tigers were two fish, the emblem of the ruling family of Awadh, the fish bearing a crown of European inspiration. A coronation medal was also prepared for distribution amongst the principal participants in the ceremony. The reign of Ghazi al-Din Haidar witnessed the full fruition of the Awadh culture.

Thereafter, Awadh was annexed to the East India Company’s possessions in less than thirty years. During Nasir al-Din Haidar’s reign (1827-37) ‘Awadh shrank from a major component in the political world of north India to an isolated subordinate within the Company’s influence’. The government exercised ‘pure despotism’ only in name; it was restrained’ by ‘the fear of giving offence to the British government. It was now Governor General who claimed the responsibility of protecting the people of Awadh from the ‘tyranny and oppression’ of their rulers. Following the death of Nasir al-Din Haidar, Awadh had three rulers: Muhammad ‘Ali Shah (1837-42), Amjad ‘Ali Shah (1842-7) and Wajid ‘Ali Shah (1847-56) with gradually diminishing power, authority, and resources, until the last of them was deposed for inefficiency. A British brigade marched to Awadh, encountered no armed resistance. And the king was exiled to Calcutta. As the territories of the state were annexed to the British possessions in India on 13 February 1856, an era of great creativity came to an end.

The nawabs of Awadh are known in history as great patrons of art and culture. They forged an elaborate and synthesized version of the rich traditions of the Mughals, the ganga-jamuni tahzib that represented Persian aesthetics and Indian cultural values. Learning and high culture were associated with Persian at many levels of Awadh and we find an insistent Persianization of culture in general; yet there was a spae for indigenous traditions which too played their role in the refinement of material and aesthetic culture. Emerging as the cultural hub of north India, Lucknow developed its own style in many sphere of culture, endowing them with its distinctive stamp and sophistication.




  List of Illustrations viii
  Preface xi
  Introduction 1
1 Capital as Cultural Centre 11
2 Awadh: Crucible of Shi 'a Culture in Northern India 41
3 The Literary Culture 72
4 Musical Arts 108
5 Awadh Painting 145
6 Nawabi Architecture 171
7 Industrial ARTS 226
  Bibliography 287
  Index 305


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