Deva Sharif (Sufi Shrine)

January 31, 2020

Sufism in Lucknow: experience the serenity

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:46 am

Any person who has knowledge of both outer and inner life is a Sufi – describes Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi philosopher. Some scholars state the word Sufi is derived from the word safi – pure and that’s what Sufism teaches. 

Sufism is a way of life in which we discover how to live a deeper identity. Beyond the already known personality, that deeper identity is in harmony with all that exists. This deeper identity, or essential self, has capabilities of awareness, action, creativity, and love that go far beyond the superficial personality abilities.

Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, a school of practice that emphasizes the inward search for God and shuns materialism. It has produced some of the world’s most beloved literature, like the poems of the 13th century Iranian poet Rumi. 

In other words, Sufism implies that for the attainment of God intense devotion is needed in the individual. Devotion is reflected in love, and love for the Almighty can be expressed through three fold activities on the part of the individual i.e. poetry of love towards God, music of love towards God and dance of love towards God.

Sufism derives its inspiration from Islam. While Islam is about external conduct and observance of religious rituals, the Sufism seeks inner purity.

Main Features of Sufism:

  • According to Sufi saints, God is the beloved of the lover (‘Mashook”) i.e. the devotee and the devotee is eager to meet his beloved (God).
  • The Sufis think that love and devotion are the only means of reaching God.
  • Along with Prophet Muhammad, they also give great importance to their ‘Murshid’ (master) or ‘Pir’ (Guru).
  • Devotion is more important than fast (Roza) or prayer (Namaz).
  • Sufism does not believe in caste system.
  • Sufism emphasizes upon leading a simple life.
  • Sufi saints usually preach in Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
  • The Sufis were divided into 12 orders each under a mystic Sufi saint – prominent Sufi Saints.

Sufi Music

The Divine connect Sufism, as the mystical dimension of Islam, preaches peace, tolerance and pluralism, while encouraging music as a way of deepening one’s relationship with the Creator. Based on the mystical branch of Islam, Sufi music seeks to unite listeners with the Divine. In Sufism, the term music is called “sa’ma” or literary audition. This is where poetry would be sang to instrumental music; this ritual would often put Sufis into spiritual ecstasy. The common depiction of whirling dervishes dressed in white cloaks comes to picture when paired with “sa’ma.”

Many Sufi traditions encouraged poetry and music as part of education. Sufism spread widely with their teachings packaged in popular songs accessing mass demographics. Women were especially affected; often used to sing Sufi songs during the day and in female gatherings

In Sufism, music is regarded as a means for the believer to get closer to the divine. Sufi music therefore is the music of the ‘soul’ by the ‘soul’ and for the ‘soul’. Qawwali is the most common form of Sufi music.

Sufism came to India

Sufism has an illustrious history in India evolving for over 1,000 years. The presence of Sufism has been a leading entity increasing the reaches of Islam throughout the subcontinent. Following the entrance of Islam in the early 700s, Sufi mystic traditions became more visible during the 10th and 11th centuries of the Delhi Sultanate.

A conglomeration of four chronologically separate dynasties, the early Delhi Sultanate consisted of rulers from Turkic and Afghan lands. This Persian influence flooded the subcontinent with Islam, Sufi thought, syncretic values, literature, education, and entertainment that has created an enduring impact on the presence of Islam in India today.

Various leaders of Sufi orders, tariqa, chartered the first organized activities to introduce localities to Islam through Sufism. Saint figures and mythical stories provided solace and inspiration to Hindu caste communities often in rural villages of India. The Sufism teachings of divine spirituality, cosmic harmony, love, and humanity resonated with the common people and still does so today.

Influx of Sufism in Awadh

Before the arrival of the Nishapuri Nawabs of Awadh, nearly three hundred years ago, Lucknow experienced an influx of Sufi saints. Sufis believe in the purification of soul and attainment of virtues through meditation. Like the yogis they shun worldly pleasures and wealth by keeping their desires to the barest minimum. Sufis lead a strictly disciplined lifestyle and some of their mystical practices extend over long periods and require them to abstain from taking food and water. People were soon impressed by their simple living, spiritualistic devotion to God and particularly because they were not averse to other forms of worship, the Sufis had a large following in Awadh. Devotees thronged at their aastaana (abode) in large numbers to pay respects and seek their intervention for fulfillment of their long cherished desires and warding off their ills and sufferings.

Earliest Sufi saints 

Sheikh Qawam-ud-din and his disciple Shah Mina are two of the earliest Sufi saints who have their tombs at Lucknow. Sheikh Qawam-ud-din belonged to Kara in Allahabad district and had performed pilgrimage to Mecca on foot seven times and was titled Haji-ul-Harmain. Shah Mina was originally named Mohammed and was the son of Qutub-ud-din Siddiqui, who was a relative of Sheikh Qawam-ud-din. The Sheikh had a son who was named Mina, whom he dis-inherited because he did not approve of his son joining the services of the King of Delhi. Qutub-ud-din, blessed by the Sheikh, begot a son whom he named Mina. Qawam-ud-din adopted the child as his disciple and on his death-bed in 1436, nominated him as his successor. Mina’s fame as a ‘miracle man’ spread far and wide and he came to be known as Shah Mina. His aastaana became crowded with devotees and the crowded area around it began to be called Mina Nagri. (Lucknow was then just a small town, and besides the names like Akhtar Nagar and Alakhnau that it had, it was also known as Mina Nagri. Shah Mina died on 23rd Safar, 870 AH (corresponding to 1479 AD). His date of death is recorded in a Persian inscription of 884 AH (mentioned in the proceedings of Asiatic Society of Bengal of 1873).

Both the tombs of Sheikh Qawam-ud-din and Shah Mina were there near Machchhi Bhavan on its east and south-west, respectively. The abodes were demolished with the Machchhi Bhawan by the British, during their conflict with the rebels (freedom fighters) during 1857-58. The graves were however spared

Khamman Peer

Lucknow Charbagh station has a Sufi Dargah of Khamman-Peer, nestled between the two railway tracks, a place of worship where each engine driver bows down in respect before leaving or entering the train station – irrespective of the religion they belong to. Devotees came in droves, particularly on Thursdays, to seek blessings of the ‘peer’ (saint) owing to their indomitable faith in the Muslim saint. The 950-year old shrine is of Muslim saint Shah Syed Qayamuddin, also known as ‘Khamman peer baba’ by devotees. There are several folklore about the saint that surface up indicating only the degree of faith devotee repose in him.

Dewa Sharif: Sufi dargah

Under the influence of Sufism, India is abode to many Sufi shrines which are famous for its serenity. One such Sufi Dargah is Dewa Sharif – a sacred place which enshrines the tomb of syed Haji Waris Ali Shah – Waris Ali Shah or Sarkar Waris Pak was a sufi saint from Dewa – a place located in Barabanki near Lucknow, who was also the successor of the Qadriyya–Razzakiyya Silsila (sect). He is suggested to be from the 26th generation of Hazrat Imam Hussain and was born in 1809.

He is considered to be one of the most famous Sufi saints, revered equally by people of all religions.

His father’s name was Sayyad Qurban Ali Shah whose tomb (mazar sharif) too is located in Dewa.  Haji Hafiz Sayyad Waris Ali Shah at a very early age showed an extraordinary inclination for a religious life: even in his extreme childhood, he was regarded as amazingly proficient in his knowledge and practice of religion.

Waris Ali Shah lost his parents at the tender age of 3 and the burden of his upbringing fell on the feeble shoulders of his grandmother. At the age of five he started learning ‘Quran’ and committed it to memory. To the amazement of his tutor, Waris Ali Shah could say his lessons correctly even after reading his books. He preferred solitude to books and often slipped away out of doors to spend long periods in retirement and contemplation. He was never seen playing with children of his age and took pleasure in giving them sweets and distributing money among the poor. It soon became evident to those around him that he was not quite of the earth. His brother-in-law Haji Syed Khadim Ali Shah who lived at Lucknow took charge of his education and initiated him in the mysteries of occult science, giving him the necessary training.

Not only Muslims, even Hindus held Waris Ali Shah in high esteem and regarded him as a perfect Sufi. He was the first Sufi to have crossed the seas and visited. A Spanish Noble by the name of Count Galaraza came all the way from Spain to visit him and had an interview with him at Dewa.

Waris Ali Shah died on 7th April 1905 and was buried at this spot in Dewa which took the shaoe of a monument built in his memory by his followers. The place represents communal harmony even by its architecture. It was constructed on a pattern, blending the Hindu and Iranian architecture. It is to be noted that Hindus along with Muslim devotees made a significant contribution to the construction of the mausoleum. The silver platted spire was donated by Raja Udit Narain Singh of Ram Nagar, the silver covering on doors was done on behalf of the rulers of Kashmir and the entire marble flooring was completed from the Estate donated by Thakur Pancham Singh of Mainpuri. The mausoleum is indeed a symbol of communal harmony as preached by the Saint.

The Dewa Fair

Every year ‘Urs’ calledas ‘Dewa Fair’ is being held at the scared tomb in the month of ‘Safar’ (October – November) attracting devotees in large numbers with its non-stop divine celebration and qawwali recitals. The Fair which sees footfall from all parts of the country irrespective of religion to the mausoleum of the great Saint, comes in full swing with the ceremony of Chadar presentation on the tombs of Haji Waris Ali Shah and his father. Pilgrims carry embroided sheets of Silk to place on the tombs of Haji Sahab and his father Haji Qurban Ali Shah.

Qawwalis and devotional songs are recited all the way by professional singers as the procession wends its way to the mausoleums. Special stalls are put up at the fair – selling bangles, pottery, and handmade items. A grand cattle market is also set up during the fair. Cultural programs like mushaira (recital of shayaris), kavi sammelan (poets meet), and sufi performances are also organized.

The fair celebrates this spirit of unity between people of all castes and religions which marks the very essence of Dewa Sharif.

We take you into the mystical Sufi world on our Tour ‘Thursday Sufi Sojourn’. On this private tour, you understand the mystics of Sufism and spend an hour in solace at the Dewa Sharif shrine while your ears are filled with soulful devotional music, Qawwali.

Thursday Sufi Sojourn


December 15, 2019

Dastangoi – a traditional art of storytelling

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:03 am

Stories have been told since time immemorial through various forms – and one most enthralling and classic ways are Dastangoi – a 16th-century form of oral storytelling. Dastangoi is not merely telling a story but it’s an art form where the dastango (storyteller) creates a visual in the minds of listeners by his or her powerful oral narration.

The tradition of dastangoi dates back to the times of Mughal Emperor Akbar. During those days, the language used for dastangoi was Persian. In fact, Dastangoi is itself a Persian word – where ‘dastan’ means story and ‘goi’ means to narrate a story. In the 18th century, Dastangoi made its way from Delhi to Lucknow and it was here that it reached its zenith.

Urdu Dastangoi

The development of Urdu language in Lucknow was not only limited to letters and the royal court. Contributions to Urdu were made at all levels of society in Lucknow which refined the language further, broadened it and it assumed new aspects, which were source of interest to all classes. One such effort was Dastangoi, the art of storytelling.

Although Dastangoi originally started in the Persian language, it was Urdu Dastangoi which soon took the center stage and gained popularity. In Urdu literature, dastangoi is often in writing as lengthy tales, called dastans, published in multivolume series. Loose plotlines and verbosity are some of the characteristics of stories called dastans.

Hamid Dabashi, author & professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University states: “what in Urdu called dastan, is a mode of storytelling that combines popular fantasies and literary tropes to produce highly readable and entertaining stories. These stories give an account of heroic deeds…that’s very out-of-the-ordinary, flamboyance places them on the two extremities of legendary lives and thus marks their heroes from mere mortals…”

The Urdu Dastangoi is a priceless heritage. It is suggested that the emergence of Urdu Dastangoi as a tradition took place prominently in Lucknow. And one gem among the Urdu Dastans which were composed in Lucknow was Dastan-i-Amir Hamza ‘The tale of Amir Hamza’. Even though dastans had many principles and many stories, ‘The tale of Amir Hamza’ originally composed by Amir Khusrau was the basis for all other narrations that followed. Similar sorts of stories with imaginative instincts were recited by dastangos of Lucknow in the 19th century. Munshi Naval Kishore took it up for publication in the 1880s and finally 46 volumes of the dastan were published in Lucknow by the Naval Kishore Press. This Dastan is considered as the landmark of Urdu literature. Abdul Halim Sharar, author of ‘Guzishta Lucknow’ regards this art as ‘extemporaneous composition’.

Anatomy of Urdu Dastan  

A dastan is made up of four constituents: battle & combat (razm), assembly & entertainment (bazm), enchantment and magic (tilism), and craftiness & knavery (ayyari). The entire dastan is woven around these elements. In Lucknawi dastans, the element of enchantment is given more prominence. Some of the traits of the Lucknow (Urdu) Dastangoi that have been mentioned by literary critics are as follows:

  • It mirrors the social conditions of the times. It reflects Indian culture, including customs, modes of dressing and items of food and drinks.
  • The narration contains fascinating and astonishing events, including humorous incidents.
  • It makes good use of unconventional words and phraseology. Grand presence of characters as well as absorbing and intriguing events.
  • A dastan, like that of Amir Hamza, is an extraordinary creative effort in which attempts are made to reach great heights in the use of language and narration.
  • The forty-six volumes of the Dastan-i-Amir Hamza are the last grand instance (in the case of Urdu literature) of oral narrative at its pinnacle.

It is believed that this art actually originated in Arabia when in Pagan times assemblies were held for narrating tales. We should not ignore the fact that at the time when Urdu dastans were composed in the 19th century – it was text that held more importance whereas the name of the creator held a little fascination.

The Artistes 

Dastans were narrated by dastangos – the storytellers. A dastangoi sees everything from a fresh perspective and with a creative fervor. The many incidents narrated in the dastans were gleaned from different places because of the very nature of the dastan and were skillfully amalgamated and integrated to give an ingenious, almost unified structure. Along with the inventiveness, innovation and the resourcefulness of the dastango’s imagination, a good memory is an essential quality of a storyteller.

Among the last of the great dastangos who rose in the middle of the 19th century was Mir Baqir Ali (1850-1928). He narrated and published short humorous tales. His dastans were narrated in dastangoi sessions set up on rooftops in the light of a wick lamp. The audience would often give small donations. Even Mir Baqir Ali used to market his tales in printed form, few of which have survived but many are untraceable now. His volume of work comprises about 21 small books. Some of Mir Baqir Ali’s short tales include:

  • Bahadur Shah Ka Maula Bakhsh Hathi (Bahadur Shah’s Maula Baksh Elephant)
  • Garhay Khan aur Malmal Jaan ki Jung (the quarrel between Garhay Khan and Malmal Jaan)
  • Garhay Khan Ka Dukhra (The sufferings of Garhay Khan)
  • Garhay Khan Ki Dhaka-wali se Mulaqat (Garhay Khan’s Encounter with the Woman from Dhaka)
  • Garhay Khan Ne Malmal Jaan Ko Talaq Di (Garhay Khan Divorces Malmal Jaan)

Mir Baqir Ali’s compositions are amongst the last remains of the glorious times of Dastangoi in Lucknow and Delhi. What majorly led to a decline of Dastangoi in those times was the new avenues of entertainment such as novels, theatre, and cinema. Also, it is believed that the stories told during dastangois were not in sync with the changing and evolving way of life. This led to the decline of the popularity of dastangoi.

Modern Dastangoi 

In Lucknow, the distinctive art of Dastangoi got lost into oblivion after the death of Lucknow’s last Dastango Sheikh Tassaduq Hussain in 1918. However, nearly after century, this art form started getting back its swing, with the rise of modern Dastangos like Late Ankit Chadda (no more now) and Himanshu Bajpai in the city. Himanshu Bajpai is considered as Dastangoi Maestro of modern times. He is often invited to festivals and shows which are being organized around the globe and in the city of Lucknow. Old forms of entertainment are making a comeback because of people like Himanshu, who have made it their mission to revive this art form that was on the verge of extinction. Modern Dastangos entertain the audience with their originality and dwell on contemporary issues like corruption, women empowerment, and communalism. Recently when Tornos celebrated its Silver Jubilee in August 2019, Himanshu enthralled the audience with the story ‘Safar’ set on the life of Tornos’ founder. This was the first such attempt to innovatively bring Dastangoi back in modern times.


The Dastangoi is as much a living tradition in Awadh as any other performing art and even in the times of digital entertainment, it has not completely lost its charm and can still engross the audience with fascinating stories.

November 15, 2019

Lucknow’s own little Kashmir

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:01 am

Back in the year 1775, when the fourth Nawab of Awadh – Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah shifted his base from Faizabad to Lucknow, making Lucknow his capital – along with him he got a large group of Kashmiris both Muslims and Hindu and settled them in Lucknow. This was the largest group of Kashmiris who traveled out of Kashmir to anywhere in North India then.

The Kashmiri Mohalla was a colony created in the Nawabi era when the then Nawab Asaf ud Daula shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow, he brought hundreds of Kashmiri families to live in the city. While the Kashmiri Pandits were settled in Kashmiri Mohalla near Akbari Gate and Chowk, the Kashmiri Muslims settled near Makbara Golaganj and Pata-Nala where several such families still dwell and have made Lucknow their homes. Surrounded by numerous gardens and water bodies, Kashmiri Mohalla houses the interconnected Havelis of the Kashmiri Pandits. It was famous for the Sharga Park and the Sangam Lal ki Bagiya.

From storytellers to impressionists (they were called ‘Kashmiri Bhaands’), to carpet weavers, army generals and even ministers in the court of Awadh, Kashmiris had a role in Awadh, especially in the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah. Due to their cultural closeness and similarities in physical appearance with the Shia Nawabs, they earned for themselves good positions in the royal court and the society in general.

In later years, a Lucknow based Kashmiri, Durga Prasad Sharga, son of Laxmi Narain, was appointed as a teacher of the last King of Awadh (Oudh) to teach him Persian and Urdu. A scion of the same family, B.N. Sharga, wrote at least six volumes on the history of Kashmiri Pandits in Lucknow and mentioned in his books how Lucknow played an important role in the many movements of the Kashmiri Pandits outside of the valley between the 18th and the 19th century.  The house owned by the Sharga family, in the Kashmiri Mohalla of old Lucknow, which has recently been declared a heritage building and has been awarded for its upkeep.

A huge Shiva temple was built in Rani Katra – known as Bada Shivala to facilitate the proper practice of their faith.  The temple now is famously known as ‘Sankata Devi ka Mandir’. This was built by Pandit Jwala Prasad Kaul Tankha, who came from Kashmir during Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah’s reign and then served as an administrator in his court. It is said that when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah started the construction of the Bara Imambara (Asfi Imambara), Tankha simultaneously started construction of ‘Bada Shivala’ in Rani Katra where he used to live at that time with a sizeable population of Kashmiri Pandits.

The Kashmiris in Lucknow also have a role to play in its literature. During the times of Nawabs, Persian and Urdu were reaching new heights and there were at least one or two poets in every Kashmiri Pandit family. One of the most prominent poets among those from was Daya Shankar, whose pen name was ‘Naseem’ and whose father came from Faizabad and settled in the neighborhood which was dominated by Kashmiris in Lucknow. During the rule of Nawab Amjad Ali Shah, he was appointed as a poet in his royal court. Brij Narain Chakbast, Ratan Nath Sarshar, Anand Narain Mulla are some other famous poets and writers from Lucknow belonging to Kashmiri descent.

Kashmiris in Lucknow, just like any other community, have had their own unique history, traditions and cooking styles which blended well with the Awadhi culture, giving rise to a very distinct culinary tradition in Lucknow.

I myself belong to a family of Kashmiri Pandits, who settled out of Kashmir. My mother was from a renowned business family of Kanpur (90 km from Lucknow) and my father hails from the family of landlords called, ‘zamindar’ (landlords who owned large estates and agricultural land) originally from Lahore (now Pakistan). After the Partition of India in 1947, my father migrated to Delhi where I received my education and later met my husband who hails from a well known Kashmiri Pandit family of Lucknow.

My father in law, Brij Lal Chak was a 1947 batch Kashmiri Pandit civil services officer, in fact the first civil services officer that the community produced. His ancestral house was in Kashmiri Mohalla and his mother was a well known educationist, known to have set up a famous Municipal Nursery School in Lucknow, which during her tenure was adjudged as the best nursery school of Asia by the London Times in 1963 and is still considered as a great preparatory school.

These Kashmiri families interacted closely to preserve their culture and heritage in Lucknow and surrounding areas far away from Kashmir, their original roots. Lucknow has had the most fabulous culinary history and this even cast its spell on the Kashmiri families who lived here and had similarly attractive food-culture back home in Kashmir. They also absorbed several of their customs and marriage rituals and did away with several social practices like dowry etc under the influence of Islamic teachings and practices here.

When I moved to Lucknow after my marriage to Ajit, I picked up a lot from their Awadhi neighbors and of course my mother-in-law, who herself was a great cook. Their language, their attire, and mannerisms had undergone a change and had strongly been influenced by Awadh, especially Lucknow.

Kashmiris particularly were possessive of their eating habits and their traditional recipes, yet accepted changes and improvised under influence of Awadh, which was at its pinnacle during the Nawabi era when Kashmiris originally settled here.

Even our weddings were influenced by Shia rituals which were practiced in Lucknow. There is one particular custom where the bride is decked-up in ornaments made of flowers. The Kashmiri Pandits never had this in Kashmir, but the ones who settled here picked this up from the Shia community; Another one is the tradition of serving ‘zarda’ (sweet rice) to the bride and groom. This custom too became a vital part of the sweet dishes available in Kashmiri Pandit weddings in Awadh, though never practiced in Kashmir.

My husband is a foodie like most Kashmiri men are, and this trait encourages women to prepare good food at home on a daily basis. While most Kashmiri dishes are made of beef or lamb meat, but in Lucknow, chevon or goat meat is used.

We Kashmiri Pandits, therefore, have tweaked our cuisine to confirm the availability of ingredients and palate in Lucknow.  Recipes such as the ‘rista’ and ‘goshtaba’ (meat ball dishes) and ‘roghan josh’ in Lucknow tastes quite differently than its Kashmiri original as a lot of it is borrowed from Awadh. We have invented and reinvented several ‘pilaffs’ and ‘biryanis’ adding locally available spices to them in the absence of spices from Kashmir. Similarly a lot of spices in Awadhi cuisine are borrowed from Kashmiri cuisine. The mutual acceptance could have been due to similarity in Persia and Kashmir, at least in terms of spices and eating habits, particularly if we see generous use of saffron in both Awadh and Kashmir.

This fusion of Avadhi food and the traditional Kashmiri recipes is the backbone of ‘Kashmiri-Awadhi’ food today that actually evolved here and now is known to exist uniquely, though confined to the family kitchens in Lucknow.

We have a huge range of recipes that involved, for example, the use of ‘methi’ (fenugreek)  is unheard in Kashmir even today, but the Kashmiris in Lucknow use it extensively to cook paneer (cottage cheese), fish, chicken, and mutton dishes.

Similarly, several spices and kormas (curry dish) from Kashmiri-Awadhi array today draw their inspiration from Awadh. The famous Goshtaba (meatball dish) may be made from lamb meat beaten with a mallet, but ingredients like the tendons and tongue are no longer mixed into the mince when prepared at Kashmiri homes in Lucknow, though originally in Kashmir they are, making it chewy and rubbery in original Kashmiri version. Such improvisations were brought about in Lucknow keeping and appreciating the palette of an average Lucknowi who enjoyed effortless eating. Koftas (meatballs) from Awadhi cuisine helped Kashmiris improvise this dish here. The gravies of Kashmiri food in Lucknow are thicker than the original Kashmir version and this too under the influence of Avadhi cooking. Then, there is also the inclusion of Avadhi Shami kebab and the gilawat kebab that now have become a ritualistic presence on Kasmiri spread in Lucknow. Ideally, a Kashmiri meal in my house comprises a paneer dish, two vegetarian dishes, a dal, a fish dish, a chicken dish and a mutton (goat meat) dish. Kashmiris are primarily rice eaters unlike most North Indians who are primarily wheat eaters, but Kashmiris in Lucknow equally adore bread on the table.

 ‘Kashmiri Chai’, is one winter hot tea that is so very casually available in old Lucknow, especially in winter months and is relished by Lucknowites, as if it were always theirs. This pink tea is quite rich and sweet, with nuts and cream being its integral ingredient and brewed in ‘samovar’ (a utensil that essentially originated in Russia and reached Kashmir, before coming to Lucknow with Kashmiris). It evokes curiosity often and proves how cultures evolve and embrace. This too was brought to Lucknow by Kashmiris during the reign of Asif-ud-Daula and since has become an integral part of city’s culinary indulgence. Kashmiri Chai is Persian equivalent of ‘Shir Chai’ (where ‘shir’ or ‘Sheer’ means milk and ‘chai’ means tea) thus many may dispute its origin, but I convincingly believe its Kashmir origin as it is actually called, ‘Kashmiri Chai’ here and not by any other name. May be its easy adoption in Lucknow was due to Lucknow’s Persian influence and drawing similarities.

The Kashmiris in Lucknow have contributed immensely to Lucknow’s composite culture like all other communities have and now are an integral part of its socio-economic structure as if they always belonged to Lucknow. Lucknow too treated us so well that no one who migrated from Kashmir to Lucknow ever thought of returning. Love and affection that this city and its people gave was unparallel and made Kashmiri Pandits forget what they ever left in Kashmir. The taste of Lucknow’s Kashmiri cuisine is so intriguing that we now love it more than what’s available of it originally in Kashmir.


Tornos as a part of its Home Dining Experiences offers dinner at Chaks’ home in Lucknow, where Anuradha and Ajit host guests for an engaging conversation with them, cooking demonstration in their home kitchen and of course a hearty home cooked ‘Kashmiri-Awadhi’ meal that includes unique family recipes and dishes that are otherwise not available anywhere commercially. Check with us

October 15, 2019

Ghats of Lucknow: added charm to city’s landscape

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:59 am

Lucknow is more than just a city – it’s an experience wherein everything unfolds into its own unique charm. The city is famous for its heritage that includes historical monuments that can mesmerize you with their architecture, food that can feed your soul and refined culture (vernacularly known as ‘tehzeeb’) quite unique to Lucknow. However, Lucknow has many more aspects to add to its beauty. One such is being its landscape. When drawing the picture of Lucknow’s landscape, the first thing which adds to the picture is River Gomti – the lifeline of Lucknow and the serene ghats (piers/jetty) which spread along with it. River Gomti, a looping river of the Ganges is one of the rivers that do not carry the burden of being “holy”, yet is revered as older than the most sacred river Ganges, that fertilized the Baghs (gardens) that sent medieval travelers into paroxysms of ecstasy. Nowhere else but on the southern banks of the Gomti could a unique interaction between a Persian dynasty, Indian natives, European adventurers and the East-India Company could have led to a tumultuous phase of history between 1732 and 1947, of which in 1857 the bloody siege of the Residency was a climax of all times.

You would be surprised to know that the flow of the river dictated the site of the architectural extravaganza like the Asfi Imambara, Sheesh Mahal, Dilkusha Palace and La Martiniere. All major Muslim monuments in Lucknow are actually built on the banks of Gomti, co-existing with Hindu ghats making another example of Awadh’s composite culture – Ganga-yamuni tehzeeb.

Ghats of Lucknow

The ghats that sit along the River Gomti, although not much talked about, are sights to explore. If you have wandering feet and a roving eye, you must not miss exploring these ghats of Lucknow. We enumerate a few renowned ones:

Kudia Ghat


One of the ancient and sacred places in Lucknow, Kudia Ghat is one of the most famous ghats in Lucknow, located amidst peaceful surroundings. The ghat is named after Saint Kaundilya who is said to have set up his Ashram here during early times. The ghat was renovated in 1990. Here you can view a Shiva Temple built hundred years ago. The ghat has several attractions located nearby – like an age-old Iron Bridge – the heritage monuments of Lucknow, Clock Tower, Rumi Darwaza, Imambara, which add a lot more significance to this ghat. During the evenings this ghat comes alive with people coming here to take a stroll and indulge in the tranquillity of the place.

Devraha Ghat

Kartik Poornima (full moon day in the ninth month of Hindu calendar colloquially known as Kartik) is an auspicious occasion for Hindus. On this day, the Hindus ensure a holy dip in any of the rivers they can reach. In Lucknow, during Kartik Poornima, devotees throng various ghats and the ghat which is considered most prominent to take this sacred dip is Devraha Ghat. The ghat derives its name from Baba Devraha who established the ghat.

Karounda Ghat


Famous for Shani (God of Saturday) and Jhulelal (Incarnation of Lord Varuna) temple, Karounda Ghat spreads beside Devraha Ghat. The Sindhi (Hindu Migrants from Sindh, now in Pakistan) community in Lucknow mark the occasion of Chetti Chand, birth anniversary of Saint Jhulela on this Ghat. During the rituals, the devotees offer prayers in the Jhulelal Temple located here.


Shukla Ghat

Another old ghat of Lucknow situated near Patang Park (Kite Park) was renovated by Rhini Devi Chunni Devi Trust. The Saraswati Temple located here is the major attraction, while Ganga snan (sacred Ganga bath) or Kartik Poornima witnesses huge crowds when people come here to take a holy dip in Adi Ganga (River Gomti is referred as ‘Adi Ganga’, being considered older than Ganges) , the mythological identity of River Gomti. Bhandara (community meal distribution) is also organised during the occasion.

Panchwati Ghat

Famous for its reclining Hanuman Temple, this ghat takes its name from Panchwati of Ramayna period where Sita lived in exile with Rama and Laxman. There was a lot of vegetation and greenery surrounding this ghat as Sita’s panchvati had vast flora around it.

Lallu Mal Ghat

This is almost hundred years old ghat, situated beside the Daliganj Bridge on River Gomti. Kartik Poornima, Chhat Pooja, Pitra Paksh and Amavasya draw huge crowds on this ghat. Well maintained, Lallu Mal Ghat has verandas, shelves and a Dharamshala (pilgrim lodge) where pilgrims can stay. Constructed by Lallu Nal Bhagwan Das Omar Vaishya this place is flanked by eighty year old Mahadev Narmadeshwar Temple on Kaccha Ghat and Pahadi Ghat.

Visarjan Ghat

Situated near the University of Lucknow this ghat is mainly used for the immersion of Goddess Durga and Ganesha idols. After Durga Pooja and Ganesha Pooja (festivals where idols are placed for worship and then immersed in rivers) and other regular occasions, the worship is not considered fruitful unless the idol of the deity is immersed in the rivers. Chhat Pooja, Makar Sankranti and Kartik Poornima or Ganga Snan also draw huge crowds to this ghat. Lucknow Municipal Corporation has developed Jhulelal Park on the ghat which has become the undeclared official place for all kinds of protests, hunger strikes, meetings and other such activities for voicing dissent on any subject.

However, no more ‘visarjan’ (idol immersion) activities are being carried out in the river Gomti. Instead, the Municipal Corporation of Lucknow arranges makeshift ponds on the bank during the time of such festivals to immerse the idols so that the river remains undisturbed and no environmental harm occurs without disturbing any traditions of immersing the idols in the river water.

Pipra Ghat

Situated on the other side of Gomti, Pipra Ghat is considered as the old cremation ground of the city. Managed by the cantonment the present cremation ghat came up in 1960, known as Baikunth Dham or Bhainsa Kund. Now only about 10-15cremations are performed here in a month, as lot of activities have shifted to the new cremation centres that have better facilities and also electric crematorium. A temple built in 1950 in honour of Bharat Mata is another distinctive feature of this ghat.

Bhainsa Kund or Baikunth Dham Ghat


Baikunth Dham ghat is also known as Bhainsa (water buffalos) Kund, and has a fable behind it. One story goes, water buffalos while fighting fell into a pond here giving the place its name, while another version says, this area of Gomti bank was the grazing ground for water buffalos and the river here was shallow, just apt for buffalos to bathe in the water of Gomti river. Yet another relates to the version of water buffalo being the transport of Yamraj (God of Death), thus this cremation ghat is known as Bhainsa Kund. Some fifteen years ago the ghat had scarce facilities but a corporate house, Sahara renovated it with all the necessary arrangements for a modern cremation ghat.

Gulala Ghat

Also known as Muktidham, Gulala Ghat is another old place for cremation and burial. This ghat has Hindu Lord Mahakal, Lord Shiva and Lord Bhairon temples. Arrangement and availability of the material required to perform the last rites is available within it and usually people of old city use this as their preferred cremation ghat instead of Baikunth Dham.

Kala Kothi Ghat

Famous for its Shani Temple, Kala Kothi Ghat is located near the Kudia Ghat. Temples dedicated to Lord Hanumana, Goddess Kali and Lord Kal Kuteshwar Mahadev are located here. The Ghat is named after a building located nearby named, Kala (art), which was earlier famous as Qila Kothi (palace). During the times of Nawabs, music and dance performances were regularly held at this kothi. A Shiva temple was established by the second Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh – Dr. Sampoornanad.

Chat Mela Ghat

The Ghat is a part of the famous Laxman Mela ground in Lucknow, Laxman mela ground itself is a bank. It is the Ghat where two day fair is held on the occasion, thus it gets its name. Chhat Puja is a festival predominantly celebrated by people hailing from the eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh and all of Bihar.

New River Front Development  


There is a modern time riverside attraction added to the city – Gomti Riverfront – just a modern-day celebration of river and an improvised entertainment ghat. It was built under the pursuit of renovating and development of River Gomti as a public space. The lush Green surroundings, which include park, cycling track and riverside structures, have been created keeping with International Standards. The park stretches over 2 km in the area. The predominant enchantment of the place is the musical fountain, which can be seen from both aspects of the river. It lets the visitors experience the splendor of River Gomti. It has become a favored recreation spot in the city owing to its pristine location and serene environs. A walk or a leisurely stroll here is an activity that visitors can look forward to.

Every place has a story to tell and so does these ghats. So, when you are in Lucknow and looking around for some aesthetic experience – you can set out with us to explore these hush ghats of Lucknow.

September 15, 2019

Bengalis in Lucknow: a fine example of composite culture

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:54 am

Awadh is often known as the land of Nawabs, however, this land has always wholeheartedly embraced every culture which touched this land to converge into a wonderful – Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (a term used to denote peaceful fusion of cultures in Awadh, a composite culture).

Lucknow is one ancient and historical city, which found its true glory in 1775 when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. The reign of the fourth Nawab is also known as the Golden Period of Awadh as it not only made Lucknow the capital, but also became a melting pot of different cultures and art in all its forms. From then, Lucknow started to flourish and see entry of various poets, artists and artisans from all parts of the country taking shelter here under the patronage of Nawabs. It was under the rule of the Nawabs that the Bengali community too entered Lucknow for the first time.

Arrival of Bengali Astronomers & Astrologers :

 Next to the famous La Martiniere Girls College in Lucknow, stands tall, another historical marvel – Tara Wali Kothi, presently serving as a regional office of the State Bank of India. This was made by the eighth Nawab of Awadh, Nasir-ud-Din Haider during his reign, due to his deep interest in astronomy and astrology. He procured several astronomical instruments from Greenwich in England and created an observatory here, calling it Tara Wali Kothi or the Star House. It is said that to look after this observatory and study the stars, Nawab invited some experts from Bengal and they are said to be the first ever Bengalis to have step on the soil of Awadh. These experts were namely – Chandrashekhar Mitra, Durga Charan Bandhopadhyaya, Kali Charan Chattopadhyaya and Madho Das.

Kali Charan, fondly known as Kali Charan Babu was the chief astrologer, and it was he who started Kali Puja, worshipping of the Hindu Goddess Kali (Goddess  of death, time, and doomsday) for the first time in the city of Lucknow. He also introduced Lucknow to a significant and inseparable part of Bengali culture –Durga Puja, worship of the Hindu Goddess Durga – the Goddess of power and women empowerment by ensuring its regular observance. Gradually, the Lucknowites started taking part in these religious activities.

During the times of the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, the operations of observatory came to an end. At that time, General James Outram was the resident and Kali Charan Babu was appointed as a cashier. He had a good rapport with General Outram. Kali Charan Babu was revered by the people of Lucknow as a highly religious man. However, during the 1857 revolt, the people of Lucknow got angry with Kali Charan Babu as he was working for the British and was among their trusted people. Therefore, the people believed he was involved in every planning and plotting done by the British against the Indians. People’s outrage could be gauged by the fact that prize money of Rupees 5000 was declared to be given to anyone who killed Kali Charan Babu. Henceforth, in order to save his life, Kali Babu was underground for quite long.

After the uprising of 1857-58, when the British took control of Awadh, Kali Babu resurfaced. However, he denied working for them again and instead asked for their permission to organize Durga Puja in the Residency complex. The British Government granted the permission and hence the Durga Puja was organised with much pomp and show within the compound of Lucknow Residency.

This Durga Puja held in Lucknow Residency is a notable incident in various aspects. In this Puja, the idol of Goddess Durga could not be established due to inconvenient transportation at that time.  And instead, a Goddess Durga painting made by foreign artists was placed for prayers. Kali Charan Babu himself served as the priest in the puja and 101 cannon shells were fired in celebration. The Zamindars, Taluqdars and British officers, all were invited in the festivities.

This incident was quite strange and flabbergasting for the people of Lucknow as the British Government who were otherwise discriminating and oppressive toward the Indians, granted the wish of a Bengali Indian by allowing Durga Puja to be performed in Residency, and not only that, they themselves took part in it.

It is tough to say what effect this incident had on the mindset of Lucknow’s people about Kali Charan Babu’s loyalty toward his motherland; however, the durga puja held in Residency did make people of Lucknow realize that Bengali community is soon inching toward becoming one of the prominent classes in the city.

Dakhshinaranjan Mukhopadhyaya was the first Bengali to become taluqdar. He was rewarded with Shankarpur Taluqa in 1859 for helping the British during the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’, as the British dubbed it. This estate was actually confiscated from Raja Madhodas due to his support to the revolutionaries during the uprising. Later in 1871, Dakhshinaranjan Mukhopadhyaya was honored with the title of ‘Raja’ by the then Viceroy, Lord Mayo. Among the first few very important Bengali noblemen who came to Lucknow, Dakshniranjan Babu as he was fondly called, contributed immensely in the field of education in Lucknow.

After Awadh was annexed and came under the full authority of the British, new avenues were opened for various occupations. Being well versed in English the Bengalis took full advantage of it and many migrated from Calcutta and settled in Lucknow. They entered in good numbers in various domains – education, health, judiciary, municipal services and similar professions, even a few businesses.

Inception of the Kali Bari:

The Kali Bari which is still in existence was established in 1864 by Dakshniranjan Babu. Kali Bari is not just a center for religious functions and prayers but had also been an important epicenter for various activities which had major impact on the social, cultural, and educational fabric of the city.

In those days, Durga Puja was also organized and celebrated in the same premises along with the cultural programmes including the Bengali plays and dance recitals. These performances attracted a lot of non-Bengali population too and raised interest among the people of Lucknow to know and learn more about Bengali culture and society. This actually created a bright turf for Lucknow theatre groups and cultural society.

The Bengali club:

Lucknow is well known for its blended and welcoming culture – The Bengali Club took shape in the year 1914 and since then, has managed to keep alive the Bengali traditions in the city. Durga Puja celebration held in the Bengali Club till date is the oldest ongoing Durga Puja in Lucknow, being held since the time of the British rule.

The concept of the Bengali Club dates back to the year 1901. It was the year when Atul Krishna Sinha, an employee of the Indian Railways Engineering Department, came to Lucknow. It was he who coined the concept of an exclusive center for Bengali Performing arts and games. Soon, Atul and his friend established the association of Bengalis and naming it Bengali Club.

Since its inception, there have been many dignitaries that have visited the Club, but the Club itself takes pride in the visit of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on 20th November, 1938.

Durga Puja celebration is another very important aspect of Bengali community which has gradually taken over the entire city by its festivities and colours.  The decorated pandals (celebration tents), shops, eating joints and lively idols of Goddess Durga’s incarnation Mahishasurmardini draw massive crowds to these venues. Irrespective of cast, creed, community and religion it has become a house hold practice to visit Durga Pooja pandals, offer pooja and participate in rituals with great fervour and devotion during the festival.

The Bari houses Mahakali Pathshala (school) which has grown into two separate educational institutions – Boys’ Anglo-Bengali Inter College, Sundar Bagh and Hiramati Girls’ School that finally to become A.P Sen PG College, named after a renowned Barrister, A.P.Sen.

Some notable Bengalis who gave Lucknow some prestigious institutions

Barrister AP Sen stepped on the Lucknow’s soil in 1902 and gained popularity and people’s trust as a social worker and politician in a very short span of time.  An ardent music lover, singer, composer and lyricist, A.P. Sen got so impressed with the culture of Lucknow that he gradually imbibed it in his own personality.

The founder of the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) was also a Bengali scientist – Vishnuprasad Mukherji. Whereas another Bengali, Sunil Kumar Dutt played an important role in the establishment of Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP).

Historically, the most significant period for the Bengali Community in Lucknow was the first half of the 20th century, when various kinds of activities took place. Lucknow and Bengali community here was inseparable by now and both adapted to each other with flavours of each in their traditions and customs, especially when in Lucknow. The Bengalis who came to this land were well aware of their own cultural identity as well as their responsibilities toward Lucknow’s own fabric and its people. Thus, they mingled well with the Lucknawi values and emerged as an integral part of Lucknow’s heritage and culture.


Ram Krishna Math             

Lucknow is home to another landmark creation with a Bengali connection, Ramakrishna Math – a monastic organization named after & inspired by Ramakrishna Paramhansa (1836 – 1886), a 19th-century saint from Bengal. It houses a temple containing idols of Saint Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Holy mother Sarada Devi. The temple is built in marble and to add an element of contrast, a style innovated by the Mughals, (using red sandstone along with marble) has been adopted in this temple. You will find murals of mythological figures such as the Shankha (conchshell), Chakra (disc), Padma (lotus), Trishul (Trident), Damaru (drum), Vajra (Thunderbolt) and Hansas (swans) painted with red cement.

The temple stands out as a unique combination of various styles of architecture. Besides the Mughal and Jain architecture, it includes those imbibed by the Chandellas, Chalukyas, and Pallavas of South India.

Durga Puja at Ramkrishna Math is a notable event and is held in all its grandeur. People from far and wide come to attend the Durga Puja irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.



During the Durga Puja days, a special puja is held here where a young girl is personified as Goddess Durga and is worshipped and treated in the same manner. The motto of the Ramakrishna Math is: “For one’s own salvation, and for the welfare of the world”.



Vivekananda Polyclinic and Institute of Medical Sciences Centre is yet another organisation named and inspired by the great monk and a social reformer Swami Vivekananda who was born in Bengal.

The institution is centred on the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘service to Jiva is service to Shiva’, which implies spiritually dedicated service to humanity with utmost reverence, is the worship of God. Since its humble beginning, the Polyclinic has now grown into a renowned 350-bed multi-specialty hospital, standing prominently, in the heart of the City of Lucknow focusing on service to socio-economically weaker sections and people with limited means. It also enables charity services to deserving persons from lower socio-economic strata.

Bengalis were welcomed on this soil with utmost warmth and have been a part and parcel of Lucknow’s composite culture. As is evident from the fact that now one can’t think of a Lucknow without Durga Pooja celebrations, Saraswati Pooja and authentic Bengali sweets!

Now, of course, a substantial population of Bengalis is scattered all around Lucknow, however, Model House area is known to reside most of the Bengalis in the city.

The Durga Puja season has started and now there’ll be magnificent pandals coming up all over the city. Tornos arranges a special Pandal hopping tours taking guests to most prominent Puja Pandals and tracing the Bengali history in Awadh.

August 15, 2019

Muharram in Lucknow: an unmatched illustration of the martyrdom

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:43 am

Lucknow is famous for a host of things related to history, heritage, culture and cuisine, and added to the list is the observation of Muharram – the mourning of martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his kin.

Lucknow Azadari (mourning) is famous all around the world for its well-choreographed processions, generous distribution of tabarruk (community sacred food for distribution), and unmatched faith in mourning the martyrs of Karbala. Moreover, the Muharram is observed the longest in Lucknow, which is for the duration of 68 days.

The story of Muharram traces to the battle of Karbala.  Karbala, present day in Iraq, is the cornerstone of institutionalized devotion and mourning in the memory of Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. It is the symbol of martyrdom and suffering, which the family of the prophet was subjected to. The martyrs of Karbala and their surviving family members have remained archetypal heroes for Muslims as well as some non-Muslim inhabitants of India and the world.

The prophet’s son-in-law Hazrat Ali is also remembered during this period as having suffered and died for righteous causes.

With the onset of Muharram, Lucknow particularly the Shia community of Lucknow get into a very generous and sorrowful mood, especially during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram – which are the most sacred days of the month. Every day after putting on black attire, they engage themselves in various charitable activities during the day and in Majlis (traditional congregations) during the evenings.

Muharram, or the sacred month, marks the beginning of the new Islamic year however for the Shias they begin the year by mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.

The word ‘muharram’ also means respect. The first ten days of the month are observed as a period of daily mourning. The killing of Hussain happened on the tenth day of the month of Muharram and the event is being called Ashura. Shia Muslims observe it every year as a public expression of grief.

The event of mourning varies among different branches of Shias and ethnic groups. Many Sunnis also observe this event but to a lesser extent, however during the times of Nawabs the sunnis observed the occasion with equal enthusiasm and faith. Vast difference can be seen in how Muharram is being observed in different regions of the world and here in Lucknow. It is said, if you wish to experience the best of Muharram in India, Lucknow is the place to be.

Imambaras have a prominent place specially during Muharram and in the lives of Shia Muslims. Imambaras are considered to be homes to the martyrs of Karbala. And even the poorest Shias in Lucknow have a place set aside for an Imambara in their homes, just like small temples in Hindu homes.

The much anticipated occasion goes on for two months and eight days. The first ten days of this sacred month resonate with the cries of Ya Husain! Ya Abbas! in every household of Shia Muslim.

The Imambaras are thronged by believers, mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his kin including women and children in the battle of Karbala.

The art of Tazia making unfolds in Lucknow..

A night before the 1st Muharram, Imambaras are bedecked with some religious paraphernalia and the main among them is the famous ‘tazias’ – the miniature mausoleums modeled on the mausoleums in Karbala that are generally made of bamboo and colorful paper. The makers of these intricately-designed and elaborate tazias, the Tazia makers, majorly reside in the Kazmain an area of Old Lucknow. The tazia makers in this region have mastered in the art of tazia making.

The work of tazia making begins at least 6 months before Muharram arrives as from here these tazias are supplied to other cities and nearby villages as well. Originally, the word Tazia is a derivative of the word Taziyat, meaning condolences. So Tazia here refers to giving condolences to Imam Hussain and his kin and other martyrs in the battle of Karbala as one would give to his/her relatives.

The history of Taziadari of housing Tazia in Imambaras dates back to the era of Timur who invaded India in 1398 AD. The need for Tazia arose when Taimur who was involved in consolidating hold on the territory could not take his army out on the annual trip to Karbala so he got a replica of the shrine built and that’s how the making of Tazias began. The first-ever Tazia was made from Khaak-e-Shifa, the sand from Karbala, which Taimur got transported to India.

Later, it became popular with Mughal and travelled to other regional dynasties. The Nawabs of Awadh brought it to such perfection that they made Tazia of Lucknow a unique symbol of martyrdom. The Nawabs elevated and amplified the art of Tazia making to a degree that the Tazias of Lucknow gained nationwide respect and were are looked at as works of art and living tradition.

The craft of Tazia making has been running through the cultural fabric of Lucknow since ages and requires much focus and artistic flair in the hands of craftsmen. Hence, there is a whole generation of Tazia makers in Lucknow who have excelled in this craft.  The tazias not only have a sacred value, but also add to the earnings of these Tazia makers who eagerly await Muharram every year to earn a living.

A series of processions remembering the Karbala

Karbala was a battle of humanity against tyranny, oppression, and injustice. The battle where gruesome killings happened, where not even a six-month old baby was spared and was killed by shooting an arrow in his throat. Since then, Muharram is being observed to mourn the sacrifices made by Imam Hussain and his family.

In Lucknow, number of procession are taken out throughout Muharram on significant days to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain – Prophet Mohammad’s grandson and his 72 companions who sacrificed their lives in the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. This series of processions are a tradition in Lucknow taking place since the times of the Nawabs, who came from Persia and were Shias themselves. The processions begin from 1st day of Muharram and later processions happen on some significant days, which are, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 50th and 60th days of Muharram.

Shahi Zari Ka Juloos (1st Muharram)

The ‘Shahi Zari Ka Juloos’ marks the onset of Muharram and the first day of the mourning month. The grand Zari (tazia) is taken out from the Asafi or Bara Imambara during the evening, where Shia Muslims gather in abundance from every corner of the region, even from other parts of India to join in the procession which ends at the Husainabad or the Chhota Imambara.

Aag Ka matam (6th Muharram)

Maatam or the beating of the chest is a ritual associated with the mourning and Aag Ka Maatam is another ritual to express the intense grief of the heart-wrenching Karbala tragedy that happened many hundreds of years ago. Aag ka matam is held at Asafi Imambara where believers tread over burning coal chanting ‘Ya Hussain’. Through Aag Ka Maatam, believers re-enact a glimpse of what the survivors of Karbala went through – having to walk barefoot over hot (almost burning) sand in the desert across Karbala to Kufa and then Kufa to Shaam.

Mehndi ka juloos (7th Muharram)

A newly-wed groom asks his uncle Imam Hussain: “Will I also be among the martyrs?” To which Hussain replied: “How do you see death?” Qasim said: “O uncle, death to me is sweeter than honey.” Such was the valour and desire to sacrifice their lives in the path of righteousness that even a 3-days old groom didn’t think twice before offering his life in order to save humanity. On the day of Ashura, Hazrat Qasim went to his uncle to let him go to the battlefield. Hussain would not permit him because he was so young. Qasim tried many times to convince his uncle but all went in vain until Qasim went to the tent his mother was in and was handed over a letter by his mother. This letter was written for him by his father Imam Hassan and the letter said –“oh my son Qasim, a day will come when my brother Hussain will be facing extreme tyranny and will have to face an enemy troop of thousands and that day the Islam can only be saved by sacrificing in the path of Allah. And that day, you must represent your father like a true son.”

Qasim read the letter and gave it to his uncle. After reading the letter Hussain gave up and allowed him to go to the battlefield of Karbala, saying, “O my Qasim, how can I stop you from doing what your father wanted you to do? May Allah be with you!

He went to the battle field and killed a lot of men from the enemy forces until a man from behind struck him with a sword, to which he fell from his horse and was run over by horses and that’s how he was martyred.

The 7th day of Muharram is the day dedicated to Hazrat Qasim and to honour the grievous death of newly-wed Hazrat Qasim, a Mehndi procession is taken out signifying the mehndi (henna) applied in the hands of his bride Fatima Kubra (Imam Hussain’s elder daughter). It occurs during the late evening on 7th day of Muharram at the Bara Imambara in a much choreographed manner where Shia Muslims arrive in large numbers lamenting the young martyr and his wife.

Alam-e-Fateh-e-Furat (8th Muharram)

Hazrat Abbas is highly revered by Shia Muslims for his loyalty to his half-brother Hussain and his courage, bravery, strength and ferocity as a warrior. Abbas considered Hussain as his master and the zenith of his love and dedication for Imam Hussain was seen at the battle of Karbala. On the day of Ashura when Bibi Sakina (4 year old daughter of Hussain). and other thirsty children were wailing due to thirst, Abbas took permission from his master and went out from his camp to collect water from the nearby river. He managed to cut through Yazid’s troops and rushed to the river bank, filled the water and was returning when the enemy army encircled him. However, Abbas didn’t care about his life and his only motivation at that moment was to quench the thirst of the children back in the camp. He fought with one hand, holding the bag of water in another. Then his other hand too was cut, yet he held on the bag of water in his teeth until a severe blow by a mace on his head made him fall off his horse. As he fell down, he called out to Imam Hussain and when Hussain arrived he kept his head in his lap. Hazrat Abbas then breathed last

8th Muharram is the day when Shia Muslims dedicate to Hazrat Abbas and this is the day when the procession of Alam-e-Fateh-e-Furat is taken out.

This procession originates from the Daryawali Mosque in late evening. The major sacred attraction of the procession is the Alam – symbol of Hazrat Abbas (cousin of Imam Hussain who was martyred on 8th Muharram). This procession ends at the Imambara Ghufran Ma’ab at around midnight. Thousands of Shias from Lucknow and the neighbouring areas take part in this procession.

Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur  (9th Muharram)

9th Muharram is the night when no Shia sleeps and rather wails and mourns the tragedy of Karbala the whole night. Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur is the procession in Lucknow which happens in the night of 9th Muharram. It originates from Imambada Nazim Saheb in late evening. This procession was started by Late Qaiser Husain Rizvi in the year 1926 and is popularly known as Alam-e-Shab-e-Ashur  (the night before Ashura). This procession starts from Imambada Nazim Sahab and ends at Dargah Hazrat Abbas close to early morning. Several thousands of Shias from Lucknow and nearby areas come to pay homage.

Juloos-e-Ashura (10th Muharram)

The day of Ashura is the most significant day of the month of Muharram as it was 10th day of Muharram when Imam Hussain – the leader of the Hussaini tribe who had not eaten or drank anything since 3 days was brutally martyred. This was the day when a family lost their head, their protector and their leader. This was the day when only female members in the family were left to lament over the death of every male member of the family.

This procession begins in the morning at around 10 or 11 and lasts till late afternoon. Several thousands of mourners including Shias and Sunni Muslims as well as Hindus, mourning the tragedy of Karbala, the sacrifice of Imam Husain, his family and companions commemorate Ashura amidst the reverberating chants of Ya Husain filling the air. The series of Alams are taken out in a procession from the Nazim Sahab ka Imambara and culminating at the Karbala, Lucknow.

72 Taboot Ka Juloos

A procession of 72 coffins is taken out on the 30th day after the day of Ashura in the campus of  Bara Imambara campus in a melancholic atmosphere. In memory of the martyrs of Karbala, a large amount of offerings are made in this procession and the devotees pay homage by raising chants of Ya Hussain with teary eyes.

Chehlum (50th Muharram)

Chehlum falls on the 40th day after Ashura and 50th of Muharram. It is another significant day when the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and his 72 companions is remembered and special Majlis and procession are held in Lucknow. An Alam (symbol of Hazrat Abbas) is taken out from every Imambara in Lucknow. Taboots (coffins symbolic of martyrs) are also taken out as a part of a large procession.

Chup Tazia (68th Muharram)

This day marks the end of the Muharram. Thousands of Shia muslims take out the traditional ‘chup tazia’ procession in old city area of Lucknow. The procession originates early in the morning at around 5 am from Imambara Nazim Saheb and culminates at Roza-e-Kazmain. This juloos or procession was started by Nawab Ahmed Ali Khan Sahukat Yar Jung a descendent of Bahu Begum. Since then, this procession is taken out with much fervour and Shia Muslims gather in great numbers despite the timing of the procession being early morning. This is a silent procession as the name suggests ‘Chup Tazia’, meaning, silent mourning.

The tragedy of Karbala and the way Imam Hussain sacrificed everything he had in the path of righteousness is not something confined to a single faith but humanity at large. Through the story of Imam Hussain, one can learn to never bow down before wrong, never letting injustice prevail and putting our duty above everything. Indeed Imam Hussain sacrificed his life but he is alive in the hearts through his teachings which justify the saying – “Live like Ali, die like Hussain”.

And if you want to know more about Imam Hussain and the tragedy which inflicted upon him – be a part of Lucknow’s Muharram. During the Muharram, the Old Lucknow can truly transcend one to the times of Imam Hussain. Tornos offers an exclusive Muharram experience: Weeping Lucknow

July 15, 2019

Unaccepted, Sanguinary and the Fearless Nawab: Wazir Ali

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:37 am

The Nawabs of Awadh have given this place humongous of heritage, art, history and culture – it’s incredible! And so is the life of these Nawabs. As the chronicles of history depict, the Nawabs of Awadh have lived their life through myriad phases. And one such Nawab is – Nawab Mohammad Wazir Ali Khan. A man of mild disposition – Nawab Wazir Ali Khan was the fifth Nawab of Awadh.

Born as a son of a servant, he was adopted by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. Wazir Ali’s mother was a menial worker and since Asaf-ud-Daulah, the fourth Nawab of Awadh, had no children, he adopted Wazir Ali. Being aware of his adoption, Wazir Ali was insecure and it was probably this consciousness which ignited in him a hostile attitude towards the British.

Wazir Ali was married at the age of thirteen in Lucknow. And his marriage was one of the most opulent shows of wealth and power in the history of Awadh. This grand show was organised with the active help of important persons like Raja Tikait Rai, Almas Khan, Jawahar Ali Khan, Tahseen Ali Khan and Bahu Begum.

In an unusual gesture, very unlikely of the Nawabs, Wazir Ali’s foster father – Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula walked for a short distance leading his son’s wedding procession. When the courtier insisted he boards a chariot or at least rides a horse, he replied: ‘Today I wish to walk like my subordinates in front of Wazir Ali’ – how thoughtful of him. After all Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was the same Nawab who had constructed Asafi Imambara complex in Lucknow to provide employment to people in the famine stricken Awadh.



An unaccepted Nawab…

After the death of the fourth Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud Daula in September 1797, Nawab Wazir Ali Khan ascended the seat of Awadh as its fifth ruler. However, his claim was challenged as he was an ‘adopted’ or an ‘illegitimate’ son of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. Despite the general notion that Wazir Ali was actually not Asaf-ud-Daula’s son, he had been brought up as an heir of the fourth Nawab.

Wazir Ali was seventeen or eighteen when he took over the Awadh’s throne as Nawab. Being of quite a young age, things started off well. However, Wazir Ali’s reign was short lived. Within four months he was accused of being unfaithful, by the British.

Soon after Wazir Ali ascended the throne of Awadh, Saadat Ali Khan began his preliminary process of proving Wazir Ali not being the legal heir to the throne in front of the British. He put forward his claim on the grounds of being the eldest surviving member of the Safdarganj’s lineage and Wazir Ali having no blood relation to Asaf-ud-Daula. Moreover, Saadat Ali Khan promised to fulfil all the engagements between Asaf-ud-Daula and the Company, if the company supported him to gain the seat of Awadh.

Henceforth, John Shore, then Governor General (1793-1798) resumed his pending enquiries against Wazir Ali’s succession. In the course of this enquiry, the Governor-General came to know that Wazir Ali was “fearless, debauched, of a sanguinary and of uncontrollable disposition…” Consequently, Wazir Ali soon became the eye-sore to the British and “a determined enemy to the English”.

Thus, Shore himself went to Lucknow to conduct some fresh enquiries and arrived at the conclusion that “Wazir Ali had no title to the masnad (throne)… and supporting him would not only be a disgrace to the Company but would also ultimately prove disastrous to Oudh and the English influence here…”  Consequently, Shore moved in with 12 battalions and replaced Nawab Wazir Ali with Saadat Ali Khan 2. 

The Nawab was deposed and was sent to Benaras (Varanasi), to be kept in an enclosure known as ‘Madho Das Garden’ – Nawab Wazir Ali’s deposition terms were fixed at rupees 1.5 lakhs as an annual pension and a residence in the city of Benaras.

While in Benaras, Wazir Ali was supposed to stay in communication with George Frederick Cherry, a British resident in Benaras and Mr Davis, Jugde & Magistrate of the City court. The government of Calcutta decided to remove him from his domain further. On January 14, 1799, the Superintendent of Police informed Davis about Nawab engaging armed men in his service, instead of preparing for his departure. Subsequently, the former Nawab visited Cherry’s resident and presented his grievances before him. However, in the course of arguments, Wazir Ali cut down Cherry with his sword. Wazir Ali then sets out to attack Davis’s house, Nandeshwar Kothi. Davis defended himself with a pike on his house’s staircase until British troops saved him. He and his troop also ravaged the houses of other Englishmen nearby. As the English troop arrived to handle the situation, Wazir Ali stationed himself to Madhu Das Garden. The English troops led by Major General Erskin followed Wazir Ali and seized his house to arrest him, however, Wazir Ali by then managed to flee. After, Wazir Ali’s escape, General Erskine’s rapidly assembled forces and soon “restored order”.

Although Wazir Ali’s coup to revenge his deposition had failed at Benaras, it didn’t dishearten him. He lived at large and even his close accomplices could not be captured. However, finding him difficult to capture, the British searched for his frantically from place to place. At last, he was found in Rajputana and had taken refuge under Raja of Jaipur.

As British got to know about Wazir Ali’s hideout, they started to press Raja of Jaipur to hand him over to them. Thus, at last, Raja of Jaipur gave-in to the request, handing over Wazir Ali to the British forces, though after taking an undertaking that he would neither be hanged nor put in fetters. In December 1799, Ali finally surrendered to the British and was put in severe detention at Fort William, Calcutta.

The colonial government complied with the terms of surrender and Wazir Ali spent the rest of life, 17 remaining years – in an iron prison in Fort William in the Bengal Presidency. Later, he was sent to Vellore and was housed in the palace which was constructed for the family of Tipu Sultan. Wazir Ali died on 15 May, 1817 and was buried in the Muslim graveyard.

Wazir Ali’s life had many turns – some fortunate and some unfortunate, rather more of the latter. However, he had many firsts to his credit. He was the Nawab whose opulent marriage to Gumani Begum Sahiba, is a record of sorts for Awadh, which itself was famous for its opulence. To have been elevated as the successor of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, only to be repudiated later, was another notable incident. Wazir Ali ascended the Awadh throne at the age of seventeen is yet another landmark. And while Wazir Ali’s marriage was a lavish affair, his funeral expenses were met with mere rupees seventy, in contrast to what he was and how lavish a life he deserved.

June 15, 2019

The favorite of Nawabs, the gem of Awadhi orchards. Guess who?

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:26 am

“Those who say, the colour of summer is not yellow, are those who failed to see Mango” – Zephyr Limns  

We all drool over the king of fruits that is – Mango and yearn for the Mango season to arrive. As soon as the summer sets in, Lucknowites, in particular, eagerly await the mangoes to flood the fruit markets. And their excitement is completely natural owing to the wide variety of mangoes that are produced in the Awadh region.

Moreover, the eternal connection between the Nawabs of Awadh and the mangoes make this region rightfully the mango paradise. Mangoes were not only a favorite fruit of the nawabs but also much-guarded possession of their orchards. And the vestiges of these orchards still flourish in many regions of Awadh especially in Malihabad and Kakori, the area that is full of mango orchards.

As per historical account, trade of Dussehri – a famous mango variety, first began in Awadh. It is said that the Pathans who settled here towards the end of the Mughal era, developed the Dussehri belt of Lucknow in Malihabad & Kakori.

As historian from Lucknow, Yogesh Pravin says, “Each time Mirza Ghalib had to go to Kolkata from Delhi to collect his pension, he insisted to go via Lucknow so that he could eat Dussehri and other mangoes.” At present, Dussehri is not only a variety of mango but a brand itself!

For the royal families here, mangoes were also a significant means to socialise by holding mango parties and relishing & naming the new variety of mangoes.  

Malihabad – the mango capital

“Mujhse poochho, tumhein khabar kya hai, Aam ke aage neyshakar kya hai” said Mirza Ghalib

(Ask me, as you do not know, a mango is far luscious than sugarcane.) And how very true; this couplet is so relevant when one tries the mango variety that originates in this region. Malihabad is often termed as the mango capital of India.

Poet Mirza Ghalib’s love for mangoes was legendary that he composed a whole narrative poem or masnavi called Dar Sifat-e-Ambaah (On the Attributes of Mangoes) in the honour of India’s king of fruit, Mango. And to give you the best experience of this king of fruits, exists a dusty village or a hamlet just about 40 km from Lucknow.

There is something very supercilious about Malihabad, the mango capital of the country. Within its 20 sq km radius grows about 700 varieties of mangoes that fetch roughly Rs 1.5 Billion each mango season. Here everyone is born with a definite occupation – owning an orchard ! Ask anyone in this quaint village what makes it so special and you are told – “Mitti ka masla hai” (it is all about the soil). If you are a mango lover to a fault, it is bliss to be here in this lush & luscious mango capital of India.

During the times of Nawabs, Malihabad used to be a repository of 1300 odd mango varieties. Although the count of varieties might have waned, but you would be surprised by the number of mango related stories and discussions you will find at every turn of this mango paradise.

Malihabad is also home to families who have been growing the fruit for more than 200 years. The reason can be attributed to the fact that Nawabs patronised mango farming in Awadh and mango was their favourate summer fruit. And not only did the nawabs guard the secrets to grow best mangoes, but they were very proud of their orchards and highly rewarded experimentation and development of new varieties of mangoes.

British too fancied this fruit and often during summers, lavish mango parties were thrown in the orchards to entertain European guests of Nawabs. Mango parties also became a status symbol of the Nawabs and each family wanted to host bigger and better.

The remnants of that era can still be found in the mango orchards of Malihabad and nearby areas. These mango producing families also have amazing tales to tell about their legendary ancestors and orchards. Also, it is believed that the first ever mango orchard here was planted by a group of Afridi Pathans who came from Khyber Pass in Afghanistan and settled in Malihabad.

During summer, the orchards here become lush and alive with mangoes growing all around. The orchard owners, guards and other village people are often seen resting in and around orchards sitting or lying over a charpai (cot). Thus, it becomes the best time to visit this treasure trove of mangoes and allows you to indulge in the sweet mango affair.

If you happen to be in Lucknow during summer (June-July), you would find mangoes stalled abundantly in every market.

Some say that there are about a thousand varieties of mangoes produced in Malihabad. Although there is no accuracy to the count, but every variety has its own narrative. Even today, if you set out to explore there are dozens of folktales on Malihabad’s mango history.

However, among the varieties produced here, Dussehri is the most awaited and loved one. Lucknowi Dussehri is held in high regard among mango lovers across the country.

The first ever Dussehri Mango tree in the world still exists here, located in a small village near Kakori. Originated in the18th century, the Dussehri mango is famous for its irresistible sweet fragrance and taste. No wonder, it is called the king of mangoes.

Another old variety of Malihabadi mango is Johri Safeda which has an interesting story behind its name. Fakir Mohammad Khan, the great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi’s great grandfather Goya had sent mangoes to the then Nawab of Awadh, Naseeruddin Haider. The Nawab was so impressed by the taste that he gave pearls to Khan in return. The mango was thus named, Johari Safeda (meaning pearls of the jeweller).

Mango – one fruit, many shapes, many tastes but all on one tree

If 300 different mango varieties can coexist peacefully in one tree, then why can’t we? Said once the Padam Shree Kalim Ullah Khan also called, the India’s mango man. His 14-acre orchard in Malihabad in Uttar Pradesh is unlike any other and what earned him the title of Mango Man is this unique mango tree planted by him which produces 300 unique varieties of mangoes.

Khan himself hails from Malihabad which is widely known for Dusseri mangoes. But Khan didn’t stop at it. He started cultivating the tree in 1987 and it’s been over 30 years – but the tree is just growing lush every day, often leaving the visitors in awe to wonder about the bold imagination and scientific genius applied by this great man.

It’s a tree like no other bearing mangoes of vivid shapes, sizes and aroma. However, Kaleem Ullah Khan recognises every single variety from the way it looks and smells. He is also fond of naming the mangoes he grows on the tree just as they are his own children. Some he has named fondly after his family members — the heart shaped variety Asl-ul-Muqarrar, the bright red Husn-e-Ara, the Khas-ul-Khas and so on. While there are some he has named after some famous Indian personalities like the legendary cricketer – Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, also after prominent political leaders like – the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

From his orchard, mangoes are boxed in crates and sold across the country and even exported to the Gulf countries. Kaleem Ullah Khan’s magical tree has placed a small hamlet of Malihabad on a very high pedestal internationally. His genius in grafting and curating mangoes is beyond compare and so is Kaleem Ullah’s love and passion for his mangoes.



Tornos has curated special Mango Tours in the month of June & July that introduces guests to different varieties of Malihabad Mangoes. Guests enjoy interaction and even a mango lased Awadhi lunch. A special meeting with the Great Mango Man, Padam Shree Kalim Ullah Khan can also be arranged here on special requests.

May 15, 2019

From Kanhapur to Cawnpore to Kanpur

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:19 am

Formerly known as Manchester of India, Kanpur is now also called as the commercial capital of Uttar Pradesh. Kanpur was termed as Manchester of India owing to the flourishing textile industry. In the state, the city is still one of the most important industrial centres.

Situated on the bank of River Ganges, Kanpur is famous for its fine quality leather goods. It is also a fine producer of wool, cotton, sugar refineries, flour, vegetable oil and chemicals.

The city is believed to have been founded by the Hindu Singh Chandel, the king of the erstwhile estate of Sachendi, and the city was formerly known as ‘Kanhapur’.

Kanpur’s history is centuries-old. In fact, Kanpur’s name was derived from Kanhiyapur, the place of Lord Krishna. Later it was known as ‘Cawnpore’ during the British rule. This place was believed to be founded by the Kings of Chandela’s. Though it is famous as a commercial city, it has got its historical significance because of two places Bithoor and Jajmau. These places date back to 600 BC to 1600 AD.

It’s strange to note that Kanpur’s history is not known until the 13th century, it being the earliest mention found. Until the 18th century, Kanpur’s history was insignificant as it survived in a small, unimportant village. But everything changed when, in May 1765, British defeated Awadh’s Nawab Wazir and it came under their rule. It was time for British to use Kanpur as their military and administrative base. Through the treaty of 1801 between the British and with Nawab Saadat Ali Khan of Awadh, Kanpur was brought under the British Rule. Soon after, Kanpur became one of British India’s largest military stations. On 24 March, 1803 it was declared a district. Kanpur was given the name, or the English spelling changed to “Cawnpore”, based on English pronunciation.

By this time, European businessmen had gradually begun to settle in Cawnpore. This became a turning point in Kanpur’s history.

During the uprising of 1857, this place played a major role. Due to rebels such as Nana sahib and his close associates Tantya Tope and Azimullah Khan, Kanpur was a significant place during the revolt. Cawnpore witnessed three major events at that time, ‘wheeler’s entrenchment episode’, ‘massacre at Sati Chaura Ghat’, and then ‘Bibighar massacre’.

Nana Sahib whose headquarter was Bithoor, decided to capture Cawnpore back from the British and declared it as independent on 7 June 1857. On 5 June, Nana Sahib sent a warning letter about the attack to General Wheeler and the attack was successful too.

Nana Sahib then sent a note through a female prisoner Mrs. Jacobi to Wheeler to surrender and in return promised safe passage to Allahabad (now Prayagraj). Next morning when women and children were about to ascend the boat, there was all round confusion at Satichauraghat when many were killed. The remaining survivors (mostly women and children) were arrested and shifted to Bibighar (a house of women). Here the butchers were asked to kill the surviving ladies and children. Finally the mutiny failed and the British re-occupied Cawnpore. It was then that a memorial was built to commemorate the dead.

Kanpur’s development was even more phenomenal after 1857. Government Harness and Saddler Factory were started in 1860, followed by Cooper Allen & Co. in 1880, to supply leather material for the army. The first textile cotton mill, Elgin Mills, was launched in 1862 and Muir Mill was launched in 1882.

Also this city owes much to Hindi language propagation and popularisation, with great Hindu literatures such as Acharya Mahavir Parasad Dwivedi, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Pratap Narain Mishra, Acharya Gaya Prasad Shukla ‘Sanehi’ and Balkrishna Sharma ‘Navin’ belonging to Kanpur.

This place has undergone tremendous changes from Kanhapur to Cawnpowre and then to Kanpur in the 20th century. It is now becoming a well-equipped, well-developed and modern city. Not only is it commercially famous, there are also many good educational institutes here, specially the top most engineering college, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Harcourt Butler Technical University, being two among the top notch in India.

The Arms factory is yet another feather in Kanpur’s cap. Guns and arms and other defence material are made in the ordinance factory located in Kanpur and is in fact one of the major factories here still.

Over the time, Kanpur is facing decline in its commercial industries and thus has gradually lost its title of Manchester of India. Yet it still sustains its image of being a major industrial cities of India.

Not just that, Kanpur has plenty of sightseeing spots too. Here are some must-explore places in Kanpur :

Jain Glass Temple

Jain Glass Temple was built as a mark of reverence to their religion’s 24 Tirthankars by the Jain community. The temple contains Lord Mahavir’s and the Tirthankars’ statues. They stand beneath a huge canopy built on a large platform of marble. As the name suggests, the entire temple structure is made of glass and enamel. It is designed in traditional architectural style and attracts huge crowd of visitors. The walls and the ceiling of the temple are decorated with mirrors cut in exquisite artistic designs while the floor is built of marble.

Kamla Retreat

Located on the road to Kamala Nehru, Kamla Retreat houses a museum with a good collection of artefacts from history and archaeology. In addition to parks and a canal with boating facilities, there is also a zoo here.

Nana Rao Park

It is the largest park in Kanpur, formerly known as Memorial Well Garden, and is located on the Mall Road in the heart of the city. It was renamed after Independence after the hero of the First War of Independence of 1857, Nana Rao Peshwa. It is very nicely laid out and has a nursery for plants.

Moti Jheel 

Located in the city’s Benajhabar area, this place has Kanpur Waterworks’ drinking water reservoir. Recently, the Jheel or the lake area has been transformed into a beautiful recreation grounds and children’s park.

Green Park

This is the best and most famous playground in Kanpur. International Cricket matches are held here and it has one of the best pitches in the world.


Jajmau, a suburb in Kanpur, is an archaeological site having a mound excavated in the years 1957-58. . Jajmau is a hub for leather industries and is believed to be the oldest inhabited place in the region. In north India, Jajmau is home to some of the biggest leather tanneries. The excavations conducted here by ASI () suggest that it dates back to c. 1300 – 1200 BCE. The discoveries made by ASI during excavation here, like – Earthen pottery, tools and various historical artefacts are presently placed in the Kanpur Museum.  


The ancient and sacred place, Bithoor is located on the left bank of the River Ganges, just ahead of Kanpur. It is said that Sage Valmiki had written the great Hindu epic Ramayana here and gave his ashram to Goddess Sita to stay. It is also believed that it was here that she give birth to her twin sons Luv and Kush (children of Lord Rama) here. Therefore, in Hindu mythology, Bithoor has a lot of religious essence. Other divine attractions in Bithoor are Brahma Vart-Ghat, Pathar Ghat and Dhruvteela.

On this very exclusive curated tour – ‘Revisiting Cawnpore of 1857’, we take you through the areas that were the focus of the siege. We try and understand, how this bloodiest siege progressed to a conclusive end, when General Havelock freed Cawnpore of the shadows of the rebels.

April 15, 2019

Kathak – a mesmerising culmination of bells, beats & ballet

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:12 am

The dance form that weaves poetry with every spin and every step rendered so fluidly that when performed on stage it unleashes a splendour that mesmerizes the audience and takes the story through their eyes right into their hearts.

Originating within the Hindu temples as a means of storytelling, Kathak is one of the most intricate classical dance forms in India. In the temples, the epic tales found in the Hindu scriptures were depicted through the expressions and rhythmic movements of Kathak.

Kathak is among the major genres of Indian classical dance forms. Kathak is traditionally regarded to have originated from the travelling bards of North India referred as Kathakars or storytellers. These Kathakars used to wander around and narrate epic stories via dance, music and songs. It quite represented the Greek theater of early era.

The genre gained momentum during the Bhakti movement. The trend of theistic devotion evolved in the times of medieval Hinduism. The kathakars use facial expressions, foot movements, hand gestures and eye work to tell the stories.

Kathak narrates legends from the great Indian epics and ancient mythology – particularly from the life of Lord Krishna. This art became quite popular and was later performed in the royal courts of kingdoms in North India.

As well acclaimed, that Kathak is always associated with the Hindu epics, but it also made its way in the courts of the Mughals. The Kathak dance performed in Mughal courts however took a more erotic and sensual form.

With the arrival of the Mughal reign, the Kathakkars also were being absorbed into the courts of the Mughals. Under Mughal influence, the focus of Kathak slightly changed from a worship dance to an entertainment or appeasement dance.

The changes that came about under the Mughal establishment were reflected in costumes, jewellery, music and even the techniques used in the dance. All of it underwent an evolution and all of it went through a rapid change. It was during the Mughal period, that Urdu language was introduced and performance was often based on Urdu poetry, ‘Ghazal’. This form of Kathak dance then stated being referred as ‘Darbari Kathak’ to this dance form.

However, with the ingress of the British, the scenario changed such that it forced the eminent Kathak dancers of the Mughal era to leave their profession as the rulers forbade dance as an art form.

Since preserving the art form became difficult, the artists started home tutoring their family members in an attempt to keep alive this historic dance form. With this tradition of imparting the lessons of Kathak, came up the concept of ‘Gharanas’. The word ‘Gharanas’ means ‘ghar’ or ‘home’ and denotes the place where a certain class of Kathak was born.

This dance form has three gharanas or schools, which are: the Benaras gharana, the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana.

The prominence given to the footwork versus acting marks the difference in the three gharanas.

The development of Kathak during the era of Bhakti movement, focused on the legendary stories of Lord Krishna and his eternal love, Radha, description of which is found in texts like the ‘Bhagavata Purana’. Kathak artists used to perform spectacularly depicting those stories.

The roots of Kathak finds it traces in the Hindu Sanskrit text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’ written by Bharata Muni – an ancient Indian musicologist & theatrologist. The text contains thousands of verses structured in different chapters and it categorises dance as two forms, namely ‘nrita’- a pure dance form which comprises the finesse of hand movements and gestures, and ‘nritya’- a solo dance that focuses on expressions.

As the Russian scholar Natalia Lidova states – “Natya Shastra describes various Indian classical dance theories including Tandava dance of Lord Shiva. It covers the basic steps, standing postures, methods of acting, gestures, rasa and bhava. In India, Bharhut, a village in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, stands as an indicative of the early Indian art. The village is home to 2nd century BC panels which illustrate sculptures of dancers in different poses with arms in positions that resemble various steps of Kathak. Many of those poses reflect the ‘pataka hasta’ Mudra of Kathak dance. The word Kathak derives from the Vedic Sanskrit term ‘Katha’ meaning ‘story. Kathaka also finds place in several Hindu epics and texts and means ‘the person who tells a story.”

Over the time, Kathak has progressed into three styles namely classical, contemporary and Sufi. Kathak is the dance form that captivates the audience with its multiple swift twirls, lyrical exploration of devotion, as well as romantic poetry and unique rhythmic virtuosity.

Kathak find similarities with many other global dance form like – the Raqs Sharqi (Egypt), Belly dance (Middle East), Flamenco (Spain), Tap dance (Ireland) and also Ballet (Russia, France & Italy), particularly in the stylised movements and rhythms.

The Lucknow Gharana

Ishwari Prasad, a devotee of Bhakti Movement founded the the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. Ishwari lived in the village of Handiya located in southeast Uttar Pradesh, about 237 km from Lucknow near Prayagrag (earlier Allahabad). It is believed that once Lord Krishna appeared in his dream and asked him to develop a dance as a form of worship. The style of Kathak that was brought to the Lucknow Gharana was called as ‘Natwari Nritya’.   

Ishwari started off by teaching the dance from to his three sons – Adguji, Khadguji, and Tularamji. His sons then passed on the same dance form to their descendents and the tradition continued for over six generations. Thus, this rich legacy came to be known as the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak in the chronicles of Indian literature on music documented both by Hindus & Muslims.  

Kathak is traditionally passed down to generations within the family. This now does not mean that today it will only be known to the family members, as it was spread far and wide under ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’ (Indian system of teacher-student). As mentioned, Lucknow Gharana of Kathak was started by Ishwari Prasad Ji, and he passed it down to his next generation of his three sons and so on it further was passed on from one generation to another within the family . The family tree of Ishwari Prasad (of which Birju Maharaj too belongs) is shown in the table below:

When Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow, many artists including the musicians, singers and dancers came to Lucknow and settled here. It was under his patronage that Kathak flourished in Lucknow gharana.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh made active contributions to the performing art of Kathak. A poet and dancer himself, Wajid Ali Shah paid special attention to the emotional expressiveness in the dance. Under his supervision, the Lucknow gharana flourished and became the most respected and superior of the two other Gharanas, Banares and Jaipur. The distinct feature of Lucknow was ‘bhava’, the expression of emotions and moods. King of Awadh, established a Parikhana in his palace complex of Qaiserbagh as a result of his love for dance and music, Kathak being closest to his heart, here very young female dancers were trained in the art form and later gave stage perfomances. It is this Parikhana that later became Marris College of Music being later rechristened as Bathkhande Music College which now is a Music & Dance University imparting music training and giving out degrees in dance and music up to PhD and D.lit. How awesome it is that the purpose for which ‘Parikhana’ was built by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah is still used for the same. Lucknow Gharana of Kathak is rich with performing Kathak dance on thumri, ghazals, bhajan and pada genres of music.

Chakkars or spins in Kathak show a wonderful mélange of balance, rhythm, balance and grace. The percussion instruments like Tabla, Pakhawaj, and such instruments are an integral part of Kathak dance performance, while lately there has been addition of harmonium too.

The Ghazals, gabs, amass are hallmark of Lucknow Gharana’s Kathak, even the postures and beats bear the mark of Lucknawi Nazakat – the unique finesse and grace associated with people of Lucknow.

Extensive use of ring finger and small finger while playing the tabla is a distinguishing feature of Lucknow gharana. Another unique trait of Lucknow Gharana Kathak is substantial use of dupally, teepally & chaupally in composition. Dupally, Teepally & Chaupally are three forms of compositions, where dupally revolves around a double repetition, teepally denotes repetitions thrice, and chaupally is around a quadruple repetition of a single bol (The mnemonic syllabi of tabla).

Traditionally, the Kathak renders speed progression. Initially using Vilambit (Ultra slow tempo) beat the artist fine tunes her to vibrate with rhythms and so does the audience. Then, gradually moving on to a faster mode, along with ensuring the audience is engrossed by the rhythmic beat and emotive expressions of the dancer. Then, the dancer reaches a crescendo with Drut (Fast tempo) beat, and this is when the audience is totally mesmerized.

Although a classical dance form, Kathak has gone through constant improvisation with time. Today, the Kathak is one of the most contemporary classical dance forms in India and is often a part of Bollywood movies as an elegant dance number.


Tornos introduces you to Kathak dance form under its many products, one of it being: ‘Bells, Beats & Ballet’. Here one gets to learn and appreciate the art in a short session.

Kathak is also a part of another great product that includes family dining: Dine with Maharaja

Please get in touch with us on for more details and to know how these can be integrated within tour itineraries.

March 15, 2019

Take a walk down the hard-to-resist sweet lane of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:59 am

As we mention Lucknow’s cuisine, the first picture which comes in our minds is probably of Kebabs and Biryani. However, the city of Nawabs has a lot more in store for the gourmands around the world.

Apart from the delicacies served here as the main food, Lucknow is home to some of the hard-to-resist sweets you can ever gorge on. Even the Nawabs of Awadh were ardent love of sweet dishes. So, it is not only for the biryani, but also for the sweet delights that foodies in Lucknow owe a lot to the Nawabs.  

At one time, “sweetening the mouth” was the phrase frequently coined for this city. Nawabs had their own khansamas (master chefs), who used to cook a trail of sweet delights which Nawabs devour after the main course.

The degree of the finesse of cuisine of Lucknow can be fathomed by looking at the host of its indigenous sweets and desserts. Just like the Ganga-jamuni tehzeeb of Awadh culture, the sweets of this region also boast of a fusion of Hindu and Muslim elements.

Although you might not find the magical taste of the past era as cooks then are no more now, but the essence of that magic can still be found in these sweet surprises.


Safeda or the sweet rice is a special delicacy on the dastarkhans of Lucknow. Although being a simple dish, Safeda is prepared with great formality. Usually, it is prepared by first boiling the water with cloves and cardamoms in it. The rice is soaked for hours before adding them to this boiling water. Once the rice starts boiling the heat is reduced and is cooked on low heat. Simultaneously, the syrup is prepared with two seers of sugar. When the rice has nearly cooked, it is again cooked in steam of the syrup. Lastly, the rice is added to the syrup in a pan, and its lid is sealed with kneaded flour to keep the gooeyness of the dish intact. Hot coals are kept both under and top of the lid and the dish is left to cook in its own steam.

No colour is added to it otherwise its name ‘safeda’ meaning ‘white’ would serve no purpose. Although the rice remains in its natural colour, the dish when served looks luscious and appetizing with toppings of chopped dry fruit and vark (thin silver foil sheet).



The more popular sweet rice in Awadhi cuisine is Zarda. Safeda and Zarda are more or less the same, the only difference being the colour. Zarda is yellow in colour and this colour is most often made out of Turmeric. In the preparation of Zarda, turmeric tempered in ghee with cloves and cardamoms is added to the boiling water before pouring rice into it. The name Zarda derives from ‘zard’, a Persian word meaning Yellow, hence referring to the colour of the rice in Zarda. You can add dried milk (khoya), nuts, raisins and other nuts to make it more tempting. Zarda is a special sweet dish in Lucknow and is often spotted in weddings or festive celebrations in Lucknow.



Dating back to the Mughal era, a variation of Zarda with an addition of small fried sweetmeat pieces was made; it was called ‘Mutanjan’. Though the dish is found no more, its name is still engraved fondly on the minds and the tongues of Lucknowites. Mutanjan is prepared similar to biryani but with a twist of kimam (a sugar syrup). Meat and rice are cooked separately. Then Meat, rice and kimam are layered together in a vessel and then steamed like it’s done in dum-pukht biryani. The final dish leaves a mouth-watering aroma and is full of flavours.

This dish was one of the favourite dishes of Emperor Shahjahan. His cooks often prepared it on his request.


Shish ranga

Shish ranga is one of those dishes which have lost their popularity with time, but the sumptuousness of this dish is still in place. During the Mughal epoch, Shish Ranga was the beauty of dastarkhan (ceremonial dining spread). It prepared with great refinement and flair. Shish ranga means six colours and the dish was named such because when observed carefully, it had six different colours in single serve. This lavish dish was made of apples, pineapples, carrots and green gram. Each of the ingredients infused its own peculiar taste, making the final preparation simply mind-blowing.



In the days of Yore, this dish was cooked with Rangooni, a high quality aged rice. To prepare phirni, rice is soaked overnight. The next day, rice is dried and is grounded coarsely until it resembles fine grains. Around four cups of milk are boiled until it reduces to three or two cups. The grounded rice is then added to this milk, not all at once but in small quantities at a time.





One of the most common sweet dishes in Lucknow, kheer yet has its own unique taste. Kheer was simply invented out of liking for sweetness. The individual tastes then added the variants of colour, aroma and flavour. The basic ingredients for this luscious & gooey dessert are rice and milk. Dry fruits are added to make it wholesome and enhance the taste. In olden times, the riche families in Lucknow used to cook kheer purely of dry fruits.

You can also spot Kesari Kheer in Lucknow. It is a kheer flavoured with kesar (Saffron).



Shahi tukde

If you go out to explore the cuisine of Lucknow, you can never go back without relishing the illustrious dessert, Shahi Tukda. Shahi Tukdas are bread toast dipped in a sugar syrup and topped with Malai (A thick yellowish layer of milk fat), sprinkled with dry fruits. However, in the olden days, Shahi Tukde was made of good quality sheermals. Today, Shahi Tukda stands as the most loved & regal sweet dish in homes and restaurants of Lucknow alike.

February 15, 2019

SEWA: Runa Banerjee’s vision to give Chikan & its artisans a new lease of life.

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:01 am

The ethereal, the delicate, and the mesmerizing – such is the art of Chikankari of Lucknow. Whether it’s the intricacy of the stitches, the richness of the texture or the shadow of the design, Chikankari is the epitome of splendid needlework of India.

 However, the craftsmen of this art are often inadequately rewarded. The time and effort Chikankari workers invest in creating a masterpiece is not valued as much as the craft itself. At times, they don’t get a regular flow of work or fair wages, particularly the women artisans who are underpaid.

In order to bring about a healthy change in the life of the artisans, a voluntary association of craftswomen – SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) was set up in Lucknow in the year 1984. The association was registered in February 1984 as a society. In 1979, the UNICEF and Literacy house, Lucknow conducted a study which revealed that women and children working in the Chikan industry were cruelly exploited more than any other crafts of the unorganised sector in Uttar Pradesh. Resultantly, SEWA, the Self Employed Women Association came into existence to eradicate the involvement of middlemen and also set out a sustainable and viable production system with direct exposure to the market.


One woman’s grit empowered many others…  

Ms Runa Banerjee, an Indian social worker who was highly decorated for her work with craftswomen with one of India’s highest civilian honours, ‘Padma Shri’, is the co-founder of SEWA. Presently, she is serving as its General Secretary and the Chief Executive Officer.

Runa Banerjee was born and brought up in Lucknow and resided in Model House locality in the city. She grew up imbibing the colours of Awadh set in Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb (communal and cultural harmony) in her personality. She showed active participation in social service since her early years. When she was quite young, she started noticing the plight of women living in slum areas around her locality. These women and their families didn’t have enough sources to arrange for even two meals every day.

Digging more about their lives, Runa came to know about the lack of health facilities they were facing. She, thus, organised a health camp in 1979 along with some prominent doctors of Lucknow in one of the poorest localities for those who were forsaken. However, while rendering the medical check-ups, Runa and the doctors came to know the miserable lives these people were living in – with not even basic necessity being met. This drove Runa Banerjee to work towards upliftment of marginalised women, educate them and make them self-dependent to run their families. She also used to teach the unprivileged women and children in her locality and started interacting with them personally to gather insights about their lives.

Later, it was the UNICEF report in the same year, 1979, on Chikanak embroidery (this art is known as chikankari) workers which prompted Runa to take up the work of improving the lives of artisans of Chikankari. She was determined to give means of earning to those poor women and thus resorted to the idea of setting up SEWA.

Initially, Runa, along with her friend, Sehba Hussain, opened a primary school for children of the Chikankari artisans and charged them a small token fee of Re. 1. The school which was running with a single teacher in the beginning and later developed into SEWA Montessori School. In the year 1984, Runa coined a mission, ‘Earn while you learn’ which initially had a strength of 31 members and in the same year the organization was formally registered as SEWA Lucknow (Self Employed Women’s Association).

Her passion for changing the lives of the backward & poor gave a drastic facelift to the socio-economic façade of Lucknow.

Runa Banerjee made immense contributions to the society and most of them single-handedly – which earned her nomination for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She also bagged various other awards & accolades like – HT Women Award 2011, Women Achiever Award 2006, FICCI Award, Special Award by State Women Commission 2005, Yash Bharti Award and the list goes on.

The major reason behind the inception of SEWA was to restore the dignity of the craft and revamp its production and marketing processes to make Chikankari flourish at a new level without any unfair treatment to the artisans connected with it.

SEWA Lucknow, in order to meet this need, thus grew exponentially incorporate strength and became a full-fledged Chikan producing organisation. After getting rid of the strangleholds of the middlemen, the benefits were higher, direct and regular. Wages started to pour in directly to SEWA members. Notably, their total earnings in the form of wages dramatically increased over the years.

Despite all her noble efforts, Runa Banerjee also faced many hurdles, majorly in the form of opposition from Chikan traders who considered SEWA as a threat to their business. Banerjee, however, didn’t back out! Although her knowledge about Chikankari work and business was limited, her determination and dedication helped her make a mark of her own in this field.

Today, there are many duplicate SEWA stores dotting the markets of Lucknow with slight changes in names, prefixes, and spellings. This unlawful trend might look strange but is a proof of the popularity and trust of Runa Banerjee’s SEWA in Lucknow and how traders feel that by just giving a name closest to SEWA to their stores they can make money. SEWA has no big or proper commercial store anywhere and one can always visit SEWA by prior appointment and arrangement. At Tornos we ensure that if the guests touring with us are interested in authentic Chikan embroidery that has a social cause are taken to Runa Banerjee’s SEWA by prior appointment. Runa is often happy to meet and greet our guests and also talk to them about Chikan and her journey with SEWA – Self Employed Women’s Association in Lucknow.  

Covered a long journey…

An association which started as a small group of only 31 artisans expanded to 1000 members in just a few years and then in 2014 crossed the milestone of 7000 craftswomen members in the year 2014. SEWA has had many sales exhibitions held in collaboration with the Handicrafts Commissions and ‘Dastkar’, a voluntary crafts organisation in Delhi. Dastkar has played a prominent role in promoting SEWA products and bringing the work of SEWA’s craftswomen directly to buyers.

The agenda of SEWA is not only to ascertain timely and fair wages to the artisans but also to provide a source of livelihood to the marginalised women. Apart from roping in the artisans who have excelled at this craft, SEWA also imparts training about production and marketing techniques of Chikankari to women who are willing to learn the craft.

Furthermore, SEWA works towards:

– Identifying and developing new markets for Chikan embroidery products.

– Exploring new areas of production and marketing.

– Improving the confidence of the artisans, realizing their potential and giving them a sense of security.

– Upgrading the skills of artisans through a training program to broaden the range of their work.

– Revitalizing the traditional craft.

– Leveraging a platform for artisans where they can bargain for higher wages.

– Polishing the capacities of women artisans to help them make informed choices in life.

– Ensuring that social benefits like educational, health and other Right’s based facilities reach the member artisans and their children.


“To value and promote an egalitarian and gender just Society within a framework of Women’s Rights and Sustainable Human Development.”

The Strategy:

Curb any kind of exploitation by upgrading the skills and process of self-marketing. Duly revive the self-esteem of SEWA members is the primary strategy of the organization. This, in turn, would improve the overall standard of living of the artisans and inculcate in them the feeling of dignity.

Some key points of the strategy are:

– High quality of Skill Training.

– Establishing a network in the urban region of Lucknow and outreaching rural areas through organisational spread as well as through other appropriate partnerships/alliances.

– Enabling a support system by providing for provision of raw material, transport and marketing initiatives to augment consolidation as well as expansion.

– Adoption of participatory methodologies for Joint Needs Assessment, Strategic Planning, Monitoring and Achievement.

– Carrying out an assessment at all levels with the involvement of artisan members themselves.

– Constant check on revamp of life skills, group strength and growth of every artisan member.

– Boost women’s strength through knowledge building.

– Checking up on the family health and education for artisan as well as for the children in the community.


Organizations like SEWA bring a breath of fresh air in the otherwise suffocating working atmospheres for artisans in India. Moreover, it ensures that age-old crafts like Chikankari do not get lost with time.

January 15, 2019

A tale of unabated passion of Wajid Ali Shah for art, music & romance

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:55 am

Out of all the seasons, the arrival of spring is the time when everything around us seems to bloom at its best. The atmosphere around turns a little warm, refreshing & alive as the chilling winter fleets away. This season also serves as a perfect muse for every lover, poet & artiste. Going back in the time, we have found some profound tales from the epoch of the last Nawab of Awadh – Wajid Ali Shah, who was also a great romantic poet.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah ascended the throne of Awadh in 1847 and was dethroned by the British in 1856.  

The glorious reign of the 10th Nawab of Awadh is widely mentioned but not many people know deeply about his romantic outlook. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah is renowned for his secular approach and his interest in Hindu culture. In his quest to revisit the cult of Hindu traditions & mythology, Lord Krishna’s life fascinated him to an extent that he became his role model.

Nawab discovered within himself a quintessential image of romance as depicted by Lord Krishna. Following his passion for romance & love, he even set forth the Yogi Mela (Yogi meaning an ascetic or a Hindu Holy man), in July 1853 in the then Qaiserbagh courtyard. The fete was open to public.

However, due to different accounts by different witnesses, the fete is also referred to as the Qaiserbagh Mela, the Royal Mela or Jogiya Jashan (Jogiya meaning a female servant of a Dev (the divine), or a young woman who has dedicated her life to worship & service of a deity). The Yogi Mela was organized in the Sawan month of Hindu calendar and was hence also named as the Sawan Mela.

The fete was marked by Nawab dressed up in the Yogi attire, a saffron robe and holding a rosary in hand, sauntering into the courtyard, accompanied by two alluring women or ‘paris’ dressed as Yoginis (female Yogi). His body and face would be smeared with ash of pearls. More men and women throw in to participate and a group of musicians join the rush. As the fete approaches its end, Nawab would recline with his Yoginis by the bank of a stream, gazing at the fireworks, surrounded with an excited crowd of men who cosseted him like a groom.  

Nawab’s autobiography ‘Ishqnamah’ carries the description of his inspiration behind the Yogi Mela. He says, one day he was sitting under a Banana tree and reading his own love poetry. He got so overwhelmed by those words that he tore off his clothes like a Majnu (a Persian term used to denote someone madly in love). 

In the same month was held a Basant Mela or the Spring Festival, to mark the onset of Basant (spring). The Mela was set out at River Gomti. Everyone irrespective of the caste and creed was welcomed to the Mela. People would come dressed in Yellow garments, as the colour Yellow is believed to be the colour of spring in Indian traditions. Not much of written account of this mela is available but is best depicted by a painting exhibited in Picture Gallery of Hussianabad.

Nawab’s generous nature as a ruler was a reflection of his profligate personality. Nevertheless, Wajid Ali Shah as a person was an enthusiast of poetry & arts, and an avid admirer of – beautiful women. As the legend says, even during his adolescence, Nawab showed interest in women by unhesitatingly picking beautiful women who had some flair of music and dance in them. He even had his own ‘Parikhana’ or ‘fairyland’ – a lavishly adorned palace & a music school where his begums took lessons in music & dance.

Nawab made use of the Parikhana to stage ‘Rahas’ in Lucknow, a morphed portrayal of Lord Krishna’s divine sport – raas leela. Nawab himself played the role of Lord Krishna and ‘paris’ played Gopis. The 36 types of Rahas by Nawab are contained in his book titled ‘Banee’. They all had graceful; names like – ‘Mor – chhatri, ‘Salami’, ‘Ghunghat’, ‘Mujra’ and ‘Mor Pankhi’ and were choreographed by him.

All this was quite strange and thus many stories revolve around Wajid Ali Shah’s aura of love & romance.

Even after the annexation of his Awadh Empire in 1856, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s passionate craving for music, dance & women stayed unabated. He kept alive the flame of his love for arts & beautiful women in Metiyaburj in Calcutta, where he was banished.   

As evident – from 1861 onward, the Radha Kanahiya ka Kissa was performed regularly in Metiyaburj.

Sharar, who had observed the Nawab closely in Metiyaburj recounts that although he fell in love with hundred of beautiful or deprived women, but he married everyone of them and made them his rightful wives – either by Nikah or Muta (a form of marriage contract in Islam which is valid for a fixed period of time).

Sharar wrote that the Nawab was a cautious & pious person who did everything under the boundaries of religion. He refrained from eyeing on women who were not his legal wives either by Nikah or Muta. He also tells that Nawab never visited a prostitute in Calcutta nor did he ever go to see Mujra, dance performance by tawaifs (courtesans) in Lucknow. 

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was a ruler by clan but by heart he was a romanticist and his writings truly testify it. Here is a resplendent excerpt from his various love poetries –

Ulfat ne teri hum ko to rakkha na kahin ka,

Dariya ka na jangal ka sama ka na zamin ka

– Wajid Ali Shah ‘Akhtar’

(I have been destroyed in your love, I am of no good to river, forest, sky or Earth.)

December 15, 2018

How Kumbh in Prayagraj (earlier known as Allahabad) came about ?

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:50 am

2019 will see the largest human gathering in Prayagraj (earlier known as Allahabad) at Kumbh – a religious bathing festival that attracts saints, ascetics and hordes of devotees. For quite some time we were inquisitive about how had this festival been managed when India was a British colony, what happened to it during the uprising of 1857, or how did it survive the cruelty of Aurangzeb against all communities except his own ? This article tries to unearth a few facts and trace the evolution of ‘Kumbh’ in Prayagraj. 

The religious mela, i.e., a fair in Prayagraj has not only survived, but also evolved with the passage of time. It is said that when Aurangzeb took over the throne, he tried to put an end to this regularly organised religious congregation in Allahabad every winter, which he thought was a futile activity and did not confirm to his beliefs. Upon doing so he had to face the stiff resistance of the Naga Sadhus, each of whom was brave and armed with a trishul, i.e., a trident. Aurangzeb not only was taken aback seeing the ash smeared naked sadhus, braving the chilly winter and bathing in chilled river early in the morning, but also decided not to touch them as they were devoid of valuables. This fact has been recorded by Khafi Khan in his book titled ‘History of Alamgir’.

Going through the records, the myth was broken about the existence of the event of Kumbh in the ancient times. An annual affair known as Magh Mela with its roots in Prayag then existed. Upon reading Nehru we find that the religious event of Kumbh is nowhere mentioned in the Puranas and that its origin is “lost in an unknown antiquity”. Of course, there exist enough evidences to prove that the Magh Mela has been organised every year in Prayagraj. Then, the size of its gathering not only differed, but also often grew with each passing year. 

One theory takes clue from the fact, that religious priests, ascetics and pilgrims stopped at Prayag, but that was only a break while heading to Haridwar, another seat of Kumbh. Akharas (The word ‘Akhara’ means a wrestling ring. However, here Akhara refers to the community formed in the 8th century by Adi Shankracharya. There are primarily two Akharas. While one follows Lord Shiva, the other follows Lord Vishnu. Later in the 12th century another Akhara by the name of ‘Udaseen’ came into existence. This was by the Sikhs) moved in processions like celebrating caravans during the event of Kumbh. Then, they also peg tents, cook together and take community bath together. Later at the culmination of the event, while some of them scatter to lead their own lives, others go up in the Himalayas to spend time in caves and forests. Mela, as it is associated with commerce and in the olden times, it is said that the Akharas fought among themselves for supremacy and the winning Akhara was allowed to tax the pilgrims during the mela. This theory points out to the fact that the stakes in Hardwar Kumbh were quite high as compared to Allahabad. Haridwar involved trade of horses, elephants, camels and cattle, while in Allahabad it were only low cost items, such as utensils and clothes that were traded. Surely the religious freedom with mela in Allahabad grew manifold and there was this yet another place where religion could be expressed. Allahabad, then became yet another turf for sadhus to express their religious freedom and assert themselves defiantly in the British India.

Next, a somewhat love-hate relationship existed between the British and the Indians. Both saw each other with skepticism and at times their relationship gave an impression that they loved each other quite a lot, while at times it was inherent hatred that came forth. Anyway, this matter is out of context here and requires an entirely different debate.

Coming back to the point, at first the British perceived the congregation as a compulsive headache to be managed. This was owing to not only the large size of the gathering, but also the great excitement of bathing in the Holy Ganges with which the people were charged up. After the Treaty of Allahabad was signed between the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam – II (he fought against the British along with Suja-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Awadh in the battle of Buxar) and Robert Clive, the Commander-in-Chief of the British East India Company in the year 1765, Allahabad, in a way, came under the British governance. The situation was thus as the power to collect taxes as an imperial tax collector vested in the Company. Then, the Company upon realising the strategic position of Allahabad and that the place can serve well as a gateway for further expansion, officially took over it in the year 1801.

After the British took over Allahabad Fort, life-threatening cholera struck the British troops in the fort. The fort is located near the site of this annual fair which happens on the banks of the river Ganges, near the confluence of the three rivers, Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati (known as ‘Sangam’). At first the British were not sure if they can manage this large congregation at this annual fair. However, son they realised a huge economic opportunity here. They began taxing the pilgrims and charged a sum of rupee one as tax to bathe in the holy water during this fair. Rupee one was then considered quite an amount at that time and was enough to survive for a month. Hence, this move triggered resentment among the locals and the pilgrims alike. Nevertheless, instead of witnessing any improvement, the state of affairs worsened with the introduction of more rules to effectively manage the economic affairs during the tenure of the mela. As a matter of fact, almost every religious event has a commercial aspect attached to it and so this mela was no different. Thus we can safely say that the organised system of holding large religious fairs such as this one in Allahabad, was introduced by the British in the beginning of 19th century.

With the intervention of British in the religious fairs, Christians too started camping here for various reasons. Some came as visitors to closely view Hinduism in action, some came to do business and yet some came as missionaries to spread Christianity. The intervention by the British was perceived, often, as interference in religious affairs by the visiting Hindu priests and pilgrims. Naga Sadhus have been considered as the principal part of this congregation and they specifically took offence to this interference. It is said that once a Christian missionary threw a stone at one such Sadhu only to prove that Nagas are normal human beings and thus, feel the same human pain and agony.  

Year 1857 was the year of unrest in North India. It was the year of the uprising against the British, and Allahabad as a consequence, was not left untouched either. In fact, the mela then served as an instrument to strongly communicate a message. Using this instrument, more than 1400 people revolted against the British in this region. They took control of the bridge on the Ganges which connected trans and sis Ganges. Next, they also attacked the churches in Allahabad to vent their anger on. The prevalent out of control unrest was also instigated by the priests at the annual fair then. The situation became so hopeless that the British Collector of the city of Allahabad described it as “British power is to close this year”. It was only after the intervention of Col James Neill that the situation was finally brought under control. He set out for Allahabad from Benares (now Varanasi) on 9th June, 1857 and ordered the British troops to hang anyone whom they suspected as a rebellion. This move deterred the rebels and cleared the city of them. Then, to showcase their retaliation, the British also confiscated a massive land in Allahabad around the river bank. In fact today, this piece of land constitutes the vast mela grounds of Allahabad. The mela was, following the crush of the uprising by the British, not organized out of fear in January/February of 1858.

However, the fear subsided by 1859 and the mela started taking shape once again. From 1860s the defiance against the British rule grew. The moral victory of the people of Prayag over the British was symbolically reflected in the flags of the religious community and the Akharas. The sentiment to gain freedom from the British rule attracted more Indians to this annual religious event. The religious focus assumed a blend of social and political forms. “It is not difficult to divine, from the scowls and mutterings of men as Europeans pass by,” writes an English journalist covering the mela in 1860, “what they would do if they dared.” – They surely couldn’t do much at that time, but this was a beginning of a thought process. It was then when the people of Allahabad formed an association and registered it with the British Government. The association ensured the residents of the city the freedom to follow their faith and perform associated religious rituals without any interference. As a part of this formation every 12th Magh Mela was given the name of Kumbh Mela. This exercise was, in a way, a successful attempt to counter the British rule and some unacceptable regulations laid by the British. In 1868, the phrase ‘Kumbh Mela’ was first mentioned in writing by the then Deputy Commissioner G.H.M. Ricketts in his administrative report, while before that there seems to be no mention of this name in any records and it was only referred as ‘Magh Mela’ or so a part of research suggests. Delving into the mind-set of the British administrators, they might have felt relieved upon knowing that this annual fair in Allahabad that used to put most of the government machinery to work every year, would now be a big affair only once in twelve years. While rest of the years it may not draw that large a crowd.

In 1858, it was in Allahabad that Earl Canning read the proclamation of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, transferring the reigns of India from East India Company to the British Crown. It was this one day that Allahabad became the capital of India. Then In 1877, Allahabad was declared the capital of United Provinces of Agra & Awadh, remaining so through 1920. It was after the uprising of 1857, in later part of 1858 that British really wanted to regain the lost trust of Indians and then Kumbh became one such mega event to garner the support.

If we read and analyse the account of Hsiuan Tsang (also known as Xuanzang and sometimes spelt as ‘Hsuan Tsang’), the great Chinese traveller who visited Prayag in 643 CE mentions about a fair that was held there, without mentioning its name as, ‘Kumbh’. In fact he goes on further to state, that Emperor Harsha organised it and that it was an event around Lord Buddha.

Chaitanya, a Bengali mystic had visited this fair in Allahabad and translations of his work would read ‘Kumbh’, though if one examines the original Bengali text, it becomes evident that Chaitanya visited Magh Mela and it was not referred as ‘Kumbh Mela’ distorted later in the edited versions of his work.

Fanny Parkes’ who visited Allahabad in 1830, does not refer to the fair as ‘Kumbh’. She has referred it as a ‘mela’. Later, her work when edited explains ‘mela’ as ‘Kumbh’. Not wrong though, as editor wanted to make readers relate to it more closely and understand it better.     

‘Ardh Kumbh’ for example, just lost its prefix ‘Ardh’ (meaning half) in 2019, as now it is being projected as being at par with the ‘Maha Kumbh’, if not bigger. Maha Kumbh happens every twelve years, while the last Maha Kumbh happened in 2013, technically this 2019 is the ‘Ardh Kumbh’, occurring at six year interval. Thanks to the Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, who himself is a Mahant (head-priest) and follows Shivaism. Yogi Adityanath conceptualised the renaming of ‘Ardh Kumbh’ to ‘Kumbh’ thereby giving it a larger form, similar to the main ‘Kumbh’ after being elected to power in the state. – This is how events evolve with time, names change and magnitudes enlarge with the change of political guards.

Today, the elected governments of free India and the state of Uttar Pradesh do just that, making Kumbh an event to garner trust of voters and boast about how successfully they manage this mega show after its over, and of course if managed well. In 2013 it attracted 120 million visitors and this mega event finds mention in UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Many events, especially those related to faith are better left unexplained. How intelligently and keeping in line with sentiments Jawahar Lal Nehru in his book ‘Discovery of India writes about the origin of Kumbh : “lost in an unknown antiquity”.      




November 15, 2018

Some Famous Churches of Uttar Pradesh

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:46 am

There are certain churches in India which are famous not only across the length and the breadth of this large country, but also the world over. They are, particularly, historically popular and also known for their architectural brilliance. The associated Christian and the Anglo-Indian communities, though in minority, have been contributing immensely in elevating the education and health standards in the Indian sub-continent region. Also their contributions cannot be denied in Indian Railways and India Post. Then, a few people, belonging to different Christian denominations, contribute significantly to schooling of Indian children and are also credited for running the finest institutions in the country.

In fact, substantial population of Christians and Anglo-Indians in India reside in the present state of Uttar Pradesh. The existent churches in the region not only hold religious importance, but also constitute an integral part of the social fabric of this state of India. In this article we have tried to explore the uniqueness of a few important and accessible churches of Uttar Pradesh.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Lucknow

Amongst many grand buildings located at Hazratganj in Lucknow, St. Joseph’s Cathedral is, perhaps, the most striking structure. The history of this old-time church is known to few.

The cream coloured church was constructed by a British officer of the Royal Corps of Engineers for the soldiers. As per certain aged natives of the city of Lucknow, in its initial phase the church resembled small, Gothic style architecture with a roof made of timber. Then, it could accommodate at the maximum three hundred people.   

Thereafter, the church was demolished in the year 1969 as its roof gave way. The design of the present day church was made by Austin Lobo, a previous chief architect of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Distinctively, in the past, no permanent priests were deployed at the church. Later in 1940, the church was turned into a Diocese. At that time, as a result of an ongoing war, the visiting priests being Italian were arrested by then governing British officers in Lucknow. Thereafter, they were sent to Dehradun and imprisoned. So, the church was rendered with no priests. Next, once the cathedral also remained without a bishop for a continuous period of seven years.

The Mass conducted on Christmas at the famous church bears a special significance to people. It provides a mixed feeling of the festival and the history associated with Lucknow.

In fact, people belonging to various faiths become a part of the Christmas celebrations at this Catholic Church.  The reason is the traditional manner in which the festival is celebrated here.

Two morning Masses and one grand late evening Mass are held on December 24. These Masses are also attended by many from different cities of India.

The construction of the church began in the year 1860 after a land for the same was bought in Hazratganj in 1858 by a visitor and an Irish priest, Father William Gleeson. It was dedicated to St. Joseph. It was blessed by Bishop Anastasius Hartmann on May 10, 1862. Then, in the same year the church also witnessed the construction of its boundary wall and the house for priest. Today, Cathedral School stands at the original site of this priest’s house. The church was later handed over by Fr. William Gleeson to Fr. Felix, O.F.M.

After a few years, another parish priest of the church started teaching two deprived boys in his house’s veranda. Upon realizing the pressing need of formal schooling he started St. Francis’ School and Orphanage.   

In 1890, a later priest carried the noble task forward by laying the foundation stone of St. Francis’ Boarding and Day School. In 1908, in order to support the school’s expansion, a land adjacent to the church, was bought by the then Bishop of Allahabad. Then, after an elapse of a decade, St. Francis’ School moved to this extensive land which serves as the current site of the school at 8, Shahnajaf Road in Lucknow.

Holy Redeemer Church at Alambagh in Lucknow

Holy Redeemer Church at Alambagh in Lucknow is popular for various reasons. For instance, the associated architectural style and its tall tower render it as a unique church in the region.  While the former is a fine combination of Irish and Indian techniques, the latter was constructed bearing in mind that it should be visible from a distance. In fact, the tower can be, amongst similar ongoing constructions, uniquely spotted by passengers onboard a train nearing Lucknow.

The unique architecture associated with this church, located near Mawaiyya span of Lucknow Metro, is admired throughout India. Stately Irish-style doors, beautifully carved Indian interiors and small footsteps located outside the church provide it an old-fashioned, but attractive look. Then, the beauty of the structure also became a matter of much discussion in London when an article about the church’s history appeared in April, 1934 edition of the ‘The Tablet’ in the UK.

On a stone slab of an imitation cave in the church, titles of ‘The Marian Grotto’ and ‘Hail Mary’ are inscribed in Hindi. Also, of late, passages from the Bible in Hindi were placed on the compound of the church. The history of this church goes back to 1922 when Father Lawrence endeavoured to meet the need of a church for the residents of Alambagh, Mawaiyya and Charbagh. He started collecting money from the Christians working in the railways. Thereafter, in the year 1933, the foundation stone for the church was laid by Father Endilowar and the construction work started. The work was completed in a year.

The tall tower of the church was so built that it may be visible from a kilometre of distance. The construction work of the church was completed, then, for Rupees 30,000. Today, in fact, the structure acts as a landmark for visitors in Lucknow. On Sundays, the church is attended by Christians from the nearby located railways colony. Also, here, Catholic missionaries run an orphanage for girls and a vocational training institute.

St. Marie’s Church in Varanasi

St. Marie’s Church or the Garrison church in Varanasi is considered as, perhaps, the oldest church in the eastern region of Uttar Pradesh. The tall church stands in the cantonment area of Varanasi and bears, as well, a significant historical relevance.

The current surrounding area was once a British cantonment. The foundation stone of the church was laid by Father Daniel Correy in the year 1810. In 1812, the construction work was completed. The floor of the church was provided an enhanced look by covering it with a peacock carpet. Also, then, in order to accommodate the guns of the British soldiers who came to the church to pray, separate benches were designed and placed.

Earlier the prayers, at St. Marie’s Church, were offered in English alone. As such, the church is also known as the ‘English Church’. Then, the religious structure is referred to as the Anglican Church as well.

The church had been visited by many renowned personalities. In 1961, on her visit to Varanasi, Queen Elizabeth offered prayers at the church. The prince of Scotland, John Duke, also visited the house of worship.

The Garrison church which is known for its architecture, today, is in need of renovation.

Lal Girijaghar, another famous church, is also located in the cantonment area of Varanasi. The foundation stone of Lal Girijaghar was laid in 1879 by Father Albert Fentiman, a British. Since then, the church has been painted in red and white. British soldiers offered prayers here as well.

The All Saints Cathedral in Allahabad

The All Saints Cathedral, also known as Patther Girija (church made of stones), is a popular tourist destination as well. It is located in Allahabad, also known as Sangam city. The church resembles the Gothic style churches of the thirteenth century. During the British rule, ‘Gothic Revival’ buildings had been built by them in India. Patther Girija is an example of such endeavour.

Everyday several people arrive by train in Allahabad. As they step out of the railway station, they witness this exceptional work of art surrounded by lush green gardens.

The site of the Archbishop of Canterbury, considered as the symbolic leader of Anglican Communion at the global level, is the Canterbury Cathedral in England. Patther Girija almost resembles the same in architecture. This resemblance can be noticed in the 240 feet by 56 feet Anglo-Gothic stone structure and the 130 feet by 40 feet central congregation hall of the cross-shaped ‘The All Saints Cathedral’. While Sir William Muir, the then lieutenant governor of North Western Provinces of India provided the land for the construction of the cathedral, his wife, Elizabeth Huntly Weymss, laid its foundation stone on April 10, 1871.

The design of the cathedral was made by Sir William Emerson, a British architect. He is also credited with the designs of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, Crawford Market in Mumbai and Muir Central College in Allahabad, now a part of the Allahabad University. Original large stained-glass paintings on the walls-resembling the ones at Fatehpur Sikri-and complex detailed designs on the marble altar of the cathedral exist till date. Then, the carvings on the throne of the bishop bear the influence of the Lahore School of Art. As a matter of fact, the construction of the cathedral was completed in fifteen years.

The two portions of the cathedral that run at right angles to the long central congregation hall lie in the north and the south respectively. Then, at the intersection of them, the congregation hall and a covered entrance in the west stands a central tower. Victoria tower is lantern tower of the cathedral and is named after Queen Victoria. Next, the pulpit, made of alabaster, is a fine piece of work credited to Nicholls of Lambeth. Also, the unique cathedral houses plaques depicting scenes of deaths of British citizens in the colonial era. The scenes resemble a ship sailing effortlessly. Moving forward, if all the narrow aisles in Patther Girija are taken together, their aggregate length would be equal to the width of this architecturally unique house of worship.

Holy Trinity Church in Allahabad

Holy Trinity Church is the oldest church of the city of Allahabad. It was built in 1840. It is another Gothic structure present in the city.

While the design of the church was made by Major Smith, his colleague Lieutenant Sharp did build it. Then, the built structure was declared holy by the fifth bishop of Kolkata, Bishop David Wilson, on February 19, 1841 and was named as Holy Trinity Church.

Besides being the oldest church and an architectural delight of Allahabad, Holy Trinity Church is also historically relevant. The building stands as a mute testimony of the First War of Indian Independence that took place in 1857. Then, it also stands as a witness to the Gwalior Campaign of 1843. Next, the church is supposed to be attended by Lord William Muir and Lord Canning.

Also, Holy Trinity Church played a role in introducing Air Mail Service to the world. The initiative was taken by the first chaplain of the church, Rev. WES Holland.

An aircraft exhibition was underway when Rev. Holland was looking for donations to construct a youth hostel on the premises of the church. At the exhibition, he met an English pilot, Piquet, and asked him to explain the workings of his plane.

Piquet suggested an idea to the postal department for transporting messages from one place to another. Unaware of the associated positive impact, the department gave their approval to the pilot to execute his idea.

Christ Church in Kanpur

Christ Church is the oldest church of the city of Kanpur. It is also famous for its tower which is considered as the highest tower in the city. Its height is 130 feet. The church is located on the Christ Church College campus of Kanpur.

The church was started in 1810 in a hut with a roof made from thatch. Army chaplain, Henry Martin is credited with starting this church near the DAV College’s hostel.

In 1827, the clergy and the parishioners of the church did put forth the suggestion for the construction of a concrete house of worship. The Lord Bishop of Calcutta Diocese, Bishop Wilson, became interested in the proposal and started raising funds for the building on college grounds at Mall Road. The foundation stone of the church was laid by him on February 4, 1837. Going forward, Christ Church opened for prayer service on January 4, 1840.

The church was built to seat 800 people. Its tall tower dominated its surroundings. Next, a sum of Rupees 32,402 was spent then in constructing the church.

‘Sunday School’ is run by Christ Church for its parishioners and their children. The church has been constantly pushed, in various respects, to ever higher ranks.

Today, the church’s surroundings comprise of a beautiful lawn and flower beds. Then, in addition to the gate installed near the All Souls’ Parsonage, there exists a road leading to the church.

Besides being known for its architecture, the church was popular for other reasons as well.

The church is well decorated before the arrival of Christmas and the brilliant decorations continue to hang around for a long time even after the culmination of New Year celebrations. The lights used for decorations further enhance the beauty of Christ Church.

The church remains filled with Christians during Christmas and New Year as they are special occasions for them. They gather there in large numbers to celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus Christ and give thanks to Him.

Basilica of Our Lady of Graces at Sardhana in Meerut

Basilica of Our Lady of Graces in Sardhana stands as a true evidence of religious tolerance till date. It is dedicated to Mother Mary.

In the Catholic Diocese of Meerut, the church is known as the ‘Church among Churches’. It was built by Begum Samru, a professional dancer. She married Walter Reinhardt Sombre, a European soldier who fought particularly for money. In 1781, she adopted the religious belief of Roman Catholicism and also named as herself as ‘Joanna Nobilis’.

In 1822, Begum Samru dedicated the church to Mother Mary. So, till November 07, 1957 the church had been referred to as St. Mary’s Church. Then, with the installation of the ‘Holy Image’ by an Archbishop, the Holy Shrine of ‘Our Lady of Graces’ came in effect. In addition to thousands of Christians, this church in Sardhana has been visited by people of other faiths, including tourists from both India and abroad. 

The church was, then, famous both historically and architecturally. Thus, in December of 1961, it was raised to the level of minor Basilica of Our Lady of Graces by Pope John XXIII.

The church is located 20 kilometres away from the district headquarters in Sardhana, situated 5 kilometres north on Meerut-Karnal highway. The school of the Covenant of Jesus and Mary is attached to this church. It is a residential school which provides instruction to girls from grade I up to the level of Degree College. Since March 28, 1924, the church has been protected by the central government.

The jagir, i.e., land, of Sardhana was inherited by Begum Samru after the death of her husband in 1778. Thereafter, she decided to build a church there. The design of the church is based on the model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was made by the famous Italian architect Antonio Reghellini.  The architecture is a blend of both Palladio and Indian architectures. The church’s altar and the nearby surroundings are made of marble with coloured stones.

Much of the basilica’s interior is made of carved marble par excellence. It is through a unique octagon set in its dome that the first rays of the morning sun enter to illuminate the church. The church is, in fact, one of the most beautiful churches located in India. 

Three majestic Roman domes made of stained glass, the pyramidal structures placed atop two towers and an eighteen feet tall Begum’s tomb add to the magnificence of the structure. Then, the event of dedication of the church to Mother Mary in 1822 is engraved in Latin on its main door.

St. John’s Church in Gorakhpur

St. John’s Church is the oldest church of the city of Gorakhpur. It is situated at Basharatpur, Medical Road. The church was established in 1823 in a hut. Thereafter, it was renovated with ‘khaprail’ and further, a beautiful prayer hall of two storeys was built. 1,500 acres of land for the church was given by Governor General Lord William Bentinck to Missionary Association in 1931. As the area was, then, surrounded by a dense forest, thus, the land was given on the condition of doing farming as well. The people of the Missionary Association cleared 600 acres of the land and started doing farming on it. Meanwhile, they lived in huts around the agricultural land. Upon learning about the social work of the Association, the then collector, Robin Martins, arranged for funds for the construction of the church. Subsequently, the house of worship was established by Michael Wilkinson of the Association.

 Akbar Church in Agra

‘Akbar Church’ in Agra is a 400 years old church built by the Mughal emperor Akbar. In addition to his heroism, the emperor is also remembered for his policy of religious tolerance, Sulah-kul. Today, the church stands as an evidence of this policy.

The land for the construction of Akbar Church was given to Christians by Akbar. Concurrently, he also granted permission to them to build a cathedral church in West Bengal, then known as Hooghly.

According to the literature available at Bishop House here, on his journey from Lahore to Delhi, Akbar was accompanied by Father Jerome Xavier. During the journey, Father Xavier expressed his desire to Akbar of building a chapel in Agra. Akbar granted his wish and issued a farman, i.e., a royal order, for the construction of church at the requested site. So, Jesuit priests, with the help of the funds provided by Akbar, built a church in 1600. It was named as Akbar Church. Later, emperor Jehangir, Akbar’s son, made the church as magnificent as the one located in Lahore by donating money for the purpose.

The church’s tower bell, when rung, could be heard in almost entire Agra. In 1614, Jehangir denied the parishioners’ access to Akbar Church owing to then prevalent tension between the Mughals and the Portuguese. He did so by building a wall in front of the church. Later, however, he restored the access. Then, when his son Shahjehan came to power in 1628, he attacked the community of Portuguese in Hugli. He not only killed Christians-allies of the Portuguese-but also destroyed Akbar Church. However, in 1636, he reconstructed the church.

Christ Church in Bareilly

Christ Church is one of the first few buildings constructed in the area of Rohilkhand. It was constructed 180 years ago by East India Company. The activity coincides with the period when the Company also thought to annex the region.

The Gothic architecture is painted in red and white. The building of the church comprises of an altar, a central hall and a porch. Next, a gravel path outside the porch connects the church to the main road. The British garrison officers not only supervised the construction of the building, but also named it as Christ Church. A British official, then, used to arrive in a buggy, i.e., a horse cart to attend this church in Bareilly. During their visits, while the senior officers got out of the carts at the church’s porch, the junior officials were required to alight near the outer wall of the church.

In accordance with the Gothic style of architecture, two 50 feet high pointed towers stand at the corners of the 10 feet by 10 feet porch of the church.

The sitting area inside the church can accommodate 200 people. It is divided by two rows of four pillars. Concrete sheets supported by wooden frames serve as the roof of the central hall. The altar is located across the sitting area. The entire construction work of the church was completed, then, for a sum of a little over Rupees 7,000 by the British administration.

The building of the church was almost destroyed by rebels in 1857 when a mutiny in India took place. However, the church was restored in 1860. Thereafter, till 1947 when India was declared independent, it remained as the house of worship for the British officials. It is the faith on Lord Jesus Christ that keeps a church safe from all harms.

October 15, 2018

Historic Perfumes of Kannuaj and Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:39 am

The five senses of man truly enable him to sense his surroundings, in detail. Since ages, by means of continuous inventions, he has been trying to please each one of them in unique ways.  At the same time, using the same means he endeavours to achieve a higher purpose associated with the sphere of spirituality. Nonetheless, there is a category of such desires-driven innovations that particularly poses greater challenges before man in its accomplishment. It is linked to his ability to smell. With regard to this special ability, perfumes are considered to be the finest objects of invention till date compared with other similar works of creativity.

In nature, certain rare pleasant smelling substances are found. In fact, perfumes are carefully prepared mixtures composed of unique combinations and varying measures of such natural substances. The preparation process also takes care of the convenience of using the end product. The English word ‘perfume’ is derived from Latin roots ‘per’, meaning ‘through’ and ‘fumare’, meaning ‘to smoke’. Thus, the roots provide us hint about its oldest existent form. Since ages, in India, a kind of smoke bearing a special fragrance has been prepared from a high-priced and a fungus infected tree of Aloes wood, also known as Agarwood. However, the earliest scented form of the fumes belongs to the ancient Egypt where the smoke solely bore a religious significance. In the historically renowned Egyptian civilisation, on almost daily basis, certain natural substances that produce pleasant fragrances upon burning were used during the religious rites held in the temples. Today, however, the product is widely used as one of the significant objects of cosmetics.

In ancient India, perfumes were prepared in a scientific manner. In the age-old Indian texts, perfume is mentioned as a tool largely used for beautification. Interestingly, at some point between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, the way of life in the old region of Awadh, also known as Oudh, was mainly-in addition to good quality clothing-influenced by ittars, i.e., perfumes. In fact, today, perfumery associated with the Indian regions of Kannauj and Lucknow is considered par excellence. Often Kannauj is considered at par with the world famous capital of perfume, Grasse in France.   

The more expensive perfumes extracted from certain natural sources are considered better than the widely used synthetic versions. The former variety is prepared from the oils extracted from rarely found natural substances while the latter possesses an alcohol base. As a matter of fact, the fragrance associated with a natural perfume is not only of the highest quality, but also lasts much longer upon application of the perfume. However, proper care should be taken in applying the same on clothes in contrast to the more popular chemically synthesised form. This is important as the act would prevent the clothes from getting stained. Authentic preparation methods associated with different natural perfumes carrying distinct fragrances are detailed in rare old Indian texts of Lakhlakha and Risala-i Sakht-i Itr written in Urdu. Strangely, ittars or the natural perfumes of Awadh are distinguished from each other not only on the grounds of their unique contents, but also with regard to their demarcated periodic usage. Thus, for example, itr-i khass is meant to be particularly used during the summer season as its application has a substantial soothing effect. The perfume is made using the roots of an exclusive grass, Vetiver, incidentally local to India. Next, as the appealing perfume of shamaamat al-amber has a pleasantly warm effect, so it is suitable for the winters. In effect, the list is almost endless.  

Let us focus on the historic site of perfumery located in the Indian sub-continent region of Kannauj. The ancient town of Kannauj occupies an important place in the history of ancient India in distinct respects. This legendary little place can be reached in around two hours starting from the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow. Enormously large fields of striking sweet-scented flowers, also used in the preparation of a variety of fragrant products, are located on the outer edge of the town. Of the various distinguished manufactures, the prime focus of many perfumeries in Kannauj is on the production of valuable natural ittars delicately made using secret combinations of raw herbal materials, rose, clay of topsoil and jasmine. Then, the town is also home to the globally celebrated Fragrance and Flavour Development Centre (FFDC), a centre essentially dedicated for the cause of taking into account every fine aspect of the science of perfumery. In addition, Kannauj is also well known for the numerous small-size brick kilns located on its border. The one of its kind perfumery practiced at Kannauj also, along with the improvised latest techniques of the chemical process of distillation, makes use of the age-old unique method of distillation known as ‘deg bhapka’. Herein, the apparatus used for the process is made up of a deg, i.e., a copper pot that sits on the top of a bhapka, i.e., a receiver, again, made of copper. The two are connected with a chonga, i.e., a hollow bamboo pipe wrapped with a distinctively processed form of local grass that acts as an excellent insulator. The whole apparatus is enclosed in a heated compartment made of brick and clay.  In practice, the aromatic products of Kannauj are manufactured under the close supervision of seasoned hereditary perfumers and are bottled using ittardans, i.e., small, but excessively decorated glass bottles resembling crystal.

The city of Lucknow is another hub known for the production of excellent quality of perfumes. In fact, the most renowned company known for its perfumes throughout the length and breadth of India was set up in the city in the early nineteenth century. It was named as ‘Mohamed Ali’. The company witnessed, however, an unfortunate closure in 1981. In the recent past, ‘Hina Building’ stood as an evidence of the forgotten glorious days of the business in the remarkable area of Chowk in Lucknow. The building was named after an illustrious ittar of the firm.

The developed art and science of perfumery owes heavily to human evolution. This practice could never be realised unless primitive man recognised how necessary is his gift of olfaction, i.e., the physical faculty of smelling, for his survival on the planet. This enlightenment motivated him to create something that can add fragrance and flavour to his limited life. The idea of perfumery is a brilliant evidence of this interesting and never ending journey of labour.

September 15, 2018

Paintings in Awadh

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:35 am

The development of Mughal painting was brought by both Muslim and Hindu painters who collaborated liberally with each other, sometimes in the creation of the same painting. The life size portraits of Nawabs of Awadh adorning the hallway in the Hussainabad picture gallery are gradually falling prey to the ravages of time.  A visit to the gallery speaks volumes about how the portraits need a fresh lease of life.  All the antique pieces of art dating back to the nineteenth century, once a prime attraction for visitors.  Painting in Awadh falls into two sharply defined categories as regards the subject, style and technique. The first represents the continuation of the later Mughal tradition with certain Rajput characteristics. This style flourished from (1750-1800). The second is dominated by European influences, it’s seeds were sown during the reign of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula, who showed a fancy for his likenesses by European painters. While both the styles developed on parallel lines, it superseded the former so much that by the end of eighteenth century it was only the Indo-British style to flourish in Awadh with Lucknow as its centre where the European population abounded. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was greatly interested in paintings and artists were handsomely rewarded, he owned a rare collection of Mughal paintings. The Awadh painters, despite their extensive production of portraits, could not surpass or equal the talent of the Mughal painters. But in imaginative creativity, the Awadh painters had a flair for using myriad colours. They put life in the portrayal of  historic happenings, stories from Hindu mythology, ragas and raginis, sports of Krishna, social events , everyday lives of nobleman and noblewomen and erotic subjects. Such paintings were composed throughout the Nawabi period, the Nawabs of Awadh were broadminded with regard to different religions. Although Hindu subjects did find a place in Mughal paintings, such representation was more copious among the Awadh painters, many of whom were Hindu.  Although paintings were done mainly on paper, under the European influence, paintings were also made on thin, finely smoothened sheets of ivory, which could be accommodated in the palm of one’s hand. Ivory pieces were cut into rounds, ovals or rectangles, and exquisite paintings were prepared in oil. This tradition of painting on ivory started in Delhi and spread to Awadh as well, however in Awadh this style was quite ordinary and was seldom refined. In the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata there are eleven ivory pieces depicting portraits of the Nawabs of Awadh, but they are not of a very high quality. The pleasure-loving rulers of Awadh had a carefree, easy and leisurely lifestyle, apart from the risk of losing their titular kingdom. The atmosphere of general sensuousness engendered an ambience of erotic listlessness and sentiment is one of the rasas in Hindu aesthetics. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, many albums of miniature paintings of ‘native rulers’ and ‘native characters’ were produced in the style of Gentil. One such album (muraqqa), executed about 1776, is in the Indian Office Library which has the portraits of  Nawab  Saadat  Khan, Burhan al Mulk, Safdar Jung, Shuja–al-Daulah, the rulers of Awadh and their officers as well as the rulers of other princely states. A set of paintings of native characteristics is also bound with this set, closely related to it in respect of colour scheme and style in which it suggests that it was executed about the same time. The art of Awadh underscores this complicated, connected history with the Awadhi miniature painting in particular characterized as eclectic, weaving a hybrid of Persinate, Mughal, Indic, and European visual vocabularies. The rulers of Awadh were active patrons of art and culture, they inherited the rich traditions of the Mughals and strengthen these by creating an environment of eclecticism by bringing together heterogeneous elements in several aspects : arts , religion, philosophy, education, the symbols of royalty among others. The capital of Awadh grew under their fostering care to attain fame far and wide for the accouterments of high Indo-Persian culture and courtly behavior, refinements of language, the sartorial heritage, cuisine, the visual and performing arts, and a variety of crafts – so much that it became the cultural mode of north India.

August 15, 2018

Lucknow School (Gharana) of Kathak : Pandit Birju Maharaj

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:04 am

Birju Maharaj was born into the house of renowned Kathak proponent, Jagannath Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana. Birju’s father, popularly known as Achhan Maharaj, spent much of his time teaching young Birju, the fundamentals of Kathak. He also accompanied his father to the places where he was invited to exhibit his skills. As a result, Birju started learning the dance at a very young age. His uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj, also guided him in learning Kathak. In 1947, a catastrophic event struck Birju when he lost his father. After the unfortunate demise of Achhan Maharaj, the family moved to Bombay, where Birju continued learning the nuances of Kathak from his uncles. At the age of thirteen, he was invited to Delhi to teach at Sangeet Bharati.

Making Delhi his Home

Birju Maharaj has spent the last several decades of his life in Delhi. But for a young boy, moving to Delhi from Lucknow was quite intimidating as mentioned by him in one of his interviews. In fact, he has said that he would often get lost in the streets of Delhi until he made Regal Cinema his regular landmark. Young Birju would first travel to Regal Cinema and then find his way back home or to his institute. But now, Delhi is pretty much home for him, as he likes to spend much of his time at his home in Lutyens’ Delhi.

Life as a Teacher

Birju Maharaj started his career as a teacher when he was just 13 years old. After a successful stint at Sangeet Bharati, where he began his career, he went on to teach at the famous Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Soon, he was presented with the opportunity to head a team of teachers at the Kathak Kendra, a unit of Sangeet Natak Akademi. After serving as the Head of Faculty at the Kathak Kendra for many years, he retired in 1998 at the age of 60.

Living his Dream

Starting his own dance school was always a dream and ambition of Birju Maharaj. This was realized soon after his retirement, when he started Kalashram. In Kalashram, the students are trained in the field of Kathak, and other associated disciplines like vocal and instrumental music, yoga, painting, Sanskrit, dramatics, stagecraft etc. Pandit Birju Maharaj is a firm believer that a dancer must have adequate knowledge of music. Also, since it is important for a Kathak dancer to have control over his breath, he or she will benefit immensely from practicing Yoga. 

The classrooms, practice halls and amphitheatre of Kalashram reflect a shade of rural set-up amidst the busy and fast-moving urban lifestyle. The natural atmosphere, with numerous trees and ponds are extremely inspiring and brings everyone within the institute closer to the simple, unassuming yet rich heritage of the country. 

The objective of the institute is to produce highly talented students who would not only prove worthy of the training they receive, but would also lead a modest, humble and disciplined lifestyle.

Birju Maharaj the Musician & Lyricist

Since music is an integral part of any dance form, Birju Maharaj started learning music at the age of seven. He is a wonderful singer with a strong grip over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan and Ghazals – forms of Indian music. He has also tried his hand at writing and written a few poems. He has also written lyrics for many ballet compositions.

Film Career

Pandit Birju Maharaj is also a noted film personality. In the movie ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’, directed by the famous Satyajit Ray, Birju Maharaj had composed two dance sequences for which he had lent his voice as well. In the 2002 film ‘Devdas’, Birju had choreographed the song ‘Kaahe Chhed Mohe.’ He has also worked as a choreographer in well-known movies like ‘Dedh Ishqiya’, ‘Umrao Jaan’, and ‘Bajirao Mastani.’ In 2013, he went on to make his South Indian movie debut when he choreographed the song ‘Unnai Kaanatha Naan’ for the Kamal Haasan starrer ‘Vishwaroopam.’


Birju Maharaj is a leading exponent and torch-bearer of the Kalka-Bindadin Gharana. Apart from his obvious contributions (which are immense), his effort to make Kathak a well-known dance form all over the world is exceptional. He has performed in various countries making people all over the world take a note of this magnificent dance form. Thanks to his dance school ‘Kalashram’, his contribution towards Kathak will resonate throughout the globe for decades to come.


Pandit Birju Maharaj has won several honors and awards including the coveted Padma Vibhushan (1986). He has been awarded with the Kalidas Samman by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. He has also been honored with Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Soviet Land Nehru Award and Sangam Kala Award among other awards. In 2002, he was honored with the Lata Mangeshkar Puraskaar. Pandit Birju Maharaj has also been conferred with honorary Doctorate degrees from Khairagarh University and Banaras Hindu University.

In 2012, he bagged the National Film Award for Best Choreography for the movie ‘Vishwaroopam.’ He also went on to win Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Choreographer for the same movie. In 2016, he bagged the Filmfare Award for Best Choreography for the film ‘Bajirao Mastani’.

Birju Maharaj the Mystic

Being an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, mysticism comes naturally to Pandit Birju Maharaj. His interest in all things spiritual and the way he observes the dance of nature (whistling of wind, rumbling of clouds, swaying of trees among other things) makes him a natural mystic. He even believes that any dance form is deeply connected with spiritualism and that one can realize God or the higher source through dance.

A Day with Birju Maharaj

Pandit Birju Maharaj believes that any dance form is a balance between one’s mind and soul. This is exactly why the dancer gives importance to practices like meditation and Yoga. Although Yoga helps him in improving his breath control, which in turn helps his dancing skills, meditation, he says, helps him to learn from his mistakes. This is why, he never fails to meditate (he says his morning rituals and bed-time prayers put him in a meditative state).

His daily life is filled with events and performances as he travels extensively, still trying his best to spread the knowledge of Kathak all over the world. In whichever part of the world he is, Birju Maharaj’s food habits remain the same. Vegetables, dal, rice and roti form his everyday menu. 

For a man with immense knowledge, Birju Maharaj can surprise you with the way he strives to know more. Though many prominent dancers consider him to be their guru, Birju likes to believe that he is still a humble student of the dance form. He says that when one stops learning they tend to perfect their respective art form which is nothing but an illusion.

Personal Life

Apart from his passion for fine arts, Birju Maharaj has passion for cars. He had once mentioned in one of his interviews that he would have become a mechanic, had his dancing skills been unnoticed. Even today, he is a big fan of gadgets. His favorite pastime is ripping apart gadgets like television sets and mobile phones and rearranging them as they were before. The 79-year-old legend also likes to spend time watching Hollywood flicks. Among his favorite action heroes, Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone get the top most slots. 

Birju Maharaj has five children – two sons and three daughters. Among his five children, Deepak Maharaj, Jai Kishan Maharaj and Mamta Maharaj are prominent Kathak dancers. Birju Maharaj’s wife passed away 15 years ago.

Credits : Cultural India

July 15, 2018

Lucknow’s French Connection : Antoine Louis Henri de Polier

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:00 am

Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes‘. 


Colonel Antoine-Louis Henri de Polier was an adventurer, an art collector, military engineer and soldier who made his fortune in India in the 18th century.

Antoine Louis Polier was born to French parents on 1741 in Lausanne, Switzerland. His forefathers had migrated to Switzerland during the religious violence of 16th century in France. He therefore was an immigrant living in a foreign country. He later learned Hindi and Persian.

He left for India in 1757 to join the East India Company at Madras. Polier became a Madras cadet and sought active service under Robert Clive against the French. He served at Masulipatnam and Carnac in Bihar, and was then transferred to Bengal in 1761. He was appointed as the chief engineer in charge of constructing Fort William in Calcutta.

On account of the Company’s increasing skepticism towards the French in India, Polier was then removed from his senior position as chief engineer. Not being English, he was denied any chance of promotion in the British trading venture. Polier continued to act as a field engineer in the Company army and took part in the siege of Chunar in November 1764.

In 1766 he was appointed a major and helped to quell the mutiny of white troops in Sir Robert Fletcher’s brigade at Munger. But for all this, with his French origins Polier was handicapped. He was at this stage, denied a rise beyond the rank of major. It was only later in 1782, on Hastings recommendation, that he was appointed Lieutenant Governor in Lucknow. Warren Hastings rescued his career many a times.

It was because of this systemic block in his career that Polier agreed to be deputed into the survey department of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula of Awadh (1732-75). He worked as an architect, surveyor and advisor for many years. His job entailed informing the East India Company about the political developments in Awadh and assisting the company in the commercial activities.

Polier created a niche for himself in Awadh, amassing fortunes via private trade and by assisting Shuja-ud-Daula in military transactions, especially during the Nawab’s fight against the Jats, which involved a siege of Agra’s fort.

Whether it was his success as a private trader, his foreignness in the eyes of the British, or his ostensible support for Shuja-ud-Daula’s actions, raised the hackles of several Company officials. Critics and opponents of Warren Hastings, pushed strongly for Polier’s resignation from the Company, and their pressure proved irresistible. Warren Hastings, publicly asserted that Polier’s dual role was untenable. Thus forcing Polier to resigned from Company service in October 1775.

However, he did survive deportation from India because of the solid economic stakes he had created for himself here. However, by the time of his resignation,  Polier had effectively installed himself economically and socially within Indian high society.

Polier possessed extensive properties in Lucknow and Faizabad, two Indian wives, children, and he had a sophisticated taste in Indo-Persian culture, ranging from food, clothing, and habits, to a rapidly increasing collection of manuscripts and paintings.

Polier was in all probability a person looking at alternate prospects of building his career in India through his personal trade and by offering his services to various patrons, although he secretly always remained loyal to the English and provided the East India Company with valuable and timely information about his Indian patrons.

For a brief period he joined services of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam-II. In the mean time, Polier was given a land in Aligarh by Nawab Najaf Khan. Najaf Khan was a Persian adventurer himself in the court of the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II.

In 1781 he pleaded with Warren Hastings to be restored into Company service. Now, with Hastings’ intercession, this was permitted and in 1782 Polier was allowed to stay on, initially in Faizabad and later in Lucknow with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His fortunes seemed to have taken a turn for the better then.

In Lucknow, Polier developed an interest in collecting manuscripts and paintings. It was here in 1783 that he met the well-known British painters William Hodges and John Zoffany, with whom he developed a long-lasting friendship. Polier figures prominently in Johann Zoffany’s famous painting ‘Colonel Mordant’s Cock-match’ (1786) along with another Frenchman in Lucknow Claude Martin, Nawab Asif ud Daula and others.

As an ambitious collector, Polier acquired precious manuscripts, miniatures and calligraphies. More importantly, he commissioned countless new pictures and thus made a decisive contribution to the flowering of Indian miniature painting in Awadh. The genre’s best-known representative, the painter Mihr Chand, created a number of notable artworks for Polier.

Finally, it was in this period of his life that Polier developed an interest in the Hindu religion and dispatched to William Jones certain volumes of the Vedas that he had acquired from the Raja of Jaipur. His notes in French for a book on Hindu mythology, prepared over these years in Awadh, earned him the honour in 1784 of being appointed a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Apart from collecting oriental manuscripts and miniatures during his stint in Awadh, Polier built up a fascinating library in Lucknow where his collection was maintained. The contents of this library, along with his other collections, were distributed between the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the British Museum in London, the library of King’s College at Cambridge, Eton College in London, the Islamic Museum at Berlin, and the Bibliothèque Cantonale of Lausanne, which also has a manuscript catalogue of 120 oriental works with annotations by ‘Colonel Polier’. The French traveller Comte de Modave, who visited the Awadh court at Faizabad in 1774 just before the shifting of capital to Lucknow met Polier there and he noted that Polier had a good command over the Persian language (court language) and had an excellent knowledge of Urdu (the local language, that still is widely spoken in Lucknow).

In 1788 Polier returned to Europe after being away from his home country for thirty-two years. Of this long period of being away from France, he had spent a total of thirty years in India. On his return to Europe, at the request of William Jones, he deposited a collection of his manuscripts in England. Polier decided to return to France leaving his two Indian wives, Jugnu Begum and Zinat Begum back in India identified within his Persian correspondence as his senior and junior wife in the care of his close French friend in Lucknow, Claude Martin.

After his return to France, Polier bought property in Rosetti near Avignon and settled there with his French wife, by whom he had two children, Charles de Polier and Adolphe de Polier

Here he is reported to have hosted parties in ‘lavish Asian style’ and adopted the ideas of the Revolution. His intellectual interest continued and he is said to have read the entire collections of his Lausanne library. Polier was pensioned on Lord Clive’s fund. On 9th February 1795 he was assassinated by an unidentified robber. His wealth, accrued largely during his career in India, continued to be an asset to his family, which remained in the running for titles and honours.


Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes‘. Checkout details on the following link :

June 15, 2018

The Powerful English Barber of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:58 am

This is all about the relationship of an English Barber George Harris Derusett, with the Nawab. It suggest that the barber the real power behind the king, a companion, the king s’ food taster, his wine supplier and his agent! The details suggest the author dispelled whatever doubts there were about the annexation of Avadh. Here the author, Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones MBE, a well know historian and researcher unveils the dramatic rise and fall of Lucknow’s English barber. This is a book extract from Dr Rosie Llewellyn- Jones’ book ‘Engaging scoundrels true tales of Lucknow’.


The king had admitted quite frankly that he loved the English, and wanted as many English people around him as possible. He had taken at least one Anglo-Indian woman into his harem and he appeared quite frequently, as his grandfather Saadat Ali Khan, in English attire. But the company chose not to capitalise on the king’s anglophilia. Instead they declared that his attachment was to the wrong kind of English person, a view that seemed to them fully borne out by subsequent events.

The barber quickly became notorious. His ill-fame spread beyond Avadh and he was satirized by the press. Col John Low, the British Resident, reported as his painful duty’ that at palace supers, guest ‘have at several times seen His Majesty dancing country dance as the partner of Mr. Derusett! The latter dressed after some grotesque masquerade fashion, and His Majesty attired in the dress of a European lady’ There were, Low hinted darkly ‘still more gross, indeed more shocking indecencies’.

In August 1836 the Agra Ukhbar (sic) reported ‘the barber, Dersuett, has retired from the service of the King talking with him His Majesties deep regret, and several lacs of rupees. The rest of the reptile tribe, the Jeweler, the coachman, etc, will migrate when they have nothing left to consume’.

Derusett disappeared, a mythic figure, but he had played his part. The justification for annexation, if the British needed one, was an odd little postscript in 1847, when he met the Magistrate of  Fatehpur, Mr. Sherer and ‘declared that [Knighton’s] book was a pure romance, but the [Derusett] was too interested a party to be received as an impartial critic’.

Early in 1994, I learned that relatives of George Derusett were living in England and Canada, with some precious family possessions, including the barber’s Cash Book for the crucial years of 1835-36 when he was at the height of his powers. There was also as exquisite court suit of canary yellow silk, brocaded with silver work, made for his young son, suddenly George stepped out of the pages of history and became a real person, a man who had returned to England with the money got in Lucknow who speculated unwisely in a distillery and the new railway companies, and who was declared bankrupt in 1854. A flattering contemporary portrait of him exists with his second family, in which he is playing as accordion. His ginger curls frame a well-rounded, shrew face, and he wears a waistcoat of Indian fabric over his ample stomach.

By the time he arrived in Calcutta in the late 1820s, George was a trained hairdresser, who likes many coiffeurs, felt a French name would suit him better, and he became Dersuett. He worked at his trade, but business was not good and he was reported as ‘a barber and hairdresser who was glad to cut anybody’s hair for one rupee’. He tired to diversify by setting up a shop in partnership with Mr. Boaz as provision merchant.  But this venture did not prove profitable either, and he decided to travel up country to Lucknow sometime during the winter of 1830-31 ‘to look for any sort of employment that he could obtain’. Dr. William Stevenson, the company doctor in Lucknow at the time, later described how George’s luck suddenly changed. The King had often asked the resident to procure English servants for him, and among other a Hairdresser ….[George] happened to one day cut the Resident’s hair– that the King heard of this, and immediately applied to have in his own service’. By July 1831, George was already as established favorite with the King, so much so that when he fell ill, the King grumbled that his absence ‘creators much inconvenience in the performance of the household business.’ A solution was found. George’s brother, William, was also a hairdresser, and also in Calcutta. (The two brothers may have travelled out together.) To William’s delight ‘sometime in July 1831, I received an offer of employment to serve His Majesty the King Oudh and enjoyed by my brother to leave Calcutta as early as possible by Dak.’ William arrived in Lucknow in such a hurry that he forget to obtain a license to reside in Avadh, and this had to be back-dated and provided.

William soon found himself a young Anglo Indian wife, Sarah Duboist daughter of a bandmaster in the King’s service and the couple hired the Dilaram Kothi, a tall, English-looking house on the north bank of Gomati, conveniently opposite the King’s palace of Farat Baksh, and joined to it by a bridge of boats. Two years later in, 1834, William was dead, and his baby son fatherless, George promptly asked the king and got, the King to pay the sea passage from England for a third brother, Charles, and ‘Master George. The barber’s own son, The Resident, when asked later by the company how so many Englishmen came to be employed at the Court, explained that George had recommended hid brother to the King and after William’s death, he was ‘succeeded in the same way by a brother Charles Derusett.’

George now moved himself and his son into the Dilaram Kothi together with a woman mentioned in the Cash Book only as Mrs. D’. Where she came from and where she went is a mystery, but it seems likely that she was Indian, for there are reference to a silver mouth piece’ for her hookah (rarely smoked by English or Anglo-Indian woman), and the fee for her medical expense paid to Hakim Yakub Ali Beg, not Dr. Stevenson who normally attended Europeans.

The entries in the Cash Book begin on 25th Nov. 1835 and show how deeply George was by then involved in the King’s affairs. There can have little time left for hairdressing, and in fact to Indian barbers from Calcutta were now employed by him as assistant hairdressers. George’s many purchased and commissions for the King show a wealthy, if extravagant monarch, and also confirm contemporary description of Lucknow as one of India’s richest, cities, indeed a panorama of pomp, luxury and frequent celebration.

The barber was firstly in charges of ‘all His Majesties pleasure Boats, Budjerows, pinnaces, etc. All most beautifully fitted up, some with richly colored silken sails etc, [and] all the bridges crossing the river’. A major project was the conversion of a very large pinnace, purchased in Calcutta from John and James Beaumont and renamed the ‘Sultan of Oudh’ in honor of the King. It was brought up to Lucknow with a sixteen man crew and docked in front of the Farhat Baksh, even grander than any ship on the waters of the Gomati. George explained that ‘The King ordered me to convert her into a three-misted vessel, and to give her a much the appearance of a ship (sails and all) as possible, to have sixteen to eighteen guns, to spare no expense in fitting her up in the handsomest manner..

Another appointment held by George was Master of the Royal Robes (European). On first examining the poshak-khana or wardrobe, it was found that several of the King’s coats had been sporting, unwitting, the crescent gilt buttons of the East India Company. I soon altered the state of things’ he wrote working form diagrams supplied by Mr. Nuthall, Tailor habit and pelisse maker of Calcutta George sent him the King’s measurement and got a number of European suits made up. His majesty was delighted with this new style of dress that he would not allow any person else to medium him’ George noted the King’s measurements on a scrap of paper he was of 271/George subsequently employed two Europeans, Mr. Garztein (or Garstein) and then Mr. Powers, to superintend the fourteen tailors and chikan work embroidery in making European costumes than up country tailors I spared no expense …. Clothes were made for the Royal woman too, from European Green satin, for the King ‘saw in the wide Indian pyjamas. Which are called ghagra, a resemblance to a British lady’s evening gown and liked them so much that made the Begums of the palace wear them?

By 1835, domestic expense in the Royal household were being channeled through George’s hands, from the re-tinning of cooking pots, the purchase of 2 pairs of Jockey Boots for HM Coachman, and hides for the kettledrums’ to pitterahs and  mumdahs’ (felt covered pots for transporting ice). Outside the palace one or more of the Royal stables was under George’s care too, though here his duties were delegated to Raja Bakhtawar Singh, one of the Kings officials who, together with Darshan Singh, superintended building works for the King. Another nominal appointment was that as head of the King’s Menagerie across the Gomti, ‘a sort of park-ranger, in fact as Knighton described it as well as the superintendence of the palace garden and the building of an ice-house. George also supervised the Royal hunting parties which now lasted for days rather than weeks, as they had done fifty years earlier. But the most elaborate preparations still had  to be made including the provision of tent pieces, bamboo, twine, curtains, food and wine as well as hire of temporary porters and carts to move all this equipment, new thatching on the covered carriages and inspections and repairs to bridges and roads that the Royal parties would cross.

Like other employees, George had to lay out own  money for goods required by the King, and to pay the wages of the tailors, carpenters, ship-fitters, gardeners and other workers under his charge. He presented his monthly bills to the King, which was reimbursed from the treasury the actual bills were long scrolls of paper, joined as necessary, and rolled up as maps. Knighton describes one of George’s bills which, when unrolled, measure four and a half feet long, and totaled Rs. 90,000 (Pounds 9,000).  Many people had found it curiously difficult to extract money from the Royal purse for wages or items bought, but George had discovered a way around this as John Low reported. ‘Mr. Derusett and the natives, who execute commission for the King, generally take the opportunity of getting their accounts or their applications for advances of money, signed by the King when his majesty is in a state of intoxication.

Indeed the King’s drunkenness and wild supper parties were a cause of frequent complaints by the Resident, acting on the Governor General’s instructions to monitor closely Nasir-ud-Din Haider’s behavior. On several occasions low had had to rebuke the King for the extraordinary liberties which he allowed Mr. G. Derusett to take with him’. All the community knew that Mr. D. was a man of dissipated and disreputable character…. [He] invites the other guests. They were always in the same mood as the King’ the n there was shameful occasion when the king, in his cups had insisted on going to the Chandganj fair, across the river and a know rendezvous of prostitutes and a vile tribe of Eunuchs (hijra). After this last episode the Resident took the King aside and told him privately to reform his drunken habits. Low wanted to spare him the embarrassment of being told off in front the courtiers, but the well meaning gesture was wasted when the King promptly related the private conversations to eager listeners and added that happen what may he will counties to himself and that he would drink Hip Hip Hoora’.

 The supper parties continued and Mr. Derusett is going on accumulating immense sums of money (he has already several lacs of Rupee) by taking advantage of the King habits to obtain from his majesty, when in a state inebriety orders for the payment of accounts of commissions for the buildings for the keep of Horses etc. All low’s annoyance at the King’s behavior became focused on Geroge, a working-class man in class ridden English society. It would be unfair to call it snobbery, because it was simply perceived as the natural order of things at the time people like George and his friend John Rose Brandon were not gentleman, in the nineteenth sense. It was inevitable that a Colonel and Resident of the East India Company like John Low. He was projecting the wrong image of an Englishman in India.

There were certainly a number of decent, respectable, family men in Lucknow engaged in trade and manual occupation, but George was not one of them. He clearly exerted that amount of influence over the King, Which the Resident felt should have been his. Moreover, he was creaming off large sums of money which the Company thought could have been better spent or indeed put towards their own longstanding debt with the King. There were also a number of complaints about him by other Europeans, which up to the Resident for action.

Although a favorite with the king who called him his dearest friend and brother often drinking to excess with him and sometime hugging and embracing him in the presence of the servants of the palace George was not popular among many of his English contemporaries in Lucknow.

Credits : Dr Rosie Llewellyn-Jones

May 15, 2018

Lucknow’s French Connection : René-Marie Madec

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:56 am

Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes‘. Checkout details on the following link :


René-Marie Madec (February 7, 1736 – 1784), called Medoc in Anglo-Indian writings, was a French adventurer in India.

Madec was born in Quimper in northwestern France to poor parents. Little is known about his childhood in Quimper and at most we can imagine that the boy dreamt of adventures at sea. His father decided that his son will be a sailor and at the age of 9 he makes his first boat trip on a Bordeaux coaster that carries wine. He was absent for 4 months.

His father obliged him, on his return, to take courses in hydrography and navigation. He hoped that one day his son will be able to join as an officer, the East and East India Battalion. But the young Madec is not attracted by these courses and dreamt of moving away from his family and living his life.

He was only 11 years old when he makes his second big trip aboard “La Valeur”, a slave ship that transported slaves from Senegal to Santo Domingo.

At the age of 15, around 1750, he embarks, without warning his parents, on “the Auguste” for a long journey of 6 months that will take him from Lorient to Pondicherry, French trading post in India.

René was captivated by what he saw in Pondicherry, the atmosphere that reigns in this French counter. He easily got used to the crowd and appreciated the kindness of the Tamils.  He was impressed by Dupleix’s home. (Tell something about the place).

He returned to Quimper but stayed there for only 8 months. He thought of only one thing, to return to the Coromandel coast.

In 1752, he embarked on “Le Lys” and found Pondicherry. He enlisted as a cadet in Dupleix’s troops. Being taken prisoner by the British, Madec agreed to enlist in the British troops in the Bengal army, where he met Claude Martin and both became good friends.

Deserting with some of his companions shortly before the Battle of Buxar (1764), he became military instructor to various native princes, organizing successively the forces of Nawab of Awadh, and of the Jats and Rohillas.

He was welcomed by Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula at Gentil’s request. Highly influenced by local traditions and customs, he wears the traditional outfit of a long tunic, baggy trousers and a turban. In contact with Indians he learns their language.

At 28, Madec becomes a true warlord. It is an army of 1,500 fighters including a hundred Europeans. Fortune begins to smile at the young Breton who, a few months later, marries Marie-Anne Barbette, the daughter of one of Prince Shuja’s councilors.

He became a key military advisor to Shuja-ud-Daula and in 1772 he took service under the Great Moghul Shah Alam II, who gave him the title of Nawab, reserved to the highest dignitaries of the sultan’s court. There he gained a high level of respect and trust and earned himself a sizeable fortune.

Before leaving Hindustan, he returned to Pondicherry one last time and assisted the French in the siege of Pondicherry in 1778. He became King of the Deccan, defender of the Indies for the King of France and he accumulated great wealth.

After the capitulation of Pondicherry, in 1779, he returned to France with a considerable fortune. This earned him a reputation in France as well. The King appointed him Colonel and named him Chevalier de Saint Louis. He then settled in Quimper.

Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes‘. Checkout details on the following link :

March 15, 2018

Rampur Cuisine – a lesser known culinary delight.

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:43 am

Rampur was a small riyaasat (estate) situated in between the Delhi to Lucknow highway, 150 km away from Delhi and 350 kms from Lucknow. It was only after the fallen dynasty of Mughals and Awadh, that Rampur came into its own. After the exile of the Nawab of Awadh, Nawabs in Rampur hired Awadhi Khansamas for their royal kitchen, who in turn imparted the Awadhi flavour to this cuisine. Geographically, it is similar to the cuisine of Delhi and has evolved with the influence from the regions of Meerut, Muzzafarnagar and Shahjahanpur, which are in the same belt as Rampur.

The famed Awadhi cuisine from Lucknow with its biryani and kebabs, has always found favour with gourmands and has easily overshadowed the lesser known culinary delights of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur, also in Uttar Pradesh. It is only at periodic food festivals of Rampuri cuisine at hotels across India, that one hears of it and gets to sample this almost forgotten cuisine.

The cuisine of Rampur is historically the food of the Mughals, just like the cuisine of Awadh. However, the characteristic difference between the two is that unlike Awadhi cuisine, Rampuri cuisine is not perfumed with ingredients like kevda, ittar or rose water. While there is use of heady spices like saffron and nutmeg, they are used in subtle quantities.

Doodhiya biryani, mahi seekh kebab, adrak ka halwa, may upon first glance seem like dishes from the popular Awadhi or Hyderabadi cuisine, but upon tasting these, flavours representative of the distinct Rampuri cuisine are evident. Perhaps not as mainstream as the other Mughlai cuisines, Rampuri cuisine, a royal cuisine of India, is equally rich in its culinary heritage and owes its origins to the khansamas or cooks who used to work in the kitchens of the royal family.

Rampuri cuisine is a confluence of numerous cooking styles ranging from Awadhi, Mughlai and Afghani. Honing creativity, Rampur has offered respite to several artists including Chefs who were able to experiment and develop new recipes.

Rampuri cuisine has its own chungezi masala, which is a complex blend of about 21 spices and herbs. In Awadhi cooking, we use a lot of fine powdered spices, whereas here we use few whole spices only. Onion, is one of the most basic ingredients of this cuisine, and they use onion in various forms — raw onion paste, golden onion and sometimes brown onions. Saffron root is one of the rare spices which we use in a few Rampuri preparations.

Khada or raw masalas, unusual vegetables like doodhi, lotus stem, jackfruit, figs, pineapple khus roots, dal chini and even amla were among the favourite ingredients of the Rampuri cooks. Copious amounts of ghee are used while cooking but the food is less aromatic than the Awadhi cuisine. Clay pots is what they traditionally cooked in and the process was slow and laborious.

A meat-intensive cuisine, there is however a fair amount of chicken and seafood too. Mutton Tar Korma, a lamb preparation from the house of the Nawabs, Shab Deg, a kaliya of mutton chops cooked overnight in yoghurt and Mehtabi Paya Nehari or lamb trotters stewed with milk and cream, flavoured with herbs, are popular delicacies. Nasheela Jhinga or prawns marinated with blend of red hot spices, chungezi masala powder and other spices, is a seafood dish. These are usually paired with typical breads like Fitri, Rampuri Naan and Sheermal. Among rice preparations, Yakhni pulao cooked in mutton stock, is a must-have dish.

Interestingly, this cuisine is equally at home with vegetables. Sabz makhana qaliya and Dal-e-Mumtaz, a blend of eight organic lentils from the Rampur region, annanas or pineapple pulao, are common.

Desserts too are an important part of a Rampuri meal. Chukander-e-Afroz or beetroot simmered with milk and finished with sunflower seeds and reduced milk, Gur Ke Yaquiti, a traditional chickpea flour milk pudding, Sheer Khurma, a unique dessert made from vermicelli, milk and nuts and Ande ka Halwa, an unusual dessert of the royal kitchen made of egg simmered with cow’s milk with a hint of cardamom powder, are desserts that this cuisine proudly showcases.

Nawabs fashioned their menus to suit individual zest. They treated royal visitors with recipes created especially for them. Rampuri cuisine is essentially a ‘courtly cuisine’ that evolved along with its sultans and their taste buds.

Sadly, these recipes have not been chronicled and are thus lost over the years. It is a few chefs and hotels who are doing their best to revive and popularise Rampuri cuisine. What is served today at hotels and restaurants that too during the Rampuri Food Festivals is an altered versions of the original recipes, but that is all that is left of it.

February 15, 2018

Lucknow’s Fondness for Paan

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:35 am

When we think of the life and the times of the Nawabs, we tend to imagine the palatial and grandiose monuments, the extravagant lifestyles, Nawabs in intricately designed royal attires enjoying the classical art forms with elaborate arrangements for Paan.

The imagery is incomplete without Paan, which is the betel leaf, packed with some aromatic spices and special condiments that give the mouth freshener of sorts, its characteristic flavour.

The Paan Culture

Lucknow is one of those cities where etiquette holds an intrinsic part of the rich culture and prideful lineage. The ”tehzeeb” is restricted not only to the language or mannerisms but includes the dining etiquette.

One such feature is offering Paan (Betel Leaf) to the guests on their arrival and also at the end of the meal, especially at social gatherings. Offering paan is indicative of the warm welcome that Lucknowites extend to their guests and the gratitude that they express for the presence of the guests. When offered after dinner, it is taken as a subtle hint that dinner is over now and the visitors may want to leave.

Paan is not only a delicacy but has been a part of the Awadh since the time it was included in the luxurious lifestyles of the Mughals and the Nawabs. Paan chewing is more than a personal choice—an important aspect of the lavish lifestyles of the kings of Awadh—that continues to be an integral part of the social life of the city even today.

Paan chewing has certain styles and mannerisms attached to it and in Lucknow, it relates to the ever so famous “Nazaakat” and “Nafaasat” of the city with Paan being prepared and offered in the famed Lakhnawi style. To understand more about the Paan culture of Lucknow, continue reading this piece.

Lucknow’s love for Paan

The association of the city with the green leaf dates back to the imperial times, when the Paan chewing culture was all prevalent in the regal courts. The courts of the Mughals and the Nawabs had the culture of offering Paans to the guests, which were prepared with much skill and practice.

The Paans were prepared in the Zenana (section for the women) and served in the courts to the guests. The tradition still continues in the households of the city of Nawabs where Paan is offered to the guests, depicting the Tehzeeb of extending a warm greeting. In fact, the guests are supposed to acknowledge the gesture through an “Adaab”, representing the recognition of the respect paid to them by the hosts.

Paan continues to be a permanent feature at wedding events and special occasions in Lucknow. Elaborate Paan stalls are set up for the guests who relish this delight of Awadh especially after meals. Every locality of the city has its own and favourite Paan kiosk better known as “Gumti” and the seller or the “Paanwalah”. The “Paan-stall” is not only a shop where people get the customised Paans, which are prepared according to their preferences of Paan leaf, Tobacco brand and other ingredients but is also a spot where all the trending news is discussed, be that of national significance or local origin.

In fact, some of the Paan shops are so old that they can be considered to be the heritage of the city. These shops are renowned for offering Paans of different varieties. The 80 years old Azhar Paan shop located in Akbari Gate is one such place where you can get varied varieties of Paans such as Wajid Ali Shah ki Gilauri, Badami Paan, Begum Pasand, Pethe ka Paan, Zafrani Paan, Seeney mein dard ka Paan, Haazmey ka Paan, Khatta- Meetha Paan, Pistai Paan among the many other types of Paans.

Paan and its preparation

To prepare a perfect Paan, one needs to practice under an expert at the art. Paan is not just a betel leaf that is enveloped with requisite ingredients and eaten. The Paan leaf is stuffed with areca nut (dalli), catechu (Kattha), quick lime (choona), and cardamom (Elaichi) is known as the Plain Paan (Saada Paan). Besides these main ingredients, it may also contain peppermint, qimaam, coconut, misri (crystallized sugar), rose syrup, saffron, sweetened areca nut (sweet and scented supari), and cherry making it the most preferred sweet flavoured Paan.

The Paan is then folded in a conical shape known as “Gilouri” and is also covered with silver foil (chaandi ka warq) to make it look more appealing. A clove is used to staple the Paan so as to prevent unfolding of the leaf. As Paan chewing is a culture in Lucknow, its processing also entails skill and practice as adding all the ingredients in the right amount is the trick to preparing the right Paan.

Paan and the Paraphernalia

Paan is a delicacy and is very much a part of the cuisine culture of Lucknow city. After meals, especially the Mughlai food, people tend to have a craving for Paan. The Paan chewing culture of the Nawabi era found a place in the households that continues even today. As it involves the royalty of the Nawabs and the elite, the paraphernalia associated with it is also elaborate and used to be a status symbol for the Nawabs. The Paan has the following associates with it since the time it became a delicacy.


Paandaan is a box made of copper, brass, or silver and having few small containers and two being big sized ones for storing quick lime and catechu. The small containers along with a box in the middle are for storing cloves and cardamoms. The boxes are covered with very small trays and equipped with special-shaped spoons for the application of catechu and quick lime. All the containers are in turn covered with a big tray, overlaying the entire circumference of the Paandaan. Paans are generally kept enclosed in a soft and wet cloth on this tray.

The Paandaans made in Lucknow are known for being exquisite and classy. Some Paandaans are small enough to be carried in hand whereas others are so big that they are attached with wheels for ease of movement within the house. The Paandaan is an exclusive piece of artistry that adorns the living rooms of the people even today.


Betel leaves are also stored in a container called the Nagardaan, which is a small box and is usually leaf-shaped. The Nagardaan finds a place next to the Paandaans. Freshly washed Paan leaves are stored in a Nagardaan.


Once the Paan is prepared with perfection, it is served with all the more refinement in a Khaasdaan. Khaasdaan is a tray that is covered with a lid and is used to serve the prepared Paans. In fact serving Paans in a Khaasdaan comes under the ambit of the etiquettes of Paan chewing. Khaasdaans come in different sizes and shapes that lace the Paan chewing activity with the “Nafasat” and “Nazakat” synonymous with the city of Nawabs.


Ugaaldaan, is a spittoon, which is used to spit the saliva that accumulates in the mouth while chewing Paan, better known as “Peek”. Ugaaldaan is a vital equipment of the Paan chewing activity as it involves the sophisticated disposal of the ‘Peek’, without spoiling the clothes of the eater or the surroundings. Today, unfortunately, people do not follow the etiquettes of Paan chewing and can be seen spitting the “Peek” everywhere, from the roads to the walls at public places, much to the abhorrence of others. But, ugaaldaans are a very common sight in the tradiotional Lakhnawi households.

Paan Chewing Etiquette

Paan chewing was a part of the rich and royal lifestyle of the Mughals and the Nawabs. The activity is bound to have been symbolic of class, manners and etiquette to have become a part of the royalty. It starts with the manner in which the Paan is served in a Khaasdaan. After the serving, the eater has to acknowledge the act with a salutation. The Paan is kept on one side of the mouth and is allowed to soften before being chewed. The saliva that amasses in this process is then spitted in an Ugaaldaan with great care so as to not soil the clothes, surroundings and not even the sides of the Ugaaldaan. Sadly enough, the pann-chewing etiquettehas gone missing today and one can easily see walls, staircases, and even historical structures been defaced by the uninhibited ‘Peek’ spitting culture.

Paan chewing symbolizes the lavish lifestyle of the Nawabs when chewing of the betel leaf was also a part of royal elegance. The prevalence of the large-sized exquisite Paandaans, the perfection in preparation and serving of the Paan, and the graceful Paan chewing act, together speak about the class and royalty associated with it. The culture was acceptable in the society and  it continues to be endorsed even today, but without all the glory and protocols.

In Lucknow, Paan chewing is common across the city, be it the old city or the new. The city has expressed a special fondness for the betel leaf and continues to keep the culture of Paan chewing alive even today. Do not miss out on the special Paans of Lucknow on your trip to the city of Nawabs.

January 15, 2018

No Royal Burial – Mysterious royal family of Awadh in Delhi’s Malcha Mahal die one by one leading a recluse life.

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:27 am

It is not only that British took revenge for the uprising of 1857-58 exiling then ruler of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah. But unfortunately the government of India too did not recognize any of the contributions of the Nawabs and the families that went against the British rule, how else does one explain the tragic story of Awadh Royalty dying a pauper in Malcha Mahal of Delhi located at the posh Sardar Patel Marg. The end of the last occupant Prince Ali Raza came on 2nd September 2017. His dead body was discovered by the guards of nearby Space Research Organisation on the floor near his wooden bed. With his death many questions remain unanswered and many allegations that the family faced from another Calcutta based royal Awadh family go undefended. (The letter of opposition by this Calcutta family is self explanatory : )

It was 28th May 1985 when the Prince shifted with his mother, Begum Wilayat Mahal, said to be from the lineage of Nawab of Awadh, his sister Sakina, 11 dogs of Labrador and Doberman breed, and their servants. This after camping at the New Delhi’s railway station for nearly 10 years in demand of a palace befitting their royal status from the government of India. The place was controversial and believed to be haunted as no one knew much about it. A sign board was hung here reading “Entry restricted: Cautious of hound dogs. Proclamation: Intruders shall be gundown” made it all the more mysterious. 

(To know a bit of background, it would be nice to read an old article by Vargis Khan : )

Prince Ali Raza was only fifty eight years of age when he died on 2nd September 2017 battling unknown illness at the Malcha Mahal, the palace occupied by the family after it was allotted to them near the Space Research Organisation’s Earth station on Sardar Patel Marg in New Delhi. The dilapidated palace is actually an erstwhile 14th century hunting lodge of Feroz Shah Tughlaq also called Tughlaq Lodge.

In his last days Prince Ali was alone and would often take help of the Earth Station guards to buy grocery and milk. The guards knew that the Prince was not keep very well and on not hearing from the Prince, a few guards of Space Research Organisation entered the palace only to find him dead on the floor. No one turned up to claim the dead body, thus finally the Prince was laid to rest on 5th September at the graveyard on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg by the local police.

“The family would mostly keep to themselves but welcomed few foreign guests who arrived in big cars. After the death of his sister and dogs a few years ago, the Prince was living a secluded life. We would see him going out riding his bicycle in the evening to fetch food and other essentials. No one dared to go near him without his permission,” said one of the officers posted at the Earth Station. A guard also added that the Prince always behaved like a true royalty but after falling ill he did interact a bit with guards to take their help.

The 14th century Malcha Mahal has an imposing structure but lacked basic amenities such as electricity and water. It is seriously strange how the family managed without any electricity or running water. The palace has about 5 arched chambers but all without any doors and windows, surely none of these chambers can be called rooms. Yet the family lived here with only a telephone connection in place. Prince would collect wood from the ridge to heat food and water and had a thermal bottle cooling box to keep drinks cool. Of course a radio and a tape recorder was found along with some crockery in his possession. Prince also read daily newspapers and a few English magazines.

An undated handwritten note by the Begum suggested that rainwater often seeped into the palace. “What is falling in Malcha Mahal Palace. Built by Emperor Feroz Shah. 13th century. Whose every inch of roof is ruptured flooding. All the rooms with rain water. Stones from the ceiling. Having no electricity and water. The vague assurance — declaration of the government of India,” the note reads.

What is discovered after the death of Prince Ali are the family belongings including old shoes, a typewriter, porcelain crockery, copper vessels, carpets, magazines, a corroded sword, a collection of family photographs, wads of visiting cards of foreign journalists and diplomats, copies of biography written by Princess Sakina Mahal and a collection of elegies and sonnets in Urdu penned by 19th century Awadhi poet Mir Baber Ali Anees.

The articles and documents may be of historical importance. The government must take over these things and also the structure. Though Malcha Mahal is not a protected monument in the list of Archeological Survey of India (ASI)

Before the family shifted to the Malcha Mahal, it was living at the platform no: 1 of New Delhi Railway Station and waited for an accommodation to be allotted  that was acceptable to then and suited the ‘royal stature’ in lieu of their ancestral properties that were taken over by the British after Oudh was annexed in 1856.

The stay of the royal family at the railway station was questioned in the Indian parliament and it was after the intervention of the then prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi that Malcha Mahal or Tughlaq’s lodge was allotted to the family.

“The Mahal was out of bounds to visitors, which was protected with barbed wires all around and 12 big dogs. After years, servants left and dogs died,” writes R.V.Smith – a renowned writer.

The New York Times in 1981 reported that Begum was provided a small palace in Srinagar after Independence, arranged by then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru on the request for ‘restitution of the Lucknow properties under advisement’. But she returned to New Delhi after the palace in Srinagar was burnt in fire in 1971.

 “The Kashmir palace burned to the ground and the Begum says that arsonists were responsible. She hints that they were government agents and that religious and communal motives lay behind the attack. It was just after the fire that the begum brought her family and retinue to the train station to be able to better advance her cause by calling on ministers,” New York Times reported.

Wilayat Mahal was also being offered a house in Aliganj area of Lucknow in 1977, when this new colony was being developed (now a posh residential locality of Lucknow) but she refused the offer and rather preferred staying at Malcha Mahal, believing that this palace suited her royal status.

In December 1993 at the age of 62 Begum Wilayat Mahal committed suicide presumably by consuming diamonds. Later Prince Ali’s also died a few year ago, though no one knows her death date.

The entire story of Malcha Marg is mysterious and somehow the mystery is still unsolved.  The story is a dark realty of royalty that went against the British and how they were even forlorn by our own governments later after independence. 

December 15, 2017

Mystery of ‘LAT’ at La Martiniere

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:42 am

Amongst the most intriguing and fascinating structures on La Martiniere Estate is the monumental tower or ‘Lat’ that adorns the east entrance to Constantia Palace. The legends that surround it range from the fanciful to the bizarre. These include, the Lat to be a memorial to Claude Martin’s horse; a structure with an underground tunnel linked to Constantia; the place where his heart is buried – a legend contributed to by a publication in The Illustrated London News many years after his death. It is the presence of such legends that adds mystique to a wonderful conglomeration of buildings that have acquired a character of their own.

The historical reasons for the construction of the Lat are different. Claude Martin, in his Will, provided significant instructions for what he described as an ‘Obelisk’, to be raised in the artificial lake created to build the promontory on which Constantia stands. In his Will, he wrote :

“The terrace I made in the middle of the tank to erect an obelisk on a base of 16 feet broad and 20 feet high and body of the obelisk to be about 80 feet high making in all 100 feet. For all these I will endeavour to make plan and elevation if God give me life to do it.”

Faithful executors of his Will commenced building the structure some years after his death. The structure itself was close to completion in 1814 when Governor General Lord Hastings toured the city, accompanied by the artist Seeta Ram, whose water colour c.1814 shows the scaffolding being dismantled around the giant pillar. School records of the time bear reference to the Memorial to General Claude Martin which was taken as a tribute of the people of those times to the Founder.

The structure itself, besides its rough dimensions does not bear any significant example of Claude Martin’s design. It was built by the architect and free mason J.P. Parker, who more famously built the Ochterlony Monument in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1825 in memory of Major General Sir David Ochterlony, commander of the British East India Company, to commemorate both his successful defense of Delhi against the Marathas in 1804 and the victory of the East India Company’s armed forces over the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War.

Direct comparison can be made to the remarkable similarly in structure. This includes the base, with a typical Egyptian box design, the fluted column, the Syrian lantern and the Turkish dome. Unlike the Ochterlony Monument, the General’s Lat is a solid structure with no access from within.

Technological advances in photography have captured views of narrow steps leading into the lantern on the summit of the column. Internal mechanisms including stays for pulleys and a thick chain, add to the wonder and raise a host of unanswered questions. A massive hook set in a giant piece of rock begs the question as to why it is there. Similarly, an additional pulley system – definitely not part of the original design – took the place of convenience at a later date. This was recently re-activated to commemorate the bicentenary of the structure. Further developments are bound to provide answers for the function and operation of the lantern.

Considering the layout of Lucknow and its surrounding villages, the Lat would have been the most striking structure rising above the forests of Luckperra – General Claude Martin’s Estate, boasting of 100,000 trees. It was built close to the River Gomti, the annual flooding of which inundated the lake in which the column was erected. It would have been a significant and regal marker, indicating the extent of General Martin’s estate. Traffic through the forests and groves would have been limited; people of wealth and importance preferring to use the river route. The great palaces and buildings of Lucknow all face the river, though the river entrances are no longer in effective use. These include the Imambara Complex, The Machchi Bhawan, The Farhad Baksh, The Chattar manzil, The Shahnajaf, Constantia Palace and Bibiapur Kothi and gardens. The grand ‘Lat’ acting as a complementary building to the baroque style mansion called Constantia would have created perspective enhancing the admiration of Constantia. The wide flight of steps, its railing, gateways, free-breathing, lions rampant, assorted statues and surmounting crown, was a grand statement made by the young French boy who made it big in a foreign land.

The ‘Lat’ continues to charm and to provoke us to a romantic thought, when a barn owl is silhouetted against the moon that shines through the arch on the lantern atop the lat, its hooting sends a direct message to the fired imagination of the smallest boy studying at La Martiniere, who looks up in wonder. This creates one more story to surround the silent spike pointing to the sky.

November 15, 2017

Sexuality in Urdu writings by Ismat Chughtai and her relevance today.

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:37 am


Ismat Chughtai was a renowned Indian author, who wrote primarily in Urdu and was known for her bold feminist face and open writings in spite of the fact that she belonged to an illustrious Muslim family that may not have been orthodox, but surely would have adhered to the values of early 1900s of pre-independent India that surely was quite orthodox, at least in openly taking about sexuality.

After the independence of India, when the country was partitioned on the basis of religion carving Pakistan for the followers of Islam, Chughtai in spite of being a Muslim writer chose to be in India or that she senesced that India could be a country that would give her all the freedom to be creative and that she as a scholar will not question for her works. She was quite vocal in her works that centered around sexuality, specially feminine sexuality in relation to conflicts in India, specially that of post 1940s or let’s say post independence. Ismat was in fact a very outspoken author who did not blink and ensured the voice of unheard, was heard loud and clear. It will not be wrong to say that the youth of that generation was inspired immensely by her and she was quite popular among the writers, readers and intellectuals of that age.

Though she was born in Badayun, a small town in Uttar Pradesh of a Civil Servant father posted in Rajasthan thus grew up in Jodhpur. She always was in love with Lucknow, specially the liking that she developed for its language and styles. This brought her to Lucknow where she Joined Isabella Thoburn College (IT College) for graduating. This period actually played a pivotal role in her writing. Lucknow was quite an open society even then comparatively and IT College of Lucknow was one of the marks of feminist education and an open environment for young women to live and think freely. In her college days she started writing secretly as the extended family and others around her were apposed to her gaining education and then also higher education. Her higher education in Lucknow and Aligarh did shape her liberal life and this is also proven by the fact that her own daughter, nephew & niece were married to Hindus (quite unthinkable even today). In her own words, Chughtai said she comes from a family of “Hindus, Muslims and Christians who all live peacefully”. She had not only read the Islamic religious book, Quaran, but also the Hindu text of Gita and Christian holy book, Bible, imbibing all the best from each with an open mind and free thinking.

Chughtai’s short stories reflect the cultural legacy in which she lived. This is especially notable in her story “Sacred Duty”, where she deals with social pressures in India, alluding to specific national, religious and cultural traditions.

One of her remarkable works, ‘Lihaaf’ proves her openness about sexuality and how she was vocal about it way back in 1940s, when it was so hard to think of this subject, leave alone writing about it, that too for a Muslim woman. If we analyse this particular work, we rather find our own society so rigid and regressive now in 21st century. 

Lihaaf, is an account of sexual desires that were often not fulfilled due to Indian society being rigid about this fact. This story written in 1942 was and still is controversial due to representation of sexual desires in many forms. Though a careful look will reveal that this is a story of sexual exploitation rather than being a story of sexual preference or expression. Of course it is one fine work that very delicately handles both the subjects well, exploitation and suppressed expressions. A young girl Ismat, is sent off to her well to do aunt, who lives in a large haveli and is married to a wealthy nobleman. Begum Jaan, Ismat’s aunt is actually a neglected wife, whose husband has a liking for young boys rather than women and to fulfill this desire, he shows as if he is involved in their education, though not really. The neglected wife chooses to find solace in a masseuse. All these vigorous activities happen under a quit, giving this story its name, ‘lihaaf’ meaning quilt. Ismat is actually a witness of all that goes on under the quilt as she shares the same room as her aunt’s, the movements of the quilt are so vigorous that Ismat as a young child remembers it as an elephant inside.

For Ismat to have attempted to write this subject and to bring out the hypocritical society to fore, was in itself a bold enough move for a Muslim woman in 40’s. Nobility and the upper middle class that was seen as a benchmark of the society had darker stories than thought or preserved. There was repression that resulted in hidden expressions of sexual desires, only that all of it was behind the curtains, inside the quits then and no one talked of it.

Has the society really moved on since after 80 to 90 years ? it seems, ‘no, not at all’, if we see all the present controversies that come up today, with regard to all the creative works and art or all the issues that still occupy the newspaper headlines.

October 15, 2017

Awadh & Korea – Fishes in Ayodhya

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:03 am

This story begins with a legend. From a 13th century Korean chronicle – Karak Sam Kuk Yusa – of the emergence of six princes from a clutch of golden eggs, descended from the heavens in a gilded casket wrapped in red silk.

The princes miraculously attain adulthood within twelve days. Suro – the eldest – is crowned first king of the Kara dynasty and ruler of Geumgwan Gaya. His siblings take over five other lesser Gaya’s (fiefdoms? ) forming a confederacy under their mighty brother.

In the meantime (approx. 48 AD) thousands of miles South, the king and queen of Ayodhya, (the birth place of Hindu God Rama) simultaneously experience dreams that prophecy their daughter’s betrothal to the the new king across the seas.

The beautiful princess Sri Ratna (precious jewel) duly sets sail on a boat sporting red silk sails, with a couple of her male siblings in attendance, and with a few magic imbued stones to protect her on the long and arduous sea journey to keep her destined date with the great King Suro. No storm or scheming courtiers can prevent their divinely ordained union.

And so it turns out that nearly a tenth of the population of Korea – all citizens with the clan names of Kim and Huh/ Hoon/ Heo from Gimhae and Lee from Incheon – apparently share their gene pool with the descendants of the royal family of Ayodhya! And by default, Rama himself!

The proof? The ‘magic’ stones arranged in a neat pile in the pagoda near the grave site of Queen Heo Hwang-Ok – the former princess ‘Suri Ratna’ – in Gimhae, South Korea.
And a unique (to Korea) stone carving of twin kissing fishes on the gate to King Suro’s tomb nearby, traced back to the heraldry of the kingdom of Awadh! (The name for the region, borrowed from ‘Ayodhya’, and later corrupted to the colonial Oudh.) We did spot several carved fish symbols on doorways across its erstwhile capital Lucknow.

It seems Indo Korean connections go back eons before their chaebols set up shop in the subcontinent!

A fish story? Shall let you decide.

Signature Cooking Styles of Awadh

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:26 am

Dum Pukht or Larhmeen or slow sealed cooking process is a technique In which vegetables and meat are cooked over very low flame in the sealed containers with a few spices. This technique may be based on earlier Persian cooking methods but introduced in the sub-continent by the Nawabs who originally belonged to Persia and were brought by the Mughals. Though Dum Pukht technique of cooking was Persian in origin, but later it became an inseparable part of the Awadhi cuisine and in fact a highlight of this cuisine.

Preparation of Dum Pukht:

Dum literally means ‘breathe in’ and pukht means ‘to cook’. In this process, cooking is done in a heavy bottomed round pot, often referred as ‘handi’ or also at times in clay pots in which the pot is sealed tightly and to slow cook the food over slow fire. The semi-cooked ingredients are put in a handi or a deg and the utensil is then sealed with the flour dough to avoid escape of aroma and evaporation of juices. The posts are then placed on slow charcoal fire and live burning charcoal pieces are placed on top of the lid to provide equal heat to ingredients. The Persian influence though is most evident in this method of cooking, this style in Awadh has acquired its own distinct character and has become an essential style of Awadhi cooking.

There are two different steps to this style of cooking. ‘Bhunao’ and ‘Dum’, ‘bhunao’ means roasting and ‘dum’ is about maturing of almost prepared dish. In this style of cuisine, spices and herbs play a vital role. The process of roasting slowly ensures the maximum release of flavours and sealing the juices of meat too, while the seal on the lid of handi with dough matures a dish. Most important of all, cooking slowly in its own juices, retains the entire natural aroma and the richness of flavours that distinguishes the dish.

Sealing of container with wheat dough is called pardah (veil), but in the cooking process it becomes bread that absorbs all the flavours of the food and often the two are best eaten together. In a nutshell, dum-pukht food is all about retained aroma. The beauty of the dish is in opening the seal of the pot when the entire room is filled with distinct aroma. Fresh Awadhi herbs and spices are used for flavouring and seasoning. The flavour and texture that results from slow cooking is quite distinct and differentiates the dishes to be placed on the higher level of culinary traditions.

This method is followed for a number of delicacies including Pulao, Biryani and Shab Degh.

What Legends Says ?

According to a legend, when Nawab Asif-ud-Dualah was on the throne and the Kingdom of Awadh was in the grip of famine, he started a food-for-work program. Thousands of subjects of Awadh were employed in the construction of Bada Imambara shrine. Large containers were filled with meat, rice, vegetables, spices and then sealed to make a simple single dish meal made available to the workers day and night. These pots were sealed for the purpose of not allowing the moisture or its aroma to escape and were placed on slow fire so as to avoid burning of the food and sustaining it for long time till served. One day, the Nawab on the inspection visit, caught the whiff of aroma just when the pots were opened, to be served to the workers. It was then that the Nawab ordered this process to be adapted for all the cooking in his royal kitchens.

There are other sources that state, Dum Pukht is also based on the traditional Peshawari method of cooking dishes buried in sand with fire that equate with Zamin-Doz, explained later. Or that this came with Mughals to India and with other tribes from Central Asia who were warrior clans. They would use this technique of cooking when going to war-fields in the mornings. They would seal the pots with all ingredients, place it on slow fire and leave for the war. In the evening by the time they returned the food was ready to be served. On return they were so tiered or at times injured that they never wanted to cook, so this method came to their rescue of getting a ready meal for dinner.  

Other Awadhi Styles of Cooking…


This is a quick smoke procedure, where smoke is used to flavour a meat dishes, dals (lentils) or even raita (whipped yogurt). The smoke permeates the ingredients and imparts a subtle aroma that enhances the quality of dish. Not sure if this is something close to umami, the fifth taste or call it the just dhungar, the sixth taste.

In this method, a shallow utensil or lagan is used in which meat or mince is marinated. A small bay is made at the center of the dish and a pan (betel) leaf, onion skin, clay bowl or just a small steel katori (bowl) is placed. In it a piece of live burning coal is placed and then melted ghee (clarified butter) is  poured over the burning coal to create smoke, also sometimes ghee is mixed with aromatic herbs or spices, the moment it smokes a lid is placed on the utensil, covering it with towel to further prevent the escape of smoke. After sometime, the coal is removed from the utensil and the dish is put through further cooking processes as required.


Nawabs were not only connoisseurs of taste but also fancied food that involved less of chewing and difficulty in eating. Kebabs from central Asia or meat dishes in other cuisines are often not so well done. Lucknow in particular fancied well-done meat dishes and it was an insult of a guest if the host served anything that was hard to eat or involved any chewing. Thus the Kebabs that you find in Awadhi cuisine, such as Galawat or Kakori or Pasanda all are so tender. Even the curry dishes or the meat chunks used in Pullao or Biryani are soft and tender, unlike in Mughalai or Hyderbadi cuisine that are cousins of Awadhi Cuisine. Galavat is a process where meat is tenderised to perfection with agents like papain from the raw papaya or kalmi shora as tenderizing agents. Often yogurt to is used to make a marinade that also acts as a great tenderiser of tough meat.


This is a method that is used for tempering a dish with ghee or butter (ghee – clarified butter) and spices. It may be done either at the beginning of the cooking as in curries or at the end as for the lentils and pulses. In the former, the fat is heated in a ladle (shallow small pan made for this very purpose) to a smoking point and after reducing the flame, spices (at times garlic too) are then added to it. When they begin to crackle, the ladle is immersed in the cooked dish and the main dish is immediately covered with a lid, so that the aroma and the flavours of flavoured hot ghee are retained in the main dish giving it a unique flavour.


This too is a very unique style of cooking, where a pit is dug in the ground and charcoal or cow-dung fire is placed in the pit. Over this fire sealed pot with ingredients is placed, usually fish or chicken dishes are a part of this style of cooking. On the top of the dish too fire is placed and the process takes about six to eight hours to cook, depending on the weather. Zamin-Doz Machli (fish) is one dish where an exclusive clay utensil is used in the shape of a fish, so as to place the full fish into it.

Awadhi cooking undoubtedly is about sixth taste that comes from the unique style of cooking methods often inspired by Persian style and styles of Central Asia. The styles adopted were further refined to perfection in the royal kitchens of Awadh, where Nawabs were not only connoisseurs of great tastes but also appreciated experimentation and innovations.


Tornos offers some well researched and curated home dining experiences at homes that are rooted to their culinary traditions. Their family cooks are also their priced inheritance and the ancestors of these cooks have been serving these families since their being in Awadh. Check out dining opportunity at Coquina.

August 15, 2017

William Hodson – Indian Perspective

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:24 am


The son of a clergyman, William Hodson had a good education. He was at school at Rugby, followed by Trinity College at Cambridge, but he was less interested in books and more in his vocation as a ‘Christian Soldier’.

Soon after he came to India, he fought in the Sikh wars. Latter, he became the district commissioner at Amritsar, from where he moved on to the North West Frontier to take up the position of the Deputy Commissioner of the Yusufzai tribal areas and adjutant of the new Corps of guides. However, Hodson found himself disgraced. In 1854, he was relieved of his command for falsification of regimental account and embezzling funds. He had also falsely accused and illegally imprisoned tribal leaders. Soon after, he killed a Subedar for being involved in the mutiny, but it is more likely, because Hodson, owed this man, money, which he had no intension of returning. William Dalrymple quotes a writer saying that Hodson ‘was too unscrupulous to be a good soldier and was really fit only to lead Italian banditti’.

While he was pressing for an enquiry to exonerate him, the rebellion broke out and this made all the difference to him. His energy and his ruthlessness had come to the attention of the Commissioner-in-Chief and he was permitted to raise a new regiment of irregular cavalry, comprising mainly of Sikhs. This was called Hodson’s Horse. Hodson was also given the task to gather intelligence in and around Delhi. In his operations, Hodson, like Nicholson, seldom bothered with legal niceties. Charles Allan quotes him as saying, ‘I never like my men take prisoners, but shoot them all at once.’ What is worse is that he took a sadistic pleasure in killing.

Hodson became an efficient intelligence chief. With the help of a one-eyed ‘maulvi’, Rajab Ali, he set up an extensive network of spies in Delhi and even enlisted informants in the rebel army, who fed vital information to the Britis, including rebel positions, gun placements, and the weak spots in fortifications. The rebels had no such reliable information about the British and this must have influenced the final outcome at Delhi.

As enemy troops advanced into the capital, the rebels fought fiercely. They fought for every street and every house, and even on the first day, a third of the British force had been killed in the fighting. Hodson was, to quote him, ‘horrified by the speed with which both the discipline and the morale of the army seemed to collapse’. But they regrouped and inch by inch, the British advanced and, after six days of intense fighting, the British flag was hoisted at the Red Fort.

After that the killing and the looting started. In comparison Nadir Shad’s massacre paled into insignificance. When he raised the arm with the sword, the massacre started, but a few hours later, he lowered his arm and it stopped. The British killing and plundering went on day after day making Delhi one big mass grave.

Hodson was an expert looter. His driving force was the desire to loot and he went about making his fortune. The historian Holmes calls Hodson ‘the most notorious looter in the whole army’.

Meanwhile, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Zeenat Mahal had escaped to Humanyun’s tomb.  The British wanted Bahadur Shah and his family captured. The man given this job was Hodson. Through his spy network he was in touch with Zeenat Mahal. At the tomb, Maulvi Rajab Ali, Hodson’s henchman, went in and negotiated with the emperor, while  Hodson and his escort hid in the ruins. The emperor’s life and dignity was guaranteed and other terms settled, after which he and his queen surrendered. The road back to the Capital was lined by thousands, and some walked behind the royal couple. It was a sad journey – The Emperor came back a prisoner.

The next day, Hodson persuaded the General to let him go again to Humanyun’s tomb in order to capture the three princes, Mirza Mughal, Khizr Sultan, and Abu Baker. Hodson rode out with an escort of 100 sawars (horse-riders) and again sent in the negotiator Rajab Ali.  The princes were given no guarantee, but seeing that the emperor had been spared, they assumed that they also would escape death. They were at the Khuni Darwaza near the city walls of Delhi, where according to Hodson’s version; a large threatening crowd seemed to be preparing to rescue the princes. Another officer, however, states that was only a small number of people and there was no threat. This latter version is also confirmed in a later account by Hodson’s own orderly. Hodson’s next action was horrific. He stopped the cart in which the princes were travelling and ordered them to get out and strip naked. He then shot them dead in cold blood. The Brazen plunderer that he was, he then stripped the corpses of their rings and their bejeweled swords. The next day, he wrote to his sister saying, ‘In 24 hours, I disposed off the principal members of the family of Timur, the Tartar. I must confess I did enjoy the opportunity of ridding the earth of these wretches’. The corpses were put on public display and Hodson was warmly congratulated by all Europeans who also added, ‘Hope you bag many more’. No enquiry was ordered into Hodson’s action.

Soon after, in March 1858, Hodson was shot dead when he was entering a palace in Lucknow looking for the booty of loot. The regiment of irregular cavalry raised by Hodson did well during his life time, but later it was accused of cowardly behaviour, on more than one occasion, during the campaign for the pacification of Oudh (Awadh). The regiment Hodson’s Horse, still exists in the Indian Army.


Hodson is buried in Lucknow and as a part of our special tour ‘Revisiting Lucknow of 1857-58‘ a visit to his grave is included along with sharing of some more facts about the soldier.  Of course the British versions is quite different and as a part of this tour both versions are presented. 

July 15, 2017

Journey of Thumri from Lucknow to Calcutta

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:02 am

The dulcet notes of a song resonated across the long corridor of the Durbar Hall in Metiyaburj. The floor, covered with decorative carpets and enveloped in white linen or chandni, was graced by the assemble musician. Large mirrors and crystal and chandeliers added to the aura and reflected the admirer gathered in the Hall. The sound of ghunghurus was reverberating the alleyways of the palace. The ambience of was reminiscent of the lost glory of Lucknow. A Bengali bhadralok stepped down from a buggy and sauntered down the hallway of the durbar. He was cordially greeted by Wajid Ali Shah and seated next to him.



Raja Sourinder Mohan Tagore (1840-1914) was one of the greatest connoisseurs  of music of the time. Raja Sahib had travelled all the way from Pathuriaghata to Metiyaburj to enjoy the quintessence of Lucknowi Thumri. The music genre was not unknown to him, but yet the thumri that was sung in the Durbar of Metiyaburj had an Unique distinction. Raja Sourinder Mohan Tagore had a perfect understanding of the Hindu musical genre that had won him laurel from all corner of the world. But thumri held place of pride in his heart, especially when the King’s own composition were sung in the Durbar. With this, the story of an exotic and highly mellifluous musical genre started to unfold under banks of the Hooghly.

Wajid Ali Shah’s most popular thumris are those that are the saddest yet sweetest of parting songs. In the durbar of Metiyaburj, the badshah sang his own songs with great devotion and patriotism. Whilst singing, he would be in a state of joyous ecstasy, transported back to his beloved Lucknow, both in body and soul. He would sit quietly for a moment and tears would trickle down to his face. Thus, he lamented,

“All this time I was in a dreamland as though transported by unknown hands to my Kaisarbagh Baradari. Ah, what I have left behind! Now only the sweet memories lingr”.

The Durbar Hall of Metiyaburj would be brimming with eminent musician and music personalities of Calcutta who had assembled to cherish the archetypical style of Lucknowi thumri and kathak dance composed by Wajid Ali Shah. The Jadunath Bhattacharya (1834-80) popularly known as Jadu Bhatta, and Aghore Nath Chakravarty, were great admirers of Badshah’s Durbari thumri at Metiyaburj. Pandit Jadu Bhatta was also the music –guru of Ravindranath Tagore and a resident of Thakurbari at Jorasanko for some time. He sang dhrupad in the durbar of Metiyaburj and accompanied by the notable Pukhwaji Keshab Chandra Mitra.

Among several other musician of Calcutta who came to visit Metiyaburj. Murad Ali Khan was one.  The renowned North Indian dhrupadiya of Tilwandi gharana was a long time resident of Calcutta. Murad Ali was one of the very few singers who were  given the right to sing the Deepak rag in the durbar. It is said that he was a court musician of Wajid Ali Shah’s in Metiyaburj for a while and left the durbar during the Badshah’s lifetime. He was also the music guru of Aghore Nath Chakravarty.

The Badshah continued his Bhairavi thumri in bol banao style: 

Babul mora naihar chuuto hi jaaye,

chaar kahaar mil, mori doliiyaa uthaaye,

 more apanaa begana chhuto hi jaaye, 

anganaa to parbat bhaye, dehlii bhayi bides,

 je baabul ghar aapano, mai chali piya ke des. 

Meaning- O father; I depart reluctantly from my home.  Four men gathered to lift my palanquin and my loved ones will become strangers. The innermost portals of my home will be unreachable as I leave my father’s home and go to my husband’s country. 

This immortal piece enthralled not only the honourable guests of Metiyaburj, but continues to enliven the hearts of millions of listeners even today. Hidden in these lines is an esoteric allegory of a desolate heart after he is separated from his homeland and banished from his kingdom. The four bearers of the palanquin (‘chaar kahaar mil, mori doliiyaa uthaaye’) are symbolic of the four bearers of his coffin. The Badshah might have been contemplating to end his life in self-exile and thus his song had taken him away from all mores of life. However, it was his passion for music that incited him to keep his sweet memories of Lucknow alive. Soon, Metiyaburj, his kingdom-inexile, blossomed as a centre of classical vocal and instrumental music, where a large number of musicians from northern India Would congregate. 

Initially referred to as a raga rather than a genre, thumri in the latter form is believed to have originated in the court of Lucknow under Wajid Ali Shah. The common theme that runs through most of his durbari thumri is ‘separation’. Although some texts epitomized the heavenly joy of lovemaking, it was eclipsed by the pangs of departure. While the throne of Delhi was losing its lustre by middle of the eighteenth century, Lucknow was emerging as a political, economic and cultural centre of northern India. Lucknow was gifted with an elite class that had both the taste and wealth to patronize innumerable courtesans and musicians that had migrated from Delhi. The Lucknow tawaifs were diligently trained in classical music and were exalted as eminent exponents of classical art. But unlike the Mughal penchant for classical music, the Lucknowi durbar tended to renounce the demanding dhrupads and kheyal for the lighter and more adaptable thumri and ghazal.

In the two decades preceding the great revolt of 1857, thumri reached its apogee of popularity in Lucknow court. Thumri in combination with kathak made its debut in the court of Wajid Ali Shah and remained enmeshed in the kothas of the Lucknowi tawaifs till mid-nineteenth century. While Wajid Ali Shah is ascribed as the father of present-day genre of thumri, it was his courtier Sadiq Ali Khan who was the single most important figure to develop Lucknow gharana of thumri. Sadiq Ali Khan was trained in kheyal and was one of the very few masters whose name is associated with the transformation of thumri from kheyal. Chroniclers believe that it was he who refined and introduced the bandish thumri in Lucknow. Believed to be a centenarian, Sadiq Ali Khan had many renowned disciples including the Badshah himself as well as Bindadin Maharaj, Qadr  Piya and some distinguished tawaifs like Haidar Jan and Najma.

Thumris were traditionally composed in Braj Bhasa, or the dialect of Agra-Mathura region of North India, which was closely associated with the devotion of Lord Krishna. Some were composed in Khari Boli and a few in Urdu. Incorporating Urdu vocabulary in some of the compositions is indicative of the region’s desire to adapt to Muslim taste. Wajid Ali Shah was an adept composer of light classical thumri under his pen name, Akhtar Piya. The King composed his thumris in Braj Bhasha and some in Urdu as well. Together with Bindadin Maharaj, Wajid Ali composed melodies of light classical thumris to blend with kathak. Dadra also emerged along with thumri in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. Dadra, a genre of light classical Hindustani music, resembles thumri in many aspects and gave much more freedom to the artists. The text that dealt with love and passion was originally sung in Dadra tal (rhythm) in the King’s court. Another important thematic form of thumri was one that was composed to celebrate the vernal festival of Holi. The deposed king was a secularist and his compositions of thumri crossed the narrow boundaries of religious chauvinism. Based on the sensuality of Krishna-cult, Wajid Ali’s lyrics comprised several names of Hindu avatars such as Hari, Radha and Jugal Kishore.

A much lighter classical music-genre called ghazal had flourished in the court of Lucknow during the heyday of Wajid Ali Shah. The Badshah was passionate about Urdu poetry and composed some immortal ghazals, which are sung even today. Ghazal, a Muslim oriented semi-classical genre, lay outside the tradition of Sanskrit-based musical themes. The efflorescence of Lucknow culture played an important role in bolstering the more adaptable ghazals and thumris than the austere dhrupad and kheyal. The famous Urdu poet and composer of some evergreen ghazals-Amir Meenai (1826-1900) served in the court of Wajid Ali Shah for five years till the mutiny broke out.

Chroniclers narrate that Wajid Ali Shah brought with him a bevy of gifted musicians in his mimic capital of Metiyaburj. However, no authentic record is available to testify that the great maestros of Awadh had settled in Calcutta along with the deposed king. The connoisseurs either stayed back in Lucknow or migrated to enrich the durbars of other princely states. Calcutta was never considered productive by the genius players before the beginning of the Nawabi era.

Unlike classical dance, Bengal had perceived the taste of classical music long before Wajid Ali Shah’s arrival. A dhrupad Style of Bengali classical music made its debut in the court of Malla King Raghunath Singha II of Bishnupur in Bankura district between 1702 to 1712, after he brought in Ustad Bahadur Khan Se’nia and his pukhwaj player Peer Baux, from Delhi on a very high remuneration.Bahadur Khan, a descendent of Tansen’s lineage developed the famous and the only classical genre in Bengal, the Bishnupur gharana.

Pandit Jadhunath Bhattacharya (alias jadu Bhatta) the distinguished musician who also attended the court of Metiyaburj, was a dhrupadiya of Bishnupur Gharana. Although dhrupad started losing ground to kheyal in North India from eighteenth century onwards, the metamorphosis happened much later in Bishnupur. Aghore Nath Chakravarty of Bishnupur gharana and a celebrity in Metiyaburj durbar experimented with Bishnupuri kheyal. Wajid Ali Shah got a flavour of Bishnupuri gharana when these guests visited his durbar in Metiyaburj and sung in their own style.

Wajid Ali Shah’s presence led to the decision of innumerable musicians to migrate to Calcutta. It was then that Bengal got the taste of a distinguished North Indian semi-classical gharana. The Badshah brought with him to Calcutta his thumri along with his nautch girls and musicians who could create magic on their instruments. Thumri as a genre soon percolated down from the zamindars to the womenfolk of the city’s bordellos. Chitpore was one such area where the courtesans followed the lifestyle of Lucknowi tawaifs. A new generation of talented musicians was born who further refined the thumris. Lucknow never encouraged pure classical music; rather it bolstered a variety of light classical styles and made them popular throughout the country. The musical culture of Bengal preferred the lighter style of thumri to the abstruse kheyal and dhrupad. In Calcutta, similar to Lucknow, thumri went concurrently with kathak.

 When Wajid Ali Shah came from Lucknow to settle in Calcutta, the babu culture was already tuned to accept the brilliance of his thumris. Wajid Ali Shah aroused much interest amongst the elite in Calcutta to whom the grandeur of Lucknowi thumri was net unknown. Rather, the influence of Lucknowi thumri was so strong in Calcutta that classical music was completely swamped and replaced by light classical style after 1860. The King composed several raginis under his pseudonym Akhtar Piya and named them Jogi, Juhi and Shah pasand, the last meaning ‘favourite of the king’ and charmed his audiences who were hitherto alien to him.

Although some of the most mellifluous ghazals were composed by the King for his books Diwani-Akhtar and Huzn-e-Akhtari in Calcutta, the Muslim oriented genre of music was not enjoyed by the Hindu dominated Bengali bhadralok society. The amicable cultural interaction between the two religions, Which was a distinctive feature in Lucknow was somewhat missing in Calcutta. Calcutta which was greatly swayed by the egos of Hinduism, unlike Lucknow, looked down on ghazals as a product of Islamic culture The new style of North Indian majlishi music found no place in the heart of Bengali elite. Traditionally, ghazals are poetic expressions of the pangs of separation and loss. Wajid Ali’s own ghazals were full of pain and pathos reflecting his grief-laden heart. But Urdu and Persian lyrics baffled the people of Calcutta’s music circle and in the durbar of Metiyaburj too.

Before the advent of thumri in Calcutta, another semi-classical form of North Indian music called tappa found its Way from Lucknow into the heart of Bengali music lovers, Tappa is said to have developed in the court of Asaf-ud-Daulla from popular folk songs of camel riders in Punjab and Sindh and the credit for it goes to Asaf-ud-Daulla’s court singer Shori Mian (1742-92). Wajid Ali Shah’s penchant for tappa is not very evident, although scholars believe that during his time kheyal Was sung in tappa style and a new sub genre called tappa-kheyal was developed by him.

According to some authors, Imam Bandi, the famous tappa singer of Benaras, spent many years in Metiyaburj. She trained a number of students including her son Ramzan Khan and Nagendra Nath Bhattacharya. Ramzan Khan became a famous singer of tappa-kheyal style, who stayed in Calcutta till his death.

A large number of composers from Delhi and Lucknow had dissociated themselves from their erstwhile Muslim supporters and migrated to Calcutta in early nineteenth century. Now they thrived under the lavish tutelage of Hindu bhadraloks despite the presence of a decent Muslim population in Calcutta. The deposed king was poised to be the leader who prodded the budding Muslim gentry of Calcutta to patronize great performers of music.

Though the King was accompanied by a bevy of adept musicians, his hunt for talent never stopped in Calcutta. Sharar once narrated an incident when Wajid Ali became restless to meet one Dhunni Khan, a famous singer in Calcutta. Dhunni was performing in a majlis at Metiyaburj in the house of a noble and his melodious voice reached the ears of the banished King. Dhunni Khan obliged to sing before the court, but after hearing his songs the King commented, ‘He has a good voice but does not know music. The King therefore rejected him and Dhunni Khan found no place in his court.

The quest for talent went on till his last days. Near the end of his life the King gave refuge to a twenty-six-year-old jewish Armenian lady, who had come to seek fortune in Calcutta from Benaras. Malka Jaan, as she was called, had her training in music under Kalloo Ustad and had learnt dance from Ali Baksh of Lucknow. Her original name was Victoria Hemmings who later embraced Islam and renamed herself as Malka jaan. Malka was known for her stunning beauty cloaked in white skin, personal appeal and excellent skill in Hindustani classical music. When she was invited to perform at Qasr ul Baiza in Metiyaburj, the tawaif enthralled the Badshah by singing two of his own thumris. A wave of emotion rippled through the court and an overwhelmed King was struck with nostalgia. The long cherished dream of Malka Jaan of Azamgar to establish herself in the court of Wajid Ali Shah was realized. She was appointed the court singer and her illustrious musical career started to bloom. Malka Jaan settled in Calcutta in 1883 with her ten-year-old-daughter, Angelina Yeoward alias Gauhar. Malka Jaan was a gifted poetess. Her Urdu verses were complied as Makhzan-e-Ulfat-e-Mallika and published in Calcutta in 1886. Malka bought a house at Chitpore where she lived for the rest of her life. Gauhar was brought up in the cultural milieu of Chitpore. She would often lurk in a corner of Wajid Ali Shah’s durbar to watch her mother perform. Gauhar was exposed to North Indian classical gharanas in Metiyaburj. Gauhar blossomed as the iconic Gauhar jaan and became the first Indian artist to press a gramophone record in 1902.

The kheyal exponent Ali Baksh was employed in the durbar of Metiyaburj, but the exact year of his arrival in Calcutta is not known. Ali Baksh stayed in Metiyaburj while the King was alive and afterwards he spent some years in the Barabazaar area of Calcutta and finally went back to Gwalior. The only Bengali student he had in Metiyaburj was Pandit Bamacharan Bandhopadhyay who eventually became a legendary kheyal singer in Bengal. Ali Baksh’s blessings on his favourite student gave him an opportunity to sing kheyal raag Bhopali before Wajid Ali Shah. The King’s commendation in the durbar was indeed the lifetime recognition for Bamacharan in his music career.

Abdul Halim Sharar in his commentary mentions the names of Ahmed Khan, Taj Khan and Ghulam Hussain Khan as distinguished singers in the court of Metiyaburj. Ahmed Khan was an exponent of kheyal and tappa in Lucknow who came to Calcutta after the King was deposed. But how long he stayed in Metiyaburj is not known. Ahmed Khan had many Bengali students of whom Benimadhab Adhikari, alias Beni Ustad, was the most eminent. Pandit Bamacharan Bandhopadhyay also took training under Ahmed Khan for some days in Metiyaburj.

Little is known about Ustad Taj Khan, except that he was a dhrupad and kheyal singer of Senia lineage in the court of Lucknow and came to Metiyaburj with the King. Afterwards, he left Calcutta and joined the royal court of Nepal. Bamacharan Bandhopadhyay came in contact with Taj Khan during his stay in Calcutta. There is hardly any information available on Ghulam Hussain in the music circle of Bengal.

A host of North Indian musicians were engaged in the durbar of Metiyaburj though their names are not known. However, some of them can be traced from the oral tradition of Bengal and the memoirs of many distinguished Bengali musicians who spent their student years in Metiyaburj.

The debut of Lucknowi thumri in Calcutta by Wajid Ali Shah triggered a spurt of creativity in the sphere of Hindustani classical music of Bengal. Soon Calcutta emerged as an edifying hub of classical music in India and for this the credit goes to the King. Wajid Ali was not only a benevolent patron of music but was himself a gifted composer. His experiment with Hindustani music opened a new horizon in the history of semi-classical genre. But his reputation did not remain unblemished. While the popularity of thumri was widely attributed to the munificent support of Wajid Ali Shah, his ardent generosity could not escape the criticism of one of his contemporary writers Ustad Asadullah Kaukab. Kaukab, a renowned Sarodia and musicologist of his age who stayed in Metiyaburj wrote:

“Wajid Ali was a master at the art and possessed the knowledge of an expert but cannot escape the criticism that it was his conventional and cheap tastes that made the music of Lucknow frivolous and easily understood by all. In accordance with popular tastes even the most discriminating singers omitted difficult techniques and based their music on light, simple and attractive tunes which could be appreciated by everyone… During the reign of Wajid Ali Shah there was a large number of musical experts in Lucknow, but the singers which had influence at court and received royal titles, were not among the most adept… There was much talk of music at the time of Wajid Ali Shah, but the art had fallen from favour and only the commonplace aspects were in vogue. In Lucknow, Kadar Piya (one of the pseudonym of Wajid Ali) composed Thumris, which became popular with the masses with the result that music was cheapened. Most music lovers lost interest in the classical forms of ragas and raginis and began to enjoy Kadar Piya’s Thumris.”

The criticism was undoubtedly idiosyncratic and unfortunate. Asadullah Kaukab, a keen observer of Hindustani gharanas of fine arts since the beginning of his career, was puritanical in his views. The King’s innovation was therefore frowned upon Probably he was right in his own wisdom. Yet, the King’s generosity in developing a variety of light classical styles explicitly whetted the appetite of the Bengali intelligentsia.

June 14, 2017

Unani Medicine in Awadh

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:50 am

During the period of Nawabs, the capital of Awadh was shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow by Nawab Asif-ud-Daula in 1775 and the same continued till the reign of Wajid Ali Shah (1847-1856).

Famous Hakeems of the Nawabi Era: A study of the Nawabi period reveals that the following Hakeems (Unani Physicians) were associated with the royal administration:

  1. Hakeem Mirza Bachchu
  2. Hakeem Mirza kochak
  3. Hakeem Mirza Jaafar
  4. Hakeem Mirza Mehdi
  5. Mumtaj ud daula Hakeem Mehdi Ali Khan
  6. Hakeem Mirza Mir Murtuza
  7. Hakeem Mirza Ali Khan
  8. Tabeeb ud daula
  9. Hakeem Mirza Mohammad Ali
  10. Masih ud daula Mirza Ali Hasan
  11. Hikmat ud daula
  12. Hakeem Mirza Zafar Ali Khan
  13. Hakeem Banda Raza Khan
  14. Hakeem Meer Mohammad
  15. Hakeem Mir Ali
  16. Hakeem Mohammad Yaqoob

Names of these Hakeems find mention in the description of the Nawab of Avadh (Waaquat-e-Salateen-Avadh by Syed Kamaluddin Haider Mashhadi).

Moulvi Mohammad Abdul Haleem Sharar has in his work ‘Guzishta Lucknow’ has written that  famous Hakeems of Delhi started migrating to Avadh during the period of Nawab Shuja ud Daula  (1754 to 1775)  when  all except one or two  Hakeems of Delhi came to Avadh. The history of Faizabad also reveals that one or the other Hakeem was always associated with the royal courts. They were given high regard by the administration beside good monthly salary and extravagant rewards.

During the reign of Nawab Asif ud Daula (1775 to 1797) Lucknow became the centre of art and artist always preferred to be here. Many traditional Hakeems of Delhi settled here and in a short span of time, the medicinal art became an attribute of Lucknow which produced such renowned and envied Hakeems such as Hakeem Masih ud Daula, Hakeem Shifa ud Daula, Hakeem Mirza Mohammad Ali, Hakeem Syed Mohammad Murtuza, Hakeem Mirza Mohammad kochak, Hakeem Nabba (Nabbaz) and Hakeem Mirza Mohammad Jafar, who were the authorities on the subject of Unani medicine. In due course, the Unani system of medicine reached its zenith when rarely a mohalla (locality) could be found without a renowned hakeem. Thousand of clinics (matab) were started in towns and village in and around Lucknow. In short, Lucknow produced many famous Hakeems, whose achivment are still remembered. The desertations relating to Nawabs of Avadh contain details about many famous Hakeem and their families. These include Hakeem Shifai Khan Hakeem Syed Mohammad Asghar Rizvi Isfahani, Hakeem Syed Mohammad Mushtaq, Mumtaz ud-daula Hakeem Mehdi Ali khan, Nawab Hakeem Tafazzul Hasain Khan, beside the families of Hakeem Mashi-ud-Duala, Hakeem Mohammad Ali Nabba Mualy Khan, Hakeem Ali Sharif, Mirza Hainga, Mirza Mohammad jawad and Hakeem Meeran. These Hakeem families took themedicinal art to its peak in Avadh. The pupils of these Hakeems spread over different cities and regions of India and propagated and extended the philosophy of Lucknow school of medicine. The hakeems of Avadh did not only benefit the patients by treating them, they also taught the important lessons from the books of medicine and trained others in the diagnosis and medicinal prescriptions. They also wrote important books and periodicals that were of immense help to the students of medicine as well as for the practicing hakeems and these still continue to benefit.

Also Some hakeems, established their own schools for teaching medicine. Syed Agha Medhi in ‘Tareekh-e-Lucknow’ has written that the Nawabs and Kings of Avadh promoted and patronized the Unani medicinal so much that first Amberganj then Jhawai Tola and lastly Johari Mohalla looked like small territories of Unan (Greece). Lucknow produced many hakeems, who will be remembered for long. Most of the hakeems who spread over other parts of the country, bow respectfully before these master physicians. The Unani medicine was promoted significantly by Hakeem Mohammad Yaqoo, Sehatuddaula, Masihuddaula, Hakeem Nabba, Hakeem Kochak and lastly Shifauddaula.

Syed Jalaluddin Haider, alias Agha Hajjoo Sharat, resident of Matia Burj Calcutta has in his Masnavi Afsanai Lucknow mentioned about famous hakeems of Wajid Ali Shah (1847-1856). This masnavi was written in the year 1873 and published by Nishat Publications, Delhi in 1885 under the supervision of Syed Mohammad Naqvi. The Masnavi mentions following hakeems :-

  1. Masih ud daula Mirza Ali Hasan Bahadur Ambassador of Avadh.
  2. Tabeeb ud Daula
  3. Hakeem Meerza Ali
  4. Shifa ud duala
  5. Sehat ud Daula, the yes man of Masih ud daula
  6. Hakeem Banda Raza Khan
  7. Nawab Hakeem Sarfaraz
  8. Hakeem Qasim Ali
  9. Hakeem Mohammad Yaqoob

Most of the Hakeem of Lucknow were invited by the Nawabs of Avadh and many of them settled in Mohan, Bilgram, Balrampur, Mahmoodabad, Sandeela, Ghazipur, Zangipur, Jaunpur, Banaras, Khairabad, Daryabad, Zaidpur and Jalalee has also produced many renowned hakeems.

Till date one can find the Unani medicine thriving well and being highly trusted in Lucknow. In spite of the advent of modern medicine system there still is a huge Lucknow population that trusts this system of Medicine. On our Heritage Walk we introduce out guests to one such clinic that is example enough to show its popularity in Lucknow and then we have a hospital and a college of Unani medicine at Turiaganj in Lucknow.

May 14, 2017

HASRAT MOHANI – Poet and beyond

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:44 am


We have known Hasrat Mohani as a poet whose Ghazals most of us have heard and keep hearing quite often. The one sung by Ghulam Ali, “Chupkey Chupkey Raat Din Ansoon Bahana Yaad Hai….” Is all time favourite and have been sung by some great singers including Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan and so many of their repute. One fact that we have not known well or may be that we have not appreciated, is about the poet’s role in the independence struggle of India that got us freedom from the British Raj in 1947.

Hasrat Mohani was actually a pen name of Syed Fazl-ul-Hasan, born at Mohan a bordering town of Lucknow on 1stJanuary 1875. His ancestors belonged to Nishapur, in Iran and possibly had come to the Moughal courts as many from Iran had migrated to assist the emperors in the administration of the vast Moughal Empire. In his student days, he was quite brilliant and hardworking and had also topped the state level exams in those days. For higher studies he went to the Aligarh Muslim University, where some of his colleagues were Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali. His teachers in poetry were Tasleem Lucknawi and Naseem Dehlvi the two remarkable poets themselves of their times.

First war of independence took place around 160 years ago. All communities in India, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others not only took part in this war but also made supreme sacrifices for this cause. This war of independence created unprecedented unity between people of India from top to bottom, from the ruling classes to the common ones, uniting all to mount greatest challenge to the British rule. Fighters who rebelled against the British rule paid heavy price as upon failing the British wrath descended on them. From emperor to ordinary peasants to priests and intellectuals all were severely punished for taking part in the Mutiny, as the British chose to call it. Zamindars lost their jagirs (estates) and large numbers of intellectuals and priests were exiled to places like Malta (an island near Italy) and Andaman Nicobar Island.

Probably the events of 1857 left an indelible mark on his mind and in later years these translated into Hasrat Mohani’s inclination towards the freedom struggle of India. Prolonged and unending British atrocities on the families of those who revolted in 1857, even their next generation, had moved this eminent scholar, an intellectual and a litterateur, Hasrat Mohani to join the freedom struggle of Inda. He was a great uncompromising freedom fighter who rose in the early twentieth century, and was one of the greatest admirers of Bal Gangadhar Tilak (also known as Lokmanya Tilak) for Tilak’s strong statement, “Freedom is my birth right”. Hasrat always referred Lokmanya Tilak as Tilak Maharaj, even in his poetry.

jab tak vo rahe dunyā meñ rahā ham sab ke diloñ par zor unkā

ab rah ke bahisht meñ nizd-i-khudā hūroñ pe kareñge rāj Tilak

har hindū kā mazbūt hai jī, Gītā kī ye bāt hai dil pe likhī

ākhir meñ jo khud bhī kahā hai yahī, phir āeñge maharāj Tilak.

(When he was here in this world he ruled the hearts of all of us; And now in Paradise, in God’s embrace, he rules over the houris. Every Hindu’s heart is strong; on it are carved Gita’s words, And also what he himself said: Maharaj Tilak shall come again)

He was so absorbed in the freedom movement that he became totally indifferent to any suffering, pain or pleasure. He maintained equanimity in all conditions. He could live on very little income or sometime no income at all. He was repeatedly jailed by the British but never complained about the imprisonment. His greatest quality was that standing and speaking for truth without any fear of consequences thereupon. He was totally uncompromising on this quality of his. He never went back on his word. Once he published an article in his magazine. The writer had requested anonymity. The article was against the British rule. The authorities demanded to know from Hasrat, the name of the writer, which was not revealed by him. The British authorities threatened to confiscate his security deposit and stop his publication. He still refused to disclose the name and not only his security deposit were confiscated, he was arrested, his precious library was destroyed and he was put in jail. Yet he kept his promise of not revealing the name of the actual writer.

Though Hasrat was a very orthodox Muslim but at the same time he was also a communist. He used to call himself in his ghazal verse a ‘Sufi Mu’min’ and ‘Ishtraki’ Muslim’ (a Sufi believer and a communist Muslim). He was one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in 1925.

It is important to note that even his wife Nishatunissa Begum, a woman who had always lived in purdah, also participated in freedom movement along with her husband. When the Indian National Congress held its session in Kanpur in 1925, Hasrat and his wife Nishatunnissa Begum came to the Congress Pandal with a procession of workers and peasants and wanted to enter into the Pandal but were stopped by Sevedal volunteers led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Nehru asked Seva Dal volunteer to lathi charge them. Hasrat’s wife got furious and scolded Nehru for such a dictatorial order. Later Nehru realised his mistake and apologised to the lady for his deed.

Hasrat was involved in the freedom movement right from his college days and constantly faced problems during his college days for his uncompromising attitude. After coming out of college he started apparently an Urdu literary magazine called Urdu-e-Moalla but, as pointed out before, he used to publish articles of political nature supporting freedom struggle. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1904 and continued to participate in its session as a delegate until 1907 (Surat session). He also used to publish the reports of various Congress sessions like Calcutta, Benaras, Bombay etc. in his Urdu-e-Moalla.  He also never accepted pro-British stance of Muslim League. He severely criticized it in his article in Urdu-e-Moalla. The Muslim league leaders used to highly praise the British government and what it was doing for Indians. On this he wrote an article in his magazine saying it is not necessary to thank the British for some incidental and temporary benefits accruing to Indians. He maintained that real thing is to judge what the intentions of the British are. He was challenging the speech of Nawab Waqarul Mulk in this article as the Nawab had praised the British government for what it was doing for the Indians.

He is also credited for starting a Swadeshi Store in Aligarh to support the civil disobedience movement of early twenties. He started this store when his magazine was confiscated by the British and he was such great supporter of Swadeshi (all that’s made in India) that he even refused to use a foreign blanket during cold December night when he had to sleep in Suleman Nadvi’s office (historian, biographer, litterateur and scholar of Islam. He co-authored Sirat-un-Nabi and wrote Khutbat-e-Madras). Hasrat Mohani spent whole night shivering but did not use the blanket.

He was very diligent in observing all Islamic rites and used to fast during Ramadan in Jail when he had to grind one mound of grain every day in the hot month of May. But at the same time he was very active in the Communist movement and played a very important role in founding the Communist Party in 1925.

After 1947, in order to reward his contributions towards the freedom of the country, the government decided to make Maulana Hasrat Mohani a member of the constituent assembly which was given the task of drafting the constitution of independent India. But Hasrat Mohani was intelligent enough to see the politics behind choosing him in the role. He was sure that the move was made to give greater representation to the minority Muslims; a fact which Hasrat Mohani felt was hypocritical and unnecessary.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani lived and died for the freedom of India and a just social order in the independent India after its independence in 1947. His last day came on 13th May 1951 in Lucknow.

April 15, 2017

Role of Eunuchs in Muharram of Awadh

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:45 am

(Tornos conducts a special tour during Muharram : “Weeping Lucknow” (on 1st day and again from the 6th till the 10th day of Muharram and yet again on 50th & 68th days of Muharram)


The role of Khwajasaras (eunuchs) in promotion and preservation of Azadari (practice of mourning) has been praiseworthy. But history has somewhat remained biased towards their role in promotion of Muharram (mourning month of Shia Muslims; first month in Islamic calendar) rituals in Awadh Kingdom. It is unfortunate as their contribution to preserve the sacred memory of the martyrs of Karbala is second to none. Historians deliberately overlooked eunuchs or fell prey to forgetfulness while penning down various shades of azadari during the era of Lucknow Nawabs? This question may always shroud in mystery but grave injustice meted out to them still remains a harsh reality and efforts should be initiated to put them on Hussainiyat’s roll of honor.

The court eunuchs served as an interface between the interiors of the royal harem (household) and the world that existed beyond it. As they had access to both Harem and outside world, Begums who were required to confine themselves within the harem had to avail the services of eunuchs to seek outside information and convey their instructions and advice to the officers of the durbar (court).The chief of these eunuchs was called Khwajasara. He was not only significant but often enjoyed great influence on the ruler and his queens. Some Khwajasaras even had managed to assumed power to the extent that they could manipulate matters that were placed into their confidence.

The rulers were always on the lookout of trustworthy eunuchs. Most of them came from the families of Rajput warriors captured in battles. Male youths of these families were castrated and brought up in harems. The Nawabs often entrusted their eunuchs with official duties, such as managing their owners’ estates or even tax-farming entire provinces, transforming them into a mamluk (slave-ruler) substratum of the government. The slave eunuch officials accumulated vast properties that legally belonged to their masters, although they often could influence the disposition of their property.

One such Khwajasara was Mian Almas Ali Khan who served as ‘Amil’ during the reign of Nawab Asaf Ud Daula. He was an able administrator and created new records in tax- collection. His efforts not only increased the state revenue but he himself amassed huge wealth. Mian Almas also commanded lot of respect from British. He was born in a Jat family but after his castration, he embraced Islam and like his master developed great affection towards the progeny of Prophet Hazrat Muhammad. Almas Khan spent generously on the construction of Imambaras and mosques. He is credited with the construction of the first Imambara of Kanpur district at Bithoor. He also erected Imambaras o n Kakori road  in Lucknow,  Etawah, Auraiya and Kora Jehanabad in Fatehpur district. The Khwajasara also developed a town Mianganj in Unnao district and dotted it with an impressive Imambara that is no longer in existence but its traces ate somewhat still visible.    

Another eunuch Jawahar Ali Khan, a faithful Khwajasara of Bahu begum, also built an Imambara at Faizabad. The imambara is known as Jawahar Ali ka Imambara and a prominent center of azadari even today. Another Khwajasara Darab ‘Ali Khan also contributed to promotion of azadari after Jawahar Ali Khan. He took care of imambara of Jawahar ‘Ali Khan after the latter died. Tahsin Ali Khan, yet another notable Khwajasara of Nawabi era of Lucknow also promoted and preserved azadari. He was supervisor of Nawab’s old harem in Faizabad and held a land grant (jagir ) in addition to large amounts of movable property. He was so attached to Asaf-ud-Daulah that on the death of the latter he left all his worldly belongings and remained at his grave as its keeper, wearing the garments of a fakir (mendicant) in mourning. The son of Asaf-ud-Daula, Wazir Ali, the next ruler, persuaded him to return to the palace. He bestowed upon him the khilat (robe of honor) and elevated him to the post of Nazir (estate superintendent) for the royal palaces. Tahsin built an imambara and a mosque in Lucknow. While mosque is still in a good condition in Chowk locality, his imambara has fallen prey to land grabbers. Afreen Ali Khan who was also attached to the royal court of Awadh also encouraged the promotion of azadari. Khwajasara Bahar Ali Khan also strived for preservation of azadari rituals in Faizabad. He even played a pivotal role when the disputes between two powerful Iranian groups emerged as a potential threat to the unity of Imam’s devotees.  

Karbala Dayanat –Ud- Daula in Lucknow is also a fine example of the reverence and love that Khwajasaras had in their hearts for Ahle-E-Bait. It was built by Dayanat-ud-Daulah, a khwajasara of Nawab Wajid AN Shah. His original name was Mohammed Ali Khan and Dayanat-ud-Daulah was the title conferred upon him. The Karbala became the much famous in May 1854, when One Mehndi Hasan brought a unique “zarih”, (replica of imam Husain’s shrine at Karbala) specially made of khak-e-shifa (clay believed to contain curative power and unearthed from the shrine of Imam) on his return from Karbala after stayimng there for nearly two decades. The Zarih was placed reverently Karbala Dayanat-ud-Daulah. Nawab  Wajid Ali Shah with his nobles and officials, all dressed in black (symbolizing  mourning)  visited Karbala Dayanat- Ud- Daula in a royal procession for the ‘Ziarat’ of Zarih Mubarak. Basheer-Ud-Daula had also built an Imambara near Hazratganj but it was destroyed by British in 1857.The location of this Imambara is where now Jehangirabad palace stands.History reveals that Basheer-ud-Daula was well decorated and very impressive and its destruction had shocked Imamis. 

With gilded dome and Quaranic verses in excellent calligraphy on its interiors, this Karbala is not only beautiful but also reminds that influential Khwajasaras preferred to preserve azadari by spending lavishly and they refrained from wasting money on worldly affairs, perhaps a message for all those who wish to contribute to the ongoing mission of Imam Husain against all kinds of Oppression.


(Tornos conducts a special tour during Muharram : “Weeping Lucknow” (on 1st day and again from the 6th till the 10th day of Muharram and yet again on 50th & 68th days of Muharram)

April 14, 2017

Life of Tawaifs – Nautch Girls

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:38 am

Brought down to earth from the heavens, the divine art of dancing, over the centuries, became a ritual observed in temples to please the deities. In another form it acquired the overtones of a favourite diversion for men. The practitioners of dance, known for their talent and beauty, were much sought after by the religious minded as well as by the secular. The transformation of dancing into a profession was marked by the advent of devadasis in South India, Naikins, who traced their origin to the Apsaras and the Gandharvas, on the West Coast, and Nautch girls in North India in their various forms – the tawaifs, nautchinis, or nautchwalis and the street dancers, who catered to men of all social classes.

Nautch girls were a product of Mughal times; they spread their wings during the Nawabs and British Raj later they survived until the beginning of the twentieth century. There was hardly any town in the country without its own troupe of nautch girls to provide entertainment at ceremonial functions and festivities.

A symbol of oriental luxury, the nautch girl embodied in herself so much of India’s past and present that a study of her life and importance would unfold not only her contribution to preserving the classical arts of dance and music but also the social milieu in which she flourished.

Over the years, Lucknow in the north and Tanjore in the south emerged as the dominant centres of dance and music in the country. The Nautch girls of Lucknow were generally known as tawaifs. The tawaifs of Lucknow had well-organized establishments, which were centres of musical and cultural soirees, attended by the most eminent of poets and scholars. These were presided over by the chief tawaif or the chaudrayan, who was usually a person advanced in years but endowed with wealth and fame acquired in the prime of life through her accomplishments in dance and music. She would recruit beautiful young girls with melodious voice and well-formed hands and feet. She looked after their training, discipline and welfare.

Good-looking ‘with large sparkling eyes, regular features and an intelligent pleasing appearance’, these girls started their training from the age of five or so. Before sunrise they received lessons for an hour each in singing and dancing and this exercise was again repeated in the afternoon. These girls were taught to read and write, appreciate poetry, participate in polite conversation and have refined manners. They were given intensive training in dancing and singing from their early childhood by experienced teachers. After a three-year training they were allowed to give a public performance but their training and practice continued throughout their career.

In their dress and attire, the nautch girls favoured rich and gorgeous costumes embellished with heavy gold work and embroidery. They adorned themselves from head to toe with a wide variety of jewels and ornaments of gold, diamonds and pearls. Their dress was modest itself and nothing but their faces, feet and hands were exposed. Some wore ghagras (long skirts) and saris; other boleros and pyjamas held at the waist by a zarbandor silk cord studded with pearls. The ordhni or dupatta (veil or covering cloth) ‘transparent and soft as the web of the gossamer spider’ was the most graceful part of their costume. Their ungeah (bodice) which was of varied texture and decor was made to fit the bust. It was fastened at the back with silk cords.

According to Grose, the nautch girls had perfected a peculiar mode of preserving their breasts. They enclosed them in a pair of perfectly fitted hollow cups or cases of very light wood linked together and buckled at the back. These cases prevented the breasts from growing ‘to any disgustfully exuberant sizes’ but being smooth and supple, the cases played freely with every motion of the body and did not crush the exquisitely tender texture of the flesh in that part, like the stiff whalebone stays in use among Europeans. Their outside covering was of thin gold or silver plate studded with stones or gems. This formed the richest part of their dress.

They use to tint their fingertips, palms of the hand, toes and soles of the feet with henna. The lips were stained. Red and powdered saffron was used to add a golden hue to the skin. Among the marks of beauty, much appreciated were the natural dimple on the cheek and the black dot at the most precise spot in the face. The inferior edges of the eyelids were rubbed with soorma (antimony powder) and the eyelashes and brows were darkened with kajal (lampblack) which served to accentuate the size of the eyes and gave them a languishing softness and a lustrous appearance. Sometimes, the skin at the corner of the eyes was cut in childhood to increase their length and give them more room to display wantonness in the rolling of the eyes. Their black hair, smoked with fragrant incense and parted in the middle, was combed back and usually twisted into a single plait, ornamented with jewels and sweet-scented flowers. Not only locals but European also were spectators were greatly impressed by the glittering robes and ornaments worn by the nautch girls.

They made extravagant use of scents and perfumes. Much in favour were the heavy perfumes of jasmine, frangipani, attar of roses, sandalwood and musk.

These votaries of pleasure were indeed the most fashionable class of the age. They acquired refinement and glamour for the benefit of their profession and so took great care in enhancing the charm of their appearance.

In their daily lives they had some diversion or the other. They rose late and spent the long afternoons either in chatting with the musicians or going out for shopping in the bazaars. The usual topics of conversation were about the rivals in the profession and the changing fortunes of the patrons. Fond of chewing betel, they kept their paan boxes tidy and regularly replenished with ingredients that were rolled into the betel leaf. They would sing and dance until late hours of the night. It was a life of quiet ease, leisure and indolence in a way, but by no means one of dissipation. They were religious minded and devout in their observance of rituals and generous in making donations to mosques and temples and officiating priesthood. They also composed verses which they recited at mushairaas (poetry symposiums).

It was a matter of prestige and pride for a tawaif to belong to an established khandani (aristocratic) household. At times young girls for the profession were enticed away or even bought by procurers, who went around the countryside for this very purpose. Every establishment had its own team of proficient male musicians belonging to prestigious gharanas (musical lineages).

Sadly today this institution does not exist anymore in Lucknow, and then the forms of entertaining too have changed, not leaving any chance for such an institution of art to be appreciated and respected by us now in this era, but as a part of Tornos’ Heritage Walk that takes you through the lanes and by-lanes that were once filled with sound of music, giggles of beautiful young tawaifs and scent of flowers and attar. This walking tour and another one, Wajid Ali Shah Walk explains this institution in detail taking you back into the bygone era of the Nawabs and the Raj.


An epic film Umrao Jaan by Muzaffar Ali is a befitting tribute to this institution and portrays a life of a Tawaif from her childhood days till the prime. We at Tornos as a part of our Wajid Ali Shah Walk take you to Muzaffar & Meera Ali’s Lucknow home, the Kotwara House where our guests not only enjoy a refreshing cup of tea, go around the house, appreciate the home décor, but also have an opportunity to watch a clip from this award winning period film ‘Umarao Jaan’ at Muzaffar’s personal theater within his house. If Muzaffar & Meera are in residence they are always happy to meet. Muzaffar & Meera Ali’s home can also be visited through us, independent of any walking tour under Kotwara Insight.

March 14, 2017

Prince of Wales in Lucknow & Kanpur

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:33 am

Prince Albert Edward (Bertie), Queen Victoria’s eldest son, set sail from London on 11 October 1875 on the royal ship HMSS Serapis, and arrived at Bombay in India just under a month later, on 8 November. There were altogether fifty men in the party, the next highest ranking to the Prince being the Duke of Sutherland, followed by Sir Bartle Frere. Chosen to record the visit were the Prince’s Honorary Private Secretary, William Howard Russell (1820-1907), who reported on it for the Times, and the artist Sydney P. Hall (1842-1922), who was responsible for the illustrations in Russell’s subsequent book about it. During the next seventeen weeks the Prince made an extensive tour of the country, meeting the colonial elite, being entertained in style by the native princes, bestowing honours, attending functions of all kinds, receiving costly gifts, participating in animal shoots and sporting events, dallying with one or two English belles, and so on. As Russell would note later, by the time he left, the Prince knew “more Chiefs than all the Viceroys and Governors together and [had] seen more of the country… than any living man”. The tour was as extensively covered in Britain as it was extensive, but it is not much discussed now. Yet it demonstrated the surprising strengths of the future Edward VII, and had very significant repercussions for the Raj.

Lucknow and Kanpur too were on the itinerary. Cawnpore (Kanpur). The stop at Lucknow was special. Here, the element of gorgeous and spectacular entertainment gave way to poignant and stirring memories of the famous siege and its relief, during the 1857 Mutiny. A Celtic cross had long since been raised in the Residency garden in memory of Sir Henry Lawrence and the European officers and men who died then; now the Prince laid the first stone of a monument outside the garden, to the Indians who also died with them. It was surely the most emotional ceremony in which the Prince took part in India. In the presence of the assembled troops, the English flag was raised outside the battle-scarred ruins of the old Residency. Trumpets sounded, salutes were made, drums rolled and cannon fired.

The salute over, the Prince desired that all the survivors of the defence might be presented to him. The picture… was touching in the extreme. Some two hundred old warriors filed past. First came the officers…. They were followed by sixteen native officers and non-commissioned officers who had taken part…. and lastly, and on which all eyes turned, was a mixed band of decrepit warriors, and young men who, as mere boys, had done their duty nobly within the walls…. In some cases their bodies were supported by friends, and their palsied arms were with difficulty made to give a last salute…. Several veterans came forward in the old stiff uniforms of the East India Company’s service, and having swords covered with the rust of twenty years. During the scene, many ladies, some of whom had lost sons in the relief, were in tears. Every one was affected. [Wheeler 227-28]

The Chief Commissioner for the region of Oude (later Awadh) declared, in the speech that followed, that the behaviour of the sepoys at Lucknow, who voluntarily stood by the British during the siege, “was simply without a parallel in the annals of the world”. Amongst the other sights that the Prince was shown in Lucknow was the “square grey tomb, with a shelving stone on the top” of Major Hodson, whose elaborately carved monument can be seen in Lichfield Cathedral.

The royal party then set off for Delhi, with a couple of hours’ pause in the evening at Cawnpoor (now Kanpur), where the Prince paid his respects at the spot of perhaps the most notorious of the atrocities committed during 1857 on both sides, when two hundred or so British women and children were butchered and thrown into a well. Here stood Baron Marochetti’s The Angel of Pity memorial. Marochetti loved to design and sculpt angels, and this is one of his finest. “I cannot describe the effect of the bright moon’s rays on the white marble work – or how the whole memorial stood out in its lonely grandeur on that delightful night,” wrote a member of the party. The Prince also inspected the Memorial Gardens and the only recently completed church there, now called the Kanpur Memorial Church, to which the monument has since been moved.

February 13, 2017

CONSTANTIA – a palace to tomb and finally to school

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:27 am

Last month we looked at the Château de Lyon, the remarkable building on the bank of the river Gomti and the home of Major General Claude Martin.   This month we explore the old Frenchman’s last building, further down river, which he called Constantia and we will discover how it got its name.

Visitors to Constantia, south of the city of Lucknow, have always struggled to describe this extraordinary creation, right from the start. George, Viscount Valentia, an English lord, saw it shortly after Claude Martin’s death in 1800.  It was, he declared, a ‘strange fantastical building of every species of architecture and adorned with minute stucco fret-work, enormous red lions with lamps instead of eyes, Chinese mandarins and ladies with shaking heads and all the gods and goddesses of heathen mythology’.  He continued, ‘it has a handsome effect at a distance, from a lofty tower in the centre with four turrets, but on the nearer approach, the wretched taste of the ornaments only excites contempt. A more extraordinary combination of Gothic towers, and Grecian pilaster…was never before devised.’  Lord Hastings, one-time governor general thought ‘the idea of [Constantia] was probably taken from those castles of pastry which used to adorn desserts in former days’ and others followed the culinary theme by comparing it to a wedding cake.

Apart from critical remarks about its appearance, the purpose of Constantia seemed equally baffling.  Was it a palace or a tomb, or perhaps a palace-tomb?  Was it a dwelling place, a castle, or a purpose-built school?  And what happened to it after Martin’s death? It was inevitable that legends would grow around such an extraordinary building, and some persist to this day, although gradually we are getting nearer to the truth, both by empirical evidence from the building itself and historical research.  Writing in June 1796 to a friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Plowden, Martin mentions Constantia for the first time.   He tells her that ‘I have begun a house at my tope (Constantia Grove) or Lakh-e-Peara.  I am constantly there every morning on horse back and every afternoon in carriages after dinner, that building I think improve my health by making me take plenty [of] exercise, as it is, or will be, a large pile of masonry, it will keep me long at it and perhaps as long as I live, if any accident happen to me, or otherwise I will have the happiness to see it finished and to hear people praise it, as they do my present one.’ [Château de Lyon]

So we can establish from Martin’s own words that Constantia was intended as a dwelling-place, but also a prestige project too.  Martin was always greedy for compliments and no doubt thought that visitors to the new house would be overwhelmed by its sheer size, with the central five storeys rising to the dome-like structure on top.  At the time of its construction, it would have been the tallest building in Lucknow, far taller than Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula’s rather squat palace at the Daulat Khana.

The inspiration for Constantia may initially have come from the tombs of the Mughal Emperors, and in particular Humayun’s tomb in Delhi.   The idea of a large ‘platform’ rising to first floor height, with a central structure on top is common to both buildings.  Martin may have wanted a dome on top of Constantia to rival that of Humayun’s tomb, but he had neither the skill nor the time to create it, so we have the outline of a dome, but not the real thing.

Time was a factor for Martin, who had been a sick man for many years, although he bravely carried on, operating at one point on himself for bladder stones. He feared, as he told Mrs. Plowden, that he might not live to see Constantia finished in his life-time.  This is why he left detailed, if confusing, instructions in his Will on how the building should be completed.  He entrusted the work to his faithful servants, Chhota and Mutchoo Qadir, to be overseen by his steward, Joseph Quieros, a Spanish nobleman whom Martin had found in Calcutta, working as an auctioneer.  We do not know how much of the building remained unfinished on Martin’s death, but certainly the ground floor rooms were ready and their walls were lined with enormous mirrors that reflected light from hundreds of candles in the chandeliers.

Martin’s fine collection of paintings, including works by his friend Johann Zoffany and the Daniells had already been moved to Constantia from the Château de Lyon, and his large library was also here on newly installed shelves.  The building was awash with marble too – marble tables, marble statues, slabs of marble for the floors, as well as 6,000 panes of glass and tons of stone from Chunar.  Outside, and probably facing the river, were street lamps.  Lanterns had also been placed inside the hollow heads of the stucco lions that growled menacingly from the first floor roof.  Among the many items inventoried at Constantia on Martin’s death were dozens of barrels of Plaster of Paris and wax moulds.  These were used to make the small round medallions that line the interior doorways of the main rooms.  They were so skillfully made, with tiny cameo-like profiles that many people thought they came from the hand of Josiah Wedgwood himself, the famous English potter.

In fact the medallions were made of local clay by Martin’s own clever workmen. This was just one of the myths that grew up around the building.  Another was that Martin had got his tomb constructed in the centre of the basement to prevent the Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula from seizing Constantia after Martin’s death.  There werecertain restrictions on taking over a building containing a tomb (although sadly this has not prevented encroachments on a number of smaller tombs in the city).  Asaf-ud-Daula was long dead before the building was completed, and Martin only seems to have decided on thebasement tomb in the last year of his life.

The name Constantia has given rise to all kinds of romantic stories about a lost love of Martin’s.  In fact the real reason is equally intriguing.  Martin had become a Freemason early in his army career.  Freemasonry was popular among European soldiers in India and Lodges were established in most cantonments.  Writing to his French friend, General Benoit de Boigne in 1798, Martin requested a number of books on Freemasonry together with ‘the jewels of the order in gold or silver, the ribbons and other things connected with this subject so that we can establish a [Lodge] here when you arrive, where you can serve as the grand master in my new chateau…’  Each Lodge had its own motto, and the words ‘Labore et Constantia’ inscribed on the building can be traced back to an English Freemasonry manuscript of 1621.  Martin already had this in mind when he writes about his new house at ‘Constantia Grove’.

One aspect of Constantia which has been unjustly neglected is that despite its decorative appearance, it was in fact a defensible building.  Martin had good reason to fear the troubled times of the late 18th century, and the description of Constantia as a ‘castle’ is not without justification.  In fact Lord Hastings, visiting the building in 1814, says categorically that it was constructed ‘for the purpose of defence’.  The doors on the ground floor were plated with iron and the windows were barred with iron railings.  The spiral staircases were blocked at intervals with more iron doors.  If intruders did manage to break in, then there were oval loopholes high up on the walls, where a sniper could fire down and pick off the villains.  ‘In short,’ concluded Hastings ‘the whole [building] was framed for protracted and desperate resistance’.

Indications of this can still be seen within Constantia.  Although the iron-plated doors are gone, the sockets where they were hung can be seen in every opening.  There were double sets of doors on the ground floor and enormously thick exterior walls that would not fall easily to cannon fire.  The loopholes are strategically placed so that a couple of men could cover several rooms and passages with their rifles. Recent exciting discoveries initiated by the Principal have uncovered three large and deep basons which could be filled with water from the Gomti in case the building came under a prolonged siege.

Psychological warfare is a fairly modern concept, but I believe Martin had factored this into his ‘castle’.   Imagine for a moment that you are a young village boy around 1800 who has been dragged into some naive plot to steal into Constantia and hold its occupants to ransom.  Approaching the building at night, all of a sudden there are gigantic lions at each corner belching out smoke and fire.  This in itself is quite terrifying but on looking up there are rows and rows of figures standing on each parapet and looking down at you.  Some are clearly shaking their heads at your effrontery.   It would take a brave lad to defy them.  So what seemed to the casual English visitor like a frivolous display of lions and figures with nodding heads, was actually a carefully thought out scheme to frighten off possible intruders.  If these failed then the iron barred doors and windows were the second line of defence.

Much more could be written about this remarkable building, particularly its role during the Uprising of 1857/58 when its marble floors were ripped up and its doors and windows shattered as Indian and African troops sat at its windows firing at the British soldiers.  But this is a story for another day.

Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes’. Checkout details 

January 13, 2017

A Château and a Palace stand together in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:22 am

Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes‘. 


Standing prominently on the bank of the Gomti are two remarkable buildings that have been all but inaccessible to the people of Lucknow for nearly seventy years. The Chattar Manzil palace and the ‘house on the water’ which was previously known as Farhat Bakhsh are survivors from the golden age of the city. Let us look at both buildings in detail – how they were in their heyday – how they are today – and how they will be in the future, when for the first time they will be open to everyone.

When Lucknow became the capital of Awadh in 1775 it welcomed all sorts of people who wanted to live and work here.  Artists, poets, musicians, dancers and courtesans formed the cultural elite of the city, while others offered practical skills including armament-makers, gun-powder and fireworks manufacturers, cooks, jewellers, workmen and gardeners.  Soldiers were recruited to defend the province and its extravagant ruler, the Nawab Asaf-ud-daula, who had already attracted the unwelcome attention of the English East India Company. Among the Company’s officers was the Frenchman Claude Martin. Born in Lyon, he had arrived in India as a young soldier in the French army, but he defected to the British when he realised they were the stronger European power fighting for mastery of the subcontinent.

Claude Martin was a highly ingenious man, skilled not only in surveying but also in supervising the Nawab’s armoury and powder-mill, a position he was appointed to in 1776.  He was already familiar with Lucknow, having served here earlier while collecting land revenue. His first home in the city was probably on the north bank of the river. He would have looked across the waters of the Gomti towards the heavily wooded southern shore and imagined a handsome château among the trees, standing on the river bank, its basement storeys utilizing the waters of the Gomti to cool the building during the worst of the summer heat.

And within five years Martin had realised his dream. A unique building rose among the trees. Nothing like it had been seen before in Lucknow or indeed in India. Two large underground chambers were built into the river bank, one above the other.  Above them rose the three-storeyed Château de Lyon, completed in 1781, according to a re-discovered panel above one of the arched ‘water-gates’. The château had a number of unusual features, some of which have recently come to light. We know the purpose of the two basement storeys because an anonymous author who visited Martin three years after the building was finished has left a full account.

As the dry season approached the river fell and the riverside entrances to the basement rooms, described as ‘caves or recesses within the banks of the river’ were exposed.  Martin is reported as ‘generally living in these caves’ during the hottest part of the year.  The water-gates were screened with reed curtains that were kept wet, providing a cool and welcoming atmosphere inside the rooms, a kind of early air-conditioning. As the monsoon arrived the river level began to rise, and Martin left the lowest rooms to ascend to the floor above, which was similarly fitted out with water-gates. By September the river was at its height, a rise of some sixteen feet, and was lapping around the ground floor of the château. Martin then resumed his normal life in his house and as the river dropped down to its pre-monsoon level, the basements were cleaned of mud, repainted and decorated for the next season. It sounds like a peculiar lifestyle, not to mention a huge amount of work, but it was an ingenious answer to the blistering summer heat. The description of the basement rooms as ‘caves’ gives a misleading impression. We can enter the first basement storey today which is a series of very substantial and airy rooms that would have been lit with tapers and enlivened with fountains. The rooms appear to extend well beyond the footprint of the château above, but this is something which will emerge during restoration. What is extraordinary is the durability of a structure standing literally with one foot in the river.

Another feature of the building is no longer apparent. This was the moat that surrounded the château on three sides and was crossed by a drawbridge. As a soldier Martin was acutely aware of the need for defence.  He had deliberately chosen an isolated area in which to build. The city of Lucknow at this point was centred around the Chowk, a good two miles distant. It was only after the château was constructed that other buildings started to come up nearby. In fact Martin had had to defend his previous residence against an attack by the troops of a rebellious nawab. ‘Had he not placed two small field-pieces at his doors, loaded with grape-shot, and himself at the head of his servants armed’ he would have been looted at best and killed at worst. So Martin was not being over-cautious and the newly-built château ‘had the appearance of a fortified castle and was indeed constructed with a view to defence, with the draw-bridges, loop-holes, and turrets, and water, when desired, all around’. Inside were heavy iron doors that could impede anyone rash enough to force an entry, and the elegant scalloped turrets on the roof that we see today are in fact battlements.

It was in the Château de Lyon that Martin died on 13 September 1800. He had directed that all his possessions were to be auctioned, and this was done the following year in Calcutta. Luckily we have a copy of the Inventory which was prepared by Messrs Tulloh & Co. Auctioneers. It is an enormous document that runs to almost a hundred pages and provides a fascinating insight into the mind of an eighteenth century man of the Enlightenment in India. Visitors to the château had described it as a ‘perfect museum’ and this seems accurate as we learn of the contents. There were specific areas of the estate that included the usual establishments of stables, boat-house, a well-stocked cellar, the armoury, the kitchen, the library and the picture-gallery. But there was also a riot of curiosities – telescopes, magic lantern slides, shells, skeleton, ‘electrical’ equipment, rare coins, Chinese figures, fireworks and a stuffed monkey among others things. Somewhere in the building was a large and elaborate toy theater that Martin had commissioned from Paris, with moving scenery and a barrel organ that played the latest tunes. One can imagine the old Frenchman sitting there of an evening with a favourite companion, listening to the trilling tunes as the candles in the chandeliers flickered and the rippling waters of the Gomti were reflected on the painted ceilings.

The château was re-named Farhat Bakhsh after Martin’s death, when it was bought by the Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, brother to Asaf-ud-daula. By 1826, when a panorama of the south bank was painted, buildings have sprung up all along the riverside. Although there are structures on either side of Martin’s house, there is nothing yet that quite resembles the Chattar Manzil palace next door (The two buildings are now linked by a series of passageways.). It was Saadat Ali Khan who renamed the château as Farhat Bakhsh – ‘the giver of delight’ and the Nawab was certainly responsible for developing the area into a huge and magnificent palace complex.  Buildings including the Lal Barahdari (the throne room), the Gulistan-i-Iram and the Kothi Darshan Bilas all stood within the grounds of the palace. Today the main road divides the complex, a road deliberately driven through by the British after 1858 as a ‘punishment’ for Lucknow’s rebellion during the Great Uprising. So we only see half the picture today unless we walk right round the palaces furthest from the river.

We know far less about the five-storeyed Chattar Manzil. Yet it was home to successive Nawabs between 1810, when the main street, Hazratganj, was built, and 1852 when the last palace, Qaisarbagh was completed. Only one or two early photographs exist, showing a maze of passages and auxiliary buildings that developed between the smaller structures. Ironically, when these passageways were all cleared away by British engineers, it enabled passersby to see the larger buildings, including the Bara (great) Chattar Manzil, in splendid isolation. The name ‘chattar’ comes from the brass umbrella that crowned the central dome of the existing palace.

Within the Chattar Manzil, on the ground floor, there is a large and splendid durbar hall, where the Nawabs would hold receptions and greet distinguished guests. At one end of the great hall is an arch spanning the entire room and behind this is a stage. Here music and dance performances would take place, and from the windows of the second floor the Nawabs would watch animal fights on the opposite bank of the Gomti. Pleasure boats sailed up and down the river and there are the remains of a handsomely paved riverside entrance at the back of the building.

After the annexation of Awadh by the East India Company and the subsequent re-occupation of the city in 1858, the Chattar Manzil and the Farhat Bakhsh, along with other palaces were taken over by the British and smartened up. Although battered during the Uprising both buildings had survived more or less intact. At some point – we don’t know exactly when – the Chattar Manzil became the United Services Club for British military personnel stationed in and around the city. A number of substantial alterations were made, including the construction of a swimming pool within the building, not something the Nawabs would have approved of, one feels, for there are no reports of them ever getting their feet wet. There is surprisingly little information on the Club, although there must surely be people who remember their parents or grandparents dancing and playing tennis here. And there must be a host of local people who have family memories of working here and serving the burra sahibs and their mems with gin and tonic.

In 1947 when the British left, both buildings remained empty for a couple of years until it was decided to make them over to the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI),one of the first laboratories to be set up after Independence. The Institute was formally inaugurated by India’s first prime minister, Jawarharlal Nehru on 17 February 1951. To go from a palace to a British Club to a laboratory is quite a transition and the old building has suffered. A mezzanine floor was put in, which has the effect of weighing down the building, and it needs to be removed along with the partitions that divide rooms in the upper storeys. The CDRI vacated the buildings in 2014 and they have been handed over to the State Archaeological Department for restoration. In a way, it was no bad thing that the Institute, despite the alterations it made, retained the building for so many years. A considerable number of Nawabi buildings have been lost since Independence and Chatter Manzil and Farhat Bakhsh might have gone the same way, had they not been in government hands.

It was frustrating for some, especially architects and historians, that the buildings could only be viewed from the outside. Before the flood prevention bund came up in the late 1970s it was possible to walk along the river bank, when the water-gates of the château were still visible. But once the bund was raised the area between it and the two buildings became inaccessible and covered with trees and shrubs. What was once the rear elevation of the château is now interrupted by an ugly platform.

Repair, renovation and careful restoration will take a long time, especially when decisions have to be made on how much of the basements to reveal. A building which has stood in water for over two hundred years will not take kindly to being dried out. Work has only recently begun on the roof of the Farhat Bakhsh, but already this has uncovered a series of air-vents running down through the building. Claude Martin was to develop this idea of cooling vents in his last building, Constantia (La Martiniere Boys College) and there are other similarities between the two buildings, notably the idea of a defensive structure, that will become clearer as work progresses.

A symposium was organized calling on Indian and foreign experts for ideas about how the buildings should eventually be used. The consensus was that they should become a museum to reflect the city’s extraordinary past and to showcase the present together with cultural events, selected shops and a good restaurant. Properly handled, the site can become a substantial tourist attraction that will draw people to the city and encourage them to explore today’s Lucknow. It could become the hub of a new expansion in the city’s fortunes – something that both the Nawabs and Claude Martin would have understood and approved.


Tornos conducts special tour built around the French connection with the city, ‘Un Morceau de France aux Indes

December 28, 2016

Firangi Mahal made Lucknow an intellectual capital

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 12:05 pm

Lucknow may take pride in claiming that education and research in oriental studies began from its land. Though Dewa, Jais, Gorakhpur and Banaras were also famous in promoting this field of knowledge but an institution such as Firangi Mahal was able to achieve fame and excellence which gained recognition beyond the country. Some scholars regard it as the first ‘University’ of the oriental studies in the world. If we look into the history we find that by the time of Akbar, Lucknow had become a fairly developed centre of trade and commerce. Around that time, a French trader arrived and lived in the city with permission of the Mughal administration. He specialized in the trade of horses and resided at Firangi Mahal (palace of the European/British).  Some people say that it was during the period of Aurangzeb that some French businessmen came and stayed at this palatial building. Later they left the place as their permit of residence could not be renewed.

Enjoying the patronage of Aurangzeb Mullah Nizamuddin founded a Madarsa (a college for Islamic instructions) here that became famous internationally. He developed a syllabus known as Dars-e-Nizamia that was unparalleled and remained unchallenged for years to come. It consisted of logic, philosophy, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadees and mathematics and host of the other field of knowledge.

By the time Asaf-ud-Daula moved his capital to Lucknow, the teachers of Firangi Mahal had already achieved a high status in several Muslim countries and its alumni had spread far and wide in all parts of the sub-continent. Nawabs of Awadh, despite subscribing to the Shia sect, had great respect for Firangi Mahal and appointed many Ulema of this institution to the exalted posts of Qazi and Mufti. The Ulema (Muslim scholars trained in Islam and Islamic law) of Firangi Mahal had a broad vision and free from narrow sectarian prejudices and that is why a number of Shia students were also coming to them and for education.

During the period of freedom movement a highly respected Islamic scholar of his time, Moulana Abdul Bari took active part in Khilafat Movement and then became a part of freedom struggle along with Mahatma Gandhi. The Maulana was a great visionary who knew that it was not good for the Indian Muslim to keep away from mainstream politics. Mahatma Gandhi had also great respect for the Ulema of Firangi Mahal and he stayed for some time in Firangi Mahal. It was during the period of Mahatma’s stay that in his respect Firangi Mahal turned vegetarian. This shows the secularism and open mindedness of Firangi Mahal. The Maulana accepted Mahatma Gandhi as the leader of the Muslims too. The Ulema of Firangi Mahal were charged to death by the British government for issuing a Fatwa of Jihaad (Freedom) against the British. Inspired by the Maulana, a whole crop of nationalist Muslims emerged from this institution. Hayatulla Ansari, Mufti Raza Ansari and some others were regarded as highly respected nationalist Muslims.

With the passage of time the Persian and Arabic language declined in India and with this the educational institutions based on them too. Firangi Mahal is no exception and today Firangi Mahal stands as a part of Lucknow’s great intellectual history. As a part of Tornos’ Heritage Walk we take you to Firangi Mahal and at times the present resident is happy to show you around the collection of old letters and pictures here.

November 28, 2016

‘Thappagars’ – The Chikan Block Makers

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 12:04 pm

In the chikan embroidery the wooden block makers (design stamp) play a very important role. These artisans known as ‘thappagars’ carve woodblocks with intricate designs and patterns. These highly durable block are made of Shissoo wood which is known for being hard yet easy to carve out a pattern of choice, no matter how intricate the carving be. The block makers purchase these waste chips or blocks of wood that are later carved into stamp patterns depending on the size of the pattern to be carved out.

The blocks are dried and the rough sides are then smoothened out with sand to give it an even finish and prepared in required size with a definite thickness of 1 inch.  Later as a part of this process the smooth surface of the block is applied with a white emulsion or chalk and the tracing of the design is made on this white colour surface. After the pattern is drawn the wood block is carved out. Often the design is created by free hand with a pencil. The design is chiseled with a small iron bar, the blocks are flatten at the end of this chiseling process with a wooden bar. The iron bars are known as kalams (literal translation is ‘pen’) that are available in various sizes depending on how fine or thick the design is. The cuts made in this wood block are not very deep, just enough to leave an impression when the cloth is stamped with the design. When the artisan has finished carving the blocks, the blocks are neatly finished by rubbing it with sand. The same blocks are soaked in mustard oil for about twelve hours to prevent them from retaining water when dipped in water based dye for use. Each of these blocks are made differently according to the stitches that are to be embroidered. The blocks are designed for wholesale to chikan embroidery designers or dealers known as Cheepis

These chikan blocks that are primarily made in Lucknow are quite different from the block-printing blocks that are used in Jaipur. The chikan blocks do not have a handle or at times not even a piece of wood attached on the top of the blocks and when the cheepkar places the blocks on the fabric with just a little force, the impression to be imprinted is formed on the fabric. In the block printing, the printer has to use greater force on the handle attached on the top of the block for the impression to come on the fabric. Chikan block is a single block that imprints same design on the fabric, while in case of block-printing, if two prints have same design, but different colours that many blocks are required.


It is believed that earlier during the process of chikan embroidery, there was no printing done on the fabrics. The master embroiders made designs with their sheer imagination and with great precision. In later years a lot of it changed and the skill too became a bit mechanical making the blocks an integral part of chikan embroidery process. The printer’s job in the process of chikan-embroidery is to transfer the designs on the fabric with the help of carved wooden blocks. The printer has numerous blocks of all shapes and sizes and for different stitches. These printing specialist print for designers and the chikan-traders or even for individuals. This too is a specialist step in the chikan-embroidery process.

Primarily a blue dye or a white dye is made for transfer of designs from the blocks to the fabric. Blue dye for light coloured clothes and white dye for dark coloured fabrics. The dye is made from the gum gathered from babool tree (gum tree), which is collected and dried. The small lumps of gum are soaked in plain water for few hours till a clear thick liquid is formed. The printer pours this liquid gum in a flat tin tray on top of which a mat is placed. This mat is a flat surface made from the bamboo shoot; it is placed in horizontal lines alternatively and tied all around with the support of the stronger thin strips of the bamboo. This gives a spring to the mat. The dye is poured in a three inch deep tray and the bamboo plate which is like a mat is known as ‘thatia’ on the top of the tray. On the top of this mat a soft pad is placed which is normally a wooden blanket material that soaks the liquid and keeps it saturated. A fine thin fabric is kept on the top of this soft fabric woolen blanket for an even printing. For getting blue colour, indigo is sprinkled over the fabric and is spread evenly with a brush. To get white colour, aluminum powder is used instead of indigo. The wooden block is dipped into the dye tray and then pressed on top of the fabric for the impression.

The wooden bamboo tray has a spring kind of effect, thus it prevents the fabric in the tray to pick up excess colour, which might smudge the pattern as well as have problem in drying up faster. The mechanism is same as a stamp-pad yet the craft of chikan is still a traditional art that passes on in the family and no modern techniques or systems are used.

On the Heritage Walk by Tornos one gets to see this process of printing on the fabric and admire different designs on the blocks. The walking tour takes guests to a lane that can be termed as a living museum of crafts, art, lifestyle of Lucknow. The glitter of this market place is indeed a mesmerising experience that introduces visitors to the city of yore that still lives in the lanes and bylanes of Lucknow.

Also chekout the full process of chikan embroidery in our hands-on Chikan Embroidery experience : Threads of Lucknow

October 11, 2016

Rekhti – an adult poetry for men

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 12:02 pm

Rekhti as a term is derived from ‘Rekhta’, a lyrical form wherein the male poet makes an exclamation of his romantic feelings and makes a direct or indirect declaration of love for his beloved and pines with longing on her. In Rekhti, the male poet incorporates certain very specific words that are used by women to address each other. The poetry contains such phrases and exclamations that are mostly used by women folk. In Rekhti, the couplets are mostly composed in the first person of speech to present a female conveying an observation to another female, who is childhood mate, close friend or neighbour or a group of women that live in her vicinity.

Rekhti in India has its roots in the royal courts of late 15th century Deccan at Gulbarga, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda (Hyderabad). Rekhti proceeded from Deccan to North India and reached Delhi in the 18th century. Thereafter, the decline of the Mughal Empire deprecated patronage to poets and many of whom migrated to Faizabad which was then the capital of Oudh. Along with other forms of prosody, the poets brought Rekhti to Faizabad. Later when the poets shifted to Lucknow with the Courts of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah when he designated it as his new capital in 1775, Rekhti also came along with them and settled in Lucknow. It became a source of private entertainment for the Nawabs and their courtiers.

We have two famous poets of Delhi named Saadat Yaar Khan ‘Rangeen’ and Insha-Allah Khan ‘Khan’ who were attached to the Court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah at Lucknow. Both were well-known for their unusual composition of Rekhti besides their compositions of the other usual forms of Urdu poetry that were in vogue.

Feminine colloquy is the main ingredient of Rekhti. It had the flavour and the spice of the speech of females with words and phrases selectively used by Begums and their intimate female companions and personal attendants in the zenana of the Nawabi palaces and the Dyodhis (households) of the aristocracy. Light hearted exclamations, witty phrases, literary idioms, sarcastic remarks, ridicule, scorn, pun, innuendo and rhetoric are presented in Rekhti in their basic feminine colour to depict the various shades of women’s emotions in Rekhti. Rekhti was involved in and concerned with each other and everything of interest to women that excited their curiosity. Be it grooming, dressing, jewellery, toiletry, beauty treatment, fashion, amusement, celebrations, festivals, fairs, ceremonies, superstitions, religious observations, family life, marriage, pregnancy, child birth, small pleasures and sorrows and the drudgery that was part of a women’s life. But all this was presented by male poets garnished with light hearted humour and innocent sarcasm and served before the audience which happened to be male. Rarely did Rekhti come in the reach of women. their entry was barred in the women’s quarters. There was no such ban for men and actually Rekhti was enjoyed by men alone. The atmosphere during poetic sessions of Rekhti was often so charged with lewdness that men would mimic and imitate the actual manner of speech and behaviour of women. Rekhti poets often chose to adopt female names for their takhallus (pen-nam) and consequently we find pen names such as Nisbat, Naubahaar, Ismat, Hidayatan, Nazuk, Shabnam, Begam, belonging to Rekhti poets.

Amongst the earlier Rekhti poets of Lucknow, we have Syed Ahsan ‘Makhlooq’, Mir Ahmad Ali ‘Nisbat’, Amjad Ali Khan ‘Ismat’, Mir Hussain Ali ‘Aafaaq’, Abid Mirza ‘Begum’, Nuktachin, Naazuk, and Yakrang. Other poets associated with Lucknow include Syed Mohammed Mohsin ‘Raunaq’, Jamiat Ali Khan’ Suraiya’, Kallan Khan ‘Bechain’, Nisar Hussain Khan ‘Shaida’, Jamiat Ali Khan ‘Suraiya’, Kallan Khan ‘Bechain’, Nisar Hussain Khan ‘Shaida’, Sheikh Mohaammed ‘Baqa’, ‘Ranjoor’ Azimabadi, Bahadur and Hazeen.

Interestingly, names of two female Rekhti poets of Lucknow also find mention. One is that of a kaneez (female attendant) of Mirza Sulaiman Shikoh (the Mughal Prince from Delhi), having the pen-name ‘Zaleel’. The other is Rashk Mahal, one of the many wives of King Wajid Ali Shah, who used the pen-name of ‘Begum’ for her compositions. There is no information about their participation and recitation in any Rekhti session and it is presumed that if their compositions were ever recited there, it was someone else who rendered them on their behalf.

Often frivolous or bawdy Rekhti verses were laced with a licentious invitation of romantic liaison, lust and passion. Rekhti had the audacity of using ‘double entendre’ – i.e. Words which had a double meaning, one of which was intentionally placed to express the repressed passion of women or indirectly related to lesbian tendencies and coitus. This provided its critics a ready excuse for declaring Rekhti obscene and vulgar and strictly disallowing it to sneak into the women quarters where young girls and women resided.

Rekhti was never accepted in society as a respectable form of literature. It was never considered as something normal and respectful and its recitation was considered disgraceful. It was shameful to relate to Rekhti in public as it was believed to be unsophisticated, resorted to its composition with an alternative takhallus (pen-name), one that was different from their usual one with which they were recognized by the audience in the mushaira (poetic gathering).

Post Independence when human rights and gender equality came to be recognized for both men and women alike, Rekhti also got an opportunity to come out of its underground confines and reach the world outside.

September 11, 2016

Lucknow and Hookah

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:57 am

The Hookah is said to have originated during the Safavid Dynasty of the Persian Empire. And could have entered into Mughal India along with the Nawabs who came from Persia or another theory states that Hookah made its debut in India during the Mughal era as a part of Unani Medicine System. According to some historical narrations, Hakeem (Physician) Irfan Sheikh, who used to work in the court of Emperor Akbar, is said to have propagated the idea of Hookah. Hakeem Irfan Shaikh actually emphasized on the medicinal value of smoking Hookah by incorporating a mixture of mint, ginger, cloves, almond and other herbs to cure cold and fever. Later this concept reached Awadh and was further improvised and glamorised upon here. Hookah actually became a symbolic representation of the Awadhi culture and the Nawabi rule. Hukkas are traditionally smoked after a meal and during social gatherings.

Nawabs of Awadh are to be credited for propagating and beautifying this culture of ‘Hookah’. They often indulged in Hookah sessions over long conversations pertaining to state welfare or on other occasions such as over a game of chess or may be when enjoying a traditional music or watching a dance performance in their courts. Even the ladies from royal families joined in for a smoke. In Awadh (Oudh) the Hookahs were made by experienced craftsman in the most flawless manner, hence their designs were inimitable. They were developed with intricate silver work, Bidri work (silver on metal), Ganga-Jamuni (silver with gold coverings) or even made of intricately carved and designed terracotta. One of the most popular of all these were Pinchvan Hookahs, made with a slight extension of the stem portion.

Moreover these Hookahs in the Nawabi culture were not only affiliated with wealth (as noticed in the pre-Nawabi world) but also to etiquette and courtesy, they became a symbol that was no longer “looked through” but rather “looked at.” In contrast to Paandans and Khasdans, it was not the size or the cost but the sheer presence of the Hookahs that uplifted the social status of the user. Using these symbols and their physicality allowed the user to become a part of the new world of the Nawabi culture and tehzeeb (mannerism). Particularly because of the fact that Nawabs used Hookahs it became a status symbol for the masses in Lucknow to redefine their social status irrespective of economic strata. Gradually Tawa’ifs (courtesans) also began using hookahs to emphasise their social status. These ladies were trained dancer and singers and were at the top of the hierarchy. They were seen the epitomes of culture and civilised behavior. The association of Hookahs with the courtesans raised hookahs from the level of being a mere pleasure object to a stamp of highly civilized and cultured society.

With the advent of the British in India in general and Lucknow in particular began a new series of encapsulations vis-à-vis Hookahs. The Hookah gradually became a symbol of social prestige as well as culture for the English, Nawabs and other royals. William Dalrymple, a celebrated historian, describes the love of Hookahs among the East India Company officers while discussing the character of the fourth baronet, Sir Thomas Metcalfe : “Certainly he was a notably fastidious man, with feelings so refined that he could not bear to see women eat cheese …. He would never have dreamt of dressing, as some of his predecessors had, in full Mughal pagri and jama…. His one concession to Indian taste was to smoke a silver hookah. This he did every day after breakfast, for exactly thirty minutes”.

Hookahs along with Hookah Burdars (a person who used to prepare hookah pipes for the British to smoke) became a means to underscore the difference between the civilised and the barbarian. Although the use of hookah was adopted from the Indians, soon this was embellished along with the use of expensive tobacco and came to signify the civilised nature of the British rather than Indians. This became such an integral part of the East India Company officials that social gatherings could not be conceived without a puff of Hookah.

Nowadays the act of smoking a Hookah has lost its royal significance, however it continues to be a social facilitator. This habit still can be gauged in the old areas of Lucknow such as Nazirabad, Akbari Gate and Chowk where people could be seen engaged in lengthy conversation on local and political affairs with their Hookah with traditional ‘Khamira, a mixture of rose petals, ripened fruits and tobacco in it.

August 30, 2016

A forgotten British Cantonment – Mardiaon

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:53 am

Many cities in the Indian Sub-continent contained large cantonments of the former British Indian Army including Lucknow, Meerut, Kanpur, Fatehgarh, Jhansi, Faizabad, Allahabad, Agra, Bareilly etc., in the present state of Uttar Pradesh. Cantonments meant quarters assigned for lodging troops, a permanent military station created by the British government in India for the location of military formation away from the civilian towns. Presently there are 62 ‘notified Cantonments’ in India and among all these Lucknow Cantonment has a very rich history which goes back to even before the mutiny year of 1857.

In Lucknow the British Cantonment was initially situated on the north bank of the river Gomti, almost opposite the Daulat Khana, complex then inhabited by Asaf-ud-Daula. This bank was known as the ‘English side of the river’ and the Gomti was crossed by a single bridge over the river. In 1801 Nawab Sadat Ali Khan was forced to cede half his territories as payment for the British troops that Nawab never wanted, and under force, persistence from the Britsih and due to a threat of losing the rest of his kingdom to the British, he agreed to allow a company army of 10,000 to be stationed, but on the outskirts of the capital city of Lucknow. This indeed was a clever move by the Nawab as he knew that the troops would be secluded and at anytime could be cut off from the city, if the only bridge connecting the two sides be cut off. Thus during the reign of Sadat Ali Khan British Cantonment at Lucknow underwent a radical change, when it was transferred from the banks of the river Gomti to Mardiaon (also spelt as : Marion, Mardion, Madiyon, Madiyaon), nearly four miles north of the city, stretching from Sitapur road to Lucknow city. The estimated size of the enlarged cantonment area was about 312 acres.

Here the presence of British troops was something that the Nawab Saadat Ali Khan could not control, but he felt that by putting physical limits on the amount of land granted he could perhaps control their number. Thus a list of the conditions were laid down and sent to Col. Collins in 1807 together with the Nawab’s agreement to the new site, and the Resident’s acceptances of the conditions as under :-

• The Cantonment was only for the British troops and their followers.
• No Ganj (market) was to be erected within the Cantonment for traders or merchants.
• No moneylenders or inhabitants of Lucknow were to reside in the cantonment without the previous consent and approval of the Nawab.
• There was to be no fortified building there, besides the officers’ bungalows and the magazine for artillery.
• The exercising ground was to be distinct from the Cantonment and was to be kept clear and ready for exercising of the troops, and was not to have any building.
• A ditch was to be dug round the Cantonment to define the limits, and no extension beyond that ditch would be allowed.
• An informer, scout, or spy, was to be stationed in the Cantonment to bring news to the Nawab, since the Cantonment was on land belonging to the Nawab.

The Mardiaon Cantonment developed with broad metalled road, had bungalows built in cottage style, each having a garden without offices, stables and servant quarters, a small church, a graveyard, a dance hall, and a commissariat for storing provisions for the troops, a pond for sepoys besides residential quarters for officers and sepoys. There was a park with a band-stand and a race-course nearby. Mr. Ricketts, the then British Resident also stayed here for last three years of his term. Later his house was known as ‘Ricketts Sahib ka Bungalow’. A church too was built here and was good to accommodate about 100 people at a time for service.

A description of Cantonment according to a traveller who visited it in October 1819 :

“The general plan of a cantonment is to have a good piece of ground for the exercise of the troops in front, with a line of small buildings for depositing the arms in the rear. Next to these are huts of the sepoys and in their rear the bungalows of the officers, which are built in the cottage style, very well adapted for the climate, and each having a garden around it, with a range of offices, consisting of a kitchen, stables and servants’ houses.”

In 1856 after the annexation of Oudh there were about two hundred British here and about a thousand native soldiers. Cantonment was the place where the sigh of discontent and rebellion amongst the native sepoys was first noticed. It led to a burst of musketry and fire all around was seen.

The troops remained in Mardiaon while Sir Henry Lawrence transferred his headquarters to the Lucknow Residency. Most of the buildings of the abandoned Cantonment appeared to be destroyed or extensively damaged during the uprising. On June 29, 1857, the British Commissioner Henry Lawrence ordered the abandoning of this Cantonment and entire European population reached Machhi Bhawan and the Residency. It was at this stage that the bloody siege began.

Post uprising a ‘memorial pillar’ was erected in remembrance of the British who gave up their lives. The pillar erected as a memorial by the British at the Mardiaon cantonment proves that many Indian sepoys revolted against the British here on the evening of 30th May 1857. The pillar marks the Residency Bungalow of Sir Henry Lawrence and elaborates that the mutiny was foiled by the British forces and their loyal native sepoys. Finally the Mardiaon Cantonment was abandoned on 329th June 1857, when the forces concentrated in the Residency and the Macchi Bhawan Fort.

In the year 1858, post mutiny Sir Colin Campbell stationed his troops in Dilkusha Palace and due to the geographical advantages of this location British further decided to develop the adjoining areas as a new cantonment that exists even now and serves the headquarters of Central Command.

Today it is hard to locate these historic sites that actually changed the history, but what remains of these is just a memorial pillar on one location and about 2 miles away is a small compound with a few scattered unnamed and named graves this is called the Mardiaon Cemetery. Tragically the full cemetery could not survive due to encroachments and a housing colony being built over it. Only a few in Lucknow would know where these places are and could locate these to flip back the pages of history, while many would believe that the present day cantonment was the first British Cantonment or for that matter Residency was the only epicenter of the siege of 1857.

Tornos organises special visits to the old British Cantonment in Lucknow, retracing the history of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. A special tour visiting the Churches and Cemeteries too is quite exciting and takes guests to the historic churches of Lucknow including the Mardiaon Cemetery that has been discussed in detail in this article.

July 11, 2016

Muses in La Martiniere’s Constantia – a work of Wedgwood’s Neoclassical art

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:44 am

La Martiniere is no less than a work of art, specially Constantia the main building, where exists a hall called, The Muses’ Bower. It is a circular room on the fourth floor of Chapel in Constantia, the country house and mausoleum of Maj. Gen. Claude Martin. The exquisite ceiling is lavishly decorated with bas–relief images designed by artists working for Josiah Wedgwood. The set of Nine Muses and Apollo are the most popular image designed by John Flaxman.

John Flaxman (1755-1826), was a British Sculptor and a leading figure in British and Neoclassicism. From 1775 he was employed by Josiah Wedgwood, modeling relief for use on the company’s iconic Jasperware.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) was an English potter, credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery. Wedgewood’s most famous contribution is Jasperware, used for different objects in pottery. Jasperware is a type of pottery first developed by Wedgewood in 1770s. Usually described as stoneware, it is often described as a type of porcelain, noted for matte finish and is produced in number of different colours, of which the best know is a pale blue that has become known as Wedgewood Blue.

[(Muses & Apollo vase by Josiah Wedgwood’s Etruria factory Staffordshire, England, dates back to about 1787, called Stoneware (jasperware)]

The work is inspired by Neoclassicism, which is the name given to western movements in Art and Architecture that drew inspiration from the classical art and culture of Ancient Greece or Rome. At the height of the Neoclassical age Claude martin was caught up by the artistic movements sweeping Europe. The Muses’ Bower as it is called, is decorated with profusion of bas-reliefs, created in ‘Plaster of Paris’. Records indicate that huge amount of this plaster was imported for the use in Constantia.

The panels that support the ceiling bear larger images dealing with themes of passion and the characters most strongly associated with such passion  :  Hercules, Dionysus, Bellerophon, Odysseus, but this is augmented by the Christian theme of Friendship consoling Affliction which seems an unrelated interpolation.

Miscellaneous nymphs or the dancing Horae who are not directly associated with the story of the Muses, complement or complete the patterns on the ceiling.

Today The Muses’ Bower and its anterooms are used as private study rooms for the senior-most scholars of La Martiniere College, Lucknow.

We try here to explain each Muse and bring out the character of each of them. Also we have tried to explain a bit of mythology behind this. (some of the characters and stories have been provided external links for better and more detailed understanding)

The Nine Muses in Greek Mythology are goddesses of inspiration, art, science and all other creative works. It is believed, no one could create anything without the help and inspiration from one of the nine muses.

Authors, politician, artists, and scholars of all sorts in Ancient Greek were all believed to have gained success because of one or another Muse, which guided people to achieve success in a particular field. Every learning institute connected to the field of its specialization, had an altar to honour the Muses.

The origin of the word ‘museum’ is also traced to Muses, that translates into ‘A Temple of the Muses’. ‘Mosaic’ also comes from the Nine Muses and means, “something that belongs to the Muses”. No doubt that the word “music” stems from Muses itself.

We tend to call anyone who truly inspires an artist or author ‘a muse’. Originally the Nine Muses were goddesses of the Ancient Greek world. All Muses were the daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The names of the nine Muses were Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymni, Terpsichore Thalia and Urani. It is believed that they were residing above the golden clouds that covered sacred Greek mountain peaks, above the summits of Mounts Olympus, Helicon, Parnassus, and Pindus. They entertained and joined the Olympian gods in their feasts drinking water, milk, and honey, but never had wine. The nine sisters were originally the patron goddesses of poets and musicians, but over the time their roles extended to other areas including comedy, tragedy, history, poetry, music, dancing, singing, rhetoric, sacred hymns, and harmony.

Calliope was the Muse of the Epic and Lyric Poetry

Calliope was the eldest and wisest of the nine Muses. Literally meaning of Calliope is ‘She of the Beautiful voice’. She was named this way because of her nice way of making speeches. She was the most excellent Muse of all, accompanying respectable royalties.

Calliope was the favorite Muse of the Greek poet Homer, many even consider Calliope being the actual mother of Homer. Another child of Calliope was said to have been Orpheus, a famous musician and poet in ancient Greece.

In depictions Calliope can be seen young and beautiful, crowned with gold, holding a writing tablet or a volume of Homer’s Odyssey in her hand.

Clio was the Muse of History

Clio (or Cleio) was the goddess of history and the second among nine muses. The meaning of her name is ‘to make famous’ or ‘to celebrate’.  She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece. She was a source of inspiration to poets, dramatists and authors, such as Homer, who lived in Ancient Greece.

Clio once fell madly in love with the King of Macedonia, Pierus and with Pierus she created the beautiful Hyacinth, the lover of Greek god Apollo.

Clio is often depicted dressed in purple with laurels on her hair, in the one hand holding a cornet and in the other a book, the book Cleio used to write history. At her feet was the box of history.

Euterpe, also-called “Giver of Pleasure”, was the Muse of Music

Euterpe was the Muse of music, song and melancholic poetry. She was the third born of the Nine Muses. She was a source of inspiration to poets, dramatists and authors. She is said to have invented the flute and other wind instruments.

Euterpe is depicted with a laurel-crowned, playing or holding a flute, with musical instruments and texts next to her. When the Greek river Strymon once lived with Euterpe, she brought to life a son with the name Rhesus.

Erato – Muse of lyric poetry

Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry, this included love and erotic poetry and songs. She was the fourth Muse. Her name means ‘desired’.

She is often shown wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses. She sometimes holds a lyre, or a small kithara. Other times she may be holding an arrow. This is because she is connected to Eros, a Greek god of love and passion.

Love and especially erotic love has been a favoured theme of mankind for several thousand years. No wonder Erato was a favorite Muse of many poets. She was the one to turn to, when they wanted to express all their passionate feelings for a loved one.

Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy

Melpomene is Muse of tragedy and the fifth. She used to accompany Apollo. Her name means ‘singer’ or ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. According to the traditions and beliefs of the Ancient Greeks a dramatist writing a tragedy play would invoke the aid of Melpomene to guide and assist him in his work.

She was the first muse to represent song and then became the patron of Tragedy. She is usually depicted holding the tragic actor’s mask, sometimes with a knife or club in her other hand, and wearing a crown of cypress or grape wines. Cypress was a symbol of sorrow. Cypress trees were planted near graves to ward off evil spirits. Even the coffins were made from the wood of cypress. She is often represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus, boots that were traditionally worn by actors in Greek tragedies.

Polyhymnia – Muse of sacred Hymns, Geometry and Agriculture

Polyhymnia was the Muse of sacred hymns, geometry and agriculture. She was the sixth of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘One of many hymns’. She is presented as a beautiful and solemn Muse. She was often seen holding one finger up towards her mouth. She was learned and reflected.

Some also credit her to be the Muse of meditation. Sometimes she is shown wearing a veil. She could help people understand the meaning of life and get in touch with their religious side. Her symbol is a veil which was used to cover the head and implies the traits of a virgin priestess.

 Terpsichore Muse of Dance

Terpsichore was the Muse of dance and the seventh born of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘One who delights in dancing’. She is also referred as ‘Whirler of the Dance’. Dancing was such a huge part of the life of Greeks, it is easy to understand that she was popular with the majority of the citizens.

The strange thing is that Terpsichore is most often shown sitting down, maybe resting after dance. As some of her sisters, she too often wears a laurel wreath. She is shown with a lyre.

Thalia, the Muse of Comedy and Pastoral Poetry

Thalia was the Muse of comedy and the eighth among the Nine Muses. She can be interpreted in several ways – ‘The Luxurious One’, ‘She Who Flourishes’, ‘She Who Brings Flowers’, ‘Luxurious Growth’ are some of them, all encompassing ideas of growth and blooming.

She was also protector of Symposiums. Thalia, as the muse of comedy was associated with the mask of comedy and the comedic ‘socks’. She would often wear an ivy wreath and is depicted with a bugle and a trumpet (used to support the actors’ voices in ancient comedy) or occasionally a shepherd’s staff. Her symbol was a comic mask.

Ivy was a symbol of true friendship and love. Ivy was also associated with the joy of living. The Muse Thalia was loved and truly made people happy. She was a cheerful and fun-loving Muse.

Though she presided over comedy and pastoral but she is also the ‘country girl’ among the nine muses. She loves to traipse about meadows and forests and rural places. That’s why she carries the shepherd’s crook, as well.

Urania – Muse of astronomy

Urania was the Muse of astronomy and the youngest of the Nine Muses. Her name means ‘the heavenly’. Urania wears a star crown. She holds a globe and sometimes also a compass or a pointing stick. She was a master of star interpretations and could predict the future. Urania was the one to turn when trying to figure out a person’s astrology chart.

Urania is also the expert on astronomy. She knows every position of the stars and planet and is associated with the mystical side of life.

God Apollo or Apollon

Greek God Apollo or Apollon was one of the greatest Olympian Gods in Ancient Greece and the only one to appear with the same name in both Greek and Roman mythology. God Apollo, the god of sun, music, poetry, archery, healing and justice

He was the son of Zeus and Leto. He had many functions: he was the god of poetry, prophecy, arts and music, archery, and also of medical healing.

Also associated with the care of herds and crops, Apollo was a sun god of great antiquity, yet he is represented as an ever youthful god, just, wise and of great beauty. He has been the subject of many great paintings and statues throughout the ages. Apollo was well loved among the gods. This is said that he Apollo was fed on nectar and ambrosia and quickly grew to manhood.

In order to understand other works of art in the Muses’ Bower it is important to know a bit of background of each Hero and may be some basic story about it as well.

Cupid and Psyche

The story of Cupid and Psyche is one of the fantastic stories featured in ancient mythology and legends. This can be said to be a doorway to enter the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

This is a story of love and passion. It concerns the overcoming of obstacles to the love between Psyche (Soul or Breath of Life) and Cupid (Greek: Eros-Meaning Desire of Love). Cupid appears in classical Greek art as a slender, winged youth. Psyche is often represented with butterfly wings, and the butterfly, a symbol of the soul, is her frequent attribute.

The fame of Psyche’s beauty threatened to eclipse that of Aphrodite (Latin: Venus) herself, so she sent her son Cupid to work her revenge. Cupid was enamoured of Psyche, and arranged for her to be in his palace. He visited her by night, warning her not to try to look upon him, Psyche’s envious sisters convinced her that her lover must be a hideous monster, and she finally introduced a lamp into their chamber to see him, Startled by his beauty, she dropped hot oil from the lamp and wakened him. He abandoned her. She wandered the earth looking for him, and finally submitted to the service of Aphrodite (Venus), who tortured her. The goddess then sent Psyche on a series of quests. Each time she despaired, she was given divine aid. On her final task, she was to retrieve a dose of beauty from the queen of the underworld. She succeeded, but on the way back she opened the box in the hope of benefiting from it herself. She fell into a deep sleep. Cupid found her in this state, and revived her by returning the sleep to the box. Jupiter then granted her immortality so the couple be wed as equals. The story is often presented as an allegory of love overcoming death.

Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides

Hercules is best known as the strongest of all mortals, and even stronger than many gods. He was the deciding factor in the triumphant victory of the Olympians over the giants. He was the last mortal son of Zeus, and the only man born of a mortal woman to become a God upon his death.

Hera, the wife of Zeus, knew that Hercules was her husband’s illegitimate son and sought to destroy him. The demi-god, who suffered like mortals and who could make a mess of things in life just as easily as any man or woman but perform deeds no mortal could, had great appeal for the people of Greece and Rome. Hercules was a kind of super-powered every man who suffered disappointments, had bad days – even bad years.

Hercules was a young, successful hero, married and, in time, with three strong sons. Hera could not tolerate the situation and so sent upon him a madness in which he killed his children and even his wife. He continued in his rage until Athena knocked him out with a stone and, when he realised what he had done, he was overwhelmed with grief. Theseus convinced him that it would be cowardly and that he must find a way to atone for his sins. Hercules consulted the Oracle at Delphi, who told him to attach himself to his cousin Eurystheus, King of Tiryns and Mycenae, who would devise tasks to expiate his sins, the total number of these tasks were twelve, such as to kill Hydra or to capture Cerynitian Hind etc. One of the task among these twelve was to bring back the Golden Apples of Hesperides. The story goes; En route to the sacred grove where the apples grew, Hercules found Prometheus bound to his rock and set him free. Prometheus was grateful and told him that the apples were guarded by a dragon named Ladon who could not be conquered, and so Hercules should try to get the titan Atlas, who held up the earth and heavens on his shoulders, to get the apples for him. When Hercules reached the grove, Atlas agreed to help, but Hercules would have to shoulder the weight of the world while Atlas went to get the apples. Hercules accepted the load and Atlas got the apples. When he returned, however, Atlas did not want to take the weight back and was going to leave Hercules in his place. Hercules cheerfully agreed to stay and hold up the universe but asked Atlas if he could take the weight again for just one moment so that he could adjust his cloak to cushion his shoulders. Atlas took back the universe and Hercules picked up the apples and left.

The plate in Muses’ Bower shows Hercules sitting in the Gardens of Hesperides from where he stole the golden apples.

Friendship Consoling Affliction

An allegory is the representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters or figures in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form. A weeping veiled woman is tented to and comforted by another, in an apparent lower position. Though fashioned in the manner of classical characters, this design is drawn from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

Adriane and Dionysus

Dionysus, the Greek God of wine married Ariadne, the Princess of Crete. Adriane had helped the legendary hero Theseus to escape from a labyrinth on the isle of Naxos, after which he abandoned her. Dionysus carries a staff called Thyrsus. In the bas relief, the romantic nature of their meeting is confirmed by Erotes hovering above them. He is accompanied by three panthers, which are also sacred to him.

Pegasus being presented by Belleraphon to the Muses

The myth of Pegasus and Bellerophontes has a particular place in Greek Mythology because it speaks about betrayal and loyalty, dreams and expectations, coincidences and chances, and all that through a story that has more juicy parts beforehand and aftermath than in the actual story of those two.

Pegasus was a winged divine stallion. Whenever Pegasus struck his hoof to the earth, an inspiring spring burst forth. One of these spring, used by the Muses, was called the Hippocrene (horse spring). Pegasus has become a symbol of poetry and the creator of sources from which poets draw inspiration. Pegasus was later presented to the Muses by Belleraphon who watered and tended to him.

Bellerophontes or Bellerophon was a great equestrian, a young man from Corinth, whose biggest dream was to have Pegasus for himself. Although Bellerophontes is supposed to be the son of King Glaucus of Corinth, there were rumors that his father was actually Poseidon, the God of the Sea. In the latter case, that would mean that Pegasus and Bellerophontes were brothers via their father.

Nausicaa meets Odysseus

Odysseus was shipwrecked. Princess Nausicca and her maids came upon him naked and unkempt . He begged her to give him some food and clothing and to show him the way to the town. Nausicca is a symbol of love never expressed.


A visit to La Martiniere would be some what incomplete without  a visit to Muses’ Bower and proper interpretation. This place is covered in great detail through our experience : La Martiniere Decoded. In this experience we explore not only this, but many other hidden corners of La Martiniere.

June 29, 2016

The Musical Evolution of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:47 am

The cultural legacy of Lucknow’s contribution to the development of North Indian classical music should by no means be underestimated. The crucial formative period for modern Hindustani music lasted from about 1720 to around 1860; and for much of this time one of the most important and influential centres of patronage for the arts was the city of Lucknow.


(Thumri written by Nawab Wajid-Ali-Shah and being sung by Late begum Akhtar) 

Virtually nothing is known about music in Lucknow during the first half of the eighteenth century. Initially it was Delhi that attracted musicians in search of court patronage but in 1764 the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula, was compelled to forfeit a third of the revenue of this territory in return for which the British guaranteed Awadh’s security and independence from Delhi with a strong military presence and the posting of a British Resident to oversee military and administrative cooperation. Free from the restraints of Mughal domination, and with the security of this territory assured, Shuja-ud-Daula moved to Faizabad and opted to pour money into a rebuilding scheme that would transform the fortress into a bustling, fashionable city which ‘almost rivaled Delhi in magnificence; it was full of merchant from Persia, China and Europe, and money flown like water’

Shuja-Ud-Daula was also known to be fond of music and dance, and he promised to lavish his wealth on the pursuit of these passions. For example, it is reported that he regularly took musicians and courtesans with him on journeys. Thus, many courtesans, dancers, singers, and instrumentalists found this new and abundant source of patronage quite irresistible.

In 1775 Asaf-ud-Daula was crowned as the fourth Nawab for Awadh and turned Lucknow as the capital for the province. Thus musicians flocked to Lucknow from Faizabad and Delhi. Prominent among these were two singers, Ghulam Rasul and Miyan Jani, who had specialized in qawali, a Muslim devotional genre. However, on reaching Lucknow they began to specialize in khayal. Gulam Rasul and Miyan Jani did much to popularize khayal, and they provide us with an important link between qawali and khayal.

Ghulam Rasul’s son, Miyan Shori, continued the innovative trend by creating the vocal genre tappa, a light-classical from characterized by a constant stream of acrobatic flourishes and runs.

About Asaf-ud-Daula, it is said that he took dancers and musicians for hunting expeditions and spent excessively on events for example the wedding procession of his son and successor, Wazir Ali, in 1795. On each side of the procession, in front of the line of elephants, were dancing girls richly dressed carried on platforms supported by men called bearers, who danced as they went along. All these platforms were covered with gold and silver clots; and there were two musicians on each platform. The number of these platforms was about a hundred on each side of the procession.

Another very famous story concerning Ghazi-ud-din Haider and a celebrated singer of the day gives a taste of what things might have been like in the Lucknow of the 1820s.

Haideri Khan was a great singer who neither sang for money nor accepted the invitations of Lucknow’s nobility to perform. He insisted that any rich man interested enough to hear him should visit him at his own modest house, share his own cheap smoking pipe, and sit on his own rudimentary charpoy. This eccentric behaviour had earned him the nickname ‘Siri’ (‘Mad’) Haideri Khan.

One day the King, Ghazi-ud-din Haider, summoned Haideri Khan to perform at the court. When news of the inevitable refusal reached the King he was so outraged that he ordered the immediate execution of the singer. But the Prime Minister, Agha Mir, quickly explained the background and pointed out that it would not be in the King’s best interest if posterity remembered him for killing a mad-man who defied an order to sing at the royal court.

Sometime later the King was travelling through the city on a palanquin when one of his retinue recognized Haideri Khan en route and informed the king about him. The King got down and approached the singer, inviting him to come and perform at his house. Dressed in ordinary clothes the King was not instantly recognisable to Haideri Khan, and so he agreed. However, he was soon horrified to see that they were approaching the palace, and to learn that his companion was in fact Ghazi-ud-din Haider. He could not now go back on his word, and so Haideri Khan attended court and sang with a silver voice. Around midnight the King requested the poignant Rag Sohini. Soon Haideri Khan had his audience in tears. Impetuously, the King then repeated the request, but Haideri Khan refused. The King insisted that if he could not hear Sohini again he would have Haideri Khan beheaded! Angered but undaunted, the singer began to perform with such intensity that all present were utterly transfixed.

At the end of the sitting the King lavished praise on Haideri Khan and asked him to quote his price. Haideri Khan assured the King he did not sing for reward. A second time the King asked, and a second time the singer refused. Ghazi-ud-din Haider persisted a third time, to which the singer replied, “But you would not give me what I want”, hearing this, the King promised that he would indeed keep his word by honouring any request. “Very well then”, said Haideri Khan. “I would only ask that you never call me here again. If you die Awadh will have another King, but if I die India will have no other musician of any greatness”.

The last and most popular King of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56), who embodied all that, was wrong with Nawabi Lucknow in the eyes of the British; not only did Wajid Ali Shah sing, dance and write poetry, he preferred the company of courtesans, dancers, musicians, and poets to that of his ministers and advisors.

In a way Lucknow had replaced Delhi as India’s most important musical centre. Several significant hereditary family traditions were represented at the courts throughout the period, in particular the Seniyas, musicians claiming direct descent from the great sixteenth-century court musician Miyan Tansen. The Seniyas specialized in dhrupad, which still predominated as the major form. It was performed either vocally or on one of two instruments : the bin (i.e. the rudra vina – a stick zither with two large resonating grounds attached to each end) and the rabab (a lute with a large, round, wooded body and tapering fingerboard). This was the time when Chajju Khan Kalawant and Jivan Khan Kalawant, both dhrupad masters specializing in the rabab, left Delhi to join the Lucknow court of Asaf-ud-Daula.

Towards the end of the Nawabi period the sitar seems to have become prominent. Initially it would have been used as an accompanying instrument, probably for dance, though by the mid nineteenth century Ghulam Raza Khan, who must have been a direct beneficiary of the non – dhrupad training of the Seniyas, had managed to popularize it as a solo instrument in its own right. He was also credited with the invention of a style of instrumental composition, or gat, bearing his name: the Raza Khani gat. However, it is not entirely clear whether Ghulam Raza created this style of gat himself or merely popularised it; nevertheless it became the predominant form in medium or fast tempo, and instrumental repertoire is full of melodies conforming to its sixteen-beat rhythmic structure.

Ghulam Raza was inspired by lighter forms, and the resulting compositions in his Raza Khani gat style. This style was ideal for light rags, such as those created by Wajid Ali Shah which were named ‘jogi, juhi, jasmine, or Shah Pasand’.

Though many ‘Ustads’ were not impressed by it but of course it was the nobility who were ultimately in a position to patronise music, and so their tastes helped establish and shape the new trend towards lighter music at the expense of more substantial and sophisticated classical forms known as dhrupad.

The compositions of dhrupad had always been accompanied by the large, barrel-shaped pakhavaj: an ancient instrument whose deep and powerful sounds are said to have had magical properties, and could, for example, subdue even a raging elephant. The pakhavaj is still used in dhrupad today.  Now dhrupad has been in steady decline all over India. Only a handful of musicians still specialize in it.

Nawabi courts were the courtesans, or Baijis as they are popularly referred to because of the addition of ‘Bai’ to their names (e.g. Zohra bai or Janki bai). The Baijis were women who danced, sang, and recited poetry. Member of Lucknow’s nobility even sent their children to the Baijis for schooling in etiquette as well as to learn something of the art, particularly poetry. Courtesans were an important link in the development of Hindustani music : though they did not have access to the dhrupad tradition of the Seniyas but yes, they did receive training from these masters, almost certainly in khayal. However, they were best noted for the semi classical thumri, (It was created by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and an independent vocal form somewhat influenced by khayal by 1800, becoming extremely popular and pervasive during his time.) a vocal genre that also constitutes an important expressional and interpretive element in kathak dance, as well as the ghazal, a poetic form of melodies loosely based on classical principles.

Another genre that established in Lucknow, owing essentially to the nature of Shia Muslim was soz. Soz was started by Shias in India to keep fresh the memories of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s Family and was performed during the month of Mohurram. Based in serious rags and accompanied by voices giving the drone (no instruments were allowed in this style), soz compositions were performed by many great musicians at private gatherings or in the Great Imambara of Lucknow.

Just as Lucknow’s musical activity reached a peak under Wajid Ali Shah, so did the intolerance of the British who were bitterly impatient with the King’s blatant excess and incompetent administration, opted to annex Awadh. Wajid Ali Shah was sent into exile at Matiya Burj in Calcutta, and was never to see his beloved Lucknow again. Not that he would have recognized it anyway, since what followed annexation was to change the complexion of the city and its culture forever.

After a failed mutiny against the British in 1857, came up the new British policies that aimed at making Lucknow more easily defendable and thus governable. The large-scale demolition of vast tracts of the city was ordered. About a third of the population was displaced, and many places and aristocratic residences vanished, Musical activity came to a virtual standstill and the patrons of Lucknow music ceased to hold any music concerts because of the fear of the new regime under the Raj.

But soon, music-making resumed under the remaining members of the aristocracy who still maintained residences in the city. In addition there was a newly emerging nobility, the local landowners and tax collectors (zamidars and taluqdars), who were regarded as allies in the administration of the region. Thus Lucknow regained some of its stature as a centre for the arts, but never again to the same extent as during the Nawabi days.

Musical life of Lucknow was so intense that it could not be killed, rather it flourished behind the curtains. Then came the time when British too started appreciating the musical highs of Lucknow.  In 1926, Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande established a music school in Lucknow with the help and co-operation of Rai Umanath Bali and Rai Rajeshwar Bali and other music patrons and connoisseurs of Lucknow. This institution was inaugurated by then Governor of Awadh,  Sir William Marris and was thus named after him as ‘Marris College of Music’. In 1966, much after independence the State Government of Uttar Pradesh brought this college under its control and aptly renamed it after its founder as ‘Bhatkhande College of Hindustani Music. Later in the year 2000 it became a University offering courses in classical music and dance. The historic building of this University is in Kaiserbagh Palace Complex and is a part of the Wajid Ali Shah Walk conducted by Tornos. So aptly located in the home of the Last King, Wajid Ali Shah as if he left a legacy of music to remind all how great a patron of music he was.

May 28, 2016

Sir Henry Montgomery Lawrence

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:42 am

The Lawrences were sprung from the mixed races of Scot and Irish that we find in Ulster. Sir Henry Lawrence was born in 1806 into an Irish family at Matara, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), as the eldest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander William Lawrence.

In 1813 the three sons, Alexander, George, and Henry, were sent to the Grammar School of Londonderry, now Foyle College. After here Henry went to Addiscombe, being selected for the artillery.

In 1822 he arrived at Calcutta and was quartered at Dum-Dum, where he stayed three years, when the Burmese war broke out and Lawrence was summoned to serve under Colonel Lindsay. Fever caught in the swamps of Arracan, compelled him to go to the sanatorium at Penang, and thence to Canton.

On his return to India he was appointed assistant to the Revenue Survey of India. In 1841, Henry Lawrence marched with a Sikh contingent to Kabul, but won no honours from Government. However, soon after this, Lord Ellenborough made him Resident at the Court of Nepal. From here he wrote some articles for the Calcutta Review that attracted the notice of the new Governor-General, Sir Henry Hardinge. He soon appointed Henry Lawrence to be political officer on the frontier, at Lahore. Here Henry trusted the Sikhs as some thought dangerously, but kept the turbulent natives in check, and exerted such a good influence on Golab Singh, the Jammu chief, that that worthy abolished suttee and slavery throughout his dominions.

In 1847, Lawrence went home, and the Queen made him a Knight Commander of the Bath. Later he return India and Lord Dalhousie made Sir Henry, President of a governing Board of newly annexed Punjab. Sir Henry’s policy was to be lenient, merciful, and kind. He visited all the stations in the Punjab, riding thirty or forty miles a day. Good authorities say that his work at this period did much to quell the Mutiny that was coming. He made the Sikhs true and faithful friends.

Bosworth Smith writes: “Nobody has ever done so much towards bridging over the gulf that separates race from race, colour from colour, and creed from creed; nobody has ever been so beloved, nobody has ever deserved to be so beloved, as Sir Henry Lawrence”.

In January 1853, Henry was offered to the Agency to the Governor-General in Rajputana. At this point when the time came for him to quit Lahore a long procession of weeping native chiefs followed his carriage, some for ten miles, some for twenty, from the city. His sun was set, and they could not be expecting favours to come: but they wished to testify their grief and their gratitude for one who had protected those that were down. Robert Napier (Lord Napier of Magdala) was the last to take leave of him and bade him an affectionate farewell.

He continued his great jobs in Raputana as well. Later a great trouble came upon him when his beloved wife, who had done so much to help him with his work and to cheer him in his hours of depression, sickened and died. Then he was all for going home, to see his old friends in Ireland, but a new governor-general, who had heard of the wonderful and engaging qualities of the man, offered him the commissionership of Oudh.The disappointed man plucked up health and spirits at the honour done him and the recognition it showed of the important work he had already affected.

Sir Henry found Oudh seething with discontent. He arrived at Lucknow and took charge of his province about 20th March. He found brigandage on the increase and took steps to crush it. Then the chiefs and princes were called to durbar, or spoken to in private, and assured of justice being done them.

But, knowing the native mind as he did, Sir Henry perceived that things had gone too far for gentle measures only. There was an old Sikh fort, square and castellated, near the Residency, a tumble-down building on a site thirty feet above the road, which had long been used as a store-house. This fort Sir Henry had quietly cleared out and put in repair, that it might be a place of refuge in time of sudden émeute.

On 1st May the 7th Oudh Infantry, stationed in a suburb of Lucknow, refused to use their cartridges: next day the regiment was surrounded and disarmed: the ringleaders were tried and punished; the loyal officers were promoted and rewarded.

On 11th May the telegraph ceased to work and the postal service was disorganized, people began to feel uneasy. On the 14th, news came of the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi, and of the restoration of the old Mogul dynasty.

Sir Henry at once placed troops and guns in the old fort, and desired all English families to assemble in the Residency grounds. He also held the southern end of the cantonments with British troops. The Residency site was extensive, healthy, and supplied with water; it possessed much house accommodation and shelter, and commanded the river face for half its circle. After 23rd May, the Sikh fort being now secured, batteries and defensive works were begun on the Residency, parapets and breastworks were raised, streets were blocked up which interfered with the defence, and many buildings were barricaded and loopholed. Meanwhile food and supplies came pouring in from the country, and none of the rebels thought of stopping them.

On 30th May, as the staff were at dinner, a faithful sepoy rushed in with the news that the sepoys had just broken out at evening gun-fire from their lines. They were gutting and burning the officers’ houses and firing muskets wildly.

At the main picket they had killed the officer in charge, Lieutenant Grant, and a stray shot had killed Brigadier Handscombe. Sir Henry rose from dinner and moved to the Government House near the cantonment, which was guarded by the 13th Native Infantry, who had remained loyal. Captain Hardinge with his irregular cavalry patrolled the streets of the cantonment.

Next morning the mutineers were attacked, defeated, and chased away ten miles or more. The city police dispersed a large body of bad characters who were trying to cross the river. From 3rd June onward the news came of mutinies at Seetapur, at Faizabad, and elsewhere, and the conduct of the large landowners proved that they sympathized with the rebels.

By the 9th of June, under medical advice, he gave over temporary charge of his duties to a Council, with Mr. Gubbins as its head. But two days later, hearing that his policy of retaining native troops was being set aside, he resumed command and recalled many that had been sent away.

On 11th June he wrote to Brigadier Inglis and informed him that now he was of opinion there should only be one position to defend: all the treasure, guns, stores, etc., in the Mutchi Bhown must be withdrawn into the Residency; for the condition of Cawnpore troubled him, and he pushed on the defences of the Residency.

On 12th June cholera appeared and carried off many valuable lives and some children. On the same day the military police mutinied, and were pursued by volunteers from the Residency under Captain Forbes, this officer did valuable service with his volunteers in the surrounding country before the siege. But on the 28th the news came of Sir H. Wheeler’s capitulation at Cawnpore, and at once everything was changed.

The poor ladies in the Residency heard and discussed the awful tidings with white faces and reeling heads and sickened hearts. The men turned to thoughts of vengeance, and Cawnpore became the war-cry for severities which British soldiers of a later generation would be glad to disown.

Meanwhile the Governor-General was writing home: “Sir Henry Lawrence is doing admirably at Lucknow; all safe there.” On receiving this approval the Court of Directors named Sir Henry governor-general, in case Lord Canning dies. An honour paid to merit, and never known by Sir Henry: he, for his part, was preparing for his own death—perhaps half wishing it might come soon.

“If anything happens to me, I recommend that Colonel Inglis should succeed me in command . . . . There should be no surrender. I commend my children and the Lawrence Asylums to Government” The Derry note of “No surrender!” was continually sounding in his ears.

As soon as the mutineer regiments heard of the Cawnpore massacre they began to flock back to Lucknow. Sir Henry ordered a reconnaissance for 30th June to check their movement. He took a third of his garrison, ten guns, and one howitzer. But the enemy was in force, and defeated him at Chinhut with the loss of four officers, many men, and five guns; the howitzer also was taken.

Now wounded men struggled & back to residency and in a moment gates were shut and barred and batteries were manned. In the dark of the night of 1st July, Colonel Palmer silently withdrew his men from the Mutchi Bhawan, and Lieutenant Thomas lighted a twenty-minute fuse to blow up the magazine.

Thus the siege of the Residency began on 2nd July, and lasted till Havelock and Outram reinforced the besieged on 25th September.

Thomas Henry Kavanagh (Assistant Commissioner in Oude) says that at first the higher and airy rooms were given to the officers’ families, amid some competition for places. But the lofty rooms proved more dangerous, and soon the common peril levelled all distinctions of rank, for as the servants had deserted, the ladies had to do their own cooking, nursing, etc. During the whole siege there was food enough, owing to Sir Henry’s forethought. The 32nd Regiment formed the backbone of the defence, and contained many Cornish miners who were very useful.

On the morning of the 2nd of July, Sir Henry went round early, inspecting every post and encouraging the garrison, telling men what they had to do, and steadying all in their duty. Sir Henry had chosen an upper room in the Residency, into which already one shell had penetrated. He would not change his room, because from it he could command a wide view over the city.

A little before eight o’clock a.m. he lay down for a short rest after his labours, while he discussed business with Captain Wilson, his nephew George being on another bed at his side.

At eight a shell burst in the room, bringing down part of the ceiling and filling the air with blinding smoke. George Lawrence was unhurt; Wilson’s shirt was torn from his back.

“Are you hurt, uncle?” asked George Lawrence after a brief silence.
“I think I am killed,” was the reply.
They carried him out under the verandah, and Sir Henry said to the doctor after he had examined the wound in his thigh, “How long have I to live, doctor?”
“Three days perhaps, Sir Henry.”
“I think not so long,” murmured the shattered man. Then he turned his thoughts to the defence, and after giving instructions and naming Major Banks his successor in the civil administration, and Brigadier Inglis in the military command together with Major Anderson his chief Engineer, he repeated again and again, “No surrender!” and to one of his friends he said, “Bury me simply, with just a stone saying, “Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty.”

He died on the morning of 4th July after hours of great agony, and his loss was lamented by many of all creeds and colours. “I feel as if at Lucknow and Delhi (Nicholson) I had lost the father and the brother of my public life,” wrote Sir Herbert Edwardes to John Lawrence.

“His loss just now will be a national calamity,” was the reply. The brother who represented chivalry, generosity, and sympathy was gone: the stronger character of John Lawrence remained, to stamp out the last sparks of mutiny and to secure the English rule.

April 25, 2016

Christian Community & Churches of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:40 am

The European and Anglo-Indian community which established in Lucknow alongside the British Residents at the Court of Awadh, was almost entirely Christian by religion. And, as the community expanded, the need for churches to cater to their beliefs became more pressing. In fact a first approach had been made to Nawab Asaf-ud-Dowlah in 1775, shortly after he shifted his Court from Faizabad – but it was not until 1837 that permission was finally granted, this lead to the establishment of an Anglican church in the cantonment at Mariaon, called Christ Church (not to be confused with the later Christ Church built at Hazratganj). This church was small, with seating for 90 people only, and it was completed in 1842. Later it was destroyed by the mutineers and abandoned when the European soldiers retreated to the Residency compound just before the start of the siege. Reverend Henry Polehampton was the young priest in charge and he lived nearby with his wife and child in a large house. Meanwhile, the community living in Lucknow had to accept an arrangement whereby a room in one of the Residency buildings was adapted for religious services. Only after this building was destroyed by fire in 1844 King Amjad Ali Shah finally gave permission for a church to be erected in the Residency compound.

Thus St. Mary’s Church, a handsome Gothic building, was built shortly afterwards in an area to the west of the Residency, and it became the first Anglican church in Lucknow, with a capacity of a hundred and thirty people.

Meanwhile the Roman Catholic community had fared somewhat better. In 1745 a Capuchin Priest, Father Joseph Bernini, had examined and cured the favourite begum of Nawab Shuja-ud-Dowlah of a carbuncle which had resisted treatment by the native physicians. In gratitude, the Nawab had agreed to grant around three hectares of land in the Golaganj locality for the establishment of a Catholic Christian colony. This land become known as Padrethola and it was here that Father Adeodatus Santuari developed a missionary station on his arrival in 1824, building a small Catholic Chapel and a vicarage. He later set aside a plot of land as burial ground (this still exists, although in much neglected condition, and it is known as the Kaisar Pasand cemetery). Father Adeodatus was undoubtedly the first Catholic chaplain of Lucknow, and his church in Golaganj became the focus of Catholic worship until the mutiny. He took refuge in the Residency during the rebellion and survived the siege. But he was by then an old and sick man, and he died during the subsequent retreat to Allahabad.

However each of these early churches were totally destroyed during the mutiny, so afterwards both the Anglican and the Catholic missions were faced with the task of building new churches to serve their communities.

No photographs of these early churches exist and, moreover, there are very few records. Church registers were sadly left behind when the British retreated from the Residency compound at the end of the siege in November 1857. So the only records that have survived are the copies of the baptism and marriage entries that were forwarded to England. In the case of the Catholic mission, a young Irish priest, Reverend Father William Gleeson, was sent to Lucknow in 1858 to replace Father Adeodatus. Father Gleeson set to work quickly and shortly he had sold the land of the former mission at Golaganj. With the proceeds of the sale and a grant from the Government as well as subscriptions raised from the public, Father Gleeson built two new churches. One of these was dedicated to St. Paul and was built at Dilkusha to provide for Catholic soldiers living in the new cantonment. St. Pauls’ church was completed in 1861 and was in use for following year. It is still in service today and is now the oldest church in Lucknow. The other church however had a more chequered history. St. Joseph’s church was built on a plot of land in Hazratganj and was completed by 1862. However, the following year the building was found to have weak foundations, so it was declared unsafe and thus it was demolished. A new church to replace the unsafe building was only eventually completed in 1868, and it was first used in 1871.

The first few years were a very busy time for St. Paul’s church as the problems with the construction of St. Joseph’s church meant that St. Paul’s had to serve the whole Catholic community of Lucknow, rather than just soldiers from the cantonment. My great-grandparents, although they lived in Kaisarbagh, attended services at St. Paul’s church, where they were married and had their first children baptised, before reverting to the more convenient St. Joseph’s church when it was finally opened for service in 1871. However they were not typical, as it seems that most of the St. Paul’s congregation remained until the mid 1880s before transferring to St. Joseph’s Church. Father Gleeson only remained at Lucknow until 1862, when he left and a Capuchin Priest from Italy, Father Felix, took over his duties.

The Anglican mission had no surviving churches after the rebellion and so initially the Maqbara Amjad Ali Shah (which is located through a large ornamental archway along Hazratganj near the road to Lalbagh) was used as a church. In fact Lord Conning attended divine service there in October 1859 on his triumphal state visit to Lucknow.

Meanwhile work was continuing for the building of a new Anglican church in the Civil Lines, and this was completed the following year. Christ Church, as it was named, was consecrated by Bishop Cotton on November 26th 1860. The church was erected in memory of British who were killed during the rebellion. For this reason it was also known as the Martyrs’ Memorial Church. Many plaques on the internal walls pay lasting tribute to the fallen. Even the pulpit is dedicated to a soldier, who fell on the spot where the church now stands. The church was designed by General Hutchinson and was built by the Royal Engineers at a cost of Rs. 60,000. The cross on the steeple used to face Hazratganj market, but the whole steeple twisted during a storm in 1933, causing it to face the General Post Office.

Another Anglican church, named All Saints’ Church, was also constructed and completed in 1860 at Dilkusha, but this was a temporary structure provided for soldiers and officers in the cantonments. The temporary church was eventually demolished and replaced on the same site by the current All Saints’ Church, which was completed in 1912. In fact the earliest registers of All Saints’ church commence in 1859 and clearly relate to the earlier temporary church.

The Anglican community felt the need for a third church and in 1858 the military authorities allowed the “Zahoor Bakhsh Compound” in Lalbagh to be leased to the Church Mission Society, which spent a sum of Rs. 33,400 on buildings for the compound. The Reverend W.T. Storres was the first priest installed there in 1859 and, although no church had yet been built, services were performed for many years in a large room, or Chapelghar, in the compound. Reverend C.G. Daeuble replaced Reverend Storres in December 1871 and it was during his time as priest there that work finally began on construction of the Church. The foundation stone of the pretty red-brick built Gothic style church which took the name “Epiphany Church” was finally laid in November 1875 by Mrs. Inglis, the wife of the officiating   Commissioner of Oudh. The church was completed within two years, and the first service was held there on Christmas day, 1877.

Meanwhile the Methodist Episcopal Church had begun its work in India with the arrival of an American, William Butler, in 1856. He had originally intended to start his missionary work at Lucknow but, being unable to secure accommodation here, he actually started at Bareilly. However his work there was interrupted by the mutiny, so afterwards he returned to Lucknow and opened a branch of the mission at Hussainabad in the winter of 1858. One of the buildings on the land that the mission had purchased at Hussainabad was converted that year into a girls’ orphanage, which was run by Mrs. Pierce, whose husband, Reverend R. Pierce, worked alongside Reverend Butler at Lucknow. They were joined in 1862 by the Reverend J.H. Messmore, and these three missionaries lived in the Asafi and Kala kothis at Hussainabad until 1866. Eventually, though, it was decided to relocate the Mission more centrally in Lalbagh, where a large house in extensive grounds was purchased in 1872. This became the home for the missionaries and a portion of the compound was walled off to form the Lalbagh Girls’ High School. The first church constructed by the Methodist Mission at Lalbagh was the “Indian” Church, completed in 1869 and intended mainly for the native Christian population. Meanwhile the “English” Church was completed and dedicated in 1877 by the Reverend James Mills Thoburn.

Thoburn had earlier invited his sister, Isabella, to join him in his missionary work in India, and she come out in 1869. She received a great fame, after she started a small school for girls in 1870 in the Nazirabad locality. Later, this expanded and was eventually re-sited, becoming known as the Isabella Thoburn College. Isabella was the founder and first Principal of the Lal Bagh High School for girls from 1870 until her death in 1907. She was buried at Nishat Ganj cemetery, where her grave can still be seen.

March 20, 2016

Uncle Ram (Ram Advani), I miss you

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:25 am

Some readers might find this article quite jumbled and not so well written in terms of incident occurrences and flow of writing, that may not match the timing of incidents narrated here, but then this has been written with a heart full of sorrow and grief and should be excused on that count.

I am sure Ram Advani needs no introduction after about 95 years of his well lived inspiring life, out of this only a quarter was away from Lucknow while the rest was here.

My childhood memories go back to when I was about 6 or 7 years of age and as an evening ritual my father used to take me to Hazratganj almost daily. While on a walk through the corridors towards the Mayfair he stopped by to exchange pleasantries in his mother tongue, Sindhi and while both of them spoke, at that point of time as a child, I went into the shop looking at some very nice book-covers, a wonderful rubber stamp and a very rare telephone instrument on his classic wooden table. With the corner of their eyes both looked at me, to ensure that I as a child, did not disturb the arrangements of the book or fiddled with some office table essentials as at that age my curiosity was developing with leaps and bounds. A staircase led up to a ‘Reading or Discussion room’ (If I may call it so) that was my favourite, not that I was fond of reading, but because it looked to me as a hidden den, a great personal space for children of that age. I recall my love for lofts, basements, box-rooms et al., that somehow gave me a high at that age and I often wanted to sit, sleep, read and hide in these.

As I grew, my eyes wanted to peep through the covers and open the books that till now meant only covers to me, it was here that Uncle Ram came into picture and, beyond how I saw him earlier as, another Sindhi relative who was fancied by my Sindhi parents. He had a personality like water that transformed and reshaped according to the age and the liking of the person standing opposite to him, and this very personality trait actually made him so popular and wanted all his life. He at that point could observe me opening books and at that stage he stepped in to help me read and conversed with me directly leaving my father alone to see his likes in the shop or to engage is Sindhi pep-talks, enjoy a cup of tea etc. (probably he knew that he had to nurture interest in me and my father’s interest had firmly been there, so it was futile to spend much of his time on him now at that stage). I somehow became a regular stopper to that area, though at times dodging the bookshop, I entered the Mayfair verandah to enjoy seeing the film posters of Superman, Spiderman, Return of the Dragon and some other Hollywood classics (Mayfair ran morning shows of some great English films and with my cousins, who were from the family we got free entry along with some pastries from a very popular restaurant named, Kwality served inside the hall. If my memory serves right, there was this gentleman by the name of ‘Mr.Kumar’ who managed the theater, so we just went to him and the rest of it was arranged by him) My parents were quite dotting and wanted to develop me and my younger brother as a keen reader of books rather than film buffs, so they were not happy with the idea of letting me mingle with my cousins who were a part of Mayfair cinema, in spite of the fact that my father was himself a keen film buff and collected about 100 autographs of film stars such as Dilip Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Om Prakash (Om Prakash had signed making a face of a cartoon in the alphabet, ‘O’) and more, but these are the ones I remember and can connect to ( by the way, the autograph-book was stolen from my school bag, when I took it to show my friends) during his short stay in Bombay after the partition brought him from Hyderabad (Sindh-Pakistan).

Ram Uncle was always a man who was talked about in my house almost every day for some reason or another. The books that my father and mother read were from his shop, the family and friends who attended the Sunday luncheons in turns at each other’s place (Surnames: Shivdasani, Punvani, Gulrajani, Thadani, Vaswani, Advani and more) fancied him so much so, that as children we could hear his name being uttered many a times during their conversations. Now I realize how important he must have been to all of them. Often the discussions involved a book that was bought from his shop, read for a week and became a topic of discussion. I remember one of my aunts once saying, she read a few pages of a book and found the book quite boring, to this my mother said, “you can return it to him and he will be happy to refund, if you have not liked it” (was he not a businessman ? yes of course he was but he did business another way).

I grew up and my tastes too changed with times (in about 1978-79 Television came to our home and suddenly children had yet another mode of entertainment, though in today’s context it was quite boring, but then for those times it was indeed very exciting). My love for books ebbed and so Ram Uncles shop went down on my concurrent list (could have been that books at school increased so much that somehow I wanted to free myself of books). I was busy with my studies, so my meetings with him had become rare, I was also not regular to Hazratganj with my father and mother, so probably the trips to the shop were much fewer than before. My father though kept a steady contact and was quite regular, also that his office was now in Hazratganj, after his transfer to Divisional Railway Manager, it was just a minute’s walk to his shop and Ram Uncle often asked about me and my younger brother. But somehow I drifted (may be, it is natural for children of that age) and almost lost touch, I travelled for studies and then, set up my tour company 1994. It was then that I met Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones to tell her that I was her admirer and a great fan of her works on La Martiniere. It was at this juncture that the life had come a full circle. She was a great friend of Ram Uncle and after almost 8 years, I re-introduced myself to Uncle Ram, who could clearly remember me as a child in his shop and to my astonishment, he knew whatever I studied, where all I went and what I did during the years of my aloofness (he kept a track of me through my father and mother) – it was his sheer interest in people, who were known to him and who visited his shop.

Next chapter of story began from here. Now I became regular once again to his shop, often browsing books on Lucknow and Awadh that now invoked interest in me. He was quick to gauge this and said to me, “Beta, you can come anytime, sit and read, there is no need to buy these”. This one sentence gave the much required confidence to read. At that time for a start-up business without money, as mine it was much needed. The association now sort of changed, from book-covers to pages inside, drift from books to books again. More than books his stories were so interesting and then his memory of Sindh that were so sharp that he knew more of my relatives than anyone in my immediate family. He introduced me to whoever he could, with an aim that I somehow benefit from them in my business, he gave my telephone number to many, who asked for travel help. We started coming close, meeting over dinners at home, lunches and evening drinks. He ate less, drank less but enjoyed each moment. All the way we had company of Aunty Darshi, who often said lets go home for lunch, while I insisted we go to a restaurant and I won because, I was now becoming dominant with times and this was primarily the kind of openness we enjoyed. Each lunch, dinner or just a drink was followed by a ‘thank you’ card next day. (I admire two persons for this, Uncle Gopal (G.D. Shivdasani) and Uncle Ram (Ram Advani) – they never ever missed to send a thank you letter/postcard or more recently he came on e-mail, a small gesture, but it left a mark on me and taught me to do the same).

Many people believed that he was not a proud Sindhi, but I can vouch for this that he was. He often compared our way of life with that of others. I remember being invited for lunch by a lady bureaucrat and I picked him up in my car to go together. Here, we were not offered any drinks, the food was great and so was the hospitality, but on our way back Uncle Ram did say that it was rude not to have been offered drink to the invited guests, to which I defended our host, saying that she is a single lady and it is not a custom to offer drink at lunch in India. He categorically mentioned that she drinks and is not a teetotaler herself and that the customs demand that guests are offered at least beer over lunch. I remember he spoke at length, to tell me about the Sindhi customs that were followed for throwing parties, that had mandatory afternoon drink in them.

His father founded a place called ‘Naari Shaala’ exclusively for uncared Sindhi women to support themselves and he was quite proud about this fact. He shared a lot of knowledge about Sindhi customs, cuisine and in fact helped an American research on Sindhis, he mentioned that he wanted me to meet this scholar to give my comments as a young Amil Sindhi. From the first generation born in free India, but somehow, could not connect me to her – he always said, “you are an Amil Sindhi and you should feel proud of your being”. He had a liking for Amils and it was evident by the facts that often discussed.

Of course he had a liking to the British and he was not at shame to admit it, but then all Amil Sindhis had that inclination in their lifestyle, dressing and improvised customs etc. I once had a debate with him about us being called pro-British, to which the simple answer he gave was that Sindhis were smart businessmen and knew whom to rub their shoulders with and when. I was convinced and realized what he meant.

There was an abrupt long gap and I did not meet him for almost a month. He enquired about me from my colleagues whom he spotted in my company uniform walking through Hazratganj and from them he learnt about my mother’s illness. He was quick to call me and wanted to come over to see her, but I promised to bring both uncle and aunty home the following week. Just then Aunty Darshi passed away, leaving uncle alone and both of them could not make it to our place. In an unfortunate meeting we then met at the funeral and again at the Gurudwara for the third day ceremony and I could see he was sad at the loss, but wore his trade-mark smile to greet guests. After a few days, Uncle Ram was back in his shop and called me to check about my mothers’ welfare and sent across a book as gift for my mother. This was based on Sindhis and my mother really enjoyed reading this.

Can one imagine that a bookshop owner got involved in my tourism project, the Victorian Walk that Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones designed for my company. Both he and Dr. Jones did a video for me detailing the walking tour and then after the shoot we went out for lunch at Falaknuma, enjoying the view of Gomti river from the roof-top restaurant. The view of K.D. Singh Babu stadium from the restaurant gave Uncle Ram the right opportunity to tell us about a round of golf that he had with K.D. Singh Babu (the great hockey player), how he got to umpire a cricket match with Douglus Jardine (Cricketer, Bodyline fame) and Donald Bradman in Shimla. He also narrated an interesting incident of how left enjoying his pre-lunch afternoon peg of scotch, when the then Chief Minster Dr. Sampoornanad walked into his bookshop and Uncle Ram felt guilty that the Chief Minister (he was a saintly man and a real teetotaler) will feel offended if he gets the whiff of alcohol, days had changed in India, customs were changing and it was at that time he was coming to terms with the change post 1950s. His eyes gleamed with joy whenever he spoke of all this and he did find a great listener in me, or so I believe.

I thoroughly enjoyed all instances from his past life and like a time-machine, he took me back into an unseen world. Though he never went back to Pakistan after India’s partition, but I am sure he had some of the greatest memories of Lahore, Karachi and Hyderabad (Sindh, now Pakistan). At one point of time I questioned him about this reservation of not going back to visit Lahore or Sindh, to this he was quite clear to say that he had some lovely memories of Lahore and Karachi and somehow by going back he did not want to dilute those (was he not happy about how Pakistan developed or would it bring tears to his eyes if he went back ?).

In 2007 (150 years of Indian Mutiny) a group of British came to Lucknow and I along with Ram Uncle made some elaborate arrangements at the Residency for a memorial service (this was actually for both sides that gave their lives in the revolt). Just then, it sort of went wrong, with the political parties jumping into it, to oppose the theme with selfish political agenda. District Magistrate of Lucknow and then Superintendent of Police asked me to take the group back due to security reasons, obviously I denied, and was put under a house arrest of sort at the District Magistrate’s home, (they said my life was under threat) not being allowed to meet anybody. Sir Havelock-Allan was on this group and knew Uncle Ram well, he called him and next morning while the entire group had no permission to venture out Uncle Ram took all the risk and took Sir Havelock-Allan with him to visit the Havelock’s Tomb early in the morning, avoiding all the policemen and armed guards who were pressed in security at the hotel. News Papers caught this act and a vernacular newspaper reported, “Chupke-Chupke Dada Sey Mill Liye” (Secretly the grand-son has met his great-grand-father). This was the kind of helpful nature, that often went beyond his profession of bookselling and running a bookshop.

I think he was closest to Dr. Rosie Llewellyn-Jones and never to my memory there was any of her visits to Lucknow, when Uncle Ram did not accompany me to the train station to receive her (leaving the last one of course, when he was unwell and could not walk due to an injury, while Dr. Jones visited Lucknow only to see him and be with him for about 4 days). There were instances when he was not that well, yet he insisted to come along to the railway station. I would make him sit at the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Booth at the station, whenever we went to pickup Dr. Jones, but like a child he was restless to come inside the platform and wait with his eyes looking for Shatabdi to arrive. This respect and love was reciprocated well by Dr. Jones, who was equally eager to see him on arrival. This was his unconditional love for friends and acquaintances.

Once I was planning a party for my company and sitting at his book-shop I mentioned about this. He just then told me if I ever planned a programme of qawali, he and aunty would be interested in attending it. I could gauge their interest and just then decided to have this. Both he and Aunty enjoyed it very much. I remember both of them sitting all through and enjoying each bit of the singing and even giving some currency notes to the singers as tips to appreciate the singing (this is a custom in qawali singing, and they very well know this).

The association was now also professional, my company library was buying books from him and our guests on Victorian Walk stopped at his shop to meet him and to enjoy afternoon tea with him at his shop. Yet after each visit he never forgot to thank me for sending my guests, as each visit was followed by a card or an e-mail from him. This support was from a man who loved to see people grow and flourish so selflessly.

I also remember Violett Graff on her last visit to Lucknow, and this was another high, as Violett on a wheel-chair just came to meet Uncle. She did not visit any place other than the bookshop (she was really not well when she last came) and one could imagine the charisma that Uncle Ram had to make people come to visit him. I remember, him telling me about how V. S. Naipaul, how he visited his shop without an appointment and introduced himself to Uncle Ram (that was a period when Naipaul was not conferred a Nobel prize but very well know, due to the Booker that he had already got). Naipaul visited his shop and requested him to arrange for someone to show around, at the point Nasir Abid would work with him at his shop and he in turn requested him to take him around the city. Nasir actually wore this as his medal and told me stories of how Naipaul insisted on seeing Mujra (nautch-girls performing to entertain) in post mujra-ban era. But Nasir, did arrange one for him. Naipaul also visited Nasir’s house and found him to be an interesting man, or so I read Naipaul as saying. I knew Nasir as an Old Martinian and he worked for me for quite some time, but then age took toll on him too. Nasir Abid had to leave the job at the bookshop or rather he was asked to leave due to another friend of Uncle Ram (name of this friend deliberately not disclosed), who did not have any liking for Nasir Abid. Another reason most obvious to me was that Nasir was a bit over-enthusiastic in his drinking habits and this surely would not have gone down well with anyone, so it did not with this another friend of Uncle Ram.

He lived well, did well and was a successful man (if at all there is anything as success, it was this). He was firmly tied to his roots and culture, yet appreciated all as a true gentleman. If someone’s death leaves a void, it surely means he meant a lot to everybody around him. At least he did to me. He is no more now, but has imbibed great ideas in our minds. I am sure many like me would believe, that there would be two generations, one that met Ram Advani and one that could only read about him or learn about him in stories that will be narrated to the coming generations.

RIP Uncle Ram (RIP Ram Advani : Born 12th October 1920; Died 9th March 2016).

February 11, 2016

Mukaish is yet another embroidery from Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:20 am

You always thought that Chikan was the only craft that made Lucknow so popular, but there is more to Lucknow’s embroidery expertise than just chikan. 

Mukaish embroidery also known as Mokaish, Mukeish or Mukesh is a type of embroidery done in Lucknow. This type of embroidery involves twisting thin metallic threads to create patterns all over the fabric. Although the most common pattern is dots, other patterns are also created in Mukesh work. This form of embroidery can be done on all kinds of clothing items, right from sarees and salwar kameez to shirts, tunics, kurtis and more. Currently, this type of embroidery is considered a dying craft as there aren’t many karigars (craftsmen) invested in the creation of Mukaish work garments any more.

Origin & History

Embroidery has been a source of income in Lucknow for centuries. Mokaish work is an integral part of Lucknow’s history as it originated in this city. This form of embroidery was first developed for the royalty that resided in the city as part of their finery since Mukesh work initially used precious metals like gold and silver to make threads.

While pure Mukeish work sarees were highly exclusive, Mukaish work in itself was seen as an accompaniment to chikankari. This embroidery has been and still is used widely to enhance the beauty of a chikankari garment. More often than not, heavily embroidered chikan garments have highlights of Mukesh work amalgamated into them.

Chikankari as a craft flourished and spread far and wide while Mukesh work continued to die out. Although the exact reasons remain unknown, Mukesh work is said to be an expensive as well as labor and time intensive craft which has diminished in status and popularity over the years.

There are now only a handful of kaarigars who are adept at Mukesh work embroidery. Most of them are from the Muslim community and live as well as work in the narrow by lanes of an area called ‘Chowk’ in old Lucknow.

The Concept

Mukesh work transpired as a way to beautify chikankari embroidery. As the metallic threads used in Mukesh work were initially precious metals such as gold and silver, this craft was capital intensive. This work is done usually on chiffon and georgette fabrics. However, cotton is also another viable option since chikankari on cotton is renowned throughout the world. Mukesh work takes on two avatars i.e. Fardi ka kaam that women do within their homes and Kamdani which is done by elderly men.

The Creation

As mentioned earlier, Mukesh work has a time-taking procedure. The process follows three basic steps:

Step 1: Chapaayi : The motif is first printed on the fabric using a mixture of gum and neel (indigo powder). This print can be transferred onto the fabric using either a block or a perforated paper stencil.

Step 2: Takaayi : The metal that is being used is usually in the form of a wire. These are first stretched into strips and are then passed through the fire so that the metal takes on different hues. This is then cut into wires of finer breadths. Next, they are beaten using a smaller hammer so that the density of the wire is almost paper thin. Only when such density is achieved can the wire be weaved in and out of something as delicate as a fabric. Moreover, this density adds finesse to overall look as opposed to such delicate embroidery made of thick chunks.

Step 3: Ghutaayi : Once the embroidery has been done, the fabric is spread out flat on the ground over a blanket (so as to avoid accumulation of dirt and stains). The embroidery is then rubbed thoroughly over with a glass bottle or cowrie shells. This is done to work out any lumps in the embroidery. It also burnishes the metal and leaves it brighter and shinier.

Style & Variety

Mukesh work embroidery can be manifested in two patterns or ways known as Fardi Ka Kaam and Kamdani. These patterns are created during the process of Takaayi and have vastly different end results in terms of their design.

Fardi Ka Kaam : Fardi, literally translated, means dots. It is basic yet one of the most widely recognized and loved forms of Mukesh work. There are many sizes and patterns in which these dots are stitched and each has a different name.

  • Hazaar Batti: Characteristic of Lucknow, it is the thousand dots design.
  • Tikki: These manifest as flattened sequins
  • Challa: Translates and manifests into ‘rings’.

The tikki and challa are extensively used and their primary purpose is to enhance the overall design.

The width of the wire determines the size of the dots; finer the dots the more expensive they are. The widths of the wires are referred to in decimals i.e. .4 being the largest, .2 which is slightly smaller and finally .1 being the smallest.

Kamdani : In Kamdani, to make the process of threading a needle easier, the wire is attached to a small length of thread. These wires can be worked into any number of patterns and motifs, thereby becoming popular as ‘fancy kaam’

Present Day Scenario & Global Influence

Both these forms of Mukesh work are now a dying craft. Exclusive Mukesh work craftsmen are fewer in number nowadays. However, since the art of chikankaari is so popular many of these artisans have taken primarily to this line, mixing their knowledge of Mukesh with it. The knowledge of Mukesh work exclusively is no longer as rich as it was.

Another development of the modern day and age is the usability of any metal for Mukesh work. Although initially it was done in pure silver thread for royalty, now cheaper metals can be used as long as they are malleable and pliable to the Takaayi procedure.

On the runway, in boutiques and within homes, Mukesh work is now seen as part of the larger chikankari garment. The beauty it lends to the attire is undeniable and is being flaunted the world over by well-known Indian designers.

Many in the fashion industry believe that Fardi ka kaam set the pace for sequin work and is the original Indian sequin.

Wearing the Attire

Since the overall look that Mukesh work renders is a soft shimmer due to the metallic threads, depending on the style and color of the garment, one can accessorize the attire with gold or silver studded stilettos and peep toes. Moreover, studded clutches complement Mukesh work very well and can be teamed up with salwar-kameez as well as sarees.


Mukesh work, being delicate embroidery, should not be put through harsh cleaning processes. Dry cleaning and / or soft wash in the washing machine are ideal for garments with Mukesh work on them.

Look out for fraying pieces of metal that ruin the overall garment. Such frayed ends should be cut close to the garment with a pair of scissors.

January 11, 2016

Paan making, serving and chewing all are an art in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:18 am

Paan (a betel-leaf preparation with some ingredients folded to form a cone. This is usually chewed to extract all the combined juices) chewing may be a custom for some elsewhere, but in Lucknow it surely is an art that was refined and perfected. A painstaking process that involves not only careful selection of ingredients but also cutting the wedges of the betel nuts, that too special kind of cured nuts, cardamom and tobacco, the process of storing, serving and chewing all are a part of this art that is perfected in Lucknow.

Qivaan is a process of making chewing tobacco. In this the tobacco leaves and stalks are boiled thoroughly until the juice becomes thick like a paste, and then musk, rose-water and other perfumes are added for fragrance and a bit of flavour. The tiniest morsel added to the betel leaf tastes sweet and the fragrance remains in the mouth all day long. After this, minute pills are made of this paste, each sufficient for a portion. When wrapped in silver or gold edible foil they look like pearls. A certain lady of Mufti Ganj quarter used to prepare such excellent qivaan paste and pills that connoisseurs of Lucknow would buy them only from her and nowhere else. About the same time, the firm of Asghar Ali and Muhammad Ali’s started to manufacture both of these on a commercial basis and sold them throughout India. After the death of this lady, Asgar Ali’s firm became the sole manufacturer of the qivaan paste and goli pills. Since then many people and firms have begun to manufacture them, but the quality of their products could not match that of Asghar Ali’s firm. There was however in these preparations one defect, that the pungent taste of the tobacco was lost as soon as the juice was spat out, although the fragrance remained for quite some time. Finding its remedy, Munshi Saiyyid Ahmed Husain started making patti, scented tobacco leaf, in which the taste of both bitterness and fragrance remains in the mouth as long as the betel leaf lasts. Everyone adopted it readily and soon it became so popular that the paste and pills seemed to have disappeared.

Several new ideas also developed in Lucknow. Cardamoms were processed in such a way that one’s lips became red by eating these, the same as one would expect from chewing betel leaf itself. Although in preparation sometimes the ingredient of the betel leaf include cardamoms and they produce a better colour, though they cannot be regarded as a substitute of the betel leaf. Another method is to fill cardamoms with missi, a cosmetic tooth powder, so that when the cardamom is placed in the betel leaf and chewed, the powder adheres to the teeth and a firm dark tinge appears in the interstices. But the red cardamoms cannot replace betel leaf and the black ones do not have the pleasant smell. Thus cardamom is mainly used for decorative purpose and has not become widely popular.

The other ingredient is chikni dali, betel nuts boiled in milk. Although this is not an indispensable ingredient of betel leaf, it certainly adds to its refinement. Some people use it in the preparation of betel leaf in place of ordinary betel nuts while others chew it along with cardamom, as the taste is quite pleasant. Chikni dali is the same betel nut used in betel leaf, but after special processing. This is not done in Lucknow city, but comes already prepared from the places where it is grown. It is said that nuts are boiled in milk. Whatever the method of preparation, the result is that they become juicy and lose all woody dryness. Sometimes if one eats too much of uncured betel nuts, throat tends to become dry, but this never happens with chikni dali. The Kernel is delicate and fine in taste, but the portion near the rind is a little astringent and the bottom is insipid in flavour. In order to avoid the bad taste of these parts, special ways were devised in Lucknow of cutting the nuts. One way of doing this is called do rukhi. In this a good deal of the top and bottom and a little of the sides of the nut are cut, leaving a bowl-shaped residue which contains the soft and delicate kernel. Another way which is called ek rukhi, rounding, is to scrape the nut all round but leaving the bits of the defective portions either at the top or bottom. A third variety takes the form of octagonal lumps cut entirely from the kernel. The scrapings left after the kernel is cut are sold separately and constitute another quality. All the scrapings are then divided into various categories and graded according to quality, the scrapings from the kernel being at the top, followed by those resulting from do rukhi and ek rukhi. They all differ very much in taste and there is a corresponding difference in cost too.

Now let’s understand the appurtenances used with the storing and serving of betel leaf. The most important among them is paandaan, the betel box, which transforms the raw leaf into a thing of glory. In former days in Delhi, these were little boxes of all shapes-round, square or octagonal. Probably when these boxes arrived in Hyderabad from Delhi, copies of these were made in metal. To this day, on the occasions of weddings in Hyderabad, they are liberally filled with the usual ingredients and placed before the ladies. The same were brought to Lucknow from Delhi about two centuries ago by some ladies of the royal house-hold, and it was then that modifications were made here. In the first place, the shape became round and they were made only of silver-plated copper. Then their lids were raised and rounded until they looked like a white dome, as they do at present. An elongated ring was fixed at the top to hold them. In the boxes are two metal cups to contain catechu and lime, and three smaller, equal-sized receptacles for cut nuts of various kinds. All of these are arranged in a circle, in the middle of which is another small container to hold cardamoms or cloves. The lids of the small receptacles are firmly fixed, in fact they are difficult to open, but the cups are simply covered. There are tiny spoons for catechu and lime, sometimes with a peacock crest and sometimes plain. Placed over all these containers is a large tray of the same size as the betel box itself, in which raw betel leaves are placed, wrapped in a damp cloth. In earlier times raw betel leaves were placed in a separate covered receptacle, called nagardan, but since this was kept shut the air could not reach the leaves and they went bad. For this reason the nagardan, although still seen in some old-fashioned houses, has gone out of fashion and will soon be forgotten.

In the course of time the handy betel box also came to serve as treasure-house and cash box for women. The size began to increase until it came to weigh as much as twenty to forty pounds. At the same time it became necessary for ladies to take it with them wherever they went. Just as in case of turbans, the larger the turban, the greater the learning, so the larger the betel box, the greater was the status and grandeur of the lady. There were instances that the betel box took up all the space in the palanquin, in which the ladies travelled and there was no room for the lady.

Then suddenly the taste for daintiness showed itself in this direction and a new, small, narrow-domed betel box with a decorative protrusion in the top centre was designed. At first this was called aramdan, but it is now known as husndan. It was attractive in appearance and convenient to handle, but the internal arrangements remained the same. In Lucknow they were first adopted by those not given to show and display, but they soon became popular here and in other regions as well. Although old-fashioned betel boxes have not disappeared, the husndan is at present more general in use.

In addition to husndan there is a khasdan, the betel case, in which the prepared betel leaf is served in formal gatherings as well as to any visiting guests at home or outside. In Delhi betel leaves were served on a tray, on which chopped up betel nuts and betel leaves with lime and catechu in them were placed. They are still served in this manner to this day. But in Lucknow they use two betel leaves and fold them into triangular shapes to make a gilauri. The present shape of a gilauri is conical, and the leaves are kept in place by a tiny peg. At first cloves were used for peg, but later small chains were attached to a tiny silver weight and the betel leaves were fixed to the pegs attached to the chains, and then placed in the khasdan. This was however an elaborate system and in everyday life it became the custom to hold the prepared betel leaf in shape with a small nail.

It was not considered proper to serve gilauris in an open tray in Lucknow and so a dome-shaped lid was designed to cover them. This made the khasdan look like a small husndan.

No wonder that Paan Chewing is an art in Lucknow and more than the Paan itself, the style around it gives a high to the aristocrats of Lucknow.

December 15, 2015

Through the Eye of a Street – Hazratganj

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:09 am

Hazratganj, the street of the respectable, refers to a part of a central vista which runs from the bungalows of the senior bureaucrats of the Secretariat (now housing the ministers) at one end, and Lucknow University and the Isabella Thobourn College, a prestigious women’s college, at the other. On one side of this avenue, nearly a kilometer from the Governor’s house is the General Post Office, a stately building of white cement with a clock tower. On the other side is the Allahabad Bank, one of the oldest buildings of this part of the city. This area had been created as posh shopping centre by the British.

The limits of Hazratganj in those days extended from the Capital Cinema directly facing the GPO to the Mayfair Cinema and the Lucknow Cathedral. There was no Halwasiya Market then as that building was constructed only in the fifties. There was also a huge life like statue of King George VI in a park facing the GPO building, which was removed in sixties due to a country wide movement led by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, a socialite.

At the time that British glory was at its peak, Hazratganj was off limits to Indians. At certain hours of the evening, they were not allowed to enter the street. In case they did, they could only walk along a lane parallel to the main street. However, this ban could not have been continued for long. As a child growing up in Lucknow not far from Hazratganj, I have vivid memories of the celebrations marking the victory of the Allied forces in the Second World War. Huge crowds flocked to Hazratganj and greeted the British soldiers passing through the street. They were surrounded and cheered by crowds and could only make quick escape by tossing chewing gum to the crowd.

Lucknow had also a small population of Anglo-Indians and Indian Christians, most of who lived in Hazratganj. The Anglo-Indians were largely dependent on the administration and worked as guards, drivers and ticket collectors in the railways. Their women worked as nurses or as secretarial assistants in the government offices. Their interaction with Indians was extremely limited. They usually kept to themselves or associated with British officials, with whom they identified closely.

These Anglo-Indians had a visible presence in Hazratganj during the days of British and for sometime thereafter. The men, in dark suits, and bow-ties and girl dressed in flimsy blouses and dark skirts, converged daily on Hazratganj and paraded up and down the street demonstrating their somewhat stand-offish attitude towards Indians. Apart from the Railway Club close to Charbagh Railway Station, the Lucknow Club closely was their principal meeting points. After the British left, the Anglo-Indian were taunted and blood for their earlier stand-offish attitude and their proclivity to consider themselves the natural heirs and successors to the British. Gradually they stopped visiting Hazratganj. Many eventually left for England.

In 1947 departure of the British was accompanied by partition holocaust and the large -scale migration of Punjabi, Sindhi and Sikh refugees. Lucknow enjoyed a reputation as a city where peace prevailed even during the worst post partition violence and rioting. A very large number of Punjabi refugees came to Lucknow and eventually made it their home. This had a most dramatic impact upon the city, including Hazratganj.

On one hand, the influx of a refugee population, which was seen by local inhabitants to be aggressive, boorish and unsophisticated, affected the polite forms of language which had been a treasured heritage of Lucknow. On the other hand, it brought about a significant shift in the makeup of the ownership of the shops in Hazratganj. A number of shops owned by Muslims who had left for Pakistan were given to refugees under the Evacuee’s Property provision.

Another change which accompanied the influx of refugees was a steady increase in the number of the restaurant and eating houses. There were only a few restaurants in Hazratganj during the British rule. After Independence, due to largely changing clientele a number of restaurants of different types and ratings came up in Hazratganj.

The third significant change which came over Hazratganj in the years following Independence was the growth of tiny kiosks in the verandah which ran right across the street in front of the impressive stores. This was largely a consequence of the shift in the clientele. As an increasing number from the middle class now flocked to Hazrastganj not so much to shop as to enjoy a leisurely stroll. These did brisk business in the cheap cosmetics, costumes jewellery and similar items which this new clientele could afford. Thus, in effect, Hazratganj had two worlds. On the one hand, there were the exclusive stores where one peeped in or mustered up enough courage to enter and ask the price of a thing one could not afford, and on the other hand, there were the kiosks all along the verandah where cheaper and affordable items were on display.

Today spending a few hours here in the early evening until the establishment closed at night had become such a habit amongst some, that those looking for them could be reasonably certain where to find them. Later this became popular under a tag of Gunging.

Gunjing‘ as a word of common parlance came to acquire popularity in the context of these sea changes brought about by the democratization of the clientele. Step by step, it came to denote a compulsive urge to go to Hazratganj for a couple of hours in the evening as an act of personal recreation. It was a common sight to see horders of youngsters walking up and down, cracking jokes, chatting and engaging in mild taunts with similar other groups.

Tea & Hazratganj – Tea drinking was relatively unknown even around the end of the world war. The Lipton Tea Company was trying to popularise its brand among Indians and Lipton’s mobile vans were stationed at convenient locations in Hazratganj to distribute cups of free tea to Indians. Even if the entry of Indians was prohibited at some time in the past, it was.

In post independence era many tea points exclusively came up in the area and were patronized by senior politicians and journalists and renowned professors of the University who gathered there in the evenings to discuss current affairs and create networks of the social relations.

Leading socialist leaders like Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia and Sucheta Kripalani, renowned academicians such as N.K. Sidhantha, D.P. Mukherji and D.N. Majumdar, and writers like Yashpal, Amritlal Nagar and Bhagwati Charan Verma, who dominated the political and cultural scene of Lucknow during the fifties, made it a point to come and spend a couple of hours at these tea point.

November 28, 2015

Chowk to Nakkhas

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:59 am

Chowk and Nakkhas have many a splendid tale to tell some old one and some new ones.  There are many who survive even today, willing to recall the former glory of this area which was indeed colourful. This used to be a big time entertainment and food district. Food continues to be its mainstay and shopping too.

Interestingly, in the former days, the sons of wealthy families were sent to Chowk, to the kothas, salons of courtesans, to learn the art of civilized social behaviour from experienced tawaifs.  There was a category called dereydar tawaif, who was at the top of the hierarchy – a woman who was kept by one man and was not available to anyone else during the contracted period.

It is rumoured that a liaison between one such wealthy scion and a tawaif called Mushtari Bai in Faizabad produced the beautiful Akhtar whose unique style of singing and magnetic personality created a huge fan following. At one point in time, Begum Akhtar’s generous patron gave her a house, which was right next to the house of the person who was telling us this story. He whispered, “He even gave her a huge Packard car, a gold paandaan (betel nut box) and a large diamond nose stud. This was some time in the early ‘40s.”

The kotha tradition began to die out after the Zamindari Abolition Act of 1953 brought to an end the last phase of this dying culture. Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan is a depiction of this social institution.

The ravages of time have left its mark on Chowk, the oldest street of Lucknow and a major market, but a walk through the street is still a memorable experience because of the series of unfolding scenes. The rhythm of hammers beating silver into paper to make warq (Edible Silver Foil), shoppers lingering at attar shops, bargains taking place for the best of chikankari work, the aroma of roasting meat at a kebab shop, driving one insane.

Through the lanes and by-lanes of Chowk one glimpses of old Lucknow. The tehzeeb or mannerism is still prominent and a topic of great appreciation. This is a city that continues to speak the language of aap-janab and the dictum of pehle aap (After you) is still a part of everyday life for a true Lucknavi.

Aadaab, the salutation has its own sophistication and style. The beauty and popularity of chikan – the intricate and delicate hand embroidery, still rules and you see many wearing clothes embellished with chikankari. Lucknow is in fact among the few cities that truly understand the grace of the dupatta which is worn so elegantly. All this and more you see in the crowded Chowk area.

Chowk offers you famous Tunday-Mian-ke-kebab, the eatery which serves just thesegalawati kebabs. The place is now in its fourth generation and still as popular. The other legendary name on the block is Ram Asrey. You have to enter a very narrow lane to reach this shop, and nobody leaves town before buying Ram Asrey’s malai paan and lal peda. The proprietor told us that it was from his shop that special sweets went to Jawaharlal Nehru’s house in Delhi. Even Indira

Gandhi used to like their mithais, he added. We have no reason to disbelieve him. We tasted quite a few of his special sweets and found them to be outstanding.

Situated in the Ram Asrey lane is also another unique shop selling what looks like coloured powder. This is used by the locals to colour their clothes. In boiling hot water, they dissolve some of this powder and the clothes to be coloured. This man must probably be the most photographed man on the street. His USP is also the ancient ‘fish’ weighing scale he uses.

There is food galore at Chowk at every step of the way. At Gol Darwaza, there is nimish, flavoured by the early morning dew. It is like swallowing a tiny, fragrant, piece of fluffy cloud. Opposite, is another tiny shop selling gajak, rewdi and petha. And next door, is the shop selling the best samosas on the block along with jalebis being fried day and night. There is also the well-known lassiwala–Shri Lassi Centre.

Nowhere in Asia will you find a city so in tune with its culinary sense! The food culture of Lucknow truly has no parallel at all and this is very apparent when you visit the old parts of town.

As for shopping at Chowk, the main concentration of chikan work is to be found here. Besides chikan work you can also buy zardozi and kamdani work. These hand embroideries with gold and silver thread are done on sarees, dupattaslehengas, cholis, caps, shoes etc. From time immemorial, Lucknow has been known for its jewellery, gold and silver.

Exquisite silverware like bowls, tea-sets, salt cellars with patterns of hunting scenes, snakes and roses are very popular. The bidri and zarbuland silver work of Lucknow find expression on excellent pieces of hookah farshi, jewel boxes, trays, bowls, cuff-links, cigarette holders, etc. Then there is attar, the perfume introduced in India by the Muslims.

From the 19th century, the Lucknow perfume makers experimented and succeeded in making attar with delicate and lasting fragrances. They created these from various aromatic herbs, spices, sandal oil, musk essence of flowers, and leaves. The famous Luckhnavi fragrances are khus, keora, chameli, zaffran and agar.

Another craft that has reached a high level of artistry in Lucknow is kite making. Although kite making is popular throughout India, this activity attained perfection only in Lucknow. Under Nawabi patronage this form of art flourished and different types of kites and flying strings were developed. Besides these, craft like gota weaving, dyeing and calico printing, silver varq making, woodworks and tazia making are also outstanding. Beautiful tazias of zari, gold and silver paper are made by master craftsman to mark the solemn occasion of Moharram. Lucknow is a shopper’s paradise.

Through Chowk, past Akbari Gate, the road leads to Nakhas. It was a wide avenue in Old Lucknow, once famous for its elegant town houses. Families residing here were so wealthy, they loaned money to the Nawabs and rajas of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. They did not count money – they weighed it.

There were houses where the kitchen area consisted of several rooms having their owndaalaan (courtyard). The spread on the dastarkhwan which would be called a banquet in any other town was only an intimate dinner for 10 or 15 close friends. Dessert changed with the seasons – Andarsey ki goli in the monsoon and lawki ka lachcha in summer. In summer sherbets made of khus, gulab or kewra essence whipped into cold, sweetened milk would be served all day long, by retainers.

Today, it is a crowded, jostling place where colourful glass bangles, quixotic junk on pavements and exotic birds locked in cages are sold – pigeons and ‘fighting cocks’. While cock fights are now banned, the antiques bazaar still continues to flourish.

October 16, 2015

Hussaini Brahmins

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:54 am

For around 15 minutes, 70-year old K K Bali had his gaze fixed to a banner hung across the Husainabad road that stretches between the magnificent Bara and Chhota Imambaras during Muharram. His old eyes welling up with tears, Bali took out a notebook and copied down the words. “Every time I find a couplet on Imam Husain, I write it down,” he said, striking a rare connection with the martyr of Karbala through his ancestors. He is, after all, a Hussaini Brahmin.

The couplet describing the glory of Imam Husain noted down by Bali read: Main yahan ki sarhad se nikal kar Hindustan jaana chahta hoon, Wahan Musalman to nahi, insaan baste hain (I want to cross these borders and visit India. No Muslims, humans reside there). “My father told me about our proud history and so did my grandmother. It had always been a value ingrained in us right from childhood when we attended majlis (congregation) at Shahnajaf Imambara along with members of the Shia community,” he recalled. His identity as a Hussaini Brahmin, however, is limited to his family and close confidantes. He said, “People are confused, even doubtful of the existence of such a community, but for us it is the life we have lived since 680 AD.”

There are many versions of the story of the birth of the community and the oral tradition has stayed for several generations. It is said that Dutt Brahmins carry a slit mark on their throat even to this day as a symbol to sacrifice their ancestors made in Karbala. “Since birth I have had a mark on the side of my neck. My father had one too and so does my son. When I came to know about our history and this fact, I felt proud of the sacred mark,” said Vipin Mohan, another Hussaini Brahmin.

The preface and subsequent acts of Munshi Premchand’s historical drama `Karbala’, published in 1924 from Lucknow also mention the brave Dutt warriors. He stated the warriors are descendants of Ashwatthama, the Hindu saint.

Recounting his experience at the temple, young Aishwarya Jhingran, a resident of Lucknow displayed signs of both pride and liberal thought. “At a temple, while praying to Goddess Saraswati, I had the urge to send out my salutations to Prophet Mohammad and his progeny. The priest looked at me in shock as I uttered the Salawat (Sending Blessings on the Holy Prophet & his family). My mother was instantly sent for. I was looked at as someone who had converted to Islam. This didn’t mean I had converted, but was proof of my being a proud Hussaini Brahmin.”

For another community member, corporate trainer Radhika Budhwar, listening to nauhas (This is a genre of Arabic, Persian, or Urdu prose. In English language also known as Elegy depicting the Imams killing), attending majlis and lamenting on the vents of Karbala are a way of life. “I celebrate Diwali, but at the same time, I look forward to attending majlis during Muharram,” shared Budhwar who has grown up assimilating all religions and cultures.

In lieu of the loyalty of the Dutt family to that of the Holy Prophet was coined the famous saying: `Waah Dutt Sultan Hindu ka dharm Musalman ka imaan Aadha Hindu, aadha Musalman’

Steeped in glorious history the community of Hussaini Brahmins has an intertwined link with Hinduism and Islam. As per legend, one of the community’s ancestors, Rahab Siddh Dutt, who was a trader, sacrificed seven of his sons for Imam Husain in the tragedy of Karbala on the 10th of the Islamic month of Muharram in 680 AD. The supporters of the Imam honoured the Dutts with the title. British writer T P Russell Stracey in his book `The history of Mohyals’ (1911) had mentioned the names of the sons as Sahus Rai, Harjas Rai, Sher Khan, Ram Singh, Rai Pun, Dhoro and Pooro. Hussaini Brahmins alias Dutts branch out from the Mohyal clan of Brahmins, being the only martial clan within. There are seven branches of this clan namely Bali, Chhibber, Bhimwal, Lau, Mohan, Vaid and Dutt.

September 11, 2015

Fragrant Kannauj

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:29 am

Taj Mahal, the white-marbled wonder built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favorite wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. Empress died in 1631 giving birth to their 13th child. The Taj is Jahan’s grand paean to lost love. But he also mourned his queen in much more personal ways. For one thing, Jahan never again wore perfume. Fragrant oils—known in India as attars—had been one of the couple’s great shared passions. The story of Mughal Empress Noor-Jehan in relation to attar goes, that one day Empress had a spat with her husband Jhangir and once she cooled down a bit, she decided to throw a party to patch-up with her husband. To this end she ordered several large vats of rosewater to bathe in. While these vats were kept for the Empress, in the heat of the day, she nodded off. The sun broke down the roses’ essential oils and when she woke up, she saw an oil layer formed on the surface. She assumed someone had thrown oil in the vats, until she realized that this layer formed on the surface was far more fragrant and effective than the rosewater. Out of excitement she told her husband, Jahangir about this wonderful substance that was Rose Attar, the natural perfume from rose pettals.

Attar is an Arabic word, which meaning “fragrance, scent, or essence”. Attar has been considered one of the most treasured of material possessions and the Islamic prophet, Muhammad has been compared to Attar for his purity.

Exactly when attar-making began, no one is certain; archaeologists have unearthed clay distillation pots dating back thousands of years to the ancient Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. Old texts mention that the floral group primarily used for attar manufacture was rose, bela, jasmine, champa, molesari and tuberose, along with roots like vetiver and ginger. Sandal, cinnamon and aloe bark were also used. Heavy scents like musk, myrrh and ambergris, were also used with khus. Rooh gulab is supposed to be the most expensive attar.

Perfume (itr or attar) was an integral part of Mughal culture in India. The Maharajas of Gwalior, Patiala, Darbhanga and Mysore were great patrons of itr. The heights of the art of perfume-making were reached during the reigns of Nawabs of Awadh. The kingdom of Awadh, situated on the banks of the River Gomti, had Lucknow as its capital. Under the rule of the Nawabs, who originally belonged to Persia, and famous for their courtly manners, poetry, music and cuisine, the art of perfume-making flourished and reached its pinnacle in the period of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last King of Awadh. About 150 km there flourished a city that was all based on the art of perfume making, Kannauj, that found great patron in Wajid Ali Shah and in its heydays, was regarded as the Grasse of the East, titled after the French town famous as the perfume capital of the world. Kannauj made its mark in the art of perfumery, producing some of the finest scents from some exotic flowers and herbs that include jasmine, rose, vetiver (a variety of grass) etc.

Today, Kannauj is a hub of a historic perfumery that draws much of the town to the same pursuit. Most of the villagers are connected to this industry, either as farmers growing these flowers and herbs or as perfumers. Along with their ancient perfumery skills, the villagers of Kannauj have inherited a remarkable skill to the extent that they have also captured the scent of the first rain drop on dry mud or that of dew on winter grass.

In the rows of plants, white jasmine flowers shaped like starfish blossom. Twiggy trees called gul-hina bloom, their tiny flowers clustered into points of white flame. Ordinary on the tree, gul-hina leaves become the extraordinary henna (mehendi) that decorates women palms and feet for special occasions. The flowers also make delicate attar. It takes about 100 pounds of flower petals or herbs, infused into a pound of sandalwood oil – to make about one pound of pure attar. Families head out in the early mornings or cool evenings to pluck the fragile flowers. They pack their harvest in jute sacks, then rush to the distillery with the harvest, before the petals start wilting.

The ancient, painstakingly slow distillation practiced in Kannauj is called deg-bhapka. When a fresh supply of flowers come, the craftsmen put these into a deg (cauldron), fill the deg with water, cover it airtight with a lid, sealing it with mud. This deg is connected to bhapka (smaller pot, forming a kind of apparatus) with a connector (a pipe made of bamboo). They then light a wood or cow-dung fire underneath, keeping a vigilant eye over the whole process. Once fire process is over, utensils are left to cool overnight. Later, the water is siphoned leaving the actual residue of essential oil. The distillery workers have inherited these age-old skills from their ancestors and are keeping it alive, in spite of the fact that many distilleries have graduated to modern methods of distillation. .

After the attars are blended well by master-perfumers, they are delicately poured into ornamental glass bottles to be sold. These decanters often are made of cut-glass, hand-painted with luster on them. These ornate tiny crystal bottles are called itardans that in themselves are collectors delight.

Government of India too has pushed the industry in a big way by way of having a specialised organization in place at Kannauj by setting up Fragrance & Flavour Development Centre (FFDC) in the year 1991 with the assistance of UNDP and the Government of Uttar Pradesh. FFDC aims to serve as an interface between essential oil, fragrance and flavour industry and the research and development institutions both in the field of agro technology and chemical technology. Main objective of the centre is to serve, sustain and upgrade the status of farmers and industry engaged in the aromatic cultivation and its processing, so as to make them both in local and global market.

A sufi shrine, village life, small town clutter all make Kannauj a treat for visitors, with limited basic infrastructure one can easily reach through Kanpur in 1.5 hrs or Lucknow in a matter of 4 hours. On the outskirts of Kannauj, apart from the vast fields planted with fragrant flowers stretching for miles and miles, there are high-rise chimneys of hundreds of small-scale brick kilns for which the region is also known for. Like the attars, bricks too are manufactured in Kannauj today since centuries – red-clay earth is cut from top layer of the soil, sun dried and then stacked and fired in furnace to be baked till red.

Historically, Kannauj is one among the most ancient place of India having rich archeological and cultural heritage, The ancient name of this place is Kanyakubja or Mahodya (as per Balmiki Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puran) later name kanyakubja was changed as Kannauj the present name of the District. The early history of the region now covered by the present district of Kannauj goes back to the Bronze Age. During the Bronze age numerous pre historical weapons and tools were found here. Large number of stone statues were also found here. Kannauj can claim great antiquity in sculpture. The Aryans settled in this region and were close allies of Kurus. The traditional history of the district from the earliest times till the end of The Mahabharata war is gleaned from the Puranas & Mahabharata.

Tornos conducts special tour based on perfume experience called : Kannauj – Grasse of India

August 25, 2015

Long Live La Martiniere : by an old boy, Late Vinod Mehta

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:27 am

The architectural skyline of Lucknow remains incomplete without the mention of La Martiniere. Built at the end of the 18th century, this building is a mixture of designs. Gothic gargoyles piled merrily atop Corinthian columns to the produce a finished product which a British Marquess sarcastically pronounced was inspired by a wedding cake.

Well, it was designed and built by French Major General, Claude Martin. This was meant to be his palatial home which he had named Constantia, but he died before it was completed. However, he left funds and direction that it should became a school. He now keeps watch from his tomb in the basement. Martin was an adventurer. He came to India as a penniless soldier but gradually his luck and labour fetched him a fortune big enough to lend a princely amount of 250,000 pounds to the Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula.

La Martiniere is today a private school of great repute. It isn’t easy to have a look at the room, library or the tomb of Claude Martin from inside. You have to take prior permission if you are planning to visit it. If school is on, you are requested to maintain silence and not disturb the students. The authorities also don’t encourage you to stand outside the classrooms for long, thus distracting the students and a teacher may object to you visit during school hours.

The college consists of two schools on different campuses for boys and girls. La Martiniere boys’ college was founded in 1845 and La Martiniere girls’ college was established in 1869. The two Lucknow College are part of the La Martiniere family schools. There are two La Martiniere colleges in Kolkata and three in Lyon. La Martiniere provides a liberal education and the medium of instruction is the English language. The schools cater to pupils from the ages of five through to 17 or 18, and are open to children of all religious denominations.

I began my scholarly life at Lucknow’s Loreto convent, which admitted boys up to standard II. Since I am in a confessional mood, I might as well come upfront; I was expelled from Loreto Convent for making a pass at a girl. She wanted to borrow my rubber (that’s we called it then), I asked her to be my girlfriend. Mother Alacock, the no-nonsense Mother Superior, did not approve.

As a result, I was shunted off to La Martiniere College where I spent ten of the happiest years of my life. Acquisition of learning or earning a degree was the least of my concerns in those ten years.

If you observe the façade of La Martiniere you can not believe that such a humungous, ambitious but slightly comical building with a curios sort of phallic symbol – called the Lart – jutting out of a lake could boys’ school and not an 18th century palace of an eccentric king who had travelled west and returned with woolly architectural ideas.

Call it serendipity, but at La Martiniere I made a wonderful chance finding. I located three chums – two Muslim, one Hindu. That made us two Muslim and two Hindu. This politically correct, equal opportunity co-mingling of faiths had a profound social, cultural and intellectual impact on me besides providing space for copious and sustained laughter. It converted me to the life-long belief that laughter was the answer for all the ills and evils our planet is heir to. To laugh one’s way through life became my lofty mission. In my professional life I have tried to make use of laughter. My dog is called Editor. Why? Because like most editors he is willful, stubborn and thinks he knows everything!

Is there anything to match the nostalgia and romance of revisiting your old school ? Two months ago I went back to my school and I returned full of golden memories. True, one gets maudlin and sentimental about bunking classes, protecting food from muscular Anglo-Indian boys, getting “six of the best” from the principal, lusting unsuccessfully after girls from the sister school, enjoying the dirty tuck shop grub, avoiding the homosexual physics teacher, remembering the perfect who was so magnificently hung that he charged a fee for a peek, recollecting the shivers of the Hindi master bullied by the boys and, last but not least, George Gilbert who refused to learn Hindi because he said he was going ‘home’ – to which our no-nonsense Mr. Falls replied: “ You mean Allahabad.”

The excuse was a class reunion. We sang the school song, praised the founder (Claude Martin), a swashbuckling French mercenary with negotiable scruples, prayed to our Heavenly Father, were sumptuously dined by the principal, exchanged jokes with Tatti Shah, Buniya Khan, Lugs Hasan. I don’t have much of an education, but the little knowledge I gathered was at my old school.

La Martiniere college taught me all I know about life: don’t take yourself too seriously, laughter is the key to cheerful living, convictions and beliefs don’t come from slogans and dogma but from the air one breathes (I’m a card-carrying pseudo-secularist because I was brought up on Lucknow’s composite culture), a weakness for well-cooked food is a sign of refinement….

It is said that you only make real friends in your school days. That is true for me. Going back to La Martiniere always revives and refreshes me. The days of your old school are surely the days of your glory!

Some year ago, I was invited back to La Martiniere which was celebrating its 150th anniversary. I was informed that I had been chosen as one of the Distinguished Martinians (it seems I just made the list) and would be suitably honoured by the Governor of UP. Now, in my time I have won a few awards, but the prospect of this particular scroll gave me a rare thrill.

The reason, I suppose, is because I was anything but ‘Distinguished’ in my school days. In fact, academically I was something of a disaster and close to a joke figure. There were others who were formidably bright and it was assumed that these gentlemen would make it big in the world. Alas, life is cruel. With a few exceptions precisely the opposite has happened. The ‘duffers’ in a sense prospered while the ‘toppers’ ended up in tea estates.

After the awards ceremony there was a dinner and dance, during which I discovered with mounting alarm that except for a few ‘duffers’ I knew not a single person. Things didn’t improve during the latter part of the night when three 30-something lads accosted me. “Are you Vinod Mehta?” Recognition at least, I though. “Weren’t you once the editor of Debonair?” Even before I could confirm or deny, one of them asked: “I say, that July 1979 centre spread – do you have her telephone number?”

Since this is a magazine devoted to the joys of eating, I will end appropriately. I fondly remember the tuck shop at La Martiniere. Two dishes come to mind: poori-tack (greasy poori and greasy aloo) and bun-kebab. Both dishes would not get a Michelin-star but at that time they smelt and tasted like heaven!

July 11, 2015

Havelock & Outram : The Relievers of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:08 am

Sir Henry Havelock, returned from his Persian campaign, was summoned to Calcutta, informed of the facts of the Mutiny, given the command of the Cawnpur district, and hurried off to Allahabad, for the Government still hoped to be in time to relieve Wheeler. As he led his column through the streets of that city in a drenching rain, the natives from the house-tops scowled and spat and cursed the foreigner.

It was the 30th of June when he reached Allahabad, and after organising his little force he set out for Cawnpur on the evening of the 7th of July. He had heard that Cawnpur had fallen, but Colonel Neill, who had done wonders at Benares and had saved Allahabad, was loth to believe the news, and Havelock hoped it was untrue.

With 1000 English infantry and 150 Sikhs, and taking his own son from the 10th Foot to be his aide-de-camp, Havelock pushed on to join Major Renaud, who had been sent on by Neill with 400 Europeans, 300 Sikhs, and 120 troopers. They made a forced march of twenty-four miles without stopping to rest. Then they halted for their well-earned breakfast, smoked, lay back under the trees, when with a shout some horsemen sent out to reconnoiter came in at a gallop; and well they might, for round-shot were bowling along the hard road close at their heels.

Drums beat the assembly, up jumped the soldiers, clutched their rifles and fell into line.

It was the Sabbath morn, but war takes no heed of Sabbaths. Brigadier Havelock came up to the 78th and cried, “Highlanders, I promised you a field-day in Persia, but the Persians ran away. We will have that field-day now—let yonder fellows see what you are made of.”

Captain Maude, R.A., was directed to place his 8 guns in front, behind were the men armed with the new Enfield rifle, while the horse guarded the flanks, volunteers the right, irregulars the left. The rebels’ guns were the first to open fire, but when Maude began he soon silenced the enemy: then advancing within 200 yards of the rebel infantry, he poured in a withering fire.

Meanwhile the rebel cavalry rode up to our native troopers and said, “Comrades, leave these white men and follow us.”

As they hesitated, Palliser sounded the charge: only three or four men rode after him. Palliser was unhorsed, but was rescued by some of his own men who had at first refused to charge. Our men galloped into Futtehpur after the fleeing rebels, captured 12 guns, much ammunition, and some silver. Twelve of our men died that day of sun-stroke.

After the battle the men enjoyed a rest in a mango grove; and the next day too they were allowed to lie idle and recoup themselves. Amongst the spoil an ominous find was that of many dresses of English ladies: that reminded them that they had no time to lose.

On the 14th, Havelock resumed his advance along a road strewn with properties cast aside by the rebels.

The native troopers who had behaved so badly in the last fight were disarmed and placed on duty as baggage guards: but they seized an opportunity, when some alarm occupied the troops, to plunder the baggage: they were then dismounted and dismissed.

Next day they found the rebels in force at Aoung: in dislodging them Major Renaud was killed—a skilled and gallant soldier; after a few rounds of ‘Maude’s battery the sepoys gave way and some guns were taken.

As our men were resting reports came that the enemy had retired to a strong position, covered by a swollen stream, called Pandu River: here there was a stone bridge.

“We must secure that bridge before the rebels destroy it,” said Havelock: and the men had to rise and labour on.

Three miles’ hot marching under an afternoon sun brought them to the bridge, intact, but guarded by two guns.

Maude was ordered up, and at his first discharge he smashed their sponge-staffs and they could load no longer.

The Madras Fusiliers and Highlanders dashed across the bridge, bayoneted the gunners, and Maude pounded the rest as they ran.

Once more they lay down for a night’s sleep; but Havelock received a message that Nana Sahib with 7000 men was ready to oppose his entry into Cawnpur on the morrow; he was told also that 200 women and children were still held alive.

The news flew through the camp and cheered the weary fighters. “With God’s help, men,” Havelock exclaimed, “we shall save them, or every man of us die in the attempt.”

“Tomorrow we shall be in Cawnpur, and we will save the women and children,” so said many an excited soldier that night.

They started very early and marched fourteen miles out of the twenty-two—then they rested; the day was fearfully hot and exhausting.

Barrow, sent on to get information, met two faithful sepoys who were coming to inform Havelock of the Nana’s position at a spot where the road forks, a branch going off from the Grand Trunk road to Cawnpur.

The Nana, being sure the English would pass that fork, had measured the distance and trained all his eight guns on the spot. Therefore Havelock gave the men their dinners, and at half a mile from the fork turned off with most of his men to the right, while Barrow with the Fusiliers went straight on in skirmishing order. A thick grove concealed the main body until they were well to the right of the enemy. Before the guns could be brought round Havelock shouted to the 78th, “Now, my lads, go and take that battery.”

With sloped arms and measured tread they swept on in grim silence through the iron storm that whizzed above them, till at 100 yards’ range the word “Charge!” rang out.

Then with a cheer they dashed forward as the pipes skirled; not a shot was fired, so fiercely did they desire to use the bayonet, and in a few minutes they had climbed the mound and silenced guns and gunners.

“One more charge! take the big guns yonder!”

Again they dashed in and smashed up the enemy’s centre, took the village and chased the rebels through the streets.

On the other wing the 64th and 84th had also forced back the enemy, one regiment racing against the other.

Havelock now thought the battle had been won—his men had marched twenty miles and fought a fierce battle; they fell down worn out; in a few minutes they again rose and mounted the low rise which separated them from Cawnpur.

As they reached the summit they saw the reunited forces of the rebels half a mile in front. In the centre was Nana Sahib, seated on an elephant, and native music was playing.

Three guns opened fire from their centre and a fierce discharge of musketry saluted the worn-out soldiers.

Havelock’s guns were a mile in the rear, and their horses were done; he knew he must call on his infantry for one more effort. So he rode to the front on his pony—his horse having been shot and said, “The longer you look at it, men, the less you will like it. The brigade will advance, left battalion leading.”

Major Sterling and Havelock’s son led the 64th through round-shot and grape, charged and routed the foe.

Then to sleep on the bare ground—no tents, no food, no grog! But dimly in the short twilight they could discern the roofless barracks of Cawnpur, and they were well content.

Early next morning they heard a loud explosion—the Nana had blown up his magazine!

Tytler reported that the rebels had left the city and its environs, so they stepped joyously forth to rescue the women and children.

Alas! As they drew near the house in which they had been confined, they were told that all had been just massacred!

In a horror of silence they heard the awful news.

Many went into the rooms and courtyard, seeing the fragments of dress and hair, the children’s socks soaked in blood, the marks on the walls of bullet and sword-cut. Some came out with oaths of vengeance, some with tears; some vowed they could never go near that spot again.

The number of victims counted by General Havelock’s order as buried in the well was 118 women and 92 children.

It has been said that the walls bore on them penciled messages: but a friend of the writer who was there with Sir Colin’s force informs him that he saw none; they must have been added by soldiers visiting the house.

What was seen at Cawnpur, and what was told in England, explains, if it does not justify to all minds, the terrible vengeance which was taken: similar scenes had occurred at Meerut and Delhi and elsewhere, but nothing on so large a scale as at Cawnpur.

After one day’s rest Havelock marched to Bithoor and burnt the Nana’s palace, that chief having fled over the Ganges.

Havelock then designed and armed a fortified work commanding the Ganges, in which he left 300 men under Neill.

On the 25th July he crossed the river with some 1200 European troops, ten small field-pieces and a few Sikhs.

When he had fought his way but 15 miles towards Lucknow, Havelock had lost 170 men by wounds or sickness and had used up one-third of his gun ammunition: at this moment too he learnt of the mutiny at Dinapur and knew he could receive no reinforcements. In a moment of despondency he fell back, on the 31st, on Mangalwar(Tuesday), 5 miles from Cawnpur; thence he wrote to Neill and said he should need another 1000 men to reach Lucknow. To this letter Neill replied almost insultingly, which so stung Havelock that he advanced again, fought more battles, lost more men, and with the consent of his staff again fell back, and re-crossed the Ganges on the 13th of August.

On the 16th he led his men out again to Bithoor, attacked 4000 rebels and took two guns.

Sir Colin assumed command of the army on the 17th August and at once telegraphed to Sir James Outram his hope that after Eyre’s signal success the 5th and 90th regiments might go on to Allahabad in order to reinforce Havelock.

To Havelock he telegraphed: “The sustained energy, promptitude and vigorous action by which your whole proceedings have been marked during the late difficult operations deserve the highest praise. . . . I beg you to express to the officers and men under your command the pride and satisfaction I have experienced in reading your reports of the intrepid valour they have displayed.”

There was no delay now in sending troops to reinforce; no more hesitation in councils, or keeping regiments at Calcutta. Sir Colin spared nobody, not even himself: the idle and the indifferent, the timid and the boastful, felt the lash of his anger and set to work in silence and dismay.

But for many weeks Sir Colin was unable to leave Calcutta, so important was it to organise a relief for Havelock.

We must now return to this hero, who had fought his way so gallantly to Cawnpur with so small a force at his disposal. On the 17th of August, the day after he had beaten 4000 rebels at Bithoor, Havelock read in the Calcutta Gazette that General Sir James Outram had been appointed to the command of Cawnpur.

Perhaps as he sat in his tent pondering on this news, his heart may have been wrung with a twinge of regret that he could not complete his duty of relieving Lucknow as general in command. For now Outram was coming to supersede him at the critical moment, when reinforcements were beginning to arrive. Outram! His thoughts reverted to all he had heard of that brave soldier: how he had made a name for himself by his exploits in hog-hunting in Bombay, and had been chosen to lead a wing of his regiment when only a junior lieutenant, and was nicknamed “the little general,” because of his inches. How for some years he was employed in keeping in order the Bhils, a wild hill-folk, and had killed many tigers and earned the gratitude of many an Indian mother.

Outram was at the storming of Ghuzni in 1839, and at Kabul, and at the siege of Khelab. Then, disguised as an Afghan, travelled far through a dangerous land to carry dispatches to Karachi: there he surprised his brother-in-law, General Farquharson, who only saw in him a dirty native in turban and slippers and native tunic.

“Well, my man, what do you want here?” said the suspicious general.

“I want a good dinner and a wash!”

“The devil you do! Then, who are you—an Englishman?”

“Why, my good fellow, don’t you know Jemmy Outram?”

Then Havelock would remember how Outram came under Lord Ellen borough’s censure, and how Lord Auckland defended him in the House of Lords, saying, “A more distinguished servant of the public does not exist than Major Outram.”

Again, how at a dinner given in his honour when he was leaving Sind, Sir Charles Napier had called him “the Bayard of India, sans peur et sans reproche.”

Outram always spoke out freely when he thought things were wrong, as in deposing the Ameers of Sind, and he had helped in putting down bribery at Baroda.

Outram arrived at Calcutta near the end of July 1857, and Lord Canning gave him the command of the divisions of Dinapur and Cawnpur. But when he heard how Havelock had gallantly and heroically led his small force through thousands of opposing rebels under Nana Sahib to Cawnpur, his chivalrous heart smote him that he should be superseding his old friend. As thus Havelock might have recalled some of the passages in his comrade’s life, and feeling a little disappointed at not having the honour to relieve Lucknow, a telegram was put into his hands—it was from Sir James Outram: “I shall join you with the reinforcements, but to you shall be left the glory of relieving Lucknow, for which you have already so nobly struggled. I shall accompany you only in my civil capacity as commissioner . . . serving under you as volunteer.” Here was a wonderful self-effacement! Outram was surrendering the general’s share of the prize-money—and he was a poor man,—he might also be losing the chance of a baronetcy and a big pension; but he did what he thought right. And Havelock, who was a deeply religious man, no doubt thanked God for this act of Divine Providence, for all his life he had lived as the servant of the Most High God. From a small boy at Bishop-Wearmouth and later at Dartford in Kent, Henry Havelock learnt from his pious mother to take life seriously. At nine he went to the Charterhouse and made friends with Julius Hare and Thirlwall, the learned bishop to be of St. David’s, with George Grote, the historian of Greece, and William Macnaghten of Kabul fame, and Eastlake, the artist.

When Napoleon escaped from Elba, the Danish blood in Henry Havelock urged him to enter the army. But it was not until 1823 that he got transferred from the Rifle Brigade to the 13th Light Infantry and sailed for Calcutta.

In 1825 he was serving with Sir A. Campbell in Burma, where he distinguished himself by coolness and daring, storming works, forcing a way through swamp and jungle, often knee-deep in water, struggling against malaria from Rangoon to Prome, mounting the marble steps of the king’s palace with bare feet to witness the royal signature to the peace. His men, whom he had taught to pray and sing as well as fight, were called “Havelock’s saints.”

Then came experiences amongst the Afghans with Colonel Sale: Quetta, Kandahar, Ghuznee called him, and then he had the honour of belonging to the brave garrison that held Jellalabad. Later, as lieutenant-colonel, he engaged in the Sikh War: Ferozepur, Aliwal, Sobraon saw Havelock often in danger, and often, as it seemed to him, miraculously preserved.

Often he was sneered at by empty-headed officers; but when danger to the Empire called for the best and truest men, Havelock was sent for, and, as we have seen, led his Highlanders of the 78th at Futtehpur and Pandu Nuddi and Cawnpur, marching in all that heat 130 miles in seven days, fighting four battles and taking twenty-four guns.

It was not until the 16th of September that Sir James Outram reached Cawnpur, bringing Eyre’s battery of 18-pounders: the latter had crushed a body of rebels who were intent on cutting Outram’s communications.

Havelock was now strong in artillery, having Maude’s battery and Olphert’s and Eyre’s—the whole commanded by Major Cooper.

Leaving some 400 men to hold Cawnpur, the force of 3179 men set out through drenching rain on the 19th of September, and on the 22nd reached the bridge of Bunnee which was neither broken down nor defended. Havelock bivouacked for the night on the farther bank and fired a royal salute to hearten the defenders of the Residency: but it was not heard! On the morning of the 23rd, though Lucknow was only sixteen miles distant, they could hear no booming of guns. Doubtless, the sepoys were saving up their resources to meet the relieving force.

After a good breakfast, they marched on till they came near the Alumbagh, when the guns made play right and left and the 5th Fusiliers stormed the wall: the 78th and Madras Fusiliers followed, and in ten minutes the Alumbagh was cleared. As Outram was cantering back from the pursuit near the Charbagh Bridge, a dispatch was brought him. Outram galloped to Havelock and, baring his head, shouted to the soldiers, “Hurrah! Boys-Delhi is at last in our hands.” Cheer after cheer rose as the news went round: and, though no tents were up and no supper forthcoming, they made merry, cheered by their late success and by the splendid news.

On the morrow, after leaving the sick and wounded under Major M’Intyre of the 78th in the Alumbagh, at half-past eight the advance sounded, Maude’s battery in front; and Outram pushed forward to the right to clear the Charbagh garden, while the main body lay down till Maude’s guns had done their work on the earthen rampart, seven feet high, which defended the bridge. But the sepoys were firing under cover and had made havoc of Maude’s gunners, so that Maude himself and his lieutenant, Maitland, were serving the guns themselves.

“I say!” shouted Maude to Havelock’s son, who was on horseback near, “I can’t fight these guns much longer—can’t you fellows do something?”

Young Havelock rode at once to Colonel Neill and suggested he should charge the bridge.

“I can’t take the responsibility in the absence of Outram: he will be round soon—no, I really can’t do it.”

But Outram had been detained in his flank movement: the position was critical, something must be done.

Then the valiant son of a valiant father tried a daring ruse: young Havelock rode to the rear out of sight, then came galloping back, rode up to Neill and, saluting him, said, as though the order had come from his father, “You are to carry the bridge, Sir.”

Then Neill gave the order to form up: Havelock, Tytler and Arnold and twenty-eight men made for the barricade. Then a hurricane of missiles opened upon them.

Arnold fell, shot through both thighs. Tytler’s horse was killed, and he himself was shot through the groin.

Only young Havelock and a private named Jakes were unhurt: Havelock on his horse waved his sword and called on the main body to come on: Jakes stood by his side, loading and firing as fast as he could. As Mr. Malleson writes: “There they stood, the hero officer and the hero private, for fully two minutes exposed to the full fire of the enemy; and they stood unharmed!” Then with a wild cry the Madras Fusiliers stormed the barricade and bayoneted the rebel gunners where they stood.

By storming this fortified bridge they had won the entrance to the city. As it grew towards evening, Outram proposed a halt for the night, but Havelock decided for an attempt to reach the Residency.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered garrison had been painfully and pleasurably excited all day: hearing the boom of big guns, and the sharp crackle of the rifle-fire.

On 25th September about 11 a.m. they saw how agitated the natives were in town: at 1.30 they saw many leaving the city with bundles on their heads: their bridge of boats must surely have been destroyed, for they perceived many swimming their horses across the Gomti. Yet still the rebels kept up a heavy cannonade.

At 5 p.m. the Minie-bullet began to whiz over their heads; then they knew their friends were near.

But would they be repulsed? Their hearts asked for anxiety. It is growing dusk, but they can hear and see the red-coats fighting their desperate way through street and alley.

Suddenly, all pent-up feelings burst forth like a broken weir in a succession of mad, delighted cheers.

From pit, trench and battery, from behind sand-bags and on shattered roofs, and even from the dim hospital men rose to cheer. The wounded crawled forth to wave a hand; ladies fell on their knees and wept with many a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from the unspeakable horrors that had threatened them.

Quickly the defences were thrown down, and Havelock and Outram and many a hero of lesser note stepped over into the grounds of the Residency that had been held so staunchly for eighty-seven days. “And ever above the topmost roof our banner of England blew.”

Only a portion of the force entered the Residency that night: many lay on the ground and slept peacefully after their toils.

We had 196 killed and 535 wounded; of the latter about 40 were stabbed in their dhoolies or litters on their way to the Residency.

After a brief conference it was decided that no attempt should be made to withdraw the women and children to Cawnpur: if it had cost them so much to cut their way in, what might it not cost to break through the thousands of sepoys outside? In fact, Lucknow had been reinforced, not relieved.

Outram and Havelock and the men had done all that men could do: but they had been given an absurdly weak force. People at Calcutta had not yet realised how strong the rebels were in numbers, equipment, discipline and artillery.

So Outram and Havelock remained in Lucknow: the first thing was to find room for the increased force. With this view the palaces along the winding river were strongly occupied under the command of Havelock. M’Intyre of the 78th with 250 men fit for duty and others nearly convalescent, held the Alumbagh. The rebels could not now fire into the Residency from close quarters, and they made no more desperate assaults: they had enough to do in repelling sorties and counter-mines from the British posts.

Outram was busy repairing the defences and erecting new batteries during the six weeks which followed.

On the 9th of October they heard of Greathed’s column relieving Agra, and of Sir Colin’s proposed march to relieve Lucknow.

Then Sir James looked about for someone who could carry a message and plans of the city for Sir Colin’s information. But he could not bring himself to ask anyone to incur a risk so great, and which promised almost certain death, as hostile masses surrounded them on all sides and guarded every avenue.

But Outram’s anxiety reached the ears of Thomas Henry Kavanagh, a civil office clerk, and he at once volunteered for the duty. Kavanagh is certainly one of the heroes of the Mutiny, and we must devote a few lines to his memory.

At first Outram thought the tall Irishman unfitted for the disguise he proposed; for he was fair and ruddy, and his hair glittered like red gold. But Outram found he could speak the patois of the country like a native, and he learnt how brave he was. This moved Outram, for he loved a brave man.

So Kavanagh had his hair cut short and stained with lamp-black, as well as his face, arms, hands and legs. He dressed himself as a badmash—a native cut-throat—and set out one dark evening on the 9th of November, attended by a faithful native who had been employed as a spy on various occasions, Kunonjee Lal.

Both Sir James Outram and Colonel Napier wished him God-speed, and Captain Hardinge, as he squeezed his hand, murmured, “Noble fellow! You will never be forgotten.”

He passed out from the Residency feeling he was a hero. But the very first thing he had to do was to strip and go through a stream carrying his clothes on his head.

The chill took away all heroic feelings for a time. They had to dress under a grove of trees, cross the Gomti twice by bridges, and answer several challenges from native sentries. Through the streets they tramped without notice, and on reaching green fields where every plant was fragrant they enjoyed the new surroundings after months of nasty smells: they ate fresh carrots and chatted merrily for five miles.

Then Lal said, “I have lost my way, Sahib.”

They were in the Dilkoosha Park, and it was occupied by the enemy.

But they got through safely and spoke to several peasants in the fields. Wet shoes and sore feet troubled Kavanagh; he often fell and hurt himself: once a woman got out of bed to show them the way. By three o’clock they reached a grove of mango trees and heard a man singing. As they drew near he called out a guard of sepoys, who began to ask a torrent of questions. These men they satisfied, and their next adventure was to fall into a lake, or swamp, when they had to wade waist-high for two hours.

After a rest they crossed a plain, dodged more sentries, met villagers fleeing with their chattels on buffaloes from the terrible English soldiers: then they slept for an hour.

After this as they entered a grove, “Who comes there?” was uttered in native dialect. Another sepoy guard?

No! There were too many voices! Lal thought they must be British.

“This sahib is an English officer,” he stammered in his fright.

Silence! Suspicion! Incredulity!

Then the Sikh commander came forward and shook hands with Kavanagh, and he knew that after all his perils and fears he was safe! “Rash! Very rash! But plucky!” said the Sikh, and gave him two sowars as escort to the camp.

Lieutenant Goldie of the 9th Lancers gave him dry clothes, and Captain Dick of the 29th Foot lent him his Burma pony and showed him the way to Sir Colin’s tent. What a relief it was to feel safe!

We have seen how Sir Henry Norman met the disguised messenger at the entrance of the tent, and suspecting him of some treachery, half drew his sword before Kavanagh cried, “I come from Lucknow—from Outram and Havelock—with important plans of the city for Sir Colin.”

Sir Colin was immensely glad to see him, and spent some hours in his company working out his route so as to avoid the narrow streets which had proved so costly in Outram’s case.

Kavanagh, who knew the city well, remained with Sir Colin’s force and directed the advance. The Home Government rewarded this Irishman with the Victoria Cross and some substantial gifts. He died in St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1883.

The success of Sir Colin Campbell in safely withdrawing the women and children from Lucknow was saddened by the illness and death of the gallant Havelock. Dysentery had worn him to a shadow, but he had tried to do his duty to the last.

He died in the Dilkoosha Palace as the army was retiring, and General Outram had only a few minutes to spare, to bid his old comrade a last good-bye.

Sir Colin, in a general order, conveyed to the army his last tribute: “His march of this year from Allahabad to Cawnpur, his frequent victories gained over immensely superior numbers, when he was nearly without artillery and cavalry . . . concluded by the onslaught and forced entrance into Lucknow, have established a renown which will last as long as the history of England.”

June 11, 2015

Lucknow’s culture in the sky : Flying Pigeons

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:14 am

There has always been talk of setting the beloved free, but with a heavy heart for the possibility of them not returning ever. Still when one can’t think of letting go a bird without doubt, how is it that kabootar baazi, though almost endangered, still lives on? On the rooftops of old Lucknow, when long tired days would stretch into cool evenings, kabootar baazi would be a common sight. Calling it a ‘shauk’, people in those times loved to keep pigeons. To feed them, was their best leisure time and watching them y in circles would give them simple happiness or a music that they visually enjoyed. Some white as snow others spotted with chocolate brown, or light grey, ‘paaltu’ pigeons were the pride of their masters’ homes. There are a variety of pigeons for different purposes varying from ornamentalisation of homes to high flight or even betting. Pamoze and Laqqua are, to this day, adored for the softness of their feather and handsome looks; Pamoze for its feathers that cover its feet, making them look beautiful and Laqqua for its high head and out chested figure. But Girahbaaz and Nisoura are strong breeds of pigeons that were most suitable for betting, which has almost come to an end now except for only some places where the tradition of comparing the birds’ flight time with other groups still exists.

In Lucknow, while it is popularly known that this ‘shauk’ dates back to the time of Asif-ud-Daula, there are alternative sources claiming it to be much older than that. Patronized by the Nawabs of Awadh, the tradition was at its peak, as the Nawabs, out of the love of beauty, would buy different varieties of pigeons, which were available at high prices in the market. Only the very wealthy or those from the aristocratic class could own a pack of pigeons. Later it became more common and finally what was earlier considered an unattainable luxury, trickled down to lower levels in the society. More common people started buying pigeons and passed on the tradition of keeping pet pigeons to newer generations. Taking inspiration from the Nawabi class, people from slightly higher strata of middle class, internalized it. This was only met by depreciating prices in the markets. Even in late 20th century people used to own 50-100 pigeons at a time. They were kept in compartmentalized cages in open chabootaras. The pet pigeons would be freed from the cages to y around in groups around evening time. They would be out for long periods, sometimes flying high above the mohalla, sometimes right above the house of their owner. The height and the time period of the flight would depend on the breed of the pigeons. When the evening would grow darker and the master would almost want to leave it to that, the pigeons would return, merrily uttering their wings and their eyes shining in the twilight. Owners of pigeons have never had the complaint of them not returning on their own, as the pigeons naturally perceive their masters’ home as their own and have great sense of belongingness other than the intelligence of direction. They come to their cages for they know this was where they belonged. “Maybe because they were wise enough to understand that everything from their feeding to safety is well taken care of here, or because they were just used to this way of living”, says a shopkeeper in chowk whose father once owned around 50 pigeons.

It was not something that was rarely done, but a daily affair. Even today there are many places in the old city where Kabootar baazi is still in practice. In fact in Hussainabad area of Lucknow, some people claim that the tradition has somewhat increased over the period of time, while people in other areas of the old part of the city deny this. Still there are many people today, whose fathers and forefathers never had pet pigeons, that have now acquired the ‘shauk’, seeing some other people in the mohalla flying pigeons. Rashid, a resident of Hussainabad, says that flying pigeons in present takes him back to his childhood days and thus acts as a kind of escape. Even a halwaai, Mohsin, living nearby, says watching them y in big circles makes him feel like he has himself circled back to his childhood days, when kabootar baazi was a common activity. He says, “The very beauty of it is involved in the relaxing nature of the exercise”. People from many other houses in the locality have pigeons and at least one member of the family takes care of their feeding and other things. Still, today it is not like anything that used to be earlier associated with kabootar baazi. Peer Bukhara in Chowk area of Lucknow had many houses that used to keep pigeons. Today there are just two houses, from which have two brothers who have been looking after their pet pigeons for at least 15 years. Around the Maghrib time azaan, pigeons are left out to enjoy the evening sky even today. Many in the locality have grown watching them fly. “It is done when the weather is cool and pleasant, mostly in winters. The pigeons can’t take the scorching heat of summer sun- or at least their owners don’t want them to”, says a resident.

The homes that housed them mostly consisted of joint families living in open spaces with a guava tree or two and sometimes an “Imambara” built in old style in the space. While in those times the roofs were big and view gorgeous, today the houses stand divided into thousands of what looks like matchbox houses. Not only popular in Lucknow, it was generally common in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Shakeel, an aged man from Kanpur tells the tales his grandparents would tell of pigeons as messengers. Since they were not so busy and life was simpler, most of the evening time and recreation revolved around things like kabootar baazi and even kite flying. “Kabootar baazi was for adults, what kite flying was for us children”, says the old man, smiling at past memories of Kabootar baazi in his childhood days. The tradition is overtly turning into a commercial activity as owners of pigeons have started selling pigeons of other groups that come to their group by mistake. Some people who have been observing the increasing trend of selling other flocks’ pigeons, say that it has been flourishing in old areas like this. Earlier too there were activities in which people would compare the time for which their pigeons ew in the sky. The one whose group ew longer took whatever was on bet.

While sitting on a rooftop I watch the activities of old city of Lucknow, but when I look into the sky, there is seldom a sound of uttering of wings or the sight of little dots circling around, that I miss. But there are times I see them, only smaller and farther flying and hear their utter and only then the evening sky is complete.


May 11, 2015

The Kafka of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:21 am

There has always been talk of setting the beloved free, but with a heavy heart for the possibility of them not returning ever. Still when one can’t think of letting go a bird without doubt, how is it that kabootar baazi, though almost endangered, still lives on? On the rooftops of old Lucknow, when long tired days would stretch into cool evenings, kabootar baazi would be a common sight. Calling it a ‘shauk’, people in those times loved to keep pigeons. To feed them, was their best leisure time and watching them y in circles would give them simple happiness or a music that they visually enjoyed. Some white as snow others spotted with chocolate brown, or light grey, ‘paaltu’ pigeons were the pride of their masters’ homes. There are a variety of pigeons for different purposes varying from ornamentalisation of homes to high flight or even betting. Pamoze and Laqqua are, to this day, adored for the softness of their feather and handsome looks; Pamoze for its feathers that cover its feet, making them look beautiful and Laqqua for its high head and out chested figure. But Girahbaaz and Nisoura are strong breeds of pigeons that were most suitable for betting, which has almost come to an end now except for only some places where the tradition of comparing the birds’ flight time with other groups still exists.

In Lucknow, while it is popularly known that this ‘shauk’ dates back to the time of Asif-ud-Daula, there are alternative sources claiming it to be much older than that. Patronized by the Nawabs of Awadh, the tradition was at its peak, as the Nawabs, out of the love of beauty, would buy different varieties of pigeons, which were available at high prices in the market. Only the very wealthy or those from the aristocratic class could own a pack of pigeons. Later it became more common and finally what was earlier considered an unattainable luxury, trickled down to lower levels in the society. More common people started buying pigeons and passed on the tradition of keeping pet pigeons to newer generations. Taking inspiration from the Nawabi class, people from slightly higher strata of middle class, internalized it. This was only met by depreciating prices in the markets. Even in late 20th century people used to own 50-100 pigeons at a time. They were kept in compartmentalized cages in open chabootaras. The pet pigeons would be freed from the cages to y around in groups around evening time. They would be out for long periods, sometimes flying high above the mohalla, sometimes right above the house of their owner. The height and the time period of the flight would depend on the breed of the pigeons. When the evening would grow darker and the master would almost want to leave it to that, the pigeons would return, merrily uttering their wings and their eyes shining in the twilight. Owners of pigeons have never had the complaint of them not returning on their own, as the pigeons naturally perceive their masters’ home as their own and have great sense of belongingness other than the intelligence of direction. They come to their cages for they know this was where they belonged. “Maybe because they were wise enough to understand that everything from their feeding to safety is well taken care of here, or because they were just used to this way of living”, says a shopkeeper in chowk whose father once owned around 50 pigeons.

It was not something that was rarely done, but a daily affair. Even today there are many places in the old city where Kabootar baazi is still in practice. In fact in Hussainabad area of Lucknow, some people claim that the tradition has somewhat increased over the period of time, while people in other areas of the old part of the city deny this. Still there are many people today, whose fathers and forefathers never had pet pigeons, that have now acquired the ‘shauk’, seeing some other people in the mohalla flying pigeons. Rashid, a resident of Hussainabad, says that flying pigeons in present takes him back to his childhood days and thus acts as a kind of escape. Even a halwaai, Mohsin, living nearby, says watching them y in big circles makes him feel like he has himself circled back to his childhood days, when kabootar baazi was a common activity. He says, “The very beauty of it is involved in the relaxing nature of the exercise”. People from many other houses in the locality have pigeons and at least one member of the family takes care of their feeding and other things. Still, today it is not like anything that used to be earlier associated with kabootar baazi. Peer Bukhara in Chowk area of Lucknow had many houses that used to keep pigeons. Today there are just two houses, from which have two brothers who have been looking after their pet pigeons for at least 15 years. Around the Maghrib time azaan, pigeons are left out to enjoy the evening sky even today. Many in the locality have grown watching them fly. “It is done when the weather is cool and pleasant, mostly in winters. The pigeons can’t take the scorching heat of summer sun- or at least their owners don’t want them to”, says a resident.

The homes that housed them mostly consisted of joint families living in open spaces with a guava tree or two and sometimes an “Imambara” built in old style in the space. While in those times the roofs were big and view gorgeous, today the houses stand divided into thousands of what looks like matchbox houses. Not only popular in Lucknow, it was generally common in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Shakeel, an aged man from Kanpur tells the tales his grandparents would tell of pigeons as messengers. Since they were not so busy and life was simpler, most of the evening time and recreation revolved around things like kabootar baazi and even kite flying. “Kabootar baazi was for adults, what kite flying was for us children”, says the old man, smiling at past memories of Kabootar baazi in his childhood days. The tradition is overtly turning into a commercial activity as owners of pigeons have started selling pigeons of other groups that come to their group by mistake. Some people who have been observing the increasing trend of selling other flocks’ pigeons, say that it has been flourishing in old areas like this. Earlier too there were activities in which people would compare the time for which their pigeons ew in the sky. The one whose group ew longer took whatever was on bet.

While sitting on a rooftop I watch the activities of old city of Lucknow, but when I look into the sky, there is seldom a sound of uttering of wings or the sight of little dots circling around, that I miss. But there are times I see them, only smaller and farther flying and hear their utter and only then the evening sky is complete.

April 21, 2015

Siege of Cawnpore – 1857

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:19 am

On 27 June 1857 in Cawnpore in India, a British garrison of men, women and children, under siege, were offered safe passage and sanctuary. Instead, they were betrayed and butchered, an atrocity that shocked Victorian Britain to its core. The surviving women and children were later hacked to death. Retribution, when it came, was unrelentingly severe. This is a gruesome story of the Siege of Cawnpore.


In 1857, the British, through the East India Company, directly ruled two thirds of India. The remaining third was overseen by Indian princes who paid tribute to the British. On 10 May, a group of sepoys (Indian soldiers) ran amok in the town of Meerut, killing several men and women of the British garrison based there, before heading to Delhi, 40 miles away. The Indian Mutiny had begun.

The name ‘Indian Mutiny’, as it was taught to generations of British schoolchildren, has a very Eurocentric ring to it; Indians prefer to call it the First War of Independence or the First Nationalist Uprising. But independence was not the ultimate aim of the mutineers and, confined mainly to the north-west of the country, in particular Bengal, neither was it of a national character. It was an outbreak of violence without leader and without objective beyond being motivated by a string of grievances.

The Siege

Siege of Cawnpore Among the many sieges during 1857, was the siege and massacre at Cawnpore (now Kanpur), 100 km from Lucknow within the district of Oudh. Home to a large British garrison, the British, under Sir General Hugh Wheeler, a 67-year-old with 54 years of army service in India, had barricaded themselves within their barracks and prepared for the worse. The worse came in the form of one Nana Sahib (pictured), a man apparently on friendly terms with Wheeler and his Indian wife, promising him his loyalty in the conflict due to engulf them.

But Nana was a bitter man. His father, a prince, had been retired off by the British with a generous pension but on the old man’s death the payments stopped and his territory annexed, depriving Nana of an income. Now, in late May 1857, Sir Wheeler, believing Nana’s promises of assistance, offered him possession of the garrison’s ammunition store to arm him for the anticipated siege.

On 4 June, the Cawnpore sepoys mutinied. The few that refused to mutineer took refuge with the British bringing the number within the barracks to 240 men and 375 women and children. To Wheeler’s horror, he realised that the man leading the mutineers was none other than Nana Sahib, generously endowed with the general’s ammunition.

After three weeks of siege, with the summer at its hottest, the British, already desperately short of ammunition and with their supplies dwindling, were facing starvation. Under a continual barrage of gunfire, deprived of medical supplies and with precious little food or water, the situation was desperate and disease rife. Many went insane. Wheeler’s son had been one of the victims, decapitated by artillery fire. Wheeler smuggled out a plea to the British garrison at Lucknow, the capital of Oudh, 50 miles away, ‘Surely we are not to die like rats in a cage?’ But the Lucknow garrison, also under siege, was faring little better.

Safe passage or betrayal ?

On 24 June, Nana in an apparent show of mercy, permitted the evacuation of the women, children and sick under safe conduct down the River Ganges to Allahabad. Wheeler suspected subterfuge but with only a couple days of rations left, he had little choice but to accept the offer.

On 27 June, Wheeler’s bedraggled garrison, many too sick to walk unaided, climbed upon a number of thatched-roof boats, guided in by helpful mutineers. But then, as the boats prepared to depart, the British were shot at. Flaming arrows set the thatched roofs ablaze and soon bodies, shot or beheaded, clogged up the shallow waters. Those who tried to swim to the opposite shore were caught and hacked to death. Among those killed was Sir Wheeler, three days short of his 68th birthday.

The ‘House of Ladies’

The surviving women and children, 210 in number, were spared to later face an even worse ordeal. They were marched back to town and incarcerated in a single-storey house, the Bibighur, the ‘House of Ladies’, built by an Englishman for his Indian mistress. Deprived of sustenance and suffering in the July heat, the prisoners weakened. After over two weeks of torment, on 15 July, Nana Sahib received news that a relieving force of British troops was on its way. Panicked, Nana ordered the women and children killed.

The sepoys dispatched to murder their captors found the task too distasteful, and so Nana ordered in professional butchers who, wearing aprons, showed no qualms in wielding their meat cleavers and swords. Amid the screams and blood, their sword blades broke from overwork. An hour later, they had finished their pitiless task, leaving over 200 dead and dismembered women and children. The following morning, they found three women and three children, aged under seven, covered in blood, quivering beneath the piles of dead bodies. They were thrown, one-by-one, down a 50-foot deep mine shaft, and there suffocated under the weight of corpses and body parts thrown in on top of them.


Two days later, a company of British soldiers, under the command of General Sir Henry Havelock, captured the city (Havelock’s statue can be found in London’s Trafalgar Square). On finding the scenes of murder, and inflamed with anger, they extracted revenge. Most of the perpetrators had made good their escape but no matter the British made captured Indians, whether involved or not, lick the blood stains of the dead. Hindus were forced into eating beef, Muslims pork. The latter were tied up in pigskin before being executed. Many inhabitants of Cawnpore who had played no part in the violence were summarily executed for having failed to do anything to prevent the killings. The preferred method of execution was to blow the perpetrator from the guns – hanging seemed too easy a death. The victim was tied to the muzzle of an artillery gun and blown to pieces. Retribution had been brutal.

In 1860, a memorial was built to commemorate Britons that had been killed at Cawmpore, built over the well outside the Bibighur.

Tornos has well researched tours based on the Indian Mutiny and we conduct these exclusive tours quite frequently. These tours ideally start from Kanpur (with an optional extension to Bithur), on to Lucknow, tracing the route of the British forces led by General Sir Henry Havelock, Colin Campbell and James Outram, who finally came to the rescue of their fellowmen, ladies and children in Kanpur and Lucknow. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who have spent long time researching the subject.

March 11, 2015

Church for the Musketeers in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:13 am

Let’s travel back into Lucknow of 1870s – Armed British soldiers are parading Hazratganj to avert a repeat of 1857. But a group of Roman Catholic soldiers could be seen offering their morning prayers in the Cantonment church before marching for the duty – their backs straight, eyes set on the Bible and their muskets and blunderbusses kept upright in the special church furniture – ready for any eventuality. Well, that’s 150-year-old St Paul’s Church, now housed in the premises of St Paul’s School in the state capital.

Built in 1862 for the Roman Catholic Soldiers, the church had a special provision for soldiers to keep their muskets (a muzzle-loaded, smooth bore long gun) erect besides them during the services. It was then a debatable issue, if soldiers should attend service as the church believed that they were somehow going away from their religion and that it might pollute them morally. The plea to avoid attending the service in the church, were their muskets that could not be left unattended. It was just then that Churches in the military areas were opened and a specially designed furniture were installed to hold the arms of the soldiers, leaving absolutely no excuse for them to keep away from the church service. The old furniture installed here still has a capacity to seat 450 people at a time. The priest-in-charge of this church used to be a military chaplain till 1960. He had to travel with the troops wherever they were stationed. The practice of armed forces carrying weapons inside was discontinued after India gained independence.

St Paul’s Church happens to be one of the oldest churches of Lucknow and is one of the finest examples of the Colonial Military Church that primarily catered to the soldiers of the Colonial India constructed in a year’s time, Fr William Gleeson, a foreign missionary got it built with the financial assistance from the British government. Bishop Anastasius Hartmann OFM Cap, Vicar Apostolic of Patna, solemnly blessed the church on 10th May, 1862.

The records suggest that to keep the soldiers occupied during their time of leisure, the chaplain, Father Victor built a library for them as well in 1875, which in the course of time gradually enlarged and turned into a Temperance Hall. Finally from 1922 onwards, it was used as the Priest’s house. Since the seminary was not built at that time, it also accommodated the Seminarians from 1945 onwards.

Talking about the architectural beauty of this church, It is a plain single story church built in the Neo-Gothic style designed by Major Crommelin, rural engineer. In its construction it employed long lancet windows, corner buttresses and drip-course detailing the ornamentation on its brick and stucco frame. It has a uniquely built wooden trussed roof supported by delicately decorated wooden brackets resting on fluted octagonal-shaped brick piers. The Grotto near the church was built in 1946. Fr Fidelis Mary OFM Cap erected the Grotto from the contribution of the parishioners of St Paul’s Church and a few external benefactors.

Since this parish has a floating population, the number of parishioners fluctuates. Presently, it has about 350 parishioners including the military personnel and civilians. From 1862 till now there have been more than 50 priest in-charges besides Assistant Catholic Chaplains / Assistant Parish Priests.

Lucknow Cantonment itself is a great colonial legacy with a lot many structures that are hidden treasures and still reminds one of the bygone colonial era. Though this is a restricted area for photography or touring but a drive through it, passing by these landmarks and marvelous structures could sure be a highlight of the visit to the city. Of course St Paul’s Church is one of the icons, with others in line being the All Saint’s Garrison Church, numerous colonial bungalows, the old water tank, the polo-ground and of course the Lucknow race-course, famous for anti-clockwise horse racing.

February 11, 2015

Lanes of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:05 am

The moonlit lanes of chowk and soothing sound echoing in background on radio “Jane kitne dino ke baad, gali me aaj chand nikla”, takes you back to an era when Lucknow was known for its narrow lanes and parks spread uniquely and uniformly over the areas of Chowk, Nakhas and what not we call in dates as purana Lucknow.

One will not be wrong if believes that art and culture flourish in each and every corner of the city. The alleys can be said to be soaked in with numerous art forms, literature, cultural beauty and stories from the past. These alleyways have not only witnessed numerous historic events but also have played a very crucial role in lives of many eminent personalities like the legendry poet Nirala, Premchand, Sampurnand, Acharya Narendra Dev, Qurratul ain Haider, Sunil Dutt and Amritlal Nagar who have spent a major part of their life in these alleys, reciting poetries, which can easily be seen in their respective works depicting their love for the city.

Walk Leaders at Tornos take up the responsibility to show these alleys to the new generation who are completely unaware of the golden past of the beautiful city alleyways.

Among the most ancient of the cities of the world like Rome, London, Paris, Cairo, Damascus, Delhi, Agra, Banaras, Jaipur, Mathura etc, the beauty of the roads, lanes and alleys is remarkable. Their intricate net entraps the entire cities and the temptation of their majesty is effective even to this day. When an inspired youth may take keen interest in these alleys, somewhere, in the lost corner of his heart, a thought might resound- “Jaane kitne dino ke baad, gali me aaj chand nikala”.

Streets Known By Their Names

Lucknow has its own world of streets n alleys which are famous for work done in them or for any other identity. For instance streets based on caste names like Gujrati gali, Marwadi wali gali, Singhan ki gali, Kaysthon ki gali, Sunaron ki gali, Babbu wali gali, gali Narayan das etc whereas others are named after the business which are spread over them like Meenas wali gali, Baan wali gali, Kanghi wali gali, Phool wali gali, Churi wali gali, Batashe wali gali, gali Hammam, Taar wali gali, Laiya wali gali, Chik wali gali, Patthar wali gali, Sirke wali gali, Taape wali gali, Sheermal wali gali, Dari wali gali, Joote wali gali, Janaab ki gali, Peepal wali gali, Chaawal wali gali, Parche wali gali, Maide wali gali, Gali meet mata, Kaale ki gali, Bhainse wali gali, Gadhe wali gali and Achhuti gali are the most famous ones.

Golden Past Of The Alleys

Master Amritlal Nagar used to call these alleys as ‘Binoculars of Lucknow’. Revering Chowk’s Baan Wali Gali as his workplace, Mr. Nagar used his Brother Madanlal Nagar’s painting for the cover of his novel Shatranj Ke Mohre, in 1957, in which Lucknow’s alleys were distinctly portrayed. The Khinni Wali Gali had Mir Taqi Mir’s Daulatkhana. Peenas wali Gali has Maulwi Anwar Bagh abutted to it, where Hazrat Mohani Sahab was cremated. Taksaal Wali Gali is at Hiran Park Chauraha, where Hazrat Nasikh was buried. Mirza Dabeer was buried at Kucha- e-Dabeer, whereas the king of Mersiah, Mir Anees was buried at Kucha-e-Mir Anees. The master of music, Naushad resided in the alleys of Darsani Peer.

Mesmerising Lanes, Triumph Literature

Even the masterpiece like “Aag ka Dariya” and “Chandni” by Qurratul ain Haider which were even awarded Jnanpith award were written in these alleyways of Chowk. Senior journalist, Late Ramkrishna used to narrate the stories of Nirala who used to reside in Batashe wali gali in Aminabad. A number of masterpieces were composed by Nirala, while he lived here which were later on published by Ganga Granthagar, owned by Dulare Lal Bhargav. During the phase of pre Independence, whenever Motilal Nehru visited Lucknow, he too used to recluse In Batashe wali gali whereas Premchand resided in Marwari gali. He even wrote Rangbhumi while he occupied a tiny quarter in Ramtirth’s abode. In 1937 Babu Sampurnanand used to reside in the same residence which was later on occupied by Acharya Narendra Dev. In 1942, the August Movement was co-ordinated from the very same alley due to the reason that the alleyways opened on three sides, which provided the facilities to the protesters to vanish in thin air, at the first sign of danger. The leader of the movement, Keshavdev Malviya too lived here. Lal Bahadur Shastri also visited the alley frequently, whereas Gannewali gali is home to Balraj Dutt famously known as Sunil Dutt. Even after he shifted to Mumbai, he always ventured to this place, whenever he visited Lucknow. The fame of Gannewali gali was increased manifold when Sanjay Dutt paid homage to his father’s old asylum.

Baanwali Gali Ki Kahani Khud Amritlal Nagar Ki Zubani

The alley in Chowk, which is in times is known as Baanwali gali, once used to be famous as Vaidon wali gali. Many of vaidya (physician) were highly renowned among the people across the city. It was discovered in 1698 that in 1620 Vaidya Maniram ji Saraswat Jaitley wrote ‘Gunratnamala’, a book of medicine, which was later on published in 1886 by Maniram’s descendent Kalluji Vaidya. In the final chapter of his book, for the purpose of an introduction to his bloodline he travelled through the city and across Gomti, and created the best of his verses; Looking at them, it is not hard to believe that the language must have possessed some poet of superlative degree, who were lost in anonymity due to the unfortunate absence of relative description. Chaupatiyan resident, Late Radhe Narayaji Vajpeyi, ‘Prajavaidya’ had maintained not only a catalogue of the city’s ancient writers but also a collection of some of their masterpieces in his notebook. After his demise, that notebook was destroyed due to the carelessness of his family members. I was once told by Late revered Pandit Roopnarayanji that after Prajavaidya’s death, he approached the family himself and asked for the notebook but the family cited that the notebook was precious, thus they did not allow Panditji even to have a glimpse of it. After Prajavaidya, only Late Lala Ramnarayan Swarnkar had a little knowledge about ancient artifacts, but he too, could not pen down that knowledge into a scripted record. In this fashion, the ancient poetic literature and history of Lucknow was lost forever.

January 11, 2015

Wajid-Ali-Shah established yet another Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:56 am

Metiyaburz is a warren of single-storied houses, squalid yards, open drains and bustling bazaars. Beyond, there are scrubby fields and hyacinth-choked ponds. Dominating the scene are innumerable factory sheds ant the huge Garden Reach shipyard. its gigantic steel machinery looming against the skyline. Today this Calcutta locality has little claim to distinction.

But just a little more than a hundred years ago, when Wajid Ali Shah, the King of Oudh, decided to settle in Calcutta in 1856, after his deposition, he created in Matiaburj, known as Mochikhola then and “earthy paradise”. Lucknow was lost to the British but a second Lucknow came up here. The King set up a whole township where the people observed the same ceremonies, enjoyed the same pastimes and even spoke the same language as they did in the capital of Oudh.

The King built many sumptuous houses, each in a different setting, pleasances, formally laid out parks with quicksilver fountains, an open-air zoo stocked with rare fauna, an enclosure for snakes, an aviary, Imambaras and a market. The King’s entourage, which followed him from Lucknow, likewise built houses here and the area was encircled by a high wall.

But in 1887 the King died. The British sold his property at throwaway prices and the returns were distributed among his heirs. Everything went to rack and ruin. Industry, and in some cases nature, encroached on whatever survived.

Today, factories and rows of houses have come up where once stood Shahinshah Manzil or Tafrih Baksh; overcrowded bazaars, slushy lanes meander in place of emerald parks and noble gateways; harsh accents and the clang of machinery have replaced courtly speech and the stains of music.
Only Sibtainabad Imambara, Begum Masjid, Shahi Masjid, Baitun Nijat and Quasrul Buka have escaped destruction. Some of the houses, including the magnificent palace in which the King resided, were acquired by South Eastern Railway, but no one is sure which particular ones.

The story of these relics is history embroidered with legends and hearsay, the authenticity is impossible to determine. According to Prince Anjum Quder – grandson of Birjis Qadr, Wajid Ali Shah’s eldest son – who still lives here, says Sibtainabad Imambara stood on sprawling grounds adorned with flowering plants and fountains drawing water from the nearby Hooghly.


Here Wajid Ali used to meditate for hours during the Mohurram mourning period and take part in congregations every morning. One morning, on second day of Mohurrum, when the King returned to his palace, Sultan Khana he breathed his last. He was laid to rest here.

Prince Anjum Quder, who is President of the All-India Shia Conference and his two brothers, Dr. Kaukab Mirza and Prince Nayyer Quder, are honorary trustees of the Sibtainabad Trust.

The Imambara, built in 1864, stands sparklingly whitewashed on Garden Reach Road untouched by Bangla Bazar spread around it. Its imposing arched portal is surmounted by the naubatkhana. An electronic clock attached to it strikes the only jarring note.

The gateway emblazoned with the double mermaids, insignia of the Royal Family and Trust, gives on to a marble courtyard facing the porticoed prayer hall. Throughout the day the Imambara is alive with the chatter of children who have come to study groups, holding discourses or employees scrubbing the floor. The prayer hall resounds with incantations.

Innumerable lampshades of coloured glass hang from the ceiling of the portico. On its wall are the portraits of Hazrat Mahal and her son, Birjis Qadr. During the sepoy uprising in Lucknow, she became his regent. After Lucknow fell to the British, she fled with her infant son to Nepal where she died. Later Birjis returned to India and died of food poisoning in Metiyaburz.

Wajid Ali, his son, Birjis, and daughter-in-law, Mahtab Ara, a Moghul princess, and several other members of his family were interred here. Wajid Ali Shah’s grave is adorned with a silver zari, replica of a Muslim shrine, banner, exquisitely embroidered with gold and silver thread dusty and crumbling with age, candlebras and a priceless pair of jade vases.

A rare portrait by an unknown artist of the King in his last days can be seen here (reproduced above). The King, stern and portly, is attired in an elegant white angarkha, so unlike the overdressed beau he was in his salad days.

On a platform in this hall, Wajid Ali used to meditate. It is surrounded by an open-work railing of brass. Beside it is a silver pulpit of that period. The Imambara has two wings that enclose the courtyard. The first floor houses the quarters of its employees, the office and a library which has a fine collection of rare books and illuminated manuscripts, some embellished by the King himself.

Some ground floor rooms are crammed with the sets of Shatranj Ke Kilari, a gift from the director, and valuable mementos such as shawls, crockery (supposedly the Kings) and heavy silver alams. The alams and embroidered banners lead the Imambara’s famous Mohurrum procession. Mention must be made of Manindra Nath Ghosh’s Jao-ka Tazia, which also takes part in the procession. This tazia of wheat sprouts grown on a bamboo frame is a tradition that has come down through the years.

The King had enlisted in his service talented artists, musicians, dancers and calligraphists, as well as renowned hakims and theologians. Even today, one can meet their descendants at Metiyabruz. Manindra Nath Ghosh and Motilal Srimali for instance.

Motilal Srimali is a scion of the Shahi Paanwalas, traditional betel suppliers to the Royal Family. He claims that he can trace his line from the days of Raja Dasaratha of Ayodhya. His forefathers had mastered the art of serving paan which he has inherited. By varying the spices and ingredients he prepares paan, wrapped in gold and silver foil, that can set a man’s blood aflame or soothe strained nerves. His shop exhibits portraits of the King, his famous wrestler, Ghulam Pehlwan, and Birjis Qadr alongside pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses.


Old and wasted Manindra Ghosh whose great grandfather was a guard makes no tall claims. He has muddled recollections of a zoo and a king’s, bequest. He laments that the plot of land gifted by Wajid Ali has been usurped. His tazia he constructs on the platform ten days before the procession is taken out.

The Imambara Qasrul buka and Baitun Nijaat are in various stages of disrepair. Qasrul Buka was the first Imambara to be built in Metiyabruz. Its entrance is wedged between the remains of a distressed rampart and a factory that occupies its hallowed grounds.

As one steps into the grimy courtyard, women in burqas scurry into the dark rooms that surround it. A funeral gloom hangs inside the prayer hall pervaded by the miasma of decay and mildew. A layer of dust carpets its floor. Surprisingly beautiful lampshades still hang from the ceiling. No effort has been made to reclaim weather-beaten Baitun Nijaat now rising from amidst a tangle of shrubs. The King’s personal Imambara stands on a huge plot, part of which is occupied by a sawmill and a workshop. It is decayed and abandoned. Yet the stucco pineapples on its parapet and moss grown scaly monsters in its garden have survived. The weeds running riot in the garden and courtyard are slowly approaching the portico, which is strewn with junk.

Wajid Ali Shah was a devout Muslim. He never missed his prayers or the Ramazan fast. Legend says that the King, before constructing the first mosque of his new settlement, made a proclamation inviting anyone who had not missed even one of the five daily namaz since he became an adult to lay its foundation. When no one claimed the distinction even after a month, the King laid the foundation himself. This is the Shahi Masjid of Iron Gate Road, near Sibtainabad Imambara.


The Mosque, overshadowed by a godown, is entered through lane lined with canna. It is small and beautifully proportioned. Stucco ornaments. on the roof trace patterns on the sky. Jalousied doors open on to what once was a row of fountains. Wrought Iron flowers bloom along this conduit of fetid water.

But even here Nature is gaining the upper hand. The mosque is surrounded by an overgrown garden. Weeds and parasite plants grown apace. The ground is thick with rotting leaves.

In contrast, Begum Masjid, adjoining Sibtainabad Imambara is well groomed. Its yard is well scrubbed. The fresh coat of white-wash disguises its age but there is telltale mildew on its doors. One of Wajid Ali Shah’s mutai wives was buried here – hence its name. Besides its dowdy neighbour this mosque has a light and feminine appearance. An elegant structure, arched doorways, and slender cupolas create this effect.

In paanwala’s shop near what was perhaps the King’s palace, there is a picture of the Hooghly of yore. Wajid Ali poses on a brown steed against a palace. The sky is canopy of turquoise. In the background a peacock boat sails on the glinting river. On the other side, the Botanical Gardens is a haze of green. Even today this view is unspoilt. But the palaces and beautiful boats have sunk without trace.

All that remains is a huge and picturesque pile of bricks on a mound rising from the river. This wild ruin has come straight out of the pages of some Arabian romance. Any moment a houri could glance through its gaping windows or the surroundings become fragrant with her attar. Gleeful urchins splash into the river and work-a-day reality trundles back again.

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December 11, 2014

Airplane Kothi

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:44 am

It’s an airplane on a building. Passing through Subhash Marg in Lucknow, you would definitely notice a residential building with a life-size replica of an aeroplane built on it. Wondering if it is just cemented décor on the roof-top or are there any rooms in it ?

The magnificent ‘Jahaz Wali Kothi’ catches the eye of all passing this stretch of road for the first time. The Kothi (palatial home) is currently housing the fourth generation of residents. Now divided among three brothers, it screams for maintenance of its exteriors and of course the roof-top airplane structure that has made this entire area so famous and rather it is a landmark for the residents in the entire area.

Being so passionate about airplanes, its original owner Late Madhuri Sharan Rastogi had put all his thoughts together and very creatively built his home, wanting to live within it. He did not live long enough though to enjoy the pleasures of residing in it. The construction of this building started in 1955 and was completed within the next three years.

The building boasts of a three-storeyed ‘gol angan’ (circular courtyard) which was a rarity in contemporary architectural patterns. The silver-painted airplane was well ahead of its time with the lights and propellers, all in action. The propellers were attached to a pulley that could be operated through a rotary motor. Later, the damaged metallic propellers were replaced with the wooden ones. The airplane is well ventilated with the help of three equally placed circular openings. Not just for show, the airplane itself can accommodate 20-25 people within it.

If only the founder-designer would have lived long enough, he would have witnessed resized rooms, the absence of the ‘gol angan’, modernized interiors and the absence of a ‘bagiya’ (garden) in front. However, the back of the building still remains the same.
One of the inheritors, Manoj Rastogi enthusiastically shares all the information and also busts the myth that was around in the area that in the 1971 during the Indo-Pak war, the building was covered for security reasons. He hopes to get the building renovated some day with the consent of the other two brothers. “The desire to maintain the building and restore its lost glory has stopped us from making any changes to the exterior of the structure,” says Rastogi.

It appears that the owner of the building, Late Madhuri Sharan Rastogi wanted to give a message to his family to achieve the heights of the sky. Till date, this is the first and the only building in India having a replica of an airplane as a residential quarter.

November 21, 2014

Cock Fight in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:36 am

Although every sort of breed of cock will fight, the best fighter is ‘asil’, the thorough bred and it is a fact that there is no braver beast than the thoroughbred cock. Braver than tigers, they would sooner die than turn away from a fight. Experts believe that the breed came from Arabia and this appears reasonable, as thoroughbreds are found mostly in Hyderabad Deccan, the area in India where Arabs came to settle in greatest number. The breeds of cock in the mountainous region of India originated in Persia.

A well known Lucknowi cock-fighter used to tell the tale that his cock was unluckily beaten in a fight. He was distressed and went to the sacred Najaf in Iraq where he spent some months in divine worship. He prayed day and night that God, as Sadqa [charity] for the sake of his Imams, might grant him a cock which would never be beaten in a fight. One night in a dream he received a revelation: ‘go into the wilds’. The next morning when he awoke he went into the desert taken a hen with him. Reaching a valley he heard the sound of crowing. He approached and released his hen. A cock, hearing the hen, came out of the scrub and the man managed to seize it. Its progeny was such that never again was he put to shame in a cock-fight. Interest in cock-fighting dates from the time of Nawab Shuja ud Daula, who was extremely fond of the sport, Nawab Sadat Ali Khan, in spite of the fact that he was a very abstinent, also enjoy cock-fighting. His interest had a great effect on society and in addition to the Lucknow nobles, Europeans at the court also became its devotees. General Martin was an expert at cock-fighting and Nawab Sadat Ali Khan used to bet his cocks against those of the generals.

For fighting purposes in Lucknow, the cock claws were tied so that they could not cause much damage, whilst their beaks were scraped with pen-knives and made sharp and pointed. When the two cocks were released the cock-pit, their owners stood behind them, each trying to get his own cock to deal the first blow. When the cocks started to fight with beak and claw their owners incited and encouraged them, shouting, ‘well done my boy, bravo! Peck him, my beauty!’ and ‘Go in again!’ On hearing the shouts of encouragement the cock attacked each other with claw and beak and it seemed as if they understood what was being said to them.

When they had been fighting for some time and were wounded and tired out, both parties, by mutual concern, would remove their birds. This removing was called pani [literally water] in cock-fighting idiom. The owners would wipe clean the wounds on the cocks’ heads and pour water on them. Sometimes they would suck the wounds with their lips and make their efforts, whereby the cocks were restored to their former vigour in the space of a few minutes. They were then once again released into the cock-pit. This method of pani was continued and the fights would last four to five days, sometimes even eight or nine days. When a cock was blinded or was so badly hurt that he could not stand and was unable to fight, it was understood that he had lost it often happened that a cock’s beak was broken. Even then, whenever possible, the owner would tie up the beak and set the cock to resume the fight.

In Hyderabad the sport is much more violent. There they do not tie up the claws but scrape them with penknives and make them like the spearheads. As a result the fight is decided within the space of an hour or so. The practice of tying the claws in Lucknow was probably adopted to lengthen the fight and that’s to provide longer entertainment.

When preparing cocks to fight, the owners would show their skill not only in the feeding and upkeep: the also massaged the bird’s limbs, sprinkled with water, tended its beak and claws and displayed their dexterity in tying up the claws and removing any signs of fatigue. From fear that the beak might be injured by pecking food from the ground they sometimes fed grains by hand.

Great interest was taken in the sport until the time of Wajid Ali Shah. In Matiya Burj cock-fights were held in Nawab Ali Naqi’s residence and some English people from Calcutta would bring their birds to fight there. In addition to kings, many nobles were also interested in cock-fighting. Mirza Haidar, the brother of Bahu Begum, Nawab Salar Jang Haidar Beg Khan, and Major Soirisse, who lived at the time of Nasir ud Din Haidar, and use to set his cocks against the king’s, and Agha Burhan ud Din Haidar, were all fond of the sport. The last-named nobleman always kept, throughout his life, two hundred to two hundred and fifty birds. They were kept with scrupulous care and cleanliness and ten or eleven men were employed to look after them. Mian Darab Ali Khan was a great devotee as was Nawab Ghasita.

The respected Pathans of Malihabad were also adherents of the sport and had very good breeds of game-cock. In Lucknow there were many who were considered outstanding experts: Mir Imdad Ali, Shaikh Ghasita and Munavar Ali had acquired such skill that they could tell from the noise a cock made whether it would win its fight. Safdar Ali and Saiyyid Miran Ali, a vasiqa dar, were also famous. In later days name of the following were well known: Fazal Ali Jamadar, Qadir Jawan Khan, Hussain Ali, Nauroz Ali, Muhammad Taqi Khan, Mian Jan, Dil, Changa Husain Ali Beg, Ahmad Hussain. None of those men is now alive.

These were the people who perfected the sport of cock-fighting in Lucknow but nowadays I think that interest in the sport is greatest in Hyderabad Deccan. Many noble men land owners and officers are devotees. They have an unequalled stock of game-cocks and give great care to breeding.

October 21, 2014

Talkatora Karbala & Imambara Kaiwan Jan

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:50 am

On the day of Aashura (10th day of Muharrum) and Chehellum (20th day of Safar), the city witnesses groups of men, women and children, clad in black, moving towards the Karbala (Shias believe that Karbala is one of the holiest places on Earth, In Lucknow it refers to the burial place of Taazia) at Tal Katora near Aish Bagh, to bury their taazia – (A representation of the tombs of Hasan and Hussain – the grandsons of Prophet Muhammad). The Karbala was built by Mir Khuda Bakhsh. On these two days, the place also serves as an assembly point for anjumans (associations) that come here with alam (the replica of the banner of Imam Hussain’s army) to perform maatam (beating their chest) to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his 72 followers. Some devotees also perform the zanjeer ka maatam (flagellation with knives attached to chains).

Before the construction of Karbala of Mir Khuda Bakhsh, there were two other Karbalas in the city, one built by Khwajasara llmas Ali Khan in Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah’s reign and the other built by Haji Masita during the reign of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. Both these Karbalas are no longer extant, but the ruins of latter may be seen adjacent to the Tal Katora Karbala.

Mir Khuda Bakhsh started his career in the service of Khwajasara Afreen Ali Khan who was quite close to Asaf-ud-Daulah. His interest in theology and religion made him become a disciple of Syed Dildar Ali Naqvi, the Shia mujtahid (an Islamic scholar who is competent in interpreting religious teachings and beliefs) and earliest propagator of Azadari (mourning rituals) in Lucknow. He was posthumously titled as Ghufran Maab by his followers. This Imambara in the city is internationally known for its Shaam-e-Ghariban Majlis (late evening religious meeting), held in the dark after sunset, on Aashura. Later Khuda Bakhsh also became a close confident of Muatamad-ud-Daulah Agha Mir, who became the Prime Minister of Awadh when Ghazi-ud-Din Haider became the first King of Awadh. Mir Khuda Bakhsh faced problems on the demise of his infant daughter, whom he finally managed to bury at the Karbala of llmas Ali Khan. Thereafter, he thought of building a Karbala on his own which would be accessible for burial to common people as well. He purchased 30 acres of land from Kaptan Hasan Ali and commenced the construction of the Karbala on the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali in 1817, during the reign of Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider. Under the supervision of Sadiq Ali Zair, this construction was completed within six months. The Persian Chronogram for the construction is fixed on the west-side gateway of the quadrangle of the Karbala which bears the name of the ruler Ghazi-ud-Din Haider with that of the builder Mir Khuda Bakhsh and his patron Afreen Ali Khan.

The upper portion of the main structure of this Karbala (the gilded domes and minarets) appears as the Rauza (mausoleum) of Imam Hussain at Karbala, in Iraq. A quadrangle bounded with arched compartments with gateways in the middle on all its four sides, serves as a burial ground and a graveyard. It has calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the holy Quran inscribed all over the panels provided on the inner side of the boundary walls. The Rauza also has inscriptions from the Quran appearing all around, on the top borders of its exteriors. Calligraphic logos may also be seen in the ceiling of the hall of the mausoleum.

An interesting feature seen on one corner of the quadrangle is a (free standing) tall tower, meant for the muezzin (one who says the opening or the call for the prayers called adhaan) for giving adhaan, which is built in the style of towers of the madarsa of Samarqand (place of study or theological teachings).

Towards the west, there is a crumbling octagonal structure covered with a dome that is called Khema-gah, which was probably meant for delivering sermons pertaining to the rituals connected with the burial of taazia on Aashura and Chehellum.

The tripolia (three-arched gateway) on the road to Rajajipuram, serves as the main entrance to the Karbala. It faces the Imambara of Kaiwan Jah, which is ornamented with beautiful foliage and floral designs and borders of exquisite calligraphic inscriptions from Quran, that are painted on the inside walls of its halls. Stucco work embellish the arches and pillars of the two halls of the Imambara. The floral decoration and calligraphy is also there, in stucco, on the facade.

Earlier, almost every noble of the Nawabi days had his own family graveyard in which they buried their taazia (and the corpses of their family members). However, after the conflict of 1857-58, the British, apart from some rare exceptions, made it mandatory to bury all taazias in the Karbala of Mir Khuda Bakhsh and thus it gained a special status and importance. It was till 1907 that both Shia and Sunni Muslims took their taazia to this Karbala. However, after conflict between the two sects in that year (1907), the latter began taking their taazia to Phool Katora at Badshah Nagar.

September 18, 2014

Lucknow in 1857-58 : The Epic Siege

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:47 am

The struggle for Lucknow occupies a central place in the history of the Great Revolt. Of the major military engagements in 1857-58 the siege of the Lucknow Residency by the rebels was one of the most intense, and certainly the longest. The uprising at Lucknow and the heroic defence of the city by the sipahis and the common people constitutes a glorious chapter in the annals of the anti-colonial struggle. Not surprisingly the British had to mobilise armed force on a very large scale to crush the Revolt in the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Avadh. The special status of the Lucknow Residency as a sacred site associated with imperial conquest was indicated by the fact that it was the only structure in the British Indian empire where the Union Jack was not lowered at sunset: it flew day and night, being eventually taken down only on August 14, 1947.

The origins of the Revolt may be justifiably traced to the annexation of Avadh by the East India Company in February 1856. As is well known the kingdom was annexed on the pretext of misrule. The ruler, Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56), had been asked to hand over the administration of Avadh (spelt as ‘Oudh’ or ‘Oude’ in colonial records) directly to the Company. When he refused, the kingdom was seized and Wajid Ali Shah was exiled. This political act of the Company had far-reaching military consequences since Avadh was a major recruiting area for the colonial state’s Bengal Army. On the eve of the Revolt nearly one-third of the sipahis in the Bengal army, numbering about 40,000, came from territories of the kingdom of Avadh. This kingdom was already truncated by the mid-nineteenth century. The result was that widespread discontent against colonial exploitation in the countryside (as well as in the cities, to which a large section of the rural poor flocked) could seek expression in military rebellion initiated by the Avadh ‘peasants in uniform’.

Following the events of May 10 and 11, 1857 at Meerut and Delhi, and with the establishment at Delhi of an independent sipahi regime with the Mughal emperor as its nominal leader, favourable conditions for an uprising developed in Avadh. There seems to have been widespread expectation of mutiny breaking out in garrisons situated in Avadh (Avadh at this time comprised mainly the districts of Faizabad, Lucknow, Sultanpur, Rae Bareilly, Pratapgarh, Barabanki, Unnao, Sitapur, Hardoi, Bahraich and Gonda). Already there had been mutinies between May 20 and 22 in adjoining areas — at Aligarh, Mainpuri, Etawah and Bulandshahr.

On May 30 sipahis of the 13th Native Infantry (NI), 48th NI, 71st NI, and 7th Light Infantry, stationed at Lucknow, rebelled. The British authorities were able to rapidly bring the situation under control and the sipahis dispersed to the countryside, especially in the Sitapur area. Simultaneously, a mass uprising by the inhabitants of Lucknow occurred, but was quickly put down. Large scale preventive arrests were made and the situation remained relatively quiet during June.


Meanwhile the Avadh countryside was up in arms. At the same time neighbouring Kanpur, located at a distance of about 80 kms from Lucknow, had become a major centre of the Revolt. Rebels led by Nana Saheb had taken over Kanpur by the first week of June. After Delhi, Kanpur was at this time the other important headquarters of the rebels. The events at Kanpur had a direct fallout on the situation in Lucknow. British troops were able to recapture Kanpur by the middle of July. This prompted many of the rebels to move in the direction of Lucknow. At Lucknow mobilisation for an offensive against the colonial authorities was underway for some time. Finally, at this point many of the rebels in the districts surrounding Lucknow converged on the capital.

On June 30 a decisive battle between the rebels and the British took place at Chinhat on the outskirts of Lucknow. The rebels won a resounding victory at the battle of Chinhat. They were now in a position to take over Lucknow. British troops and civilian officials retreated to the Residency compound and were besieged. Other European inhabitants of the city also rushed to seek shelter in the Residency. In all there were about three thousand persons within the Residency compound (apart from the Residency itself this included several other neighbouring buildings; the original Residency had been built towards the end of the eighteenth century). The epic siege of the Lucknow Residency commenced on July 1, 1857.

The rebels set up a new government of their own as the legitimate government of Lucknow — in fact of the whole of Avadh — thereby proclaiming the end of the East India Company’s government. They recognised the authority of Begum Hazrat Mahal who remained their foremost leader throughout the duration of the siege. Hazrat Mahal was a former wife of Wajid Ali Shah. She continued living in Lucknow after Wajid Ali was exiled. When the uprising began she declared her minor son Birjis Qadr as the ruler of Avadh. Birjis Qadr was accepted as the nominal head of government by the rebels. On July 5 he was installed as ruler in a formal ceremony. Hazrat Mahal was the regent for her son. Henceforth all official orders were issued in the name of Birjis Qadr. Recognition for Birjis Qadr was also sought from the Mughal emperor. The sipahi state in Delhi acknowledged him as the ruler of Avadh. He was granted the right to rule over the province on behalf of the Mughal emperor. All these arrangements underlined the legitimacy of the Lucknow regime, enabling it to gain widespread support in Avadh.


The rebels concentrated their military strength around the Residency. The siege of the Residency compound had an important political significance. This was the seat of the Company’s hated administration in Avadh after the annexation of 1856. Occupying the Residency would signal the end of the Company’s rule. There were at this time about 1700 combatants within the Residency. It is estimated that initially the strength of the rebel forces surrounding the Residency was about 6000. The British were led by Henry Lawrence, who had assumed the office of ‘Chief Commissioner of Oudh’ in March 1857, i.e. shortly before the outbreak of the Revolt. Lawrence was killed in the first few days of the siege, on July 4.

As there were a large number of tall buildings around the Residency compound, the rebels stationed sharpshooters on the rooftops of these buildings. Sniper fire was one of the tactics used to inflict damage on the British. Besides, the sipahis used underground mines very effectively. There were heavy casualties on the British side. We have detailed accounts of the siege from the colonial perspective, which give us a very good idea of the situation inside the Residency. In his history of the Revolt published in 1957 (Eighteen Fifty-seven), S N Sen reconstructed the details of the siege by using these accounts.

Unfortunately this made him concentrate mainly on what was happening inside the Residency rather than what was happening outside. We get to know that supplies, especially of food, were fast running out; sanitation was a major problem; Indians, mostly servants or soldiers, had to constantly face racial discrimination and were made to perform the most degrading menial tasks; and there were frequent disputes among the British. There were some peculiar problems as well, for instance the difficulty that opium addicts had in procuring the drug. Interestingly there was a thriving blackmarket trade in opium, though all addicts could not pay the high price. Sen refers to a person by the name of Jones who found it difficult to continue without his daily dose: ‘At last he decided to desert. With him went several of the King of Oudh’s musicians, all native Christians [who had taken shelter in the Residency]. A number of servants accompanied them, … They left inscribed on the walls in several places, “Because I have no opium”’ [pp.208-209].

Military command of the rebels was in the hands of Raja Jai Lal Singh, who had been the názim of Azamgarh. He was a close confidante of Hazrat Mahal, and was a key member of the military council that took all major decisions. He was also the main spokesperson for the troops in their dealings with the Court of Birjis Qadr/Hazrat Mahal. Raja Jai Lal Singh was instrumental in mobilising military support from the districts around Lucknow. Another outstanding leader of the rebels was Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, the so-called ‘maulvi of Faizabad’. It would appear that he enjoyed considerable grassroots support among the urban poor. Although Ahmadullah Shah cooperated with Hazrat Mahal, there were also sharp differences between the two of them. Further, Hazrat Mahal maintained close contact with Nana Saheb. In December 1857 the rebels were reinforced with the arrival at Lucknow of Kunwar Singh during the course of his famous ‘long march’. Subsequently Kunwar Singh proceeded to Azamgarh, which he occupied for some time.


As the uprising progressed and British administration in Avadh collapsed, a large section of the landed aristocracy, the talluqdars, came over to the rebel cause. This is indicated by the figures worked out by Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his study Awadh in Revolt, 1857-1858. According to Mukherjee the rebels received large-scale reinforcements around the middle of November 1857 when British forces led by the commander-in-chief Colin Campbell launched a major offensive to recapture the city. At this stage there were a total of 53,350 combatants, of which 32,080 were listed as ‘tallukdar’s men’. In the words of Mukherjee, this ‘clearly shows that the rebellion in Awadh had transcended a purely sipahi base. For one thing the fighting force was quite large and for another more than 60 per cent of the fighting force was drawn from the general rural populace. It is more than probable, given the ties of loyalty that existed in the rural world of Awadh, that the thousands of men supplied by the tallukdars were not all just their retainers but also drawn from tenants, peasants and clansmen who lived on their land’ [p.95].

It may be mentioned that the Company had pursued an anti-talluqdar policy since the annexation of Avadh. This was an extension of the policy it had pursued in the adjoining North-Western Province (the North-Western Province largely comprised those territories which had been acquired by the Company in what is now Uttar Pradesh —territories other than the kingdom of Avadh). In the North-Western Province, James Thomason, who was Lt-Governor of the Province for a decade from 1843 to 1853, had steadily pursued a policy of reducing the authority of the talluqdars, had taken away their intermediary rights, had assumed some of their land, and had curbed their political and administrative power.

After 1856 this policy was extended to Avadh, but initially the newly appointed Chief Commissioner, James Outram, had moved a little cautiously in the matter of dispossessing the talluqdars. When, however, Outram proceeded on leave in May 1856, his successor C Coverley Jackson embarked on a harsher policy, taking away the rights of the talluqdars. This gave rise to discontent among the powerful landowning classes in Avadh, and one of the reasons why Henry Lawrence had been brought in as Chief Commissioner was because he was perceived to be somewhat more sympathetic to the landed elite. But by the time Lawrence assumed office in March 1857 things had already gone too far, and then within a few months the Revolt broke out. Although initially the talluqdars were reluctant to join the rebels, once the Company’s rule disappeared in Avadh a large number of them shifted their allegiance. The British were somewhat surprised that even the peasants whom the talluqdars oppressed should have joined the rebel cause under the leadership of their respective talluqdars. Colonial officials seem to have assumed that the peasants would appreciate the Company’s anti-talluqdari measures, since these were supposed to be in the interests of the peasants. However the structure of rural society and an instinctive comprehension of the exploitative nature of the colonial regime which ultimately targetted the surplus produced by the peasant, made peasants and talluqdars fight side by side in Avadh.


As the monsoon season came to an end in 1857, the British made a concerted attempt to regain Lucknow. By this time they already brought the area between Banaras and Kanpur under their control. This had been made possible by unleashing violence on an unprecedented scale, the most vicious campaign being that of the notorious James Neill who carried out large-scale massacres in and around Allahabad. Delhi too had fallen by the third week of September. Around this time British troops commanded by Henry Havelock (who had led the offensive at Kanpur) attempted to break through the siege. Havelock was accompanied by Outram who had returned from leave and was now asked to assume charge of the province of Avadh. On September 25, 1857 Havelock and Outram, along with a small contingent, managed to reach the Residency, but they in turn were besieged. The siege of the Residency continued.

Then in November 1857 another attempt was made to lift the siege. We have already referred to this offensive that was led by Colin Campbell (who later became Lord Clyde). Campbell’s military action on this occasion was only a partial success. What Campbell was able to do was to evacuate the besieged inhabitants of the Residency. However, Lucknow itself still remained under rebel control. Eventually a massive offensive was launched in March 1857. The recapture of Lucknow was a matter of urgency; without control over Lucknow British rule could not be re-established in Avadh. As a colonial official put it, ‘… the subjugation of the province will follow the fall of Lucknow as surely as the conquest of France would follow the capture of Paris’. Campbell had set up his headquarters in the Dilkusha Palace located in the Dilukusha Gardens on the outskirts of the city. Campbell’s contingents occupied Lucknow on March 21, 1858.


With this setback to the rebel cause, Begum Hazrat Mahal shifted her base to the fort of Baundi (district Bahraich), where she continued her struggle till she was forced to evacuate the fort in December 1858. Ahmadullah Shah too continued the struggle in the western parts of Avadh and died fighting in June 1858.

From Baundi, Hazrat Mahal moved to the dense jungles of the Tarai area. British troops pursued her, but she managed to escape capture. Subsequently she was offered refuge in Nepal. Hazrat Mahal lived on till 1879 and was buried in an Imambara in Kathmandu. Recent reports indicate that her forgotten grave has virtually been obliterated. The final significant political intervention by Hazrat Mahal, before she went into self-exile, was a forceful rebuttal of queen Victoria’s proclamation of November 1858. This proclamation, as is well known, was issued after the British crown directly assumed responsibility for governance of the Indian empire (October 1858). By Victoria’s proclamation all inhabitants of the empire became subjects of the crown. The British monarch was projected as the benevolent protector of her Indian subjects. In response to Victoria’s proclamation Hazrat Mahal issued a contra-proclamation in the name of Birjis Qadr in which she exposed the falsehoods of British assurances and the deceit upon which colonial rule was based. Drawing attention to the hypocrisy of British declarations, Hazrat Mahal asked, ‘If the Queen has assumed the government, why does Her Majesty not restore our country to us when our people wish it?’

It is indeed a shame that in 1992 the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh temporarily renamed Begum Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow as Urmila Vatika. This park was originally called Victoria Park. The name was changed in 1962 to Begum Hazrat Mahal Park to honour this valiant leader of the Revolt. Not surprisingly the Sangh parivar has tried to erase the memory of the common unified anti-colonial struggle that Hazrat Mahal represented, by imposing upon this memory its politics of communal hate.


With the military occupation of Lucknow there was swift and cruel retribution against the inhabitants of the city. The barbarities of Delhi were repeated. The city of Lucknow had to be punished so that its fate could be held up as an example of what would happen to an entire city if it opposed British rule. The objective was to strike terror among the ‘subject race’. The entire layout of the city was transformed. The task of reshaping Lucknow was entrusted to military engineers led by Col. Robert Napier. A large part of the densely populated area around Macchi Bhawan, the traditional centre of the city, was demolished. Nearly two-fifths of the entire city was destroyed and the residents uprooted. The socio-religious and cultural life of the city was severely affected by the British policy of retribution. The military occupation of the Jama Masjid robbed the area of its life and vitality. A leading historian of colonial Lucknow observes that the area ‘dwindled into a picturesque ruin on a barren eminence with an unpeopled esplanade around it. Periodic attempts at rehabilitating have failed since it now stands on the periphery of what remains of the old city and is no longer the convenient locus it once was’ [Veena Talwar Oldenburg, The Making of Colonial Lucknow]. What is more, narrow winding streets that made military operations difficult were replaced with broad avenues, as for instance Victoria Street. This broad avenue, running from north to south, made it easy for the army to march from one end of the city to the other without having to encounter barricades. Thus the post-1857 policy left a permanent mark on the urban configuration of Lucknow. The city was never the same again.

After the recapture of Lucknow the British attempted to restore their authority in the Avadh countryside. For this purpose they initiated a policy of reprisals against the talluqdars, hoping at the same time to gain the support of the peasantry. In March 1858 the governor-general Lord Canning issued a proclamation confiscating the estates of the talluqdars. Only five talluqdars who had remained loyal, of whom the raja of Balrampur was the most prominent, were exempted. This measure of Canning led to a serious crisis. Talluqdars throughout Avadh promptly mobilized themselves against the British. This was a desperate struggle on their part to hold on to their land and feudal privileges. Even fence-sitters now joined the fight. Canning’s proclamation prolonged the Revolt in Avadh for several months. There was no British administration in Avadh for most of 1858, except in a few prominent towns. Canning’s policy led to a complete breakdown and there were sharp differences over the proclamation. These differences almost led to the fall of the minority ministry in Britain headed by Lord Derby. In India there were differences between Outram and Canning on this question.

Canning eventually agreed to a policy of reconciliation, and Outram tried to negotiate with the talluqdars, assuring them that they would not lose their estates if they gave up the path of rebellion. It was obvious that the Avadh countryside could not be won through a military conquest. The Revolt of the people was defeated through a compromise between the colonial rulers and the indigenous landed elite. In the post-1858 period the landed elite became the main support of the colonial state. Their participation in the Revolt ended in their capitulation as a class. This capitulation was at the cost of the toiling people in villages and cities who had played such an important part in the anti-colonial struggle of 1857-58.

August 16, 2014

Behind The Purdah (Begums of Avadh)

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:44 am

The struggle for Lucknow occupies a central place in the history of the Great Revolt. Of the major military engagements in 1857-58 the siege of the Lucknow Residency by the rebels was one of the most intense, and certainly the longest. The uprising at Lucknow and the heroic defence of the city by the sipahis and the common people constitutes a glorious chapter in the annals of the anti-colonial struggle. Not surprisingly the British had to mobilise armed force on a very large scale to crush the Revolt in the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Avadh. The special status of the Lucknow Residency as a sacred site associated with imperial conquest was indicated by the fact that it was the only structure in the British Indian empire where the Union Jack was not lowered at sunset: it flew day and night, being eventually taken down only on August 14, 1947.

The origins of the Revolt may be justifiably traced to the annexation of Avadh by the East India Company in February 1856. As is well known the kingdom was annexed on the pretext of misrule. The ruler, Wajid Ali Shah (1847-56), had been asked to hand over the administration of Avadh (spelt as ‘Oudh’ or ‘Oude’ in colonial records) directly to the Company. When he refused, the kingdom was seized and Wajid Ali Shah was exiled. This political act of the Company had far-reaching military consequences since Avadh was a major recruiting area for the colonial state’s Bengal Army. On the eve of the Revolt nearly one-third of the sipahis in the Bengal army, numbering about 40,000, came from territories of the kingdom of Avadh. This kingdom was already truncated by the mid-nineteenth century. The result was that widespread discontent against colonial exploitation in the countryside (as well as in the cities, to which a large section of the rural poor flocked) could seek expression in military rebellion initiated by the Avadh ‘peasants in uniform’.

Following the events of May 10 and 11, 1857 at Meerut and Delhi, and with the establishment at Delhi of an independent sipahi regime with the Mughal emperor as its nominal leader, favourable conditions for an uprising developed in Avadh. There seems to have been widespread expectation of mutiny breaking out in garrisons situated in Avadh (Avadh at this time comprised mainly the districts of Faizabad, Lucknow, Sultanpur, Rae Bareilly, Pratapgarh, Barabanki, Unnao, Sitapur, Hardoi, Bahraich and Gonda). Already there had been mutinies between May 20 and 22 in adjoining areas — at Aligarh, Mainpuri, Etawah and Bulandshahr.

On May 30 sipahis of the 13th Native Infantry (NI), 48th NI, 71st NI, and 7th Light Infantry, stationed at Lucknow, rebelled. The British authorities were able to rapidly bring the situation under control and the sipahis dispersed to the countryside, especially in the Sitapur area. Simultaneously, a mass uprising by the inhabitants of Lucknow occurred, but was quickly put down. Large scale preventive arrests were made and the situation remained relatively quiet during June.


Meanwhile the Avadh countryside was up in arms. At the same time neighbouring Kanpur, located at a distance of about 80 kms from Lucknow, had become a major centre of the Revolt. Rebels led by Nana Saheb had taken over Kanpur by the first week of June. After Delhi, Kanpur was at this time the other important headquarters of the rebels. The events at Kanpur had a direct fallout on the situation in Lucknow. British troops were able to recapture Kanpur by the middle of July. This prompted many of the rebels to move in the direction of Lucknow. At Lucknow mobilisation for an offensive against the colonial authorities was underway for some time. Finally, at this point many of the rebels in the districts surrounding Lucknow converged on the capital.

On June 30 a decisive battle between the rebels and the British took place at Chinhat on the outskirts of Lucknow. The rebels won a resounding victory at the battle of Chinhat. They were now in a position to take over Lucknow. British troops and civilian officials retreated to the Residency compound and were besieged. Other European inhabitants of the city also rushed to seek shelter in the Residency. In all there were about three thousand persons within the Residency compound (apart from the Residency itself this included several other neighbouring buildings; the original Residency had been built towards the end of the eighteenth century). The epic siege of the Lucknow Residency commenced on July 1, 1857.

The rebels set up a new government of their own as the legitimate government of Lucknow — in fact of the whole of Avadh — thereby proclaiming the end of the East India Company’s government. They recognised the authority of Begum Hazrat Mahal who remained their foremost leader throughout the duration of the siege. Hazrat Mahal was a former wife of Wajid Ali Shah. She continued living in Lucknow after Wajid Ali was exiled. When the uprising began she declared her minor son Birjis Qadr as the ruler of Avadh. Birjis Qadr was accepted as the nominal head of government by the rebels. On July 5 he was installed as ruler in a formal ceremony. Hazrat Mahal was the regent for her son. Henceforth all official orders were issued in the name of Birjis Qadr. Recognition for Birjis Qadr was also sought from the Mughal emperor. The sipahi state in Delhi acknowledged him as the ruler of Avadh. He was granted the right to rule over the province on behalf of the Mughal emperor. All these arrangements underlined the legitimacy of the Lucknow regime, enabling it to gain widespread support in Avadh.


The rebels concentrated their military strength around the Residency. The siege of the Residency compound had an important political significance. This was the seat of the Company’s hated administration in Avadh after the annexation of 1856. Occupying the Residency would signal the end of the Company’s rule. There were at this time about 1700 combatants within the Residency. It is estimated that initially the strength of the rebel forces surrounding the Residency was about 6000. The British were led by Henry Lawrence, who had assumed the office of ‘Chief Commissioner of Oudh’ in March 1857, i.e. shortly before the outbreak of the Revolt. Lawrence was killed in the first few days of the siege, on July 4.

As there were a large number of tall buildings around the Residency compound, the rebels stationed sharpshooters on the rooftops of these buildings. Sniper fire was one of the tactics used to inflict damage on the British. Besides, the sipahis used underground mines very effectively. There were heavy casualties on the British side. We have detailed accounts of the siege from the colonial perspective, which give us a very good idea of the situation inside the Residency. In his history of the Revolt published in 1957 (Eighteen Fifty-seven), S N Sen reconstructed the details of the siege by using these accounts.

Unfortunately this made him concentrate mainly on what was happening inside the Residency rather than what was happening outside. We get to know that supplies, especially of food, were fast running out; sanitation was a major problem; Indians, mostly servants or soldiers, had to constantly face racial discrimination and were made to perform the most degrading menial tasks; and there were frequent disputes among the British. There were some peculiar problems as well, for instance the difficulty that opium addicts had in procuring the drug. Interestingly there was a thriving blackmarket trade in opium, though all addicts could not pay the high price. Sen refers to a person by the name of Jones who found it difficult to continue without his daily dose: ‘At last he decided to desert. With him went several of the King of Oudh’s musicians, all native Christians [who had taken shelter in the Residency]. A number of servants accompanied them, … They left inscribed on the walls in several places, “Because I have no opium”’ [pp.208-209].

Military command of the rebels was in the hands of Raja Jai Lal Singh, who had been the názim of Azamgarh. He was a close confidante of Hazrat Mahal, and was a key member of the military council that took all major decisions. He was also the main spokesperson for the troops in their dealings with the Court of Birjis Qadr/Hazrat Mahal. Raja Jai Lal Singh was instrumental in mobilising military support from the districts around Lucknow. Another outstanding leader of the rebels was Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, the so-called ‘maulvi of Faizabad’. It would appear that he enjoyed considerable grassroots support among the urban poor. Although Ahmadullah Shah cooperated with Hazrat Mahal, there were also sharp differences between the two of them. Further, Hazrat Mahal maintained close contact with Nana Saheb. In December 1857 the rebels were reinforced with the arrival at Lucknow of Kunwar Singh during the course of his famous ‘long march’. Subsequently Kunwar Singh proceeded to Azamgarh, which he occupied for some time.


As the uprising progressed and British administration in Avadh collapsed, a large section of the landed aristocracy, the talluqdars, came over to the rebel cause. This is indicated by the figures worked out by Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his study Awadh in Revolt, 1857-1858. According to Mukherjee the rebels received large-scale reinforcements around the middle of November 1857 when British forces led by the commander-in-chief Colin Campbell launched a major offensive to recapture the city. At this stage there were a total of 53,350 combatants, of which 32,080 were listed as ‘tallukdar’s men’. In the words of Mukherjee, this ‘clearly shows that the rebellion in Awadh had transcended a purely sipahi base. For one thing the fighting force was quite large and for another more than 60 per cent of the fighting force was drawn from the general rural populace. It is more than probable, given the ties of loyalty that existed in the rural world of Awadh, that the thousands of men supplied by the tallukdars were not all just their retainers but also drawn from tenants, peasants and clansmen who lived on their land’ [p.95].

It may be mentioned that the Company had pursued an anti-talluqdar policy since the annexation of Avadh. This was an extension of the policy it had pursued in the adjoining North-Western Province (the North-Western Province largely comprised those territories which had been acquired by the Company in what is now Uttar Pradesh —territories other than the kingdom of Avadh). In the North-Western Province, James Thomason, who was Lt-Governor of the Province for a decade from 1843 to 1853, had steadily pursued a policy of reducing the authority of the talluqdars, had taken away their intermediary rights, had assumed some of their land, and had curbed their political and administrative power.

After 1856 this policy was extended to Avadh, but initially the newly appointed Chief Commissioner, James Outram, had moved a little cautiously in the matter of dispossessing the talluqdars. When, however, Outram proceeded on leave in May 1856, his successor C Coverley Jackson embarked on a harsher policy, taking away the rights of the talluqdars. This gave rise to discontent among the powerful landowning classes in Avadh, and one of the reasons why Henry Lawrence had been brought in as Chief Commissioner was because he was perceived to be somewhat more sympathetic to the landed elite. But by the time Lawrence assumed office in March 1857 things had already gone too far, and then within a few months the Revolt broke out. Although initially the talluqdars were reluctant to join the rebels, once the Company’s rule disappeared in Avadh a large number of them shifted their allegiance. The British were somewhat surprised that even the peasants whom the talluqdars oppressed should have joined the rebel cause under the leadership of their respective talluqdars. Colonial officials seem to have assumed that the peasants would appreciate the Company’s anti-talluqdari measures, since these were supposed to be in the interests of the peasants. However the structure of rural society and an instinctive comprehension of the exploitative nature of the colonial regime which ultimately targetted the surplus produced by the peasant, made peasants and talluqdars fight side by side in Avadh.


As the monsoon season came to an end in 1857, the British made a concerted attempt to regain Lucknow. By this time they already brought the area between Banaras and Kanpur under their control. This had been made possible by unleashing violence on an unprecedented scale, the most vicious campaign being that of the notorious James Neill who carried out large-scale massacres in and around Allahabad. Delhi too had fallen by the third week of September. Around this time British troops commanded by Henry Havelock (who had led the offensive at Kanpur) attempted to break through the siege. Havelock was accompanied by Outram who had returned from leave and was now asked to assume charge of the province of Avadh. On September 25, 1857 Havelock and Outram, along with a small contingent, managed to reach the Residency, but they in turn were besieged. The siege of the Residency continued.

Then in November 1857 another attempt was made to lift the siege. We have already referred to this offensive that was led by Colin Campbell (who later became Lord Clyde). Campbell’s military action on this occasion was only a partial success. What Campbell was able to do was to evacuate the besieged inhabitants of the Residency. However, Lucknow itself still remained under rebel control. Eventually a massive offensive was launched in March 1857. The recapture of Lucknow was a matter of urgency; without control over Lucknow British rule could not be re-established in Avadh. As a colonial official put it, ‘… the subjugation of the province will follow the fall of Lucknow as surely as the conquest of France would follow the capture of Paris’. Campbell had set up his headquarters in the Dilkusha Palace located in the Dilukusha Gardens on the outskirts of the city. Campbell’s contingents occupied Lucknow on March 21, 1858.


With this setback to the rebel cause, Begum Hazrat Mahal shifted her base to the fort of Baundi (district Bahraich), where she continued her struggle till she was forced to evacuate the fort in December 1858. Ahmadullah Shah too continued the struggle in the western parts of Avadh and died fighting in June 1858.

From Baundi, Hazrat Mahal moved to the dense jungles of the Tarai area. British troops pursued her, but she managed to escape capture. Subsequently she was offered refuge in Nepal. Hazrat Mahal lived on till 1879 and was buried in an Imambara in Kathmandu. Recent reports indicate that her forgotten grave has virtually been obliterated. The final significant political intervention by Hazrat Mahal, before she went into self-exile, was a forceful rebuttal of queen Victoria’s proclamation of November 1858. This proclamation, as is well known, was issued after the British crown directly assumed responsibility for governance of the Indian empire (October 1858). By Victoria’s proclamation all inhabitants of the empire became subjects of the crown. The British monarch was projected as the benevolent protector of her Indian subjects. In response to Victoria’s proclamation Hazrat Mahal issued a contra-proclamation in the name of Birjis Qadr in which she exposed the falsehoods of British assurances and the deceit upon which colonial rule was based. Drawing attention to the hypocrisy of British declarations, Hazrat Mahal asked, ‘If the Queen has assumed the government, why does Her Majesty not restore our country to us when our people wish it?’

It is indeed a shame that in 1992 the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh temporarily renamed Begum Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow as Urmila Vatika. This park was originally called Victoria Park. The name was changed in 1962 to Begum Hazrat Mahal Park to honour this valiant leader of the Revolt. Not surprisingly the Sangh parivar has tried to erase the memory of the common unified anti-colonial struggle that Hazrat Mahal represented, by imposing upon this memory its politics of communal hate.


With the military occupation of Lucknow there was swift and cruel retribution against the inhabitants of the city. The barbarities of Delhi were repeated. The city of Lucknow had to be punished so that its fate could be held up as an example of what would happen to an entire city if it opposed British rule. The objective was to strike terror among the ‘subject race’. The entire layout of the city was transformed. The task of reshaping Lucknow was entrusted to military engineers led by Col. Robert Napier. A large part of the densely populated area around Macchi Bhawan, the traditional centre of the city, was demolished. Nearly two-fifths of the entire city was destroyed and the residents uprooted. The socio-religious and cultural life of the city was severely affected by the British policy of retribution. The military occupation of the Jama Masjid robbed the area of its life and vitality. A leading historian of colonial Lucknow observes that the area ‘dwindled into a picturesque ruin on a barren eminence with an unpeopled esplanade around it. Periodic attempts at rehabilitating have failed since it now stands on the periphery of what remains of the old city and is no longer the convenient locus it once was’ [Veena Talwar Oldenburg, The Making of Colonial Lucknow]. What is more, narrow winding streets that made military operations difficult were replaced with broad avenues, as for instance Victoria Street. This broad avenue, running from north to south, made it easy for the army to march from one end of the city to the other without having to encounter barricades. Thus the post-1857 policy left a permanent mark on the urban configuration of Lucknow. The city was never the same again.

After the recapture of Lucknow the British attempted to restore their authority in the Avadh countryside. For this purpose they initiated a policy of reprisals against the talluqdars, hoping at the same time to gain the support of the peasantry. In March 1858 the governor-general Lord Canning issued a proclamation confiscating the estates of the talluqdars. Only five talluqdars who had remained loyal, of whom the raja of Balrampur was the most prominent, were exempted. This measure of Canning led to a serious crisis. Talluqdars throughout Avadh promptly mobilized themselves against the British. This was a desperate struggle on their part to hold on to their land and feudal privileges. Even fence-sitters now joined the fight. Canning’s proclamation prolonged the Revolt in Avadh for several months. There was no British administration in Avadh for most of 1858, except in a few prominent towns. Canning’s policy led to a complete breakdown and there were sharp differences over the proclamation. These differences almost led to the fall of the minority ministry in Britain headed by Lord Derby. In India there were differences between Outram and Canning on this question.

Canning eventually agreed to a policy of reconciliation, and Outram tried to negotiate with the talluqdars, assuring them that they would not lose their estates if they gave up the path of rebellion. It was obvious that the Avadh countryside could not be won through a military conquest. The Revolt of the people was defeated through a compromise between the colonial rulers and the indigenous landed elite. In the post-1858 period the landed elite became the main support of the colonial state. Their participation in the Revolt ended in their capitulation as a class. This capitulation was at the cost of the toiling people in villages and cities who had played such an important part in the anti-colonial struggle of 1857-58

July 11, 2014

Tawaifs of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:38 am

Delineating aspects of Lucknow’s pre-rebellion Shia cultural heritage and tawa’if-bazi (courtesan culture), this article maps out the role of the tawa’if in performing and preserving the ashraf (respectable Muslim gentry) culture and spread of the Shi’a ideology in Awadh. This article focuses on the images of Lucknow’s cultural past shared among the members of a community, highlighting the politics of remembering certain things and forgetting or ignoring others. Performance is a key method by which both individual and collective identities are formed, framed, and reiterated. This article draws upon the tawa’ifs, the Muslim culture, and marsiya-khwani in Lucknow in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the source material to understanding issues of Muslim identity formation, representations, and interpretations.

The city of Lucknow is geographically located in a region called Awadh, which was one of the twelve provinces of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar. During the second half of the eighteenth century, the centre of art and culture shifted from Shahjahanabad (Delhi) to Awadh. Abdul Haleem Sharar points out: “The court of Awadh had emanated from Khurasan and adhered to the Shi’a faith…Thus Persian culture, which had been nurtured in the stately and majestic laps of the Sassanide and Abbaside dynasties, permeated the society of Lucknow.” Shia Islam draws its meaning and unity from the ritual commemoration of the tragic events at Karbala in 680 AD: the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. During the Islamic month of Muharram, Shia communities from Iran to Pakistan to Ladakh reenact this sacred narrative in “passion dramas”, called Taziyeh mourning. The formative stages of the majlis, the special religious assemblies during Muharram, include: the sala¯m (a call for blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad and his progeny); soz (a short elegiac recitation); the marsiya, which comes to a close with the only prose narrative of the Karbala tragedy; the zikr, also known as baya¯n or hadı¯s. The second part begins nauha (a versified recitation in the dirgeform) and concludes with a recitation of the ziyarat, a blessing in which the right index finger is used in “salutation” or tribute to the martyrs of Karbala, the Shii Imams, and other members of the Prophet’s family.

Marsiya is a genre of poetry associated with Muharram in which the glories of Husain in the battle of Karbala are recited. As the single most significant historic event in the lives of millions of Muslims, Karbala has left an indelible symbolic mark on devotional practices, on the transmissions of Islamic history, and on subsequent developments in aesthetics, mysticism, and reform movements throughout the Muslim world. Tracing the course taken by the marsiya, an Iranian genre and/Shia recitation/musical tradition in India from the Deccani states in the sixteenth century to Delhi in mid-seventeenth century and to Awadh’s capital Lucknow in mid-eighteenth century, Madhu Trivedi has emphasized that in the consequent variations of Karbala narratives is language: marsiya composers drew on the language of their locality, on its compositional traditions, and on its physical and social features.

When the court and capital of Awadh was shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow by Asaf al-Daulah in 1775, Lucknow became the locus of tawaif-bazi (courtesan culture). In his book Tarrikh-e-Farahbaksh, Mohammad Faiz Baksh observed that the decline of Mughal Empire in the last quarter of the eighteenth century led to the mass exodus of female performers, tawaifs, nautch girls, the poets and artists from Delhi to Lucknow. Ensconced in the lavish houses in the bazaars of Chowk and Qaiserbagh, the tawa’ifs established themselves as a notable group of women in the eighty-odd years that the Awadh dynasty had Lucknow as its capital city, under the extravagant patronage of the Nawab, the connoisseurs of art, noblemen, merchants, and the elite. The tawa’ifs are not simply prostitutes or entertainers. Though Veena Talwar Oldenburg uses the term ‘courtesan’ to signify tawa’if, this word is inadequate to express the nuanced cultural depth of the word because it ignores the complex geography of woman-controlled kothas, which can be compared to brothels in the Western sense, but have a far more central role for arts and culture. The range of meanings tawa’ifcan signify has determined that distinctions between this and cognate terms such as baiji, takahi, nachni, randi, and so on, can be fuzzy depending on the context. Describing the tawa’ifs as the ‘queens of the bazaar’, Sharar lists three types of tawa’if belonging to these kothas: They are identified as kanchani, chuna wali and nagarnt. He goes on to state that the “Kanchan were from Delhi and Panjab and mostly worked as prostitutes, the Nagarnt were from Gujarat while the Chuna Walis are not associated with any one region’ and that these three groups were equally renowned for prostitution as for musical or dance expertise. (Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture) However, these were not the only communities to which Lucknow’s tawa’if belonged. A significant section of women’s history, especially of those considered as “other” by mainstream women, remains elided/silenced, erotized/marginalized and kept invisible in the nationalist discourse, in order to keep it respectable. In the dominant bourgeois discourse and historiography, the creative and aesthetic acknowledgement of female performers, dancing girls and tawa’ifs have been negated and exoticized/voyeurized and, hence, their contribution in nation-building and culturescape have been rendered inadequate for serious academic research. Analyzing the performative practices of tawa’ifs, the following discussion will delineate the intersection of their life-worlds and the socio-cultural, historical, as well as, politico-ideological contexts of Avadh. Asserting that the tawaif was not merely a prostitute (though she served that purpose), Mukul Kesavan says, “pure prostitution was the domain of the randi…In this sublimated understanding of the tawaif, even her dance, the mujra, is not an erotic performance but a choreographed ritual of salutation. The word mujra is related both to majra, which indicates a place where anything runs or is made to flow, and mijra’i, a person who pays his respects, such as a servant or a minister.” The most consummate tawa’ifs were said to be from Lucknow. They have been recognized as the preservers and performers of the North Indian ašrāf culture, sustaining the principles, manners, and uniqueness of Lucknow Indo-Muslim society and its traditions. Extremely accomplished and knowledgeable in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu literature, and well-trained in Indo-Muslim musical traditions and performing arts, they made a significant contribution to Hindustani music, dance and creative writing, and also to theatre and film.

The tawa’ifs flourished under the patronage of rulers like Shuja ud Daula, Asaf ud Daula, and Saadat Ali Khan. In “Islamic Music in an Indian Environment: The Shia Majlis,” R. B. Qureshi asserts that though it is not generally recognized that the imambaras in Lucknow were also essential spaces for the patronage of tawa’if, the fact is that apart from male professional performers, the Nawabs also employed tawa’if and domni for majlis. Describing the aura and popularity of the marsiya-khwani of these tawa’ifs, Sharar writes: “Thousands of enthusiasts came to Lucknow from other places and sat hopefully in Haidar’s Imambara waiting for the courtesan Lady Haidar to commence her song of lament”. Through the majlis, some of the tawa’ifs became public propagators of Shi’a activities. This could also have contributed to the increase in their political influence and the broad social acceptance of their courtesan culture by the Awadhi elite. Describing the contribution of the tawa’if to the culture-scape of Awadh, Richard Connerny, in The Upside-Down Tree, says, “Nineteenth-century Lucknow was the home of tawaif, professional, geisha-like courtesans who entertained well-bred men in extravagant brothels (kotha). Men of repute in Lucknowi society would gather for special parties where these highly trained women would sing, recite poetry, dance, and play musical instruments. Tawa’ifs were no simple streetwalkers; they were refined women who required months of courting and demanded expensive gifts before granting any man access to their physical intimacies.”

Marsiya-khwani as a distinct genre developed in the eighteenth century and it is contemporaneous to marsiyago’i. While the basic form was not new, in Lucknow it underwent innovations and stylistic developments. One such innovation was the setting of the texts of marsiya (elegies) todhuns, and soz (laments) to raags. In North India, marsiya poetry developed in the Persian tradition, but its rendering was in the dhrupad style. The influence of the desi-kavya appears to be more pronounced in it, which is attested by the fact that marsiyas were composed in marwari, Punjabi and purbi dialects and included songs, narration and intonation in the manner of the recitational forms of drama, such as alha and pandavi. In vogue was murabba dohraband; the four lines in uniform rhyme, followed by a doha in Braj-bhasha, and in some cases followed again by two lines of tazmin (insertion) of a Persian couplet. It is significant that marsiya-khwani was performed by those who had formal training in music. Marsiya-khwani underwent considerable development in Lucknow and came to be called as soz-khwani. It was performed by a group of five in the Persian tradition. However, the rendering was in Indian style except in the marsiyas of tappa-ang wherein Persian techniques were employed.

When the East India Company used Lucknow’s tawa’if bazi as part of its ‘moral’ justification for dismantling networks and structures of patronage for performance and music in Lucknow, it transformed a proud cultural institution into a ‘vice’ and changed Lucknow’s celebrated kothas into musty dens for furtive sexual encounters. The final dissolution of the Awadhi monarchy led to the loss of patronage for performing arts and the salons were banned. However, some of the tawa’ifs survived the Mutiny of 1857 and Independence and they still operate in Lucknow in private. Many tawa’ifs, including Jaddan Bai and her later famous daughter Nargis, found work in Bombay in the mainstream Hindi film industry.

June 15, 2014

Not just Urdu, but Lakhnawi Urdu

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:32 am

Language has always been of utmost importance to Lucknow. Urdu and that too Luckhnawi Urdu is a natural part of day to day conversation of the people of Lucknow, irrespective of their mother-tongue or their religion. A devout Hindu too in Lucknow would use this dialect without any inhabitations, while the grace and style of Urdu in Lucknow comes quite naturally to him as it would to a person of Muslim faith, all by virtue of being born and lived in Lucknow.

Langauage of Lucknow was by all means superior to the languages of Delhi and Hyderabad that were other two seats of refinement, grace and style. Mirza Ghalib of Delhi could not resist the charm of Lucknow’s language and in spite of his refinements in language did accept being inferior to the refined dialect of Lucknow.

After all what makes Lucknow’s language so very different ? Difference between the Mughal culture and Awadhi culture lies in the fact that the royal dialect of the courts of Awadh came on the streets and in the lanes to evolve and flourish among the common subjects in Lucknow, while Mughal courts were like all other royal courts that had a difference in the culture and language of the courts and the common subjects.

Use of ‘Hum’ which stands for ‘we’ is still spoken by an average Lucknowite in his day to day language to refer to himself in place of ‘Mein’ or ‘I’. Now this particular difference elsewhere can only be found in the royals referring themselves as ‘we’, while the common subjects calling themselves as ‘I’.

Josh Malihabadi, the great Urdu poet, who migrated to Pakistan after independence, took umbrage when the Nawab of Hyderabad used “tum” for him. Ghalib wrote, “Teri Mahfil mein aakar bade beaabroo huay / Aap say tum aur tum say tu huay” (I got humiliated in your company / Aap got relegated to tum and finally to tu).

Ghalib himself frowned upon the use of tum and called it a gaali (abuse). It’s said that the main reason of Ghalib’s growing disillusionment with his favourite city, Delhi, was the fast intrusion of tum and tu in the local lingo of the 19th century Delhi. Ghalib’s coeval Daagh Dehlawi was so worried about this undesirable invasion of tu-tum that he almost stopped talking to strangers, lest they used tum for him! “Abuse me, but don’t say tum to me,” Daagh once ruefully remarked.

There is a famous and a popular quoted anecdote in Urdu literature. The great Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir was once returning from Delhi to Lucknow. One gentleman from Delhi offered to give him lift in his tonga. That man incessantly kept talking during the journey from Delhi to Lucknow. Mir remained silent. When he reached Lucknow, he profusely thanked that man for giving him a lift and gifted whatever money he got from the Mushaira in Delhi. That man asked him,”Mir Sahab why didn’t you utter a single word during the whole journey?” “Because I didn’t want to spoil my language by replying to your questions couched in an inferior tongue,” calmly replied Mir Taqi Mir.

The late Urdu poet Anand Narayan Mulla wrote of the legendary Urdu poet Firaq, who never ever used ‘tum’ even for his pet dog! Once Mulla went to meet Firaq at his home. Firaq himself opened the door. His dog was sleeping on the sofa. Seeing it asleep, Firaq mildly scolded the dog, “Mehmaan tashreef laaye hain aur aap so rahay hain? Jaaiye andar jaakar laytiyay!” (The guest has arrived and you’re still sleeping? Go inside and sleep!) Firaq’s dog calmly woke up and went inside! Mulla wrote later that I was flabbergasted to see a man like Firaq talk to his dog in such a gentle manner and addressing it “Aap”! Moreover, his dog also understood the ultra-refined language of his master! Firaq once said proudly, “My dog starts barking the moment he gets to hear ‘tum’ and he faints if someone calls him tu! Just imagine, whose dog was so used to hearing such superlative language, how eloquent his master must have been !

If one is lucky, one can still witness an argument between two elderly persons in old Lucknow localities. You’ll never hear a single cuss word and ‘tu’ or ‘tum’ in their heated argument. Arguing without abusing is something one can learn from the older generation of Lucknow. Use of abusive language is another great point of view that differentiates a Lucknowite from others. A typical Lucknowite would in a fight or an argument use ‘Aap’ that denotes respect instead of ‘Tum’ that is derogatory to refer to someone, though both mean the same, ‘You’. “Muaf kariyega, agar aap nein ek lafz bhi aagey bola, toh hum aapkee ammi-jaan ke shaan mein gustakhi kar deingey” This simply mean, “Excuse me, if you speak a single word more, I will be sorry to use foul language for your mother”.

But in our linguistically loose times that we live in, conversations start with tu and do not end with fighting anymore. So in this rather uncouth era, and as a contradiction to the usage of ‘aap’, we justify the use of ‘tum’ and ‘tu’ as the language of aap. Remember the immortal ghazal sung by Mehdi Hasan: “Pyaar jab had sey badha saarey takalluf mit gayay; Pehlay aap, phir tum huay, phir tum sey tu wo ho gaye” (When love exceeded its limits, all formalities took the back seat, first it was ‘aap’, then ‘tum’ and finally ‘tu’).

Sub-continental Urdu directly originated from Mughal Persian, which was devoid of Aap or tum. It’s worthwhile to mention that Persian has just “shuma” (aap) in its vocabulary. It was Arabic, a language rich in expletives as well, that influenced Persian and today one can find abuses, as well as tum or tu in modern Persian.

It’s worthwhile to state that in Urdu culture, Allah is always addressed with tu. And the rationale is: there’s no formality between Allah (God) and banda (worshipper).

Today too, language is considered to be an area of utmost importance and finesse in Lucknow while ‘Begumati Zuban’ (language spoken by the ladies) of Lucknow is considered the purest and the correct language without any adulteration. It is said, often the linguists picked up clues on the best language usage and skills from the ladies of the royal houses. At times of confusion they even went a step further to secretly listen to the conversation of the ladies when talking among themselves and later use it in their writings. It was and it still is quite important to understand and speak in the Luckhnowi dialect, no matter what religion one belongs to. A person born and brought-up in Lucknow will still be identified by his language and the style, though this highly sophisticated language that once Lucknow was known for, is fast depleting and at times the older generation seems quite worried about the way we in Lucknow are heading to. If one compares the language of Lucknow with that of other cities, one would still find a huge difference, though seldom would a Lucknowite today take your permission to abuse you, but for sure we still do not use ‘tum’ and ‘tu’ and often the use of these terms still become a reason of dispute between the two Lucknowites.


May 15, 2014

Zoffany’s works in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:53 am

Asaf-ud-Daula, fourth Nawab Vazir of Awadh, is famously known for building the Rumi Darwaza and Bada Imambara and also for being excessively generous. His fights with his mother, Bahu begum (dowager Queen of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula) are also well documented. One of his lesser-known traits was that as a collector, particularly of European artifacts. His collection was disorganized and without logic. One could find all sorts of memorabilia in his collection-from paper lanterns and mirrors to price-less objects-de-art. Claude Martin, celebrated builder and eccentric genius of Lucknow entered the court of Awadh during Asaf-ud-Daula’s reign, ostensibly as supplier of these exotic goods to the Nawab. Asaf-ud-Daula also had other European hangers- on in his court. These included Col. John Mordaunt, Chief of the Nawab’s bodyguard included, Col Antoine Polier, the Resident Architect and John Wombell, the Company’s accountant.

Johann Zoffany (1735-1810), a celebrated artist and painter of Europe arrived at Calcutta in September 1783, to try his fortune in India. He accompanied Warren Hastings on his visit to Lucknow in June, 1784.

Apparently, Hastings commissioned Zoffany to paint a cock fighting match, which the former had seen in Lucknow. Zoffany, who specialized in crowded layouts, had the penchant of inserting himself in the paintings he produced. Accordingly, he produced one and shipped it to Hastings (who, by that time was facing court proceedings in London). Unfortunately, the painting never reached Hastings as the ship it was travelling in was shipwrecked. On his return to England Zoffany produced another painting, based on the original drawing he still had, and presented it to Hastings, who had settled in Daylesford. The painting came to be known as the Daylesford or Hastings version, which has been well documented and is reproduced here.

In the painting, famous as Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match, one can recognize the Nawab and Col. Mordaunt quite clearly. The Nawab is shown with arms outstretched in greeting towards Mordaunt, who seems less effusive. Surprisingly, the Nawab is shown to be sexually aroused at seeing Mordaunt. Many Europeans seem unconcerned about the cock-fight and are intent right of the picture; there is a group of three Europeans, discussing the birds that two of them are holding. A fat Englishman, sitting down, is Lt Golding. Next to him, bird in hand, is Robert Gregory, an assistant at the Residency. Other members of the Nawab’s coterie are also present. Claude Martin is shown sitting on a divan, talking to Trevor Wheeler. Polier (Without the whiskers), in a brown coat, is seen standing at the left. Sitting in front of him, holding a hookah, is Wombwell.

As usual, Zoffany, shows himself with his right arm over the back of his chair, pencil poised in his right hand. Standing with a hand on Zoffany’s shoulder is Ozias Humphrey, another artist in Lucknow at the time. The bazaar scene is further crowded with courtiers, servants and nautch girls. In the middle of the picture, just below the awning, is a fat man, fondling a boy in skull cap, much to the indignation of a spectator who is being restrained by another man.

There are reports of two other versions of the cock Match that Zoffany had done, this time for Asaf-ud-Daula. Apparently, these did justice to the Nawab and did not depict him as being sexually aroused. One of the paintings, was gifted by Ghazi-ud-din Haider,to Richard Strachey, Resident at Lucknow in 1815-17.This was brought to England and become the Ashwick version after the place in Somerset where Strachey lived. The other version remained in Lucknow until the Uprising of 1857 when it was presumed destroyed. But there is enough evidence in print, including by Fanny Parkes, of the existence Ashwick and Lucknow versions. The Ashwich / Lucknow versions were essentially the same as the Daylesford version, but with lesser number of background characters; the scenario is less crowded.

It is easy to dismiss the various nuances of zoffany’s painting as being a mirror of Oriental decadency and European imperialism; of lush temptations and shameless self-indulgence existing in those times. However, if one transposes himself in that bygone era, one would realize just how familiar it all would have been to the people who appear in it (most of whom are identifiable historical figures) they were not merely playing at being exotic. They WERE exotic, and Zoffany’s eye for detail in the proceedings is commendable.

Of course, the moot point as to whether Zoffany meant his painting to be a form of satire, or whether he was just reproducing a scene in a matter-of-fact way, will continue to be discussed by generations to come.

April 20, 2014

Musa Bagh – a neglected monument

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:43 am

The fifth Nawab of Awadh, SaadatAli Khan (1798-1814) following the pattern of the French General, Claude Martin, in his buildings on the banks of the river Gomti, on the eastern side of the city viz. Constantia (now the La Martiniere College for Boys) and Farhat Bakhsh, his town house (later known as Chhatar Manzil), also built an Indo-European style building on the river-bank at Musa Bagh, at the west end of the city. This building not only had many features similar to the Frenchman’s buildings, it also had large beautiful gardens which were highly appreciated by European visitors of early 19th century.

Musa Bagh was developed as a scenic spot on a sloping ground, close to the serpentine curving riverside. The gardens presented a spectacular view of the existing grand buildings of the time at Lucknow, such as Aalamgir mosque, Machchhi Bhawan, fort, Panch Mahala, Rumi Darwaza, Asafi mosque, Bara Imambara, Sunehra Burj, Daulat Khana, and the Pucca Pul (Stone Bridge).

Musa Bagh Kothi was built under the supervision of Aazam-ud-Daulah for Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, around 1803-1804, to serve as country retreat. It was here that fights between animals like tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes and rhinos were arranged for the pleasure of the Nawab and amusement of his royal guests, quite often Europeans.

Musa is Moses in English and it is not clear how the gardens got the name of this prophet. There appears to be no notable person of this name who could be related with it in anyway. A British writer presumes it to be a corruption of Monsieur’s garden – meaning the Frenchman’s garden, but that appears to be far-fetched, considering the poor knowledge of French amongst Nawabs.

There is another name for Musa Bagh which is Baroween and has been used by Europeans, but in this case also, the origin of the name is not clear. Maybe it was the distortion of Urdu ‘Bairoon-e Shehr’ (beyond the city), an indication of the location of the Kothi and the gardens, being on the outskirts of the city, far away from the main area. The situation has not changed even today.

Musa Bagh is another five kilometers away, off the main Hardoi road, on the western end of the old city [where now the new Sabzi Mandi is located]. The structure of the Kothi of Musa Bagh is in ruins today, but two large kiosks with domed roof, a roofless structure sunk underground along with fluted double columns and arches in parts and other architectural features are good enough to provide a picture of the Kothi in its hey days. In fact there are two drawings, one made by Smith in 1814 and one done by D.S.Dodgson in 1858 that depict the building and the gardens of Musa Bagh in its grandeur. The building had four storeys in one portion with two storeys in another portion down on a lower level and sunk towards the riverside. It had a semi-circular portico opening to the river.

As in the Constantia and Farhat Bakhsh, the building at Musa Bagh was also provided with pottery ducts that were connected to vents on top of the flat roof. These were meant to provide cooling and ventilation. The moist earth of the riverside provided additional cooling to the sunken two storeyed portion of Baroween, and was pleasantly cool during the hot days of summer.

The excellent craftsmanship is something that cannot be ignored at Musa Bagh. The exquisite work of craftsmen and artisans of the Nawabi period may be seen to its advantage in stucco, specially in the beautiful foliage patterns on the kiosks, their domes and friezes. The art work and decoration on columns is retained in other parts of the ruins (sometimes with their original red dye intact), in the shafts and cornices.

Musa Bagh was twice offered to the British, as one of the alternative sites in lieu of Residency, once by the first King Ghazi-ud-Din Haider and later by his son Nsaeer-ud-Din Haider, but the royal guests (the British) refused to oblige and please their hosts on both occasions and held their host’s accommodation, not until they dispossessed the ruler of his property by an illegitimate annexation and became its owner in February 1856.

Musa Bagh has great historical importance in the fact that it was the last stronghold of Begum Hazrat Mahal and Prince Birjis Qadr in their struggle against the British in Lucknow, the capital of Awadh. They held the place with Maulvi Ahmad-ullah, the leader of the rebels from Faizabad on March 18, 1858, when it was attacked by Colonel James Outram, after Qaiser Bagh. Nearly four to five hundred of the freedom fighters led by Mammu Khan were killed and all their twelve canons were captured. Begum Hazrat Mahal, along with the Prince left for Bithauli on way to Nepal. The Maulvi went towards Payawan where he was taken a prisoner by the brother of the Raja on June 15,1858. He was beheaded and his head was presented to the British at Shahjahanpur, who displayed it on the Kotwali gate. His body was later burnt and the ashes were thrown into the river.

In the struggle of Musa Bagh, a British officer, Captain Wales was fatally wounded and died on March 21, 1858. An enclosure in front of the ruins marks his grave at Baroween.

February 15, 2014

Lucknow Calligraphy

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:39 am

Calligraphy is one of the most ancient arts of the world. It is an art of writing words or phrases in a captivating forms and style. Quitabat is a highly eminent form of artistic expression in the Muslim culture. It is important because it is derived from the holy book of Quran. Calligraphy became an instrument for expressing the God’s words which were recorded in Arabic script. Since the craft inclined towards the Muslim culture and tradition therefore it is practiced mainly by the Muslim communities and that to mainly by the men. Number of Muslim artists, as calligraphers, paper makers, illustrators and binders are involved in this art. Islam got introduced as a religion in the country after the coming in of the Mughal Empire. They used various ways and mediums to decorate their buildings, manuscripts, paintings, textiles, metal and ceramic ware, carpets etc.

In Lucknow the art form flourished during the period of the Nawabs. Different verses from Qurans were written on either paper or precious/ semi-precious stones in artistic form and decorated in palaces, homes etc. It is believed that a person wearing such kind of stone having verses written on it in calligraphy will face no misfortune in life. He will gain the ultimate position in the society. Presently the craft is practiced by few people settled in different places in and around Lucknow. Artisans are creating artistic pieces in Quitabat in Jarnailganj, Lucknow.

Tools and Raw Materials….

Raw Material: Quitabat is mainly done on paper or stone. Therefore artists use different handmade paper and precious and semi-precious stone to do the calligraphy. Mainly used stone is Jade, this stone is good for heart, and therefore, verses written on it are highly respected. Artists use fine handmade paper which are either imported from different countries or made in India using different techniques and materials.

Tools: Calligraphy is done either by carving on stone or by writing on paper. For carving various carving tools like chisels and hammers are used. These tools were traditionally made by the artists themselves according to their need. With change in time and with easy availability calligraphers now use industrial tools which are either hand or machine operated. For writing on papers traditionally the artist uses stylus made out of Sarkanda, (Saccharum spontaneum) also called as elephant grass. These styluses are traditionally called as Qulam, which are useful in achieving desired results. It helps in obtaining perfect balance between the structure and flow of various circular word forms. Different types of qualm used are:

  • Kamish Qalam (made out of Sarkanda)
  • Java Qalam (after the name of the island Java)
  • Dashti Qalam
  • Jali Qalam

The tip of the Sarkanda was cut in an angle mostly at 45 degrees. The angle decides the thickness of the lines. Sarkanda pens were replaced by G-nibs and now with availability of different calligraphy pens the traditional Qalams are losing their hold.

The process of calligraphy is simple yet intricate. It has the following main steps….

  • Processing of stone/paper
  • Writing
  • Finishing

Processing of stone/paper: The paper or stone are cut in desired shapes. Thereafter the surface is smoothen.

Writing: Artists use calligraphy styles to write and paint different verses of the holy Quran. The art of Quitabat is taught along with religious texts since the childhood in madrasas and advance schools.

Finishing: Once the writing or painting is done on the paper, it is turned over and burnished with a piece of stone called Hakik ka pathar. This gives a shine on the surface.

The stone pieces are smoothened using different buffs.

Quitabat was mainly used to ornament the building during the earlier times. It was also done on jewelries like rings, pendants, and armlet. Since it was believed that the art had the power to repel bad vibes therefore it was also engraved on weapons like, swords, daggers, handles etc. Artists also made monograms and seals using Quitabat. To save people (kings, warriors and kids) from bad luck, verses were written on small papers, packed and were worn as ornaments. These were called as taveez.

January 11, 2014

One who believed in the future – Remembering Attia Hosain in her centenary year

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:31 am

For modern India, the defining moment is the country’s independence and partition. The ideology that ultimately led to India’s division stemmed from the uncertainty and apprehension experienced by Indian Muslims after the deposition of Bahadur Shah Zafar. While that event had instilled a deep sense of deprivation in Muslims, there was also a gradual decline in their social and economic conditions after 1857. Realising that many of the ills stemmed from their own social, religious and intellectual stasis, Muslim intellectuals and reformers encouraged the spread of modern education among Muslims. As they introduced progressive ideas through their writings, they met with resistance from the conservatives who lashed out against western education as un-Islamic. This led to a confrontation between the traditionalists and the advocates of modern ideas. Consequently, during the early decades of the last century, the entire Muslim community was politically, socially, intellectually, and religiously in ferment.

Attia Hosain was born in such a world of deep conflicts and intense debates in 1913. Her family subscribed to progressive ideas. While her father had studied at Cambridge University, her mother had established an institute for women’s education and welfare in Lucknow, her hometown. She was educated at Lucknow’s Isabella Thoburn College a women’s college affiliated to the University of Lucknow. At home she was also taught Arabic and Persian. It was the time when the need for education among Muslim women was a contentious issue. A reformer like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was emphasising its necessity in his writings. Urdu writer and reformer Nazir Ahmad Dehlvi (1830 – 1912) had written “Bina-tul-Nash”, a novel advocating women’s education. In Lucknow, many organisations and women’s magazines were raising awareness on the issue.

The Lucknow of the 1920s and ’30s was politically and intellectually volatile. Liberal humanism, Marxism, and progressive ideas about women’s emancipation and social equality contended with the traditionalist, conservative, and anti-western ideas. Attia began writing for newspapers The Pioneer (Calcutta) and The Statesman (Calcutta). In 1932, an event of far reaching cultural and intellectual consequences was the publication of “Angaray”, a collection of short stories and a play by Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmuduzzafar. The four young Muslim intellectuals from Lucknow introduced western ideas and castigated the contemporary Muslim society. These radical voices exerted their influence on the young Attia. Despite her aristocratic background, she was able to see the hypocrisies and contradictions of her class and social milieu.

Her sensitive mind had made her restless about the feudal aristocracy, the firmly entrenched social stratification, the illiteracy and poverty, and the repression of Muslim women. For a young woman of her sensibility, it was impossible not to be influenced by the Leftist and nationalist ideas, whose hotbed Lucknow was now turning out to be. Her brother had leftist leanings and associated with stalwarts like Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand and Sajjad Zaheer. Hosain also attended the 1936 Lucknow session of Association chaired by Premchand.

She had begun writing short stories from a very young age. She published her first collection of short stories titled “Phoenix Fled” in 1953. Her only novel, “Sunlight on a Broken Column”, was published in 1961. However, the manuscript of an unfinished novel was discovered among her papers after her death in 1998. It was recently published as “No New Lands, No New Seas”, along with some of her uncollected stories in “Distant Traveller: New and Selected Fiction”.

Among her stories, “Storm” can be considered a representative work, characterised by stylistic simplicity and satire. Hosain portrays here characters who are vain and superficial, no doubt drawn from the world around her. When an unknown woman takes refuge from a storm in the house of an ‘upper class’ family, the snobbish attitude of the women becomes obvious. The daughter of the family, a young girl, helps the woman and offers her an umbrella so that she can go out without getting drenched. She meets this woman many times again, but when the family finds out she is prohibited from seeing her again. The hypocrisy of the privileged bureaucratic class is well brought out.
Her short story “Phoenix Fled” is famous for its ending. The protagonist, an old woman, is unwilling to leave her ancestral house to go to another country born after partition. Her family abandons her and departs. As a mob gathers to burn down her house, she expresses her sole concern as follows:

“Mind,” she scolded, pointing her bony figure, “mind you do not step on the doll’s house.”

Though tinged with sentimentality, the pathos of the ending has been compared with that of some stories of Katherine Mansfield, whose influence is obvious in Hosain’s stories. Her stories are characterised by realistic and vivid details, influenced no doubt by the social realism of the progressive writers.

Encouraged by the poet laureate C.S. Lewis, Hosain wrote her novel in England. The story is narrated by the fourteen-year-old Laila, who, very much like the aspiring writer in “Storm”, exposes the hollowness, pretensions, and hypocrisies of the world she inhabits. Retaining the ability to look at her class and family with unprejudiced eyes, she captures a culture in flux with its paradoxes and contradictions. “Sunlight on a Broken Column” depicts the Muslim society of the first half of the 20th Century; Laila’s desire to be well educated like her male counterparts is opposed by her family. The irony of her world is that Zahara, an upper class girl, is married against her will. In stark contrast, Nandi, the servant girl, is able to marry as she desires.

Indeed, Hosain describes a society in which religion and faith were not yet divisive but provided a richness and variety to its culture with their distinct festivals, rituals and beliefs. She never quite came to terms with the fact that a society where different religions and cultures thrived side by side could suddenly be rent apart. The pain and the sadness infuse her writing without bitterness or rancour.

When she visited her family house five years after Partition, she discovered that it “had buried one way of life and accepted another.” She later wrote : “In its decay, I saw all the years of our lives as a family; the slow years that had evolved a way of life, the short years that had ended it.” “Sunlight…” had its origin in that moment. Its title drawn from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men”, the novel, as she wrote, was meant to be her elegy to “the breaking up of a family, when the whole background (was) changing.” Broken columns symbolise the ruins which her hometown’s thriving culture had suddenly turned into. That culture was a way of life which, despite its flaws, had pleasures to offer, not the least among them being the illusion of a stable world.

Hosain is, however, at her evocative best in “Sunlight…”, written with the intention to capture a phase and a world fast disappearing, and only existing in her memory. Like Ahmed Ali in “Twilight in Delhi”, she writes as a chronicler and a documenter.

“Sunlight on a Broken Column” should certainly be considered as a definitive work that describes the crumbling feudal order and the undercurrents, political and cultural, which eventually led to India’s partition. To confine it, however, to just that reading would be unjust, for the novel is meant to transcend the topical and the political. The author revealed she chose to write it because of a feeling that the “other world that (she) actually lived in” was fading into oblivion and an inner urge to acknowledge and preserve for posterity that “there were people then who believed in the future.”

It is this faith in human life and future that informs her vision and confirms Attia Hosain as a writer in the humanist tradition.

December 10, 2013

Nawab Wajid-Ali-Shah – a great patron of music

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:05 am

Some years ago I saw the film ‘Aavishkar’ and was impressed by the subtle and soothing manner in which the famous Lucknow Thumri “Babul mora Naihar chchooto jaay” in Bhairavi had been used as a haunting and recurring background refrain throughout this good film. After the picture was over and as we were returning home, I asked some of my Lucknow friends if they knew who was the composer of this very popular song. I was disappointed when they confessed that none of them knew, although they had heard this Thumri many times and liked it very much. If even Lucknowwallas are not aware of this song, one cannot expect others from other parts of the country to know anything about it.

This Bhairavi Thumri has been one of the favourites of famous light classical and classical musicians from Moizuddin, Malkajan, Gauharjan, and Ustad Faiyaz Khan, to Siddheswari Devi, Begum Akhtar and Girja Devi of more recent times. But it was the late K.L. Saigal’s simple, yet poignant rendering of it in the New Theatres Film “Street Singer” that made it an all India favourite. Even in the farthest South, I remember young people travelling miles by train or bus in order to see a New Theatres film and hear their soulful songs. Saigal did not need an orchestra “of a hundred instruments” or a cacophony of Western and Eastern instruments to support his voice and boost its volume. The barest minimum of a Harmonium and Tabla were all that he needed to render this Thumri with an expressiveness and emotion that brought tears into every eye. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, music-lovers tried to hum and copy it the way Saigal sang. Even in some of the South Indian AIR stations, there was no ban on casual artistes having a go at this song at the end of a Karnatic recital !

Since those days, more than three decades ago, I have heard ‘Babul Mora’ rendered in an infinite variety of styles by many reputed maestros of the North, and learnt about the poignant circumstances that gave birth to this sweet Thumri. It is a well- known fact that “Lucknow is the mother, and Benares the sweetheart of the thumri style.” A large number of composers who throve under the lavish patronage of the Nawab rulers of Lucknow enriched this light classical form whose popularity is mounting day by day. Among these, the name of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (the last Nawab-ruler of Lucknow) stands out in golden letters. He was not only a munificent patron of music, dance, drama, and poetry, but was himself a gifted composer, and a proficient Kathak dancer. He had received vocal training under great Ustads like Basit Khan, Pyar Khan and Jaffar Khan and Kathak training under Thakur Prasadji and Bindadin Maharaj. Although his pen-name was Qaisar, be used the pseudonym “Akhtarpiya” for his numerous compositions. Under this pen- name, he wrote over 40 works, poems, prose and Thumris. “Diwani-Akhtar”, “Husn-i-Akhtar” contain his Ghazals. He is said to have composed many new ragas and named them Jogi, Juhi, Shah-Pasand, etc.

Wajid Ali Shah was most unfortunate to have ascended the throne of Awadh at a time when the East India Company was determined to grab the coveted throne of prosperous Awadh (Oudh), which was “the garden, granary, and queen-province of India.” In different circumstances perhaps, be might have succeeded as a ruler because he had many qualities that make a good administrator. He was generous, kind and compassionate towards his subjects, besides being one of the most magnanimous and passionate patrons of the Fine Arts. But the British Agent, and some of the treacherous elements in the court of Awadh availed of his lavish and luxurious style of living, brand-ed him as “a monster of debauchery, profligacy and vice”, and succeeded in banishing him from his beloved Lucknow. In recent times, one finds a turn of the tide in his favour. Attempts are being made to remove Wajid Ali Shah’s tarnished image and to repaint him as a benevolent and gifted monarch who was more sinned against than sinning. Valuable books have been published recently giving a full and just assessment of his virtues as well as his vices. When he ascended the throne, he took keen interest in the administration of justice, introduced reforms, and reorganised the military department. But gradually, he sank into a life of pleasures surrounded by courtesans, singers, dancers, and eunuchs. In his book “Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah”, Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar gives the following assessment of this ill-starred prince:- “Cast by providence for the role of an accomplished dilettante, he found himself a misfit for the high office to which he was elevated by chance. Wajid Ali Shah’s character was complex. Though he was a man of pleasure, he was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He was a lovable and generous gentleman, he was a voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his 5 daily prayers. It was the literary and artistic attainments of Wajid Ali Shah which distinguished him from his contemporaries.”

When Wajid Ali Shah was a young boy, some astrologers warned his parents that he would become a Yogi, and advised them that the boy should be dressed up as a Yogi on each birthday of his so as to counteract the effect of the evil stars. When he ascended the throne in 1847 at the age of 24, he had a fabulous annual income of more than fifteen hundred thousand rupees, most of which he squandered on music, dance and drama. First of all, he established his famous Parikhaana (abode of fairies) in which hundreds of beautiful and talented girls were taught music and dancing by expert-teachers engaged by the royal patron. These girls were known as Parees or fairies with fancy- names such as Sultan pari, Mahrukh pari and so on. On each birthday of his, the Nawab would dress up as a Yogi with saffron robes, ash of pearls smeared on his face and body, necklaces of pearls around his neck, and a rosary in his hand, and walk pompously into the court with two of his Parees dressed up as Jogans. Gradually he made it into a spectacular pageant or Mela known as Jogia Jashan, in which all citizens of Lucknow could participate, dressed as Yogis, irrespective of caste and creed. In the opinion of Mr. Ranbir Singh it was this Jogia Jashan on his birthdays that “took the curtain up on the Hindustani Theatre”. Later on, when his favourite venue, the Kaisarbagh Baradari was built, he began to stage his magnificent Rahas, obviously a Persianised name for Rasleela, full of sensuous poetry, his own lyrical compositions under the pen-name “Akhtarpiya” and glamorous Kathak dances. Ranbir Singh gives details of Wajid Ali Shah’s book entitled “Bani” in which the author mentions 36 types of Rahas all set in Kathak style (with colourful names like “Mor-Chchatri”, “Ghunghat”, “Salami”, “Mor Pankhi” and “Mujra”), and gives exhaustive notes about the costumes, jewellery, and stage- craft. Rahas, prepared at a fabulous cost of saveral lakhs of rupees, became very popular, and was performed at the Kaisarbagh-Rahas Manzil, most probably, “the first Hindustani Theatre Hall”. Many have regarded Wajid Ali Shah as “the first playwright of the Hindustani theatre”, because his “Radha Kanhaiya Ka Kissa” staged in the Rahas Manzil was the first play of its kind. It featured Radha, Krishna, several sakhis, and a vidushaka-like character called “Ramchera”. Songs, dances, mime, and drama were all delightfully synthesised in these Rahas performances. He dramatised many other poems such as Darya-i-Tashsq, Afsane-i-Isbaq, and Bhahar-i-Ulfat. It is said that Amanat’s “Inder Sabha” was inspired by these dance-dramas, written, produced and staged by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.

Today, however, his pioneer contributions in this field are seldom remembered. Kathak dance attained new heights of popularity and glory under his expert guidance and lavish patronage. Thakur Prasadji was his Kathak guru, and the unforgettable Kalka-Binda brothers performed in his court. What with the grand pageantry of the Rahas, Jogiya Jashan, Dance dramas, and Kathak performances, Lucknow became the magnetic cultural centre where the most reputed musicians, dancers and poets of the time flourished. The greatest musicians, dancers and instrumentalists of the time enjoyed his munificent patronage and hospitality.

But all this pomp and splendour were wiped out in less than eight years. In February 1854, Wajid Ali Shah was deposed by the British Resident and exiled into far off Matiaburj near Calcutta. Even when the shocking ultimatum was given to him, Wajid Ali Shah appealed to his beloved subjects not to offer any resistance, and to maintain peace. The touching description of the bewailing citizens of Lucknow given in the Urdu “Asrar-i-Wajid” has been translated into English by Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar in his book as follows.

“The condition of this town, without exaggeration, was such that on the departure of Jan-i-Alam, the life became extinct and the body of the town was left soulless. Grief rained down from every door and wall. There was no lane, bazar, or dwelling which did not wail out in full agony of separation from Jan-i-Alam. All sorts of agonies were produced in the Hindi musical tunes and notes.”

Historians describe how much the people of Lucknow lamented the exile of their kind and popular ruler. Many of the poets of the time have depicted their grief in touching verses like the following :

Lucknow bekas huwa Hazrat jo-gaye,
Fazle gul kab ayegi, kab honge aakar naghma sanjh,
Ek muddat ho gayi murgaane gulshan ko gaye

The royal caravan “of about 1000 persons started from Lucknow on March 13, 1854 towards Calcutta via Kanpur. The parting scenes were pathetic, the whole city being thrown into gloom. Everybody wept and bewailed while bidding farewell to the unfortunate king. Everywhere there was sorrow. Poor and rich, young and old, all were bewailing for the King. The citizens looked helpless and recited mournful nauha (dirges) in bewilderment”.

As for Wajid Ali Shah, nothing caused him more agony than being forcibly parted forever from his beloved Lucknow. It was at this tragic moment of being torn away from the city and people he loved that the following lines burst out from his sorrow-laden heart:-

“Babul mora naihar chchooto jaay-
Chaar kahaar mil, mori doliya uthaye
Mora apna begaana chchooto Jaay”-

“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.” One can very well visualise that sad moment of parting through these touching lines. In fact this song has now come to be associated with the inevitable bidaayi of every bride from her parental home – that poignant moment when she is seated in a doli and is about to be wrenched away from her dear “babul” into the distant land of her groom. As in the case of a similar composition of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, perhaps this song also contains the allegorical meaning of a human being’s last journey on this earth when the body is carried on the shoulders of four pallbearers. So intense was Wajid Ali Shah’s grief at that moment! Well-versed in Urdu, Arabic, Hindi, and Braj Bhasha, he composed in a mixed dialect that is easily followed by the people of Uttar Pradesh.

Even in his exile in Matiaburj, he survived for many long years, all the while trying to keep the sweet memories of his Lucknow era alive by recreating the musical environments of his Kaisarbagh Baradari. The banished king had been given a number of fine houses with vast grounds stretching along the banks of the River Hooghly 3 or 4 miles south of Calcutta. Because of an Earthen Dome (raised platform), people called it “Matiya Burj”. The king spent lavishly out of his income of twelve hundred thousand rupees per annum and before long a Second Lucknow arose in this area. “There was the same bustle and activity, same language, art, poetry, style of conversation – the same pomp and splendour, the same opulent style of living. Taking advantage of the Shia Law of Muta, he contracted temporary legal marriages with as many good-looking and talented girls as he fancied. Troupes of artistes congregated in his court, the best singers were enlisted into his service and there was a larger concourse of musicians in Matiyaburj than could be found anywhere else in India”. (“Lucknow : The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture”).

We come across descriptions of great musical assemblies in the Darbar Hall of Matiyaburj where the great musicians and music-lovers of Calcutta gathered to hear Wajid Ali Shah sing his favourite Lucknow-Thumris, and to marvel at his dance-performances. The Durbar Hall was lavishly and opu- lently decorated just as the Lucknow Baradari used to be.

Among the invitees used to be great personalities from Calcutta’s music world such as Jadu-Bhatta (Dhrupad), Aghorenath Chakravarty (Dhrupad), Sajjad Mohammad (Sitar), Dhirendranath Bose (Sarod), Shyamlal Goswami (Esraj), Rai Chand Boral, and several others. In the words of D.C. Bhattacharya, “Rich and flexible voices filled the air. Thumri had the pride of place, particularly Wajid Ali Shah’s own compositions that once held Lucknow in thrill – Babul mora naihar chchootojaay; Jab chchor chali Lucknow nagari; Neer bharan kaise jaun. The songs rose to great heights of expres- siveness and created a spell”.

When it ceased, Wajid Ali Shah sat in mute silence for a long while, and then expressed his feelings: “All this time I was in a dreamland as though transported by unknown hands to my Kaisarbagh Baradari. Ah, what I have left behind! Now, only the sweet memories linger.”

The loyal citizens as well as their beloved ruler hoped for a long time that the latter would regain the throne of Awadh and “return to bestow a fresh spirit to the lifeless people”; but their dreams were never fulfilled. Wajid Ali Shah died on September 1, 1887 and was buried in Imambara Sibtenabad, in Matiyaburj.

Wajid Ali Shah’s most popular Thumri really turned out to be one of the saddest and sweetest of parting songs. Such are the poignant associations of this ever-popular Lucknow Thumri composed by Akhtarpiya.

“Babul mora naihar chchooto jaay”.

November 10, 2013

How Cliff Richard’s singing career actually began in the British Raj

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:02 am

Walking down the Grand Trunk Road of Howrah in the searing afternoon heat, looking for a street that had apparently vanished, was an unusual way to discover India. Even locals stared at me as though I’d got off the bus at the wrong stop or perhaps in the wrong city. This sprawling, seething metropolis over the river from Calcutta, smelling in equal parts of spice and dust, is not a tourist destination. Nor is it pretty. However, I wasn’t looking for the India of palaces, deserts, monuments and holy places but the India of Cliff Richard, pop legend and product of the British Raj. I wanted to see where he was born, where he spent his early years, where he had first attended school and sung in a church choir.

The star – real name Harry Rodger Webb – was born in the city of Lucknow in October 1940, the son of Rodger and Dorothy Webb. His parents had also been born and raised in India, and the family spent their final few years in Howrah before coming to England in 1948, shortly after India gained its independence.
I had been told that Cliff had lived in Ross Road in Howrah. The street no longer existed, although there was still a post office bearing that name. Even the post office staff had no idea what had happened to Ross Road.

Fortunately, a cousin of Cliff’s in Britain, 85-year-old Ken Staynor, came to the rescue. He told me that the Webbs had actually lived in Dobson Road, still known as such by many locals but officially renamed Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad Road.

This proved to be a typical Howrah street, cluttered with small stores, choked with traffic and lined with dirty, crumbling buildings. Ken last visited it in December 1946, when he and Cliff’s parents went to a New Year’s Eve dance at the Railway Institute.

Although Howrah then had only a quarter of today’s population of more than a million, he remembers it as being ‘slummy and congested’, not the sort of place you’d visit unless on special business.St Thomas School, where Cliff enrolled in 1945, was easier to find. The entrance was at the end of an alley off Church Road – and the white-walled St Thomas Church, where Cliff first went to Sunday school and sang in a choir, stood inside its grounds. The principal, Saurab Singh, was in the church when I arrived. Had he heard of Cliff Richard? ‘Of course,’ he said with great assurance. ‘Bachelor Boy, Evergreen Tree…’ Most of today’s classrooms were built after 1970. I wandered through the playground, where eager children swarmed around me, keen to know where I came from. A European in Howrah is now a novelty.

Mr Singh thought that, in 1945, a derelict-looking teachers’ training college, now outside the boundary, was the main building. It certainly fits Cliff’s memory of his school being ‘among trees’.

During his leisure time, Cliff used to walk to the Indian Botanic Garden with his Aunt Olive – the younger sister of his mother Dorothy. At the site, she probably showed him the world’s largest banyan tree that now has more than 3,000 prop roots and takes a good five minutes to stroll around.

On other days, she took him for high tea at Flury’s, an Art Deco tearoom on Park Street in Calcutta that still serves excellent cakes and pastries, or to see cowboy films and cartoons at the now worse-for-wear Bangabasi cinema in Howrah.

Cliff returned to Calcutta in 1976 to play a concert at the Kala Mandir Auditorium. He also visited Mother Teresa at the Mother House in Bose Road, where her sparse room and simple tomb are now part of the tourist trail.

He tried to see his old home in Howrah but, relying on his memory rather than an address and a map, he failed to find it. Having exhausted the trail in Calcutta – a city that was renamed Kolkata more than a decade ago – I decided to explore the two other key places of Cliff’s childhood.

Despite being born in Lucknow, he spent his first three years in Dehrandun, about 340 miles away. His father Rodger Webb managed the restaurant at the local railway station (a job he would later perform when the Webbs moved to Howrah).

The family lived in a railway bungalow and they clearly led a privileged existence – they employed a cook, a bearer, a sweeper, a gardener, a childminder and a washerwoman. My first stop in Dehrandun was St Thomas Church, where Cliff was baptised in November 1940.

Built as a garrison church in 1840 by soldiers of the East India Company, it is surrounded by uncultivated ground. As I was taking photos, the Reverend Merlin Clarance warned me about the possibility of cobras slithering through the thick grass.

Despite being well used, St Thomas has fallen into serious disrepair. The belfry of the square tower is crumbling, valuables from the sanctuary have been looted, the walls are damp and sections of plaster have blown.

Slightly dusty but untouched by time is the marble font where Harry Rodger Webb was baptised. The ministers wondered whether Cliff might make a donation towards the church’s restoration fund. I said I’d ask.

Cliff’s younger brother, Frederick, was born in June 1942 but died within a few months. I went to the British cemetery in the hope of finding his grave. There, an old man wearing a sleeveless mauve pullover and a taqiyah cap emerged from the gatehouse, bearing a huge, handwritten burials ledger.

I ran my eye down the entries for 1942 but, alas, there was no Frederick Webb.

And so to Lucknow, where the Cliff Richard story began. When I interviewed his mother Dorothy in 1992, she told me that she had travelled to Lucknow for the birth because the city had a reputable hospital, the name of which she couldn’t recall. All she knew was that it was ‘a popular hospital – very British as well’.

When I published my biography of Cliff a year later, I plumped for The King’s English Hospital in Victoria Street. I may have erred.

The local vote is for the Lady Dufferin Hospital, then renowned for its modern maternity unit. If this is indeed the correct place, then Dorothy wouldn’t have recognised it. The gatepost bore a garish yellow poster of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan promoting polio awareness.

The pink-walled building was clad in rickety bamboo scaffolding lashed together with rope, while outside, stray dogs chased and fought each other.

Lucknow was also where Cliff’s paternal grandfather, Frederick William Webb, lived. He was an engineer at a local paper mill and Cliff once told me he loved visiting him during summer holidays.

I searched the internet for information on Cliff’s Lucknow days and came across people who claimed to have played marbles or gilli-danda (a traditional stick game) with him there. I also found Roy and Jenny Ramble, an Anglo-Indian couple who had grown up in the city.

They agreed to take me to the place where they believed Frederick William Webb had lived. After parking in a busy street where cattle lay sleeping in the gutters, they escorted me along some quiet alleyways to the walled compound of Maqbara Amjad Ali Shah.

We passed through a once-majestic but now dilapidated gateway and into an enclosure with about 30 small houses. At the far end was the huge brown bulk of Sibtainabad Imambara, an arcaded mausoleum for the Nawab of Oudh, who died in 1847.

We headed for house 27, home of the Rambles’ friend Marie Biswas. Grandfather Webb had lived next door at number 26. Mrs Biswas’s single-storey home was a picture of refinement and delicacy, as was she.

There were ornaments and plates on glass shelves, a neatly manicured garden with flowers and a copy of a Hilary Mantel novel on the table. But the house next door, where Cliff had spent his blissful summers, was now locked up, shuttered and untended.

The once-white walls were defaced with dark mould, small bushes sprouted from cracks in the masonry and the front gate was a rusty orange. The owner, a local high court advocate, now uses it only to store legal papers.

Mrs Biswas wished he’d sell up and let it be renovated. It had been a fascinating journey and as I left, I couldn’t help thinking back to the family’s final few months in India. In the run-up to independence, there were riots in Calcutta – at least 4,000 people were killed.

Cliff’s mother told me that during the worst of it, she couldn’t see the water of the Hooghly river for dead bodies. They took refuge with relatives before heading to Bombay and then sailing for England, a country none of them had ever seen.

Cliff has always said that he finds it hard to remember the India of his early years. After two weeks following in his footsteps, I’ll find it hard to forget it.

October 10, 2013

Wooden reminiscences of childhood

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:55 am

They were gaily painted animals. Elephants were red, rats purple, giraffes pink, and rabbits yellow. Yet, in the make-belief animal kingdom of our childhoods, solid wood was what our dreams were made of.

Perched precariously on thread lashes, the bright band of animals followed when babies took their first, measured steps. But they were also constant companions when children grew older. For 6-years old boys who dreamt of growing up to be pilots, there were intricately-carved airplanes they would hold up and run around the house sets, complete with rolling pins and broads, gas stoves, tea sets and utensils to serve food in.

In Lucknow’s Saadatganj, a colourful market still takes shape every year around October, when Durga Puja approaches. There is little space, however; for wooden toys amid the brightly painted clay water- melons, bananas and strawberries. “The only places you see wooden toys anymore are at handicraft retail. At every other toy store you go to, the only things you find now are the plastic toys in every shape and size”, said city-resident Chetna Bharti.

With a market for their produce recording a dip, though, most wood toy-makers, skilled hands of over three generations. Have shifted base to rural areas, where demand, they say, is still more than urban regions. “There was a time when we would set up a heap of wood near Aminabad’s Gada Bhandaar just before Eid. By evening, the entire stock would be sold. From cricket bats and balls, we sold tiny scooters, cars, animals, planes, cooking sets as well as tiny pieces of furniture. Anything that a child’s imagination could think of, Now, sales are better in places like Chinhat and Barabanki”, said Mohd Alam, an old toy retailer in Aminabad.

From wooden rattles and tops costing a rupee per piece, toys, depending upon how intricately they were designed, would set buyers back by up tp Rs. 200. The price, however, artists maintained, was incidental. It was the art that mattered.

“If you bought a wood Cadillac, every tyre and spoke would be fashioned exactly as the real ones were. It wasn’t a sub-standard product that you pushed on to unassuming children. With little possibility of wear and tear, these toys were representation you a life time”, said Baig bhai, another toy retailer in Chowk area of Lucknow.

In the current age, though, plastic appears to have become the new wood. For the few wood pieces that are now available or sold, they are picked up, more for their exotic value than because consumers are loyal users. L N Singh, a teacher, said, “Whenever I can, I pick up wooden toys for my grandchildren because they remind me of my own childhood days. Back then, the variety was better. There were cars, bikes and wooden men, which are not as easy to come by any more. Now, however, I tell the children to keep these safely; as reminders of a beautiful, but dying art.”

September 1, 2013

Speech by Sir La Touche at La Martiniere in 1902

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:53 am

La Martiniere College, Lucknow, apparently continues very much in the English tradition, with students studying for 14 years of their formidable lives, later to join different programmes at the University for higher and vocational studies. English is the first language, spoken at all times by the pupils who are from the cross section of society in India and abroad. The College is proud of many restored traditions that have continued since its inception.

The text of the Lieutenant Governor’s speech delivered there in 1902 is reproduced below.

In his speech delivered on the College’s Prize Day in 1902, encouraging non-academics at La Martiniere, Sir James J Digges La Touche, quoted the school’s motto Labore-et-Constantia. He said “…the work of the world is carried on not so much by men of genius as by honorable and hardworking men. It is our duty to work and do it with all our might”. In a way, he could have been summing up the work of the many La Touche men and women mentioned in this paper. Genius? Maybe not, but they did their duty, worked hard, got involved, and certainly made a difference, made things happen.

Speech delivered by Sir James John Digges La Touche at the prize distribution at La Martinière College, Lucknow, on the 20th February 1902.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, – First of all, I may express on behalf of the visitors the pleasure which it has been to be present at another prize day of the Martinière and to hear Mr. Sykes telling us again of the continued prosperity of the school. Though the institution is one of the oldest of its kind in India, yet, far from showing any signs of decrepitude, it is in the fullest enjoyment of a vigorous and healthy life. Time does not stand still, the old order must change, giving place to the new, but the changes, like those of time itself, must be made quietly and by degrees. The governing body has learnt the secret, without revolution and without breaking with the past, of meeting the requirements of the age. The Martinière School commands the confidence of the public. I found here on a recent visit paying boarders from every province of India, from Baluchistan to Burma, from Simla to Madras; even the residents of the presidency towns, Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, are glad to send their sons for education to this school. I was led then to consider the causes of this extraordinary popularity. There is first the great success of the school in imparting knowledge and preparing students for responsible positions in life. At the provincial examinations both boys and girls have done extremely well, and education at the Martinière is almost a certain passport to the Roorkee College of Engineering. There is, secondly, the excellent moral tone of the school, of which there is ample evidence in the last report. You will remember that in the poem “Oenone” Tennyson in the person of the. Goddess of Wisdom sums up the qualities which alone bring live to sovereign power; they are self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control. Self-knowledge teaches us to be modest and to walk humbly with God; se1f-control enab1es our better and higher nature to keep our passions in due subjection; self-reverence helps us to dislike anything that is base and unworthy. It is a great aid to self-respect to belong to a school with the high traditions of the Martinière, for what Martinière boy is there, whether an old boy or a new boy, who is not proud of his school, and who would not be miserable at the thought of doing anything unworthy of its reputation? Again, the school is situated in wholesome surroundings and in pure air, and in respect of health it compares favourably with many hill schools. I am specially pleased to note the remarks made by Colonel Pope on the pluck, keenness and intelligence shown by the boys in their work as volunteers. A genuine volunteer increases his self-respect, while at the same time he acquires habits of discipline, order and obedience, and in Lucknow the heart of every Martinière boy must warm within him as be thinks of the memories of the defence of the Residency, with which the names of his predecessors are imperishably connected, not only by the record on the ground of the post then gallantly held, but by the unwritten memorial of the school traditions. I also congratulate Mr. Pope and the boys on the high standard of excellence attained in singing, of which we have had proof this afternoon. At the conclusion of his address Mr Sykes says genius may be quite beyond us, and in organizing school affairs we must leave it out of the reckoning. This is no doubt true, but the work of the world is carried on not so much by men of genius as by honorable and hardworking men. Genius has been somewhere defined as on infinite capacity for taking pains, and this perhaps is but another way of expressing the motto of your school “Labore et Constantia”. Our duty is to work and to do it with all our might. On behalf of the visitors I desire to congratulate the Principal, the Lady Superintendent, and the other masters of the college and teachers of the girls’ school, and all who during the year have interested themselves in the working of the school, on the very successful record of progress which we have heard.”

August 10, 2013

A requiem to a poet : Mir Anis

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:45 am

Mir Anis is famous for his Rubaiyat (four lined poetic compositions i.e. quatrain) which have also been translated into English. Yet, it is Marsia (elegy or threnody) and Mir Anis that are synonymous and inseparable in Urdu literature.

In marsia, the lyrical narration of the story of martyrdom of Imam Hussain at Karbala, Mir Anis highlighted human values and virtues strengthening the moral fibre of mankind. He interposed Indian practices and customs of social life in his poetry thus making the marsia, a very popular idiom. We find many non-Muslim poets who have composition of marsia to their credit because of its popularity, particularly for recitation in majlis, during the mourning period of Muharrum.

Mir Anis belonged to a family of poets of Delhi who had migrated to Faizabad, which was then the capital of Awadh. His grandfather Mir Hasan was a famous poet, celebrated for his lyrical composition of a Masnavi titled Sahar~ul-Bayan. His father Mir Khaieeq, who restricted himself to the composition of marsia was also acclaimed for his work.

Originally named Babbar Ali, Anis was born in Faizabad in 1801 (some consider him to be born as early as 1796-97). With the family’s trait of prosody in his blood, Anis is said to have composed his first couplet around the age of six which was about his favourite goat that had died. He composed a marsia for the benefit of the ladies of his household at the age of fourteen years. His takhallus (pen name) was Hazeen and he also composed ghazal. On learning of his son’s romantic poetry, Mir Khaieeq advised him to follow him and restrict himself to the composition of marsia which being a service to their faith was considered to be more noble. Babbar Ali heeded the advice and gave up the composition of sheyr (couplets) for ghazal. Mir Khaieeq often came to Lucknow when it became the capital of Awadh to recite marsia. Mir Anis accompanied his father on these visits. Appreciative of the composition of a marsia by Babbar Ali recited in his presence, Ustad Nasiq, a celebrated poet attached to the Court, suggested that the budding poet change his pseudonym from Hazeen to Anis. Thereafter, with Nasiq’s blessing, it was laurels all the way for Anis as a marsia-go (composer of marsia).

Mir Anis shifted along with his father to Lucknow in 1842. The family initially settled down at Shaidon ka Ahata (which is covered today by the railway line between Lucknow City station and the railway bridge over river Gomti). Anis built an Imambara over the grave of his father, Mir Khaieeq, near his residence when he died in 1844. The residence and imambara were demolished when the conflict of 1857 began, when nearly two thirds of the Nawabi buildings were blown off by the British.

It was only when the last King of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah was deposed [and left for Calcutta] that Mir Anis accepted royal patronage and offers from other states to go beyond the limits of Lucknow to recite his marsia. He went to Hyderabad and ether cities where he was lauded, yet, he missed the appreciative audience of Lucknow.

In his later compositions one can feel the agony of the tragic events that followed the rebellion against the British rule. The poet himself had fled to Kakori a nearby qasba (town) fearing harassment for being close to the deposed King. On his return to Lucknow, he shifted to a house in Chowk where he died on December 10, 1874. The locality (koocha) in Chowk, having his house and the nearby maqbara [built over the tomb of Mir Anis, on his birth centenary around 1991-92] is named as Koocha Mir Anis, in honour of the poet.



July 10, 2013

Golfing in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:43 am

(The first part of this article is by the legendry Ram Advani, who is not only the founder member of The Lucknow Golf Club, but a very keen golfer himself and a revered personality from Lucknow. This particular piece was written by him for Hindustan Times in a series of his own memoirs.)

After Kalidas Marg, first thing that comes to mind is Lucknow Golf Club and my association with it – for about 64 years now. Till 1948, I would be busy at my bookshop and on Sundays I used to play cricket. Till then I had never played golf.

One fine day, my good friend Prakash Naraian Mathur, commandant of Prantiya Raksha Dal (PRD), walked into my shop and asked me for Rs 50. I handed it over to him thinking that he had forgotten his purse. But, in turn he said, “Congrats you are a member of (La Mart) Golf course.” I said to him, “Mathur saheb I don’t know golf ?” But, he promised to teach me. Next day, he handed me an old sack that had some rusted iron golf clubs (sticks) for which I paid another Rs 50 to him.

The British had moved out of then. There were just six members of the club – PC Chatterjee, his wife Lola (pet name), Burmah Shell chief and his wife Joanna, PN Mathur and myself. Six of us used to shell out Rs 5 as monthly subscription. From the Rs 30 thus collected, we used to pay Jagdish (a zoo employee who doubled up as a peon in the club) Rs 15 The club land had no building and under the tree used to be placed a ‘ghara’ (earthen pot) for drinking water.

The lease amount for the entire club land was then Rs 250 which was the big sum for us. Keith Mckenzi joined as Burmah Shell chief manager at Lucknow after his predecessor died in a crash. He was among the top 10 golfers in the country and his wife Barbara too was a good player. He was in fact my golf guru in true sense and he played a big role in increasing the membership of the club.

Around 1950, Congressman Babu Mangla Prashad, who used to reside at 1,KD Marg, and was also a golf addict and a very social person. We used his bungalow for chai-pani and to relax. He was such a jovial person that he would come to the ground to play wearing dhoti-kurta and Gandhi cap. He helped to get the game of golf registered as a sport that helped the club to get financial support (Rs 5,000) from the government. The fund was utilized in fencing the club boundary and that stopped grazing of cows.

Renowned wild-life expert Billy Arjan Singh and his Brother Balram and Jaswant also got associated with the club. Thus started the period of ‘sittings’ under a tree in evening after the game. The brothers also helped in bringing Army golfers to the club.

Once for a political event, the entire ground was dug and spoiled. We brought this to the notice of the then chief secretary Raj Bhargawa. He helped us get a grant of Rs 500,000 which was raised to Rs 800,000 and thus the green belt and the club building came up. I remember we bought a fridge for Rs 1,400 on 14 monthly installments for the club.

In the late 50s, La Marts wanted to open its Junior School but then the land was on lease with the club. So in a barter deal we vacated the land and got the present area that was then servant and the staff quarters. La Mart staff and boys could play golf without paying any green Fees.

Caddies, mostly Martinpurwa boys, used to hover around bureaucrats and rich businessman. Senior army personnel got hardly got an attention by their caddies. So, in around 1962-63- when I was the captain of the club – Lt Gen Sen decided to open Mauribagh golf course. The area was called ‘Chandmari’ and the land was under the Army Medical Corp. I am lucky to have been a co-founder member of this club.

Golf club was in its full glory by now and we used to have matches with Kanpur and Allahabad Golf Clubs. Talking about the game spirit, once Lucknow men lost while our women’s team won. We were feeling dejected when a Kanpur official announced, “The Game is tied – men lost but women won.” This was enough to live our spirits.

Coming back to Keith, he got transferred to South Africa. In protest, he took long leave and applied for world’s oldest St. Andrews Royal & Ancient club in Scotland. He became its secretary and soon a world – fame personality.

Babu Mangla Prasad helped the club get Suchitra Kriplani Trophy (intra-club) and Babu Sampoornanand Trophy (best golfer). Raja Saheb Maharaja Singh Trophy used to be played on January 26 every year. Olympics Marathon runner Zatopek came to Lucknow as guest and P.N.Mathur. Zetopek Cup was thus introduced. Unfortunately, one year the Cup was never return by the winner and was discontinued.

So much for my association, that’s still strong with, both the clubs–Golf and Mauribagh!

Golf’s nursery near La Martiniere.

– by Raj Saran Varma

(Raj Saran Varma is a senior journalist from Lucknow. He is the Editor of a weekly news tabloid The Lucknow Tribune, and this article appeared in this tabloid first.)

If you happen to be driving towards the city’s premier educational institution, the La Martiniere College, set up 150 years ago by a Frenchman, Maj-Gen Claude Martin, you cannot miss this unique sight. Children in the age group of ten and twelve playing golf with twigs shaped like golf clubs. Some even using broken hockey sticks for putting.

This is the amazing hamlet of Martin Purwa, nestling in the backyards of the expansive grounds of the La Martiniere college, where golf is a way of life. Known as the ‘nursery of golf’ in this part of the country, Martinpurwa, with a miniscule population of nearly a thousand villagers, whose fortunes swing between hope and despair, has produced some of the biggest names in the country’s golfing history.

Says Vijay Kumar (36), a school drop-out and a national champion four times, ‘We open our eyes and start playing golf.’ A one time caddy, who used to carry golf bags for affluent people who visited the Lucknow Golf club, Vijay says that the proximity of the Lucknow Golf Club to the village has given an opportunity to the youngsters to hone up their skills. Beginning golf nearly thirty years ago, Vijay Kumar is now grosses over a million in earning.

Says Ramchand, a former national champion of the sixties, ‘Golf has really come of age in Lucknow and the major contribution has been made by residents of this village.’ He now lives a retired life and imparts lessons in golf.

Tamator, (16), who plays four handicap, is a school drop-out, who now doubles up as a caddy and a waiter in the Lucknow Golf Club. ‘I could not pursue studies beyond class four as my parents did not have the paying capacity,’ he says while swinging a five iron. Youngest of the four siblings, three of whom were girls, he was forced to quit studies and take to golf to supplement his family income.

Dheeraj (12), another school drop-out from Martin Purwa, says he was forced to give up studies as his parents could not afford to pay his fees. So one day he too became a caddy and carries bag charging Rs 25 for a round of the 9-hole golf course. Every morning he walks barefoot in wet grass infested with snakes and poisonous insects even in Lucknow’s severe winters. Two or three similar rounds may earn him a meager 75 per day and help augment his family income. Other youngsters from the same village, who are yet to perfect their swing, earn a modest living by retrieving lost golf balls and reselling them for a lower price.

Hariram, another golfer, who plays with a single digit handicap and is a familiar face on the national golfing circuit feels that there is something special about the village. ‘We are exposed to golf from early childhood and begin by becoming caddies.’ Today Hariram, who has his roots in Martin purwa, is earning a decent living by playing professional golf and by imparting training to up and coming golfers after charging Rs 100 per training session.

With golfers winning big prize money, winds of change have swept over this desolate hamlet. Concrete double-storied buildings have replaced the thatched roof huts. Bicycles and scooters have been replaced by swanky cars. Vijay Kumar, for example owns a Honda City, an Esteem, and runs the pro – house in the Lucknow Golf Club. Others too, have been able to run small businesses or send their children to school out of their golf earnings

But while the financial status may have changed, attitudes haven’t. The four time national champion still prefers to ride a Hero Honda, to the club. Says Raj Kumar, who plays at the national level, ‘we feel handicapped as we are unable to speak English.’ This is one of the reasons that Martin purwa, golfers have not been able to make a mark at international level.

Besides this, rues Bhoop Singh, another single digit handicapper, ‘no big houses come forward to sponsor the golfers from Martin purwa, maybe it is because we do not conform to the hoity toity glamorous image of an international golfer.’

June 10, 2013

The Midnight Feast in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:40 am

It’s that time of the year once again when for the full month the sun dose not the set in Aminabad. With the holy month of Ramzan well into the second week, the market wakes up after the Maghrab Ki Namaz every evening.

And if you are looking for some lip-smacking fare, just wait till the regular market closes. As you head towards Aminabad, be prepared to get caught in traffic jams. .Foodies like you are out to check out sumptuous delicacies being sold on the roadside.

The makeshift stalls that dot the Nazirabad-Naaz Cinema road and its intersection can lure not just ‘rozedaars’ but every passer-by. With big names like Tundey, Wahid and Alamgir all in the area, these small joints appear only after the regular market is closed , and do business till wee hours.

Mohd Aqeel decks-up his open-air shop on Nazirabad road after 9 pm and his business continues till the time of sehri (around 3:30 am). “We prepare out stuff in the ‘karkhana’ nearby and put up this stall with seating arrangement on the footpath. People who are uncomfortable dining in the open, park their big cars near the stall and have food or get it packed. Our customers (a large number of them non-Muslims) come as late as 3 am to relish food,” he says and adds that they don’t serve beef.

Nearby is a beef-kaleji shop that sells one skewer for mere Rs.3 while the adjacent stall sells chicken biryani at Rs.20 (half-plate). If you are particular about where you eat, Wahid’s old biryani shop is just inside the lane.

Move further towards Kaiserbagh and fine a sweets shop with customers queued up in front of Lucknow Chikan Art.

Deftly operated by young Noor-ul-Haq, the makeshift shop sells a host of sweet delicacies – lassi , malai , rabri , kheer , shahi tukra (ordinary and special), gulab-jamun, goond-ka-halwa and doodh-pheni (laccha).

“Lassi sells most followed by shahi-tukra and laccha (pheni). Gond-ka-halwa (Rs.300 a kg) is most ‘takatwar’(very nutritious) for those observing roza,” he says. Nearby is a kulcha-nahari-paya shop on the left. Though they serve only beef, the shop still draws huge crowd.

Aminabad crossing has numerous Kashmiri chai stalls. The pink sweet-and-salty cuppa made with tea leaves, javitri, cashwenuts and almonds sells like hot cake and is priced at Rs.5 a cup. You can make it more filling by topping it with samosa (papri) and malai. Laccha-paratha and kebab roll is a new entry this year.

On the Naaz Road, Wahid and the Tundey restaurants both draw foodies way beyond midnight . One can also pick fresh sheermal and kulchey from Arabia Hotel bang opposite Tundey.

Alamgir Hotel in the by-lane on the same road is the paradise for mutton-only food lovers, especially nahari and roganjosh. “These days we start after ‘maghrab-ki-namaz’ (evening prayers) and are open beyond 1am. After that our staff too needs rest as they have to observe roza,” says Shaqeel Ahemd, who runs the joint with his family members.

Management student, Shuja Raza is completely in awe of the food being offered here. After all it is that lingering taste that matters most.

“I remember coming here with my father for the very first time and having shahi tukda. It was the best sweet dish I ever had. For me the food here is still the best, be it kebabs, biryaani or simple kashmiri chai.”

Dose he come with his friends? “Yeah, once, one of my South Indian friends was visiting me during Ramzan. I took him the narrow lanes and introduced him to the street food in Aminabad. It was such fun to see him hogging on the ‘nihari kulcha’. He ate five kulchas at a time, a record yet to be broken in our friend circle.”

……Continuing the food safari on to the old city

The gastronomical journey continues beyond Aminabad. The holy month of Ramzan is the time to rediscover the Old City where for once, you can ignore the crowded alleys, bustling traffic and jostling masses, and check out the epicurean delights that the area offers.

The Akbari Gate crossing is dotted with numerous makeshift stalls selling laccha (doodh pheni), biryani, rosted kaleji, lassi and kebab parathas unmindful of the hustle-bustle. Step in and get ready to brave traffic jams even at 12 midnight.

The first proper food joint that greets you is the popular Rahim’s restaurant. Better known for the beef kulcha-nahari, it serves a few mutton and chicken items too.

Hardly two shops away is Mubeen’s restaurant, the biggest eating joint in the area. As you maneuver your way through the cluster of two-wheelers parked outside the shop, you find four men sitting on a raised platform on the right. First- timers to the shop get fascinated with the deftness the men prepare the kulchas and sheermaal. The speed with which the bread is prepared and speed with which it vanishes is equally fascinating.

During the Ramzan month, the shop serves food 24×7 managed by 15 staffers in three shifts each. “Allah karam, our bhatti in the master kitchen keeps on burning throughout the month. Even in the day, those who do not observe roza, start flocking the restaurant since 7 am. They include lot of non- Muslim customers too. Post sawan, the number of our Hindu customers will go up three folds,” says Shoeb Qureshi, who runs the restaurant with younger brothers Yahya and Zakaria.

In beef, their most popular items are nahari, pasanda and biryani while in mutton it’s nahari, stew, korma achari-gosht and biryani teamed with kulcha and sheermaal. In fact, Mubeen’s is among very few shops in city that sell mutton nahari. That explains the rush of Hindu customers here.

Bang opposite is the lane that leads to the original Tundey Kebabi, famous all over world for its beef kebabs and parantha. The two-wheelers parked in front of the shop are the testimony to his popularity. But don’t miss the shop in front of Tundey’s where you can gorge on freshly made balushahi.

Back on the Abdul Aziz Road, you find Al Madina Kashmiri Chai shop. Run by Abdul Rashid, it serves freshly made Kashmiri tea besides kheer in earthen bowls. You can relish the tea with malai or samosa (patty). You will find a lot of non-veg eateries nearby but need to check out if you are particular about mutton items. Hygiene too may be an issue.

Now come to Nakkhas road where the famous Idris Biryani shop opposite Pata Nala police station remains packed with customers till late in the night. Space is an issue here and you will find foodies relishing the delicacies on the road side and even in cars packed on the road. Don’t forget to check out his crispy kulcha nahari (beef and mutton both) beside biryani and korma.

“We prepare a variety of dishes as ‘kidhmat-e-khlk’ (serve) for rozedars. Items like phirni, zarda, safeda (white zarda), kheer, mewa-naan, sheermaal and fish fry is made for sehri in limited quantity. They are sold out with an hour or two. Rest of the items are served throughout the night,” says Abu Baker who runs the shop. These days his service time is from 7 pm to 4 am.

For the perfect finish, check out the Haji Sweet shop on the Nakkhas Crossing. Do check out the khoya-boondi ke ladoo (Rs 100 a kg) besides other sweets. They also make sweet khoya samosa during daytime, informs Mahd Faizal. The shop, literally on the road, has a punch line ‘peepal ke ped wali aapki apni purani dukan’. Opposite is another shop with the same name and from the same family. But who cares as they dish out some heavenly good sweets !


Article by: Deep Saxena / Hindustan Times

Some vernacular terms and phrases have been used in this article, should you have any problem in understanding or would like to have a translation of it, please feel free to mail us…

The writer Deep Saxena is a well-known journalist with Hindustan Times and this article was originally published in The Hindustan Times (HT City- Lucknow). The heading of this article has been modified to suit the requirement of this section of the website and two parts published on two different days have been combined into one to be placed here. We of course do not expect the readers to subscribe to the views and ideas expressed above, as the views and ideas are of the writer and those contacted for the survey during the compilation of this article. This article is purely meant for leisure purpose and in no manner aims to guide or misguide you.

May 10, 2013

Malihabad’s Israeli Connection ?

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:37 am

(Malihabad is other wise a sleepy town 30 km from Lucknow, it comes alive from May till July every year, and so alive that even the nights are bustling with activity. Known all over the world as Lucknow’s Mango belt Malihabad adorns a few other caps of honour too, that often people tend to pass off. In this issue we dig out an old article and a research paper by Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi. This issue is divided into two parts, part –1 deals with a brief about this fact and part –2 is an academic research, along with references and citations)

Tornos organises special Mango Sojourns (Click here to check this product:) during the Mango Season. We also have an exclusive Farm -Stay property set amidst 1000 acres of Mango Orchards, that is available for stays under different packages. Property details & Picture-Presentation may be viewed on Youtube :

Part – 1 of 2….

Here’s a juicy bit of information for all those who thought Malihabad is only famous for its delicious mangoes. Dr Tudor Parfitt, a professor of Jewish Studies at the London University has taken up research on the resident Afridis in Malihabad in order to confirm their claims of Jewish descent through DNA tests.

Barely 25 kms from Lucknow, Malihabad enjoys a distinguished place on the national map for its delicious mangoes, but it is the presence of Afridi Pathans that grants an aura of mystery to it. It is said that the Afridis trace their descent to a lost Israelite tribe of Ephraim, forced into exile and oblivion in 722 BC by the Assyrians. Amishav (a Jerusalem based organisation, solely dedicated to the task of finding the lost tribes of Israel) wants the Afridis to migrate to Israel. Another Israeli organisation-‘Beit Zur’ too has welcomed them. Parfitt aims to fully confirm any doubts on the matter.

A lost tribes enthusiast as he was, Yitzhak Ben Zvi (Israel’s 2nd president and a prominent historian) interviewed Afghan-Jewish immigrants in Israel and drew information about a number of Jewish customs practiced by the Pathans, and found many similarities between the Pathan code of honour – Pathanwali / Pakhtunwali / Pashtunwali and the Jewish law-Mishna.

Afridi is a tribe that emigrated to the hill country from the eastern spurs of the Safad Koh (Afghanistan) to the borders of the Peshawar district in Pakistan. A sprinkling of them settled in India in Malihabad and Qaimganj in 1761 when they came with Ahmad Shah Abdali to fight the Marathas at Panipat.

The origin of the Afridi is uncertain, but they themselves believe to be one of the lost tribes of Israel and call themselves “Ben-i-Israel”.

The Afridi claim of Jewish origin is supported by Jochanan Shareth of Amishav, headed by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail. Shareth believes that Ephrain migrated to “Charah” or “Harah” (present day Herat in Afghanistan) in 336 AD, and were eventually converted to Islam by the invading Arabs in the eleventh of twelfth century. The ethnic and etymological origin of the name “Afridi” is obscure. But there are some who connect it with the Persian “Afridan”, which means “newly arrived”, indicating that they were immigrants in the land where they got this name.

Indeed, the names of Pathan/Afghan tribes seem to echo those of the Israelite tribes: Afridi-Ephraim, Rabbani- Reuben, Levani-Levi, Shinwari- Shimeon, Yunim-Judah, Yusufzai-sons of Yusuf (Joseph). Old graves with Hebrew inscriptions have been discovered in Ehcharan, near Herat in Afghanistan. The graves date back to the 11th and the 13th century. There are a number of rock engravings in the ancient Hebrew script near the town of Netchaset in Afghanistan-Dar-al-Aman museum of Kabul, possesses a black stone with Hebrew inscriptions found in Kandahar.

It is all these links and more that have prompted Parfitt’s arrival in Malihabad. Using tools of modern science he attempts to rely on DNA sampling to finally ofrge as fact or bust the belief of the Afridis descent, once and for all.

Part – 2 of 2 (Last part)….

Medieval Persian References to the Putative Israelite Origin of Afridi Pashtuns / Pathans

A number of medieval Persian texts written by Muslim scholars refer to the Israelite origin of Afridi Pashtuns /Pathans who mainly inhabit the hill country from the eastern spurs of the Safed Koh to the borders of the Peshawar district in Pakistan. They occupy about one thousand square miles of the hill country south and west of Peshawar, believed to be the area where Osama bin Laden has found asylum.

A sprinkling of them are also spread out in certain parts of India like Malihabad (District Lucknow) and Qayamganj (District Farukhabad) in Uttar Pradesh, where they settled in the mid-eighteenth century. Afridi, whose population was estimated to be 275,000 in 1962, is one of the most prominent tribes of the warlike Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans, whose total population was estimated to be 20 million in 1986. Sadly Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans are the same people who largely fill the ranks of the Taliban today.

The ethnic and etymological origin of the name Afridi is obscure. But there are those who connect it with the Persian afridan, which means ‘newly arrived’, indicating that they were immigrants in the land from where they originally got this name. Some find its origin in the name of Afrata, a great intellectual and wife of Hisron (eighth in descent from the Biblical character David). The derivation of the name Afridi in the Hayat-i-Afghani of Muhammad Hayat Khan from Afrida (a creature of God) is evidently a modern fabrication.

According to the legend, in ancient times a Governor of the province of Peshawar summoned certain members of the Afridi tribe to his court. With native pride, one such Afridi, took his seat at the entrance to the royal court, and as the Governor paused to ask him who he was, he exclaimed Zah sok yam? (Who am I?); and replied with solid indifference, Zah hum Afrida yam… (I am also a creature of God).Afrida means a created being in Persian (Farsi). From then on, the tribe were known by the name Afridi.

One of the oldest manuscripts in the world is Abu Suleman Daud bin Abul Fazal Muhammad Albenaketi’s Rauzat uo Albab fi Tawarikh-ul-Akabir wal Ansab (The Garden of the Learned in the History of Great Men and Genealogies) written in AH 717, in which the author traces the ancestry of the Afghans to the Israelites.

An outline of the main tribal traditions of the Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans have been chronicled by Abul Fazl (1551-1602 CE) in Akbarnama. Slightly different versions are given in Sulayman Maku’s Tadhkirat al Awliya (allegedly of the thirteenth century CE), and in the Khazama.

A number of Pathan/Pashtun/Afghan historians subscribe to the theory of the Israelite origin of the Pathans/Pathans/Afghans. The first among them to trace the genealogy of the Pathans/Pashtuns/Afghans to Israel (an alternative name of the Biblical character Jacob) in a methodical manner was Khwaja Neamatullah. During a discussion at the Mughal emperor Jahangir’s court about the origins of the Afghans, the Persian ambassador amused the monarch by presenting the following account to support the contention that the Pashtuns/Pathans were descended from devils:

Books of authority recounted that King Zuhak, hearing of a race of beautiful women that lived in far off western countries, sent an army thither, which was defeated by the beautiful women, but afterwards, a stronger expedition being sent under Nariman, they were reduced to sue for peace and gave in tribute a thousand virgins. When, on its return march, the army was one night encamped close to a wild mountainous country, there suddenly came down upon it a phantom, smote and scattered the troops in all directions, and then, in that one night, ravished all the thousand virgins. In due course of time all became pregnant, and when Zuhak learnt this, he gave orders that the women should be kept in the remote deserts and plains lest the unnatural offspring should breed strife and tumult in the cities. This offspring was the race of the Afghans.

Annoyed at the disgraceful account of the origin of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans, an Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan courtier, Malik Ahmad, entitled Khan Jahan Lodi, asked his secretary Khwaja Neamatullah Harawi to compile a complete account of the history of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans. Neamatullah sent five historians, viz., Qutb Khan, Sarmast Khan Abdali, Hamza Khan, Umar Khan Kakarr and Zarif Khan, to the Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan territories in AH 1030/1621 CE to investigate the descent of Afghans. This eventually led to the compilation of Mirat-al-Afghani, according to which Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans are Israelites.

According to Mirat-al-Afghani, after their expulsion from their native land of Israel by Bakhtnasr (Nebuchadnezzar), they took refuge in Kohistan-e-Ghor and Koh-e-Firozah, and were later converted to Islam by Khalid-ibn-al-Waleed, who was of the same racial stock as the Afghans. He is said to have invited his fellow Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans to Arabia to embrace Islam. Led by Qais/Kais, the Afghans reached Arabia and after prolonged deliberations ultimately accepted Islam. Kais/Qais married Khalid’s daughter Sara, and fathered three sons from her – Sarban, Ghorghusht and Baitan. Numerous accounts forwarded by Afghan historians tend to favour this theory. Hafiz Rahmat Khan has presented genealogies showing descent from Talut – a prominent figure in the annals of Bani Israil (Children of Israel) in his Khulasat ul-Ansab. Neamatullah has given detailed genealogical accounts of several Afghan / Pashtun / Pathan tribes, tracing their descent from Qais Abdul Rasheed, who himself is said to have sprung from the line of Jacob (Israel) in his Tarikh-i-Khan-i-Jahani wa Makhzan-i-Afghani (AH 1021/ 1612 CE). Completed at Burhanpur, it gives an account of the Afghans, particularly the Lodis and the Surs. Naematullah writes : “…Khaled sent a letter to the Afghans who had settled in the mountainous countries around Ghor ever since the time of the expulsion of the Israelites by Bokhtnasser, and informed them of the appearance of the last of the Prophets. When this letter reached them, several of their chiefs departed from Medina; the mightiest of them, and of the Afghan people, was Kais, whose pedigree ascends in a series of thirty-seven degrees to Talut, of forty-five to Ibrahim…”

Naematullah was the first historian to present a systematic genealogical table of Pathans / Pashtuns / Afghans from Israel/Jacob. However he can’t be given credit for propounding the theory of their Israelite origin. Less than ten years before the compilation of Tarikh-e-Khan-e-Jahani, another scholar Akhund Darwiza had declared the Afghans / Pashtuns / Pathans to be Israelites in his Tadhkirat al-Abrar (an account of his adventures in Afghan territories) in 1611 CE.

Even before the political rise of Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans, Hamidullah Mustawfi had speculated that they were most likely Israelites in his monumental work Tarikh-e-Guzeedah (AH 730/1326 CE), as stated by Neamatullah. This is a general historical account dedicated to Khwaja Ghiyasuddin Muhammad, son and successor of Rashiduddin Fazlullah, and deals with the Mongols of Persia (modern Iran) and modern Trans-Oxiana.

Sheikh Mali of the Yusufzai tribe wrote in Pushto a book on the Israelite descent of the Afghans / Pashtuns / Pathans between AH 816/1409 CE and AH 828/1412 CE. Another work in Pushto on the same subject is ascribed to Khan Kaju, written in circa AH 900/1493 CE. Upon these two works were based Tarikh-e-Hafiz Rahmat and Khulasat al-Ansab of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Minhaj-i-Siraj Jurjari, who had close contact with the Ghurids and held posts of qazi (qadi), khatib, sadr-i-jahan and principal of the Nasiriya Madrassa, wrote in his Tabaqat-i-Nasiri (1259-60 CE), “In the time of the Shansbani dynasty there were people called Bani Israel living in Ghor,” and that “some of them were extensively engaged in trade with the neighbouring countries.” Tabaqat-i-Nasiri is an encyclopaedic history from the patriarchs and prophets, viz., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the time of Nasiruddin Mahmud. It is an invaluable source of information for the history of the early Turkish sultans and their maliks and amirs. Abu Sulayman Daud’s Rauza-ul-Bab Twarikh-ul-Akbar-wal-Ansab (The Garden of the Learned in the History of Great Men and Genealogies) (AH 717/1310 CE) is considered the earliest work on the subject of the Israelite origin of Afridi Pashtuns/Pathans. It is a history of the Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan nation since the time of Moses. Genealogies of the Pashtun/Pathan/Afghan tribes, right up to King Saul, are given in the second chapter of the book, while Mustawfi’s Majma-ul-Ansab gives a detailed genealogy of Qais (Kish), the tribal head of the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans in a series of thirty-seven generations to King Saul and forty-five generations to Abraham.

We find a detailed account of the journey of Afghans from Israel to Afghanistan in Bukhtawar Khan’s Mirat-ul-Alam, according to which Afghans are descendants of Israel (Jabob/Yacov/Yaqub) through King Saul. It is worth mentioning the names of Syed Jalal-ud-Din Afghani and Syed Abdul Jabar Shah, the ex-ruler of Swat (NWFP, Pakistan), who have given genealogies of different Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan tribes right up to King Saul and conclude that the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans represent the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadia Movement of Islam, draws upon Tabaqat-e-Nasri in his book Jesus in India (1899), where it is mentioned that during the Shabnisi rule there lived a tribe called Bani Israel, some members of which were good traders. He further records that in 622 CE during the prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, his military chief Khalid ibn-al-Waleed converted about half a dozen chiefs of the Jewish tribes to Islam. Qais or Kish was their leader. As neo-Muslim zealots, they fought bravely a number of battles for spreading Islam. As an expression of his appreciation, Muhammad showered gifts upon them and predicted that they would attain even greater victories. He decreed that the chief of the tribe would always be known as Malik and conferred the title of Patan upon Qais (Kish). Patan is a Syriac word meaning rudder. Since the newly converted Qais was a guide to his people, like the rudder of a ship, he was awarded this title. And since then, his descendants have been called Pathan.

Another theory is that whenever people asked the Pathans/Pashtuns/Afghans about their nationality, they replied in Hebrew phasq or phasht. Phasq means “to liberate”, “to make free”, “to split”, while phasht means “to spread”. The word Pashtun seems to have been derived from this very word. In Hebrew, Pasht is the name of a deity and also of a city in Egypt. In the Pashto language Pastu means an inner room with just one entrance, which indicates that they might have migrated from Israel to their present mountainous country and called themselves Pusht after a village in Israel. Some believe that Pathans got their name from Jonathan’s great-grandson Pithon.

Some Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans believe that they descended from Bibi Qatoora, wife of Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham). According to them, after the death of Bibi Sara, Ibrahim married Bibi Qatoora, from whom he had six sons. After distributing all his possessions among his sons, Ibrahim sent them towards the East. They settled down in Turan in the north-west of Iran, where they were soon joined by their brethren exiled by King Talut. All of them established themselves in Pasht. Pasht is identified with Parthia, which later came to be known as Tabaristan. Their settling down in Pasht earned them the name Pashtin followed by Pashtun, and Pashtaneh.

According to Pashtun/Pathan/Afghan genealogies, Kish married the daughter of Khalid ibn al-Waleed, from whom he had three sons – Sarban, Bitan and Ghurgasht, Sarban in turn had two sons – Sacharj Yun and Karsh. As per the tradition, the descendants of Yun are Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans.

It is noteworthy that the people of Asia Minor and Muslim historians call the Afghans/Pathans “Sulaimanis”, after King Sulaiman (Solomon).

There is a tribal tradition that the Pashtuns originated in Israel in the days of King Saul, from whom they claim descent through a son, Irmia (Jeremiah), and a grandson, Afghana, from whom the name Afghanistan is derived, with its inhabitants called Afghans. Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans maintain that they grew great in Israel, where they were favourites of Daud (David) and Sulaiman (Solomon); and where the latter assigned them to guard the temple from the assaults of jealous demons. To aid them in this task, Sulaiman (Solomon), master of djins and afreets, taught the Afghans/Pashtuns/Pathans the language of hell. At this time there appeared a wicked magician, Bukht-ud-Nasir (Nebuchadnezzar), who scattered the tribes of Israel and sent the Afghans, as the most obstreperous, far to the east, to the land of Sham or Syria. From there they migrated to the mountains of Ghor in western Afghanistan, and settled down, adhering to monotheism, although surrounded by countless idolaters and polytheists. As the legend goes, in the time of Muhammad, an Afghan/Pashtun/Pathan, Qais or Kish, visited Meccaand embraced Islam, receiving the name Abdul Rasheed. He returned to Afghanistan to convert his people, and all the Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans are the progeny of his two sons, Sarban and Ghurghusht, and daughter Bibi Matto.

Fareed-ud-Din Ahmad tries to prove the Israelite descent of Pashtuns/Pathans/Afghans from King Talut in his Risal-i-Ansab-i-Afghana.

The Pashtuns or Pathans are the world’s only claimants of Israelite descent whose claim is backed by so many medieval references, spanning hundreds of years.


[1] Pathans, Pashtuns, Pakhtuns and Afghans are names which are often used interchangeably. There is nothing wrong in this usage, but each name has its own meaning. Those who inhabit plains and plateaus are entitled to the name Afghan, which has a far wider connotation than just being a subject of the modern state of Afghanistan, founded only in 1747. The northern highlanders call themselves Pakhtuns, while the southern highlanders are known as Pashtuns. The appellation Pathan is the Indian variant of Pakhtanah, the plural of Pakhtun.
[2] Harrison, “Ethnicity and Political Stalemate in Pakistan”, in Ali Banuazzi and Myron Weiner, Religion and Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran and Afghanistan, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, 1986, p. 286
[3] Oral Tradition
[4] Aatif, Khan Mohammad, “Sabhyata aur Sanskriti ke Aaine mein Malihabad”, in Naya Daur, Awadh Number, Public Information Department, Uttar Pradesh, u.d., p. 145 [Hindi]
[5] Islam, Zaiton, “Afridi”, in N. K. Singh and A. M. Khan, eds., Encyclopaedia of the World Muslims, Global Vision Publishing House, Delhi, p. 24
[7] Ahmad, M. M., “The Lost Tribes of Israel”, in The Muslim Sunrise, Summer 1991 (Accessed on the Internet)
[8] Islam, op.cit., p. 20
[9] Kakakhel, Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah, “Origin of the Afghans”, in Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahman Marwat & Sayed Wiqar Ali Shah Kakakhel, eds., Afghanistan and the Frontier, Emjay Books International, Peshawar-Pakistan, 1993, pp. 149-151
[10] Ibid., pp. 150-151
[11] Immamuddin, S. M., “The Afghans: Etymological Analysis”, in Muhammad Tahir, ed., Encyclopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture, Vol. 16, Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1998, p. 205
[12] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., A Comprehensive History of India, Vol. Five, Part One: The Delhi Sultnat, Second Edition, The Indian History Congress, Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi, October 1992, p. xxi
[13] Makhzan-i-Afghani (History of the Afghans) of Naematullah (1612 CE), trans. By Bernhard Dorn, Part I, Oriental Translation Committee, London, 1829, p. 37
[14] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 206
[15] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 205
[16] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., op. cit., p. xxi
[17] Imamuddin, op. cit., p. 205
[18] Imamudin, op. cit., p. 200
[19] Habib, Mohammad and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami, eds., op. cit., p. xx
[20] Benjamin, Joshua M., The Mystery of Israel’s Ten Lost Tribes and the Legend of Jesus in India, 2nd edition, Mosaic Books, New Delhi, p. 16
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid., pp. 16-17
[23] Ibid., p. 17
[24] Ibid. p. 18
[25] Ibid., pp. 15-16
[26] Imamuddin, op. cit., pp. 206-207
[27] Ibid., p. 207
[28] Kakakhel, op. cit., p. 153
[29] Benjamin, op. cit., p. 16
[30] Ibid.
[31] Singh, Nagendra K., ed., International Encyclopaedia of Islamic Dynasties, Vol. I, Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2000, p. 35

Detailed profile of the author Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi :

April 4, 2013

Churches in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:34 am

Lucknow has the distinction of having the first English church in Northern India and the third in the country, if 1810 as the year of erection of St. Mary’s Church in the British Residency, mentioned by Sidney Hay in Historic Lucknow (first published in 1939) as well as Philip Davies in his Guide to Monuments of India, is correct.

The advent of Christians in India dates back to year 52 AD with the landing of St. Thomas in Kerala. A Bishop of India is also mentioned in 325 AD, but the first European church was built in Cochin in 1510 (Vasco da Gama was initially buried here in 1524 ; but later his remains were moved to Lisbon where they were buried again in 1538).

The British built their first church in India at Madras (Chennai) in 1680, (it was also named St. Mary’s Church), followed by another built in Calcutta in 1770, the St. John’s Church. With 1810 as the year of construction of St. Mary’s Church in the British Residency, Lucknow naturally becomes the third city, as no other English church was built between 1770 and 1819.

However, since Rosie Llewellyn Jones in her book A Fatal Friendship mentions the year 1837 while giving the cost of the Gothic church at Residency, a doubt has been created. In her words ‘The Gothic church in the Lucknow Residency area cost only Pound 540 in 1837, with further Pound 70 spent on the gates, the walls, the railings and the outbuildings’. The buildings in the Residency belonged to the Nawabs of Awadh, who built them for their honoured guests, the Resident and the staff of the British East India Company. It is not clear if the Nawab paid for the construction of this church or did the Company pay for it.

Built in the Gothic style with twenty steeples on its top, the church had a cross mounted over the entrance on the north. It had a capacity of a hundred and thirty persons. The church was under fire from the rebels (freedom fighters), the heaviest of which were on July 31 and August 5, 1857. The British were besieged and used the church as a store-house for ghee. At one stage they seriously considered blowing up the church but gave up the idea to save expenditure of gunpowder, which was scarce.

In India, earlier it was not the practice to have burial grounds attached to the church, but in the difficult circumstances at the Residency, the garden of the church was converted into a cemetery. The first to be buried there were victims of the surprise attack by the rebels at Mandiaon cantonment on May 30, 1857.

The magnificent structure of St. Mary’s Church was destroyed during 1857-1858 conflict. A sketch of the church was made by M.C.Mecham (in 1858) and a tiny model of the Church may be seen in the Residency Model room.

Prayer services including mass for Christmas were held thereafter in the tomb of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan at Khas Bazaar and later on at the Imambara Sibtainabad (Built on the grave of the fourth king of Awadh, Amjad Ali Shah). Maulana Agha Mehdi in Taareekh-e~Lakhnau cites a report of the Darogha of Nazal, Karamat Hussain given to the Deputy Commissioner in 1859 in this respect. Hay also confirms this fact in her book.

In 1860, the church known today as Christ Church, situated towards the east of G.P.O. in Hazrat gunj, was built as a memorial to the dead of the Mutiny for their unparalleled bravery, it was originally known as the Church of England and was designed by General Hutchinson. The interior walls of the church still retain a iarge number of marble tablets and polished brass plaques erected in the memory of the British army officers, civilians and clergy that died during the conflict. One marble tablet in the transept is dedicated to James Grant Thomson, Deputy Commissioner of Muhamadee, who was ‘murdered by the mutineers at Aurangabad in Oudh, June 5,h 1857’ according to the inscription. Another is dedicated to Revered Henry Polehampton. The church was enlarged and improved in 1904. It has the characteristic plan of construction in the form of a cross – the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind. The transepts on the two sides of the nave symbolise the arms while chancel represents the head.

A belfry appears attached to the transept on the south. The bell tower has a spire pointing towards the sky with a cross at the pinnacle. The cross is reported to have twisted due to an earthquake in 1933.

One of the most impressive art pieces that one finds in this church are the stained glass trip-tych murals representing the iconic figures of the Christian faith that have been beautifully painted (by some European artist).

The larger one provides the background for the altar on the east while the comparatively smaller one appears on the west, above the main entrance. Both the three paneled murals have painted figures framed within intersecting arches crowning the main painting.

March 10, 2013

Musa Bagh – a lesser known monument

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:33 am

The fifth Nawab of Awadh, SaadatAli Khan (1798-1814) following the pattern of the French General, Claude Martin, in his buildings on the banks of the river Gomti, on the eastern side of the city viz. Constantia (now the La Martiniere College for Boys) and Farhat Bakhsh, his town house (later known as Chhatar Manzil), also built an Indo-European style building on the river-bank at Musa Bagh, at the west end of the city. This building not only had many features similar to the Frenchman’s buildings, it also had large beautiful gardens which were highly appreciated by European visitors of early 19th century.

Musa Bagh was developed as a scenic spot on a sloping ground, close to the serpentine curving riverside. The gardens presented a spectacular view of the existing grand buildings of the time at Lucknow, such as Aalamgir mosque, Machchhi Bhawan, fort, Panch Mahala, Rumi Darwaza, Asafi mosque, Bara Imambara, Sunehra Burj, Daulat Khana, and the Pucca Pul (Stone Bridge).

Musa Bagh Kothi was built under the supervision of Aazam-ud-Daulah for Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, around 1803-1804, to serve as country retreat. It was here that fights between animals like tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes and rhinos were arranged for the pleasure of the Nawab and amusement of his royal guests, quite often Europeans.

Musa is Moses in English and it is not clear how the gardens got the name of this prophet. There appears to be no notable person of this name who could be related with it in anyway. A British writer presumes it to be a corruption of Monsieur’s garden – meaning the Frenchman’s garden, but that appears to be far-fetched, considering the poor knowledge of French amongst Nawabs.

There is another name for Musa Bagh which is Baroween and has been used by Europeans, but in this case also, the origin of the name is not clear. Maybe it was the distortion of Urdu ‘Bairoon-e Shehr’ (beyond the city), an indication of the location of the Kothi and the gardens, being on the outskirts of the city, far away from the main area. The situation has not changed even today.

Musa Bagh is another five kilometers away, off the main Hardoi road, on the western end of the old city [where now the new Sabzi Mandi is located]. The structure of the Kothi of Musa Bagh is in ruins today, but two large kiosks with domed roof, a roofless structure sunk underground along with fluted double columns and arches in parts and other architectural features are good enough to provide a picture of the Kothi in its hey days. In fact there are two drawings, one made by Smith in 1814 and one done by D.S.Dodgson in 1858 that depict the building and the gardens of Musa Bagh in its grandeur. The building had four storeys in one portion with two storeys in another portion down on a lower level and sunk towards the riverside. It had a semi-circular portico opening to the river.

As in the Constantia and Farhat Bakhsh, the building at Musa Bagh was also provided with pottery ducts that were connected to vents on top of the flat roof. These were meant to provide cooling and ventilation. The moist earth of the riverside provided additional cooling to the sunken two storeyed portion of Baroween, and was pleasantly cool during the hot days of summer.

The excellent craftsmanship is something that cannot be ignored at Musa Bagh. The exquisite work of craftsmen and artisans of the Nawabi period may be seen to its advantage in stucco, specially in the beautiful foliage patterns on the kiosks, their domes and friezes. The art work and decoration on columns is retained in other parts of the ruins (sometimes with their original red dye intact), in the shafts and cornices.

Musa Bagh was twice offered to the British, as one of the alternative sites in lieu of Residency, once by the first King Ghazi-ud-Din Haider and later by his son Nsaeer-ud-Din Haider, but the royal guests (the British) refused to oblige and please their hosts on both occasions and held their host’s accommodation, not until they dispossessed the ruler of his property by an illegitimate annexation and became its owner in February 1856.

Musa Bagh has great historical importance in the fact that it was the last stronghold of Begum Hazrat Mahal and Prince Birjis Qadr in their struggle against the British in Lucknow, the capital of Awadh. They held the place with Maulvi Ahmad-ullah, the leader of the rebels from Faizabad on March 18, 1858, when it was attacked by Colonel James Outram, after Qaiser Bagh. Nearly four to five hundred of the freedom fighters led by Mammu Khan were killed and all their twelve canons were captured. Begum Hazrat Mahal, along with the Prince left for Bithauli on way to Nepal. The Maulvi went towards Payawan where he was taken a prisoner by the brother of the Raja on June 15,1858. He was beheaded and his head was presented to the British at Shahjahanpur, who displayed it on the Kotwali gate. His body was later burnt and the ashes were thrown into the river.

In the struggle of Musa Bagh, a British officer, Captain Wales was fatally wounded and died on March 21, 1858. An enclosure in front of the ruins marks his grave at Baroween.

February 10, 2013

A city lost to the forces of darkness

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:29 am

Indian independence and partition destroyed the city of Lucknow and its Hindu-Muslim culture. William Dalrymple mourns the passing of a civilisation…..

On the eve of the great mutiny of 1857, Lucknow, the capital of the kingdom of Avadh, was indisputably the largest, most prosperous and most civilised pre-colonial city in India. Its spectacular skyline- with its domes and towers and gilded cupolas, palaces and pleasure gardens, ceremonial avenues and wide maidans – reminded travellers of Constantinople, Paris or even Venice.

“But look at it now,” said Mushtaq, gesturing sadly over the rooftops. “See how little is left…”
A friend in Delhi had given me Mushtaq Naqvi’s name when he heard I was planning to visit Lucknow. Mushtaq, he told me, was a teacher and writer who knew Lucknow intimately and had chosen never to leave the city of his birth, despite all that had happened to Lucknow since partition. Now we were standing on the roof of Mushtaq’s school in Aminabad, the oldest quarter of the city and the heart of old Lucknow. It was a cold winter’s morning and around us, through the ground mist, rose the great swelling, gilded domes of the city’s remaining mosques and imambaras. It was a spectacular panorama, but even from our vantage point the signs of decay were unmistakable.

“In 30 years all sense of aesthetics has gone from this town,” said Mushtaq. “Once, Lucknow was known as the garden of India. There were palms and gardens and greenery everywhere. Now so much of it is eaten up by concrete, and the rest has become a slum. But the worst of it is that the external decay of the city is really just a symbol of what is happening inside us: the inner rot.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Under the nawabs Lucknow experienced a renaissance that represented the last great flowering of Indo-Islamic genius. The nawabs were such liberal and civilised figures: men like Wajd Ali Shah, the author of one hundred books, a great poet and dancer. But the culture of Lucknow was not just limited to the elite: even the prostitutes could quote the great Persian poets; even the tonga drivers and the tradesmen in the bazaars were famous across India for their exquisite manners…”

“But today?”
“Today what is left of the culture he represented seems hopelessly vulnerable. After partition nothing could be the same.”
It was partition in 1947 that finally tore the city apart, he explained. The city’s composite Hindu-Muslim culture had been irretrievably shattered in the unparalleled orgy of bloodletting that everywhere marked the division of India and Pakistan. By the end of that year, the city’s cultured Muslim elite had emigrated en masse to Pakistan and the city found itself swamped instead with refugees from the Punjab. These regarded the remaining Muslims with the greatest suspicion and brought with them their own very different, aggressively commercial culture. What was left of the old Lucknow, with its courtly graces and refinement, quickly went into headlong decline. The roads stopped being sprinkled at sunset, the buildings ceased to receive their annual whitewash, the gardens decayed, and litter and dirt began to pile up unswept on the pavements.

“Those Muslims who were left were the second rung,” he continued. “They simply don’t have the skills or education to compete with the Punjabis, with their money and business instincts and garish, brightly lit shops. If you saw the old begums today you would barely recognise them. They are shorn of their glory. They were never brought up to work – they simply don’t know how to do it. As they never planned for the future, many are now in real poverty. In some cases their daughters have been forced into prostitution.”

“Literally. I’ll tell you one incident that will bring tears to your eyes. A young girl I know – 18 years old, from one of the royal families – was forced to take up this work. A rickshaw driver took her in chador to Clarkes Hotel for a rich Punjabi businessman to enjoy for 500 rupees. This man had been drinking whisky but when the girl unveiled herself, he was so struck by her beauty that he could not touch her. He paid her the money and told her to go.”

Mushtaq shook his head sadly: “So you see, it’s not just the buildings: the human beings of this city are crumbling, too. Look at the children roaming the streets, turning to crime. Greatgrandchildren of the nawabs are pulling rickshaws.”
Mushtaq pointed at the flat roof of a half-ruined building: “See that house over there?” he said. “When I was a student there was a poet who lived there. He was from a minor nawabi family. He lived alone, but every day he would come to a chaikhana [teahouse] and gossip. He was a very proud man and he always wore an old-fashioned angurka [long Muslim frock coat]. But his properties were burnt down at partition. He didn’t have a job and no one knew how he survived.

“Then one day he didn’t turn up at the chaikhana. The next day and the day after there was no sign of him, either. Finally on the fourth day the neighbours began to notice a bad smell coming from his house. So they broke down the door and found him lying dead on a cot. There was no covering, no other furniture, nothing. He had sold everything he had, except his clothes, but he was too proud to beg, or even to tell anyone of his problem. When they did a post-mortem on him in the medical college they found he had died of starvation.”

“So is there nothing left?” I asked. “Is there no one who remembers the old stories?”

“Well, there is one man,” said Mushtaq. “You should talk to Suleiman, the Rajah of Mahmudabad. He is a remarkable man.”

The longer I lingered in Lucknow, the more I heard about Suleiman Mahmudabad. Whenever I raised the subject of survivors from the old world of courtly Lucknow, his name always cropped up. People in Lucknow were clearly proud of him and regarded him as a sort of repository of whatever wisdom and culture had been salvaged from the wreck of their city.

I finally met the man a week later at the house of a Lucknavi friend. Farid Faridi’s guests were gathered around a small sitting room sipping imported whisky and worrying about the latest enormities committed by Lucknow’s politicians. A month before, State Assembly politicians had attacked each other in the debating chamber with desks and broken bottles. This led to heavy casualties, particularly among the high-caste politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party who had come to the Assembly building marginally less well armed than their low-caste rivals: around 30 had ended up in hospital with severe injuries. There was talk of possible revenge attacks.

“Power has passed to the illiterate,” said one guest. “Our last chief minister was a village wrestling champion. Can you imagine it?”

“All our politicians are thugs and criminals now,” said my neighbour. “The police are so supine and spineless they do nothing to stop them taking over the state.”

Mahmudabad arrived late. He was a slight man, but was beautifully turned out in traditional Avadhi evening dress of a long silk sherwani over a pair of tight white cotton pyjamas. I had already been told much about him – how he was supposedly as fluent in Urdu, Arabic and Persian as he was in French and English, how he had done postgraduate study in astrophysics at Cambridge, how he had been a successful member of the Legislative Assembly for the Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi – but nothing prepared me for the anxious, fidgety polymath who dominated the conversation from the moment he stepped into the room.

Towards midnight, as he was leaving, Mahmudabad asked whether I was busy the following day. If not, he said, I was welcome to accompany him to the qila, his fort in the country outside Lucknow.

Mahmudabad lay only 40 miles outside Lucknow but so bad were the roads that the journey took well over two hours. Eventually a pair of minarets reared out of the trees and beyond them, looking on to a small lake, towered the walls of the fort of Mahmudabad.

It was a vast structure, whose outer wall was broken by a ceremonial gateway on which was emblazoned the fish symbol of the kingdom of Avadh. Beyond rose the ramparts of a medieval fort, on to which had been tucked an 18th-century classical bow front; above, a series of balconies were surmounted by a ripple of Mogul chattris and cupolas.

It was magnificent, yet the same neglect which had embraced so many of the buildings of Lucknow had also gripped the Mahmudabad fort. The grass had died on the lawn in front of the gateway and bushes sprouted from the fort’s roof. In previous generations the chamber at the top of the naqqar khana would have been full of musicians; it was empty now, but there was certainly no shortage of servants to fill it. As we drove into the courtyard we saw a crowd of between 20 and 30 retainers massing to greet the rajah, all frantically salaaming.

I followed the rajah inside and up through the dark halls and narrow staircases of the fort; the servants followed. Dust lay thick underfoot. We passed through a splintered door into an old ballroom, empty, echoing and spacious. Once its floor had been sprung, but now many of the planks were missing and littered with pieces of plaster fallen from the ceiling.

A servant padded in and Suleiman ordered some cold drinks, asking when lunch would be ready. The servant looked flustered.

It became apparent that the message had not reached them from Lucknow that we would be expecting lunch; probably the telephone lines were not working that day.

“It wasn’t always like this,” said Suleiman, slumping down in one of the chintzless armchairs. “When the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war broke out, the fort was seized by the government as enemy property. My father had finally made the decision to take Pakistani citizenship in 1957, and although he had never really lived there, it was enough. Everything was locked up and the gates were sealed. My mother, who had never taken Pakistani citizenship, lived on the verandah for three or four months before the government agreed to allow her to have a room to sleep in. Even then it was two years before she was allowed access to a bathroom. She endured it all with great dignity. Until her death she carried on as if nothing had happened.”

At this point the bearer reappeared and announced that no cold drinks were available. Suleiman frowned and dismissed him, asking him to bring some water and to hurry up with the lunch.

“The armed constabulary lived here for two years. It wasn’t just neglect: the place was looted. There were two major thefts of silver – they said ten tons in all…”

“Ten tons? Of silver?”

“That’s what they say,” replied Suleiman dreamily. He looked at his watch. It was nearly three o’clock and his absent lunch was clearly on his mind.

“Everything valuable was taken: even the chairs were stripped of their silver backing.”

“Were the guards in league with the robbers?”

“The case is still going on. It’s directed against some poor character who got caught: no doubt one of the minnows who had no one to protect him.”

Suleiman walked over to the window and shouted some instructions in Urdu down to the servants in the courtyard below.

“I’ve asked them to bring some bottled water. I can’t drink the water here.”

Shortly afterwards the bearer reappeared. There was no bottled water, he said. And no, rajah sahib, the khana was not yet ready. He shuffled out backwards, mumbling apologies.

“What are these servants doing?” asked Suleiman. “They can’t treat us like this.”

The rajah began to pace backwards and forwards through the ruination of his palace, stepping over the chunks of plaster on the floor.

“I get terrible bouts of gloom whenever I come here,” he said. “It makes me feel so tired – exhausted internally.”

He paused, trying to find the right words: “There is… so much that is about to collapse; it’s like trying to keep a dyke from bursting.” Then, “come,” he said, suddenly taking my arm. “I can’t breathe. There’s no air in this room…”

The rajah led me up flight after flight of dark, narrow staircases until we reached the flat roof on the top of the fort. From beyond the moat, out over the plains, smoke and mist were rising from the early evening cooking fires, forming a flat layer at the level of the tree tops. To me it was a beautiful, peaceful Indian winter evening of the sort I had grown to love, but Suleiman seemed to see in it a vision of impending disaster. He was still tense and agitated, and the view did nothing to calm him down.

“You see,” he explained, “it’s not just the qila that depresses me. It’s what is happening to the people. There was so much that could have been done after independence when they abolished the holdings of the zamindars [the big absentee landlords] who were strangling the countryside. But all that happened was the rise of these criminal politicians: they filled the vacuum and they are the role models today. The world I knew has been completely destroyed. Even out here the rot has set in. Look at that monstrosity!”
Suleiman pointed to a thick spire of smoke rising from a sugar factory some distance away across the fields. “Soft powder falls on the village all day from the pollution from that factory. It was erected illegally and in no other country would such a pollutant be tolerated. I spoke to the manager and he assured me action was imminent, but of course nothing ever happens.”

“Perhaps if you went back into politics you could have it closed down?” I suggested.

“Never again,” said Suleiman. “After two terms in the Legislative Assembly I said I would leave the Congress if it continued to patronise criminals. The new breed of Indian politician has no ideas and no principles. In most cases they are just common criminals, in it for what they can plunder. Before he died I went and told Rajiv what was happening. He was interested but he didn’t do anything. He was a good man, but weak…

“There has been a decline in education, in health, in sanitation. There is a general air of misery and suffering. Last week, a few miles outside Lucknow, robbers stopped the traffic and began robbing passers-by in broad daylight. Later, it turned out that the bandits were policemen.”

“But isn’t that all the more reason for you to stay in politics?” I said. “If all the people with integrity resign, then of course the criminals will take over.”

“Today it is impossible to have integrity or honesty and to stay in politics in India,” replied Suleiman. “The process you have to go through is so ugly, so awful, it cannot leave you untouched. Its nature is such that it corrodes, that it eats up all that is most precious and vital in the spirit. You find yourself doing something totally immoral and you ask yourself: what next?”

We fell silent for a few minutes, watching the sun setting over the sugar mill. Behind us, the bearer reappeared to announce that the rajah’s dal and rice was finally ready. It was now nearly five o’clock.

“In some places in India perhaps you can still achieve some good through politics,” said Suleiman. “But in Lucknow it’s like a black hole. One has an awful feeling that the forces of darkness are going to win here. It gets worse by the year, the month, the week. Everything is beginning to disintegrate,” he said, looking down over the parapet. “Everything.”

He gestured out towards the darkening fields. Night was drawing in and a cold wind was blowing from the plains: “The entire economic and social structure of this area is collapsing,” he said. “It’s like the end of the Mogul empire. We’re regressing into a dark age.”

January 10, 2013

La Martiniere & The Mutiny

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 6:26 am

On the eve of the event, known variously as the Revolt of 1857, the First war of independence or the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Lucknow, the capital of the kingdom of Avadh was one of the largest and most prosperous pre-colonial cities in India. Under the Nawabs, Lucknow experienced a virtual Renaissance. Much of the surviving architecture of the city reflects a unique moment of Indo-European intermingling.

One landmark of architectural achievements of this period is the grand building of La Martiniere. Major General Claude Martin, who arrived in India from France in 1751, as a common soldier, built it at the end of 18th century. However, his fortunes multiplied by the time he came to Awadh. La Martiniere was originally named ‘Constantia,’ after the motto Claude Martin adopted, “Labore et Constantia,” which means ‘work and fidelity’. Claude Martin who died in 1800 was, according to his will, buried at Constantia. Thus, it became his palace-mausoleum. As per William Dalrymple it was “the East India Company’s answer to the Taj Mahal”. Martin also willed that his palace tomb should become a school for boys (he left money to open schools in Calcutta and Lyon, his hometown in France, as well.) La Martiniere, as he desired the school to be named, was started in 1845.La Martiniere was a miniature fortress, with ditches, stockades, secret passages and cannons. It had Georgian colonnades with the loopholes and turrets of a medieval castle; Palladian arcades rise to Mughal copulas. Many of the statues which adorn the turrets and ramparts, depict classical figures of the Gods and Goddesses of the heathen mythology. Inside of the building was decorated with brightly coloured Nawabi plasterwork, especially in the college Chapel. It also has stain glass windows, one depicting “Jesus in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth subject to his parents,” and in other “Jesus in the temple in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions. ”In the lake, facing Constantia, is the ‘Lat’. It is said to be the grave of Claude martin’s horse, or perhaps a lighthouse. Impressed by its beauty Rosie Llewellyn Jones describes it in following words: “It is both the finest, and largest, example of European Funerary monument in the subcontinent… a wedding cake in brick, a gothic castle.” La Martiniere was only 12 years old and still struggling to find its feet when the first spark was struck at Meerut on 10th May 1857 and as far as La Martiniere was concerned 1857 was perceived of and responded to the challenge as the mutiny. Troops were stationed in many houses at Awadh, including La Martiniere, as per the orders of the Chief Commissioner Henry Lawrence. College principal George Schilling showed similar percipience and immediately after receiving the news about Meerut, he moved the establishment into the main building of Constantia, which was suitable for defence. The older boys were armed and assigned sentry duty on top of the building during the day while night duty was assigned to the masters.

By now, Lucknow was openly mutinous. People commenced moving to the Residency for protection in the third week of May but schilling remained in Constantia with his boys. Steps were taken to prepare the main building for defence. Classes continued but the boys were warned to make for Constantia, which had been barricaded with sandbags, bricks etc. An immense iron door guarded the stairway and artillery, composed of a few swivel muskets, was mounted on the bastions. The numerous doors in front of the building were barricaded while those behind were built up with mud and brick walls five feet high and five feet thick. All the staircases were built up and all doors leading to the central staircase excepting one filled up with bricks. To do all this only a few coolies could be obtained, but the masters and boys worked hard and the whole exercise was accomplished in 3 or 4 days.

On 17th June the Chief Commissioner issued orders for everyone to move to the Residency and all preparations for the defence of the building were stopped at once. On 18th June the college proceeded to the Residency in procession, the smaller boys on elephants and the senior boys armed with muskets, forming the rear-guard. The house of a banker was made over to the college and Posterity knows it as ‘the Martiniere Post’. It was a hot, closed house, located in an extremely exposed and vulnerable position on the southern perimeter of the Residency defences. The gates of the Residency were shut on 30th June 1857, locking out both the Martiniere’s flock of sheep and the washer man, who had a large stock of the boys’ clothing. Consequently, the clothes became an even greater problem than food as the siege went on and on. The hard military, domestic and hospital duty that the boys had to do soon wore out what they were dressed in.The siege of Lucknow began on 30th June and continued till 19th November. This period of one hundred and forty-two days bestowed on the boys of La Martiniere College an education no other school children had ever received. Between the ages of six and sixteen according to their capabilities, the boys stood to arms, served as hospital attendants, carried messages, ground wheat and corn until reduced rations weakened them and made this difficult task impossible. Quite apart from this, the boys showed remarkable ingenuity in erecting a semaphore on the Residency Tower, from instructions contained in a number of the Penny encyclopedia. This proved to be of immense value for it enabled contact to be established with the besieged and Colonel Campbell’s relieving force. For the first time in her long history Britain had called upon her school boys to fight for her and the Martiniere boys responded magnificently. As an inevitable consequence, the Martiniere is unique among the schools of the world in having engaged, as a school in serious warfare when staff and students defended the Martiniere Post.

Schilling, the school principal, led a party of 6 masters, the estate Superintendent and 67 boys into the Residency. All but two came out alive, in spite of the extremely exposed position of their temporary quarters, constantly subject to danger from bullets, cannon balls, mines and assaults. Schilling was accorded the singular honour of commanding the Post even after regular troops were stationed alongside the boys.

Fourteen “Senior” boys, ages between 9 and a half to 15 years, along with most of the masters, bore arms in defence of the Post. The close proximity of the houses full of rebels, especially Johannis’ house (barely 20 feet away from the Post) meant constant threat from assaults and even more ominously, mines. [The worst nearly happened on 10th August when during the general assault a mine entirely carried away the outer room of the Post, blew open the doors of the inner room and destroyed a fifty foot stretch of palisades while the boys were away at prayers. However before the dust cleared the doors were barricaded with school tables. The boys also helped in digging a mine from an inner room, a marble tablet still marks the spot in the Post from where the mine, which blew up Johannis’ house, was started. The threatening assaults of the rebels were most harassing as they made the duty of guarding the Post an extremely one, especially at night when most of the attacks, both real and feigned, took place. For over a month this duty was left entirely to the college. Military duty was only a part of the sterling work done by the boys right through the siege. Since all servants had absconded, the boys were required to carry out domestic work and for the first time, regular schoolwork was stopped. Some boys were deputed upon to attend upon the sick and wounded, some to sweep the compounds every morning and some to draw water, some to grind corn and some to cook. Keeping watch until the Masters came on duty at night and digging pits for the filth of the establishment was the duty of the senior boys. Washing their own clothes was a daily duty for all but the smallest. At Brigadier Inglis’ request, thirty-six boys, in twelve-hour shifts of twelve boys at a time, were assigned to pull fans over the sick and the wounded, but it became impossible to keep up this number especially in September when the health of the boys generally declined. Right at the commencement of the siege, Henry Lawrence was mortally wounded on 2nd July. Three Martiniere boys attended him.

In such an extraordinary state of affairs, the boys did remarkably well. It is incredible that only two boys died, both due to dysentery. Two boys were wounded, one when stooping to fire at the rebels and other while carrying messages.

During the entire period in the Residency, the usual discipline of the college was maintained and, with very few exceptions, regularity observed in meals, prayers and daily inspection of the boys to see that personal cleanliness was being maintained to the extent circumstances permitted.

On 17th November, immediately after Colonel Campbell’s arrival at the Residency, the decision was taken to abandon the Residency; which was largely completed by 19th November. But on the next day those boys who had defended the Post went back to the Residency at dusk to continue the defence until the Residency was finally abandoned on 22nd November. A large number of rebels were killed before the Martiniere Post in the grand assault on the Residency on the 22nd when the boys were compelled to withdraw to the basement just before the portico collapsed under the heavy cannonade. (After the assault 24 cannon balls were recovered from the Post.) After leaving the Residency, everyone was shifted to Allahabad. Shortly after Christmas all connected to the college left for Benares. On 15th January 1858, the college was temporarily shifted in two large bungalows at Benares, and continued to be there till March 1859. It was shifted back to Lucknow, once Constantia became habitable.

At Constantia, after the mutiny, nothing remained but the bare bullet and shot ridden walls. Doors and windows had vanished, marble pavements dug up, the library destroyed, the ornamented ceilings and interiors riddled with musket ball, the ironwork removed. The Founder’s tomb had been broken open and his bones scattered, apparently in the mistaken belief of finding a treasure. Staff and boys of the college who served during the Mutiny received the Mutiny medal. The awards were notified to the principal on 5th February 1861 by a letter from the chief commissioner of Oudh. In April 1933, the Viceroy gave permission to La Martiniere to carry a “Flag” distinct from “colours” on ceremonial occasion. The flag was first ceremonially paraded on the Eighty-First Anniversary of Colonel Campbell’s relief of the Lucknow Residency. Whether it is a battle Honour, as generations of Martinians think it to be, or a flag as the then Viceroy decided it was, it is still unique. Ever since the Mutiny of 1857, La Martiniere always had a volunteer unit. Its students also participated in the two World Wars and wars of Independent India.

Today after 145 (now 175, when this article was written it was 145 years) years of the Mutiny, La Martiniere is a monument still alive. It is a flourishing educational institution, which is proud of its glorious past.

December 8, 2012

History of Lucknow Food

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:52 am

The most important activity in human life is eating. As any community or nation progresses, its diet is the most salient guide to its refinement. For this reason, I should like to discuss the attitude of the court of Lucknow towards its cuisine and the extent to which the people of Lucknow improved the art of gastronomy.

At the time of Shuja-ud-Daula, the supervisor of the court kitchens was Hasan Raza Khan, who went by the name of Mirza Hasanu and came of a respectable Delhi family. A Shaikhzada, Maulvi Fazal Azim, had come to Lucknow from Safipur (Unnao District, U.P.) to study. By a stroke of fortune he had been received into Mirza Hasanu’s house. The two had grown up together and Mirza Hasanu appointed him assistant supervisor of the kitchens. It was Fazal Azim’s custom to prepare the trays for dinner, then put his seal on them and take them to the Navab’s antechamber. He would personally hand them to Bahu Begam’s special maidservants and thus ensure that nothing detrimental was done to the food. He also kept on good terms with the maidservants.

Navab Shuja-ud-Daula had his meals inside the Palace with his wife Bahu Begam. The maidservants brought the trays to the Begam, uncovered them in her presence and place the food on the dastar khwan [tablecloth]. Each day food for the Nawab and the Begam came from six separate kitchens. Firstly, there was the Navab’s own main kitchen supervised by Mirza Hasanu. In this two thousand rupees a day were spent on food, so that, apart from the wages of cooks and other servants, 60,000 rupees a month were spent on food and delicacies. The second was the subsidiary royal kitchen, the supervisor of which was originally Mirza Hasan Ali, but later on was Anbar Ali Khan, a eunuch; here three hundred rupees a day were spent on food. The third kitchen belonged to Bahu Begam’s apartments, supervised by Bahar Ali Khan, also a eunuch. The fourth was the kitchen of Navab Begam, Shuja-ud-Daula’s mother, the fifth, Mirza Ali Khan’s, and the sixth that of Navab Salar Jang. These last two were Bahu Begam’s brothers.

All these six kitchens were excellent and every day produced the most sumptuous and delicious food for the dinner of the ruler. One day a fly emerged from the Navab’s dish which had been prepared in the royal kitchen. The Navab was very annoyed and asked, ‘Where has this food come from? ’ The maidservant thought that if she mentioned the royal kitchen, her adopted brother the Maulvi would get into trouble, so she said, ‘Sir, the meal has come from Navab Salar Jang’s kitchen.’

After Shuja-ud-Daula’s time Asaf-ud-Daula gave Mirza Hasan Raza Khan the title of Sarfaraz-ud-daula and honoured him with the khilat. Hasan Raza then thought that supervising the kitchens was beneath his dignity and appointed Maulvi Fazal Azim for the task, who now took the dinner trays to Asaf-ud-Daula’s antechamber. He then collected some of his relatives to help him, amongst whom were his brother Maulvi Faiq Ali and his two cousins Ghulam Azim and Ghulam Makhdum. The four used to take turns to convey the meals to the antechamber.

Following Asaf-ud-Daula’s reign, during the short period of Wazir Ali Khan’s rule, Tafazur Husain Khan became Vazir. He sent these relatives back to Safipur and appointed Ghulam Muhammad, popularly known as Bare Mirza, to be supervisor of the kitchens.

Thus from the time of Shuja-ud-Daula a very high standard of cooking was maintained. The very best cooks were enlisted, elaborate efforts were made in the preparation of foods and innovations were introduced. Expert cooks from Delhi and other places polished up their skills and invented new delicacies and special savours.

Sarfaraz-ud-Daula Hasan Raza Khan would prepare the most wonderful meals. He himself was extremely fond of good food and entertaining and as supervisor of the main royal kitchen he had every opportunity of displaying his talents. Scores of nobles became connoisseurs of good food, though Navab Salar Jang’s family was the most celebrated for its innovations and delicacies.

Reliable sources tell us that Navab Salar Jang’s cook, who prepared food for him alone, received a monthly salary of 1,200 rupees, an amount greater than the salary of any cook in the highest courts in the history of India. This cook used to prepare the most enormous pulaus, which no one except Salar Jang could digest. One day Navab Shuja-ud-Daula said, ‘ Why have you never offered me any of those pulaus which  are cooked for you? ’ Salar Jang replied, ‘Certainly, I will have one sent to you today.’ Accordingly he asked his cook to prepare a pulau, but of twice the usual amount. His cook replied, ‘I am responsible only for your meals and I cannot cook for anyone else.’ Salar Jang said, ‘The Navab has expressed the desire, can’t you possibly make him a pulau? ’ The cook continued, ‘I can’t cook for anyone else, whoever he may be.’ After much persuasion on the part of Salar Jang, the cook finally agreed on condition that he himself would take the pulau to the Navab, who would eat it in his presence, that he would not allow the Navab to eat more than a few mouthfuls, and that Salar Jang would provide the Navab with plenty of cold water. Salar Jang agreed. The cook prepared the pulau and Salar Jang himself placed it on the dastar khwan. As soon as he had tasted the pulau, Shuja ud Daula was full of praise and began to eat heartily. He had taken only a few mouthfuls, however, when Salar Jang tried to stop him. Shuja-ud-Daula looked at him with annoyance and continued eating. But after a few more mouthfuls he became exceedingly thirsty and was happy to drink the cold water that Salar Jang had brought with him. Finally his thirst was quenched and Salar Jang went home.

In those days the best food was considered to be that which appeared light and delicate but was in fact heavy and not easily digestible. People with old fashioned taste still have a penchant for this sort of food but today it is not generally popular.

A special art was to produce one particular substance in several different guises. When placed on the table it looked as if there were score of different kinds of delicacies, but when one tasted them, one found they were all the same. For instance, I have heard that a Prince Mirza Asman Qadar, the son of Mirza Khurram Bakht of Delhi, who came to Lucknow and became a Shia, was invited to dine by Wajid Ali Shah. Murabba, a conserve, was put on the dastar khwan which looked very light, tasty and delicious. When Asman Qadar tasted it he became intrigued because it was not a conserve at all but a qaurma, a meat curry, which the chef had made to look exactly like a conserve. He felt embarrassed and Wajid Ali Shah was extremely pleased at having been able to trick an honoured Delhi connoisseur.

A few days later, Mirza Asman Qadar invited Wajid Ali Shah to a meal. Wajid Ali Shah anticipated that a trap would be laid for him, but this did not save him from being taken in. Asman Qadar’s cook, Shaikh Husain Ali, had covered the tablecloth with hundreds of delicacies and many varieties of comestibles. There were pulau, zarda, qaurma, kababs, biryani, chapatis, chutneys, achars, parathas, shirmals – in fact every kind of food. However, when tasted they were all found to be made of sugar. The curry was sugar, the rice was sugar, the pickles were sugar and the bread was sugar. It is said that even the plates, the tablecloth, the finger bowls and cups were made of sugar. Wajid Ali Shah tried everything and became more and more embarrassed.

I have said that trays of food for Navab Shuja-ud-Daula’s dinners came from six different kitchens. This practice was not confined to him alone. It continued after his time and the honour was also accorded to some chosen nobles and especially to the royal relations.

My friend Navab Muhammad Shafi Khan Nishapuri tells me that his grandfather, Navab Agha Ali Hasan Khan, an eminent noble, used to send roghni roti, a rich bread, and metha ghi [ghee] , clarified butter, from his house to king. This bread was so fine and cooked with such care that it was not thicker than paper. The metha ghee was a very special product which had to be prepared with great care.

In Delhi the most popular food was biryani, but the taste in Lucknow was more for pulau. To the uninitiated palate both are much the same, but because of the amount of spices in biryani there is always a strong taste of curried rice, whereas pulau can be prepared with such care that this can never happen. It is true that a good biryani is better than an indifferent pulau, for the pulau may be tasteless and this is never so in the case of a biryani. But in the view of gourmets a biryani is a clumsy and ill-conceived meal in comparison with a really good pulau and for that reason the latter was more popular in Lucknow. There are seven well-known kinds of pulaus in Lucknow. I can remember the names of only gulzar, the garden, nur, the light, koku, the cuckoo, moti, the pearl and chambeli, jasmine; but in fact scores of different pulaus are served. Muhammad Ali Shah’s son Mirza Azim ush Shah, on the occasion of a wedding, invited the parents of the bride and bridegroom to a dinner at which Wajid Ali Shah was also present. For that occasion there were seventy varieties of savoury pulaus and sweet rice dishes.

At the time of Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar, Navab Husain Ali Khan of Salar Jang’s family was a great gourmet who had scores of different varieties of pulaus prepared for him. These were so light and delicate that no other nobleman could compete with him. Even the King envied him and gourmets would call him ‘the rice man’.

During the reign of Nasir – ud – Din Haidar, a cook came to Lucknow who made Khichri using pistachio nuts and almonds instead of rice and lentils. He cut the almonds into rice-shapes and the pistachio nuts into the shape of lentils so perfectly that when cooked the dish looked exactly like khichri. Once savoured, the taste could never be forgotten.

At the time of Navab Sadat Ali Khah there was an expert cook who made nothing but gulathis, rice puddings. This was the splendour of the royal table, the favourite dish of the ruler and such a delicacy that the noblemen all longed for it.

There is a story about a new cook who came before Navab Asaf-ud-Daula. He was asked, ‘What do you cook?’ He answered, ‘I only cook lentils.’ When he was then asked what wages he required he replied, ‘Five hundred rupees.’ The Navab agreed to employ him but the cook said, ‘I will only take on service under certain conditions.’ When asked what those were, he said, ‘When your Excellency wishes to eat my preparation of lentils, you must order it the day before and when I tell you it is ready you must eat it right away.’ The Navab agreed to these conditions and some months later ordered the cook to prepare his lentils. The cook did so and when it was ready informed the Navab who said, ‘All right, put it on dastar khwan, I am coming in a minute.’ The dastar khwan was laid but the Navab became engaged in conversation. The cook reminded him again but the Navab tarried. After a third reminder, when the Navab still did not appear, the cook took the pot of lentils, emptied it on the roots of a withered tree and departed. The Navab regretted this and instituted a search but no trace of the cook was found. Some days later it was seen that the tree under which the lentils had been thrown was now blossoming. There is no doubt that this incident has been exaggerated. Still, one can judge from it the esteem accorded to cooks at the court and realize with what liberality an expert chef was treated.

Seeing the interest that the wealthy took in matters of food, cooks tried various innovations. One invented a pulau which resembled an anar dana [pomegranate seed] in which half of each grain of rice was fiery red like a ruby and the other half was white and sparkled like a crystal. When the pulau was put on the table it looked as if the dish had been filled with coloured jewels. Another cook produce a nau ratan [nine-precious-gem] pulau, in which the rice was coloured to reproduce the nine well-known gems and the colours were so pure and so polished that they were a delight to the eyes. Many more delicacies of this nature were created which became known to different houses and kitchens.

Of the noblemen interested in food, one was Navab Mirza Khan Nishapuri, who was reputed to have a vasiqa of 14,000 rupees a month. He showed such talent in producing delicious food and enlisting the services of expert chefs that his dastar khwan became famed throughout the city. Another was Mirza Haidar, also of Nishapur. He was such an honoured and respected nobleman that the Nishapuri community in Lucknow acknowledged him as their leader. It was his practice whenever he accepted an invitation to take with him all the items necessary for the preparation of betel leaf and a hundred or more huqqas [hookahs], as well as the necessary equipment for cooling drinking – water. This was a great help to people of moderate means, who would make sure to invite him. In this way all arrangements for huqqas, betel leaf and drinking – water would be his responsibility and these arrangements were always perfect.

Three classes of people were employed in preparing food. First there were the scullions who cleaned enormous pots and dishes and worked under the cook. Second was bavarchi, the cook, who prepared the meals in large quantities. Third was rakabdar, the chef, who was the most expert and usually cooked in samall pots for a few people only. He considered it beneath his dignity to produce food in large quantities. Cooks, too, like to prepared in small quantities, but chefs never do otherwise because in addition to cooking to cooking, they are occupied with the presentation and serving of the food. They adorn the dishes with dried fruits cut into the shape of flowers, edible silver foils and other embellishments. They prepare light, delicious conserves and pickles and exhibit their skill in the gastronomic art in subtle ways.

Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar was fond of parathas. His chef used to cook six parathas a day and put five seers [approximately ten pounds] of ghee into each, that is to say, he used thirty seers of ghee a day. One day the Vazir Motamad-ud-Daula Agha Mir sent for him and asked, ‘What do you do with thirty seers of ghee a day? ’ He said, ‘Sir, I cook parathas.’ The Vazir asked him to cook a paratha so that he could witness this. The chef did so and put in all the ghee it would hold and threw the rest away. Motamad-ud-Daula said with astonishment, ‘You have not used all the ghee.’ The chef said, ‘What is left over is not worth keeping for another meal.’ The Vazir could not understand the answer and said; ‘Only five seers of ghee a day will be given to you, one seer for each paratha.’ The chef said, ‘Very well, I will cook with that much ghee.’ He was so angry at the Vazir’s interference that he started to cook very indifferent parathas for the King’s table. After a few days the King remarked, ‘What is wrong with these parathas? ’ The chef said, ‘Your Majesty, I cook the parathas as Navab Motamad-ud-Daula Bahadur has ordered.’ The King asked for details and was given a full account. He immediately sent for the Vazir who said, ‘Your Majesty, these people rob you right and left.’ On this the King became angry and slapped him, saying, ‘Don’t you rob ? You who rob the whole monarchy and the whole country and think nothing of it ? He only takes a little too much ghee for my meals and you don’t like it.’ The Vazir repented, showed his contrition and the King, exercising his clemency, gave him a khilat. The Vazir never interfered with the chef again and the latter continued to take thirty seers of ghee as before.

November 10, 2012

Gomti – not just any river but a lifeline of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:55 am

It seems a historical snub to the river Gomti to call Avadhi culture a Ganga-Yamuni tehzeeb. For neither of these holy rivers flows through Lucknow at all or even through Faizabad, one time headquarters of Avadh. It is the Gomti, a loop of the Ganges and one of the rivers that does not carry the burden of being “holy”, that fertilised the Baghs that sent medieval travellers into paroxysms of ecstasy. Nowhere else but on the southern banks of the Gomti could a unique interaction between a Persian dynasty, Indian natives, European adventurers and the East-India Company have led to a tumultuous phase of history between 1732 and 1947, of which the siege of the Residency was the bloody climax.

The second map of Lucknow has changed so dramatically after independence that modern day citizens would be surprised to know that the flow of the river dictated the site of the architectural extravaganza like the Asfi Imambara, Sheesh Mahal, Dilkusha Palace and La Martiniere. Europeans built their houses besides what was then a “broad and rapid stream”, as a sharp contrast to today’s middle class for whom fear of floods dictates housing decisions.

The Gomti provides continuity to the flow of overarching ambitions and caprices that seem to be Luckhnawi lot. The Nawabs were led on by the European “advisers” to get into bizarre, ill-conceived projects like the linking of the Ganga and Gomti by a canal. Or the building of an iron bridge by importing the metal superstructure all the way from Britain, whereupon it lay on the banks for 30 years before the work began.

Following unwittingly in the footsteps, the poor man’s neo-Begum. Mayawati – drafted during her tenure as Chief Minister the services of Satish Gujral to design Ambedkar Park. The park has so much marble paving and structure that it will look more like a concrete jungle if it is ever completed. Further downstream, the Sahara group is trying desperately to complete a super luxury apartment complex which has few takers but which has its fair share of controversies. Their efforts seem as doomed as those undertaken in 1803 to build a palace called Musa Bagh, which was accessible on from the river, the other roads being considered “almost impossible”.

The river perversely changed it’s course to almost a mile away, ensuing the ruin of a Nawabi dream that the British instead of moving too chose to comfort into the Residency, could be persuaded to stay at a safer distance in the Musa Bagh.

But the British just don’t stay away. In 1996, the British Government’s foreign aid agency, the ODA (now DFID), started an ambitious 25 year project to provide a sewage system for slums lining the Gomti’s nullahs. This was supposed to be preliminary to installing sewage treatment plants that could control pollution of the river once and for all. However, due to the change of the government in London and more importantly, the unsatisfactory progress of the project, the project was summarily abandoned last year.

The only “builders” who seem to have escaped the tint of folly are the Tatas, who have built the prettiest Taj Hotel this side of the Vindhyas a stones throw from the embankment. A kilometer from this five star, lavishly landscaped dome languishes the Butler Palace, for which the Rajahs of Mahmudabad and Sir Harcourt Butler. They were quickly abandoned when the Gomti menacingly overflowed during the monsoons.

Architectural experimentation was a feature of all constructions in the Nawabi era. The use of the Gomti as an integral part of Farhat Baksh attracts attention in this context. This was the first building constructed in Lucknow in 1781 by Claude Martin of La Martiniere fame. During the lifetime of the French soldier of fortune, one would have to enter Farhat Baksh by a draw bridge, because three sides of the building was surrounded by a moat, the fourth side being built into the river. Martin lived in these cool chambers during the summer months. When the river rose he moved up one storey, then the second and finally during the monsoons he was on the third floor, which also overlooked the river and supported by arches, in thus resting on piers sunk in the river at a point about one fifth across its width. In the book ‘Fatal Friendship’, historian Rosie Lewellyn-Jones says that within the basement apartment of Farhat Baksh were baths and fountains which sprayed water against the windows. In springtime when hot winds blew, the windows were covered by frames filled with “green bramble”. When the waters receded at the end of the monsoons, the mud that would accumulate in the basement rooms was removed and the rooms were annually repainted and decorated. Can the river ever be such an integral part of the Lucknawi’s life style again? The answer has to be a regrettable “No”. Scientists of the CDRI, who now occupy Farhat Baksh, as well as Chhattar Manzil, once an impressive palace, have literally turned their backs on the river, as the building is approached from the other side. Lewellyn-Jones reports that the arches of the basement storey are still submerged in water. A CSIR survey in the seventies found that any attempt to pump out the water from the two basement storey’s of the Farhat Baksh would de-stabilise the entire structure, the water level is therefore maintained by pumps. In fact, a bund (earth wall) now separates the building from the river.

Subterranean rooms were built at the La Martiniere too though critics have wondered how these summer-quarters would have been viable for living in after the lighting lamps in dark chambers and passages. Another innovative feature of this building are four circular walls sunk to a depth of 20 feet below the water bed and going right to the depth of the building. These walls have cooling ducts that allow cool air to be drawn up the walls. They also provided drainage when the Gomti overflowed its banks.

The dryness around the La Martiniere, now converted into plying fields for schoolboys, is a stark reminder that the continuity with the past won’t last long. The river has been tamed, and it is neither a friendly air-conditioning device nor a watery deterrent to marauders. It is merely a sluggish stream, and when your thoughts turn romantic, you do not take a stroll around any of the banks but head towards the forlorn monuments of the city such as Dilkusha – and of course, you need to beware the ANTI-LOVER cops who are on the prowl.

Back in the hay days of the Gomti, Nawab Nasir-ud-din Haider owned a steam vehicle for pleasure rides. Platforms were also built on the north bank for staging giant animal fights, such as, Tigers versus Rhinoceros, Panthers versus Elephants, etc. that were viewed safely from the other side of the river. Today, once again, families in search for a weekend outing head for boating at the Water Sports Club, Shaheed Smarak or the Kudiya Ghat.

They think wistfully of the floating restaurant, which sometimes offered Lucknowites an opportunity to mimic Nawabi hedonism. The venture however, sunk, as it was never commercially viable, nothing unusual with the State Tourism department. One can scarcely expect a return to the days of Wajid-Ali Shah who organised festivals on the banks of the Gomti. The Chhattar Manzil would be lit up and dancing and music on board various boats would go in well into the night.

It was a different century when Belgian chandeliers, artifacts and gizmos such as, clocks and cucumber slicers were transported up the Ganga from Calcutta to Kanpur for the Nawabs. From Kanpur they came by road in covered carriages. One shopkeeper found this method expensive and inconvenient and sought permission to bring the goods in boats up the Gomti. Today, the items are more likely to descend from the heavens: with direct flights from Lucknow to Sharjah a flood of electronic goods keep coming to Lucknow by air. In the next century, the city will even cannibalise the Gomti even worse: building more colonies on it’s shrinking riverbed, discharging more sewage, plastic bags and dead bodies into its waters, building more bridges to facilitate the movement of the growing population and vehicular movement. Reduced to a bubbly brook, there is little chance that the Gomti will have the guts to do what it did in 1962, flooding it to the extent of converting it into the Venice of Avadh.

A Luckhnawi’s passion for the river and its banks is not new but as old as Lucknow itself. Today too the banks of the river have special place in the hearts of the people. My fascination for this river is neither new nor unique- but as a true Luckhnawi, what I consider myself to be, I feel deeply hurt by the deteriorating condition of our Gomti.

October 8, 2012

Colvin College – a landmark institution of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:49 am

Lucknow has been a seat of education since the British times and has since carried on its affinity to education till date. La Martiniere College, St Francis College, Loreto Convent, Isabella Thoburn College, Emma Thompson, St Agnes, etc are just a few examples of some great institutions. In terms of higher education, specialized education and research institutions to Lucknow has excelled by all means. Today Lucknow boasts of Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, eight universities, National Botanical Research Institute, Drug Research Institute, Aromatic Plant Research Institute, Sugarcane Research Institute, Pulses Research Institute and of course innumerable medical, engineering and management colleges that add many gems to Lucknow’s crown.

This issue we take up a landmark educational institute that was long associated with the royalty (Taluqdars : Taluqdars is a term used for Indian land holders in Mughal and British times, at times wealthy landlords, responsible for collecting taxes from a district.) and style that Awadh once was. British in India did pay a lot of attention towards education and the institutions were developed to cater a particular class that later after independence were thrown open to masses.

Sir Auckland Colvin, K.C.M.G., C.I.E. (Lieutenant Governor of the N. W. Provinces) while functioning as Lieutenant Governor of Avadh and Agra during the year 1889, conceived the idea of a school with the object of imparting education to the wards of the court and sons of the Taluqdars’ of Avadh. The ‘wards’ class, founded in 1884, formed the nucleus for the establishment of the Taluqdars’ College.

The foundation of the College building, at its present site, was laid on 11th March, 1889 and the school became functional, after the Opening Ceremony in March 1892. The first Academic Session started on 12 May, 1892 with 16 students out of which 13 were Resident Scholars. Junior and Senior Cambridge classes began on 24 April, 1933.

Till 1933, the School was conducted exclusively for, and on behalf of, the Taluqdars’ community, but, when it was recognized as an Intermediate (Arts) College, admissions were thrown open to all. In 1945 the college started classes in Intermediate Science with help of its Parent Body, the British Indian Association.

Only when the British left India in 1947 did it open its doors to the general public. By that time, it had along with Aitchison College in Lahore and Mayo College in Ajmer and La Martiniere in Lucknow acquired a reputation as the top school in the Indian plains. Later on, under the stewardship of two innovative principals, H. N. Kashyap and H. L. Dutt, it produced academic results that are unparalleled in the history of secondary education in India. In 1982, the College got itself affiliated to the Council for Indian School Certificate Examination, and to date holds a great position in boys education in India.

The College Song

To Colvin College, a noble toast we raise
With deepest gratitude and accolades of praise
Our rooms, grounds, galleries resound (fore’er) with fame
May honour surround our Alma Mater’s name.

To Colvin College, a noble toast we raise
With deepest gratitude and accolades of praise.

Noblesse Oblige is stamped upon our minds
For (the) rich and poor, it’s the tie that binds.
With dignity and grace, our homage now we pay
For youthful memories can never fade away.


Our blue and navy banners may always flutter high
Pointing to the success which reaches the sky.
On our play fields every victory we win (won?)
We should ever strive until our cause is won.


Forgetting not our motto to perform noble deed(s)
Of pursuing our aim and serve our action need (nation’s needs?)
Colvinians do your duty, be loyal, just and true
Our College and our country expect this of you.


September 13, 2012

Lucknow’s Canberra Connection

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 10:02 am


Australia has long recognised Walter Burley Griffin as the American who designed its federal capital city, Canberra. More recently, it has begun to acknowledge Marion Mahony Griffin as the capital’s co-author. Walter’s wife and professional partner, Marion Griffin was an architect and graphic artist in her own right. Today they are popularly known by their first names and collectively as “the Griffins.” Almost forgotten, if not unknown, is that the duo’s remarkable careers culminated in the 1930s with a flourishing practice in India. Even more surprising for some is to learn that one of Canberra’s designers is buried there. How these former protégés of Frank Lloyd Wright came to practice in India is a saga that, as Rosie Llewellyn-Jones put it, “began in hope, but ended in tragedy”. Today, as India’s ever-burgeoning economy continues to transform the face of the sub-continent’s landscape, it is timely to revisit the couple’s little known Indian swansong—and its imperiled legacy.

The journey that led the Griffins to India began with their 1912 victory in the international design competition for Canberra. As a point-of-beginning then, an overview of their entry’s symbolic content offers a contextual backdrop against which to consider these Americans’ trans-hemispherical movements, first to Australia and then to India. It also reveals resonance between Canberra and its immediate successor—and to some degree, heir—New Delhi, and illustrates the unevenness of Great Britain’s imperial project. …………..

Almost Forgotten, if Not Unknown: Australian and Indian Capital Connections

………………In late November 1935, Walter reached Lucknow; then, as now, a destination far removed from the tourist path. Perhaps most notably, the city entered Western ken in 1857 as an epicentre of the First War of Indian Independence or, for the British, the Mutiny. The conflict’s consequences were not exclusively political: the British victors physically and emphatically transformed Lucknow’s urban fabric in the aftermath. Most prominently, the Nawabs’ intricate garden palace complexes and other buildings were obliterated, replaced with deceptively bucolic parklands. Along with this new profusion of sylvan verdure, expansive axial thoroughfares were blasted through the dense, labyrinthine city. In Griffin’s day and in ours, one might be tempted to appreciate Lucknow’s parks and boulevards only aesthetically as benign civic “improvements.” In reality, these vandalic urban interventions were palpable, spatial expressions of colonial power. In the opening decades in the twentieth century, Harcourt Butler and his successors continued to remould Lucknow—faintly echoing the Empire’s project to build New Delhi. By the 1930s, Butler’s “New” Lucknow had attracted provincial capital status and gained a new Legislative Assembly building emblazoned with fish heraldry usurped from the Nawabs. Griffin’s arrival marked the beginning of a new chapter in Lucknow’s urban evolution—albeit his impact would be at a far more diminutive scale.

Walter Burley Griffin grew quickly enchanted with this “city of gardens.” In contrast to his British travel guidebook’s dismissal of the city’s remaining Nawabi architecture as “degraded and barbarous”, the American architect believed the buildings to be “exquisite” and likened Lucknow’s skyline to “a perfect Arabian night’s dream of white domes and minarets”. Ethereally feeling “at home,” anthroposophist Walter mused to Marion, “My physical appearance does not suggest much of the Indian, but I have a hunch that much of my architectural predilections must have come from Indian experience [in a previous life]”. Abandoning his plan for a brief stay, Walter decided instead to launch a new practice and, by June 1936, Marion had joined him to assist. After some twenty years living in the British Empire’s Australian dominion, the pair now immersed themselves in an India on the road to independence.

When Walter was asked if he “was going to follow the Indian style,” Marion recounted, he laughingly answered that he was “going to lead it”. Unlike the historicist stylism favoured by imperial architects, the couple’s architecture featured bold, earth-pressing cubic masses; smooth, planar surfaces punctuated with sculptural ornament abstracted from indigenous sources. For the Griffins, such a “localised” modernism offered a means to distance India from its colonial past. Superficially resembling Art Deco, the couple’s dwellings proved appealing to the emergent Muslim and Hindu elite.

Walter’s work on the University of Lucknow library also led to his first private works; a number of professors commissioned him to design their own homes. Of these, the Bir Bhan Bhatia house (1936) is one of the finest dwellings the couple ever produced, anywhere.

One of the very few architectural firms in Lucknow, the Griffins’ new practice soon burgeoned. Surviving drawings, photographs and textual sources confirm that their “Lucknow office” produced more than 50 projects between November 1935 and February 1937. These ranged from private dwellings, gardens and public edifices to housing projects and suburban communities. Perhaps most spectacularly, the Griffins also designed the layout and an extensive array of pavilions for the United Provinces Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition, hosted by Lucknow in 1937. Other important landscape architecture commissions included a new campus plan for the University of Lucknow and a garden for its library. The latter composition featured more than fifty different tree species. Although their work was concentrated in Lucknow, they also made designs for projects in, for instance, Agra, Varanasi and Kolkata. Significantly, the couple employed and trained local assistants, although their identities and number remain uncertain. Nonetheless, these Indian apprentices may well have extended the Griffins’ influence through their own work.

Ultimately, the Griffins’ new Indian experiences, for them quite exotic, became a catalyst for a professional renaissance. Tragedy, however, intervened. In February 1937, Walter succumbed to peritonitis and was buried locally in an unmarked grave. Having lingered only long enough to complete projects at hand, a bereaved Marion was back in Sydney within months, closing this remarkable episode in Lucknow’s history. Soon finding life in Australia too difficult without Walter, she returned home to her family the next year. Once again in Chicago, Marion would lecture on her experiences in India, despite its grief-filled associations.

Today in Lucknow and India more broadly, sadly, local knowledge of the Griffins is scant at best. Only in 1987 did an Australian living in Canberra relocate Walter’s grave and spear-head an initiative to have it permanently marked. More broadly, as though the city’s history ended in 1857, heritage esteem for Lucknow’s architecture apparently does not include the twentieth century within its temporal scope.

To date, most of the scholars who examined the Griffins’ Indian projects did so working from Australia or America, relying primarily upon locally-held records. Collaboration with Indian scholars is the next vital step toward conclusively identifying the full extent of the Griffins’ oeuvre. Local research expertise and on-site surveys, for instance, are required to determine which projects were actually built and what physical artifacts might remain. As well, a thorough investigation of Indian archival repositories may well yield documentation that not only enlarges our appreciation of known commissions but also reveals additional, heretofore unknown projects.

In the twenty-first century, like the nineteenth, Lucknow has again become a site of urban erasure. This time, however, the wounds are self-inflicted. India’s accelerating economy fuels not only new construction but also demolition and clearance of the past. This phenomenon now poses an urgent, immediate threat to documenting and conserving the Griffins’ built and landscape legacy. For instance, a new office and works for the Pioneer Press at Lucknow was the most substantial of the Griffins’ Indian buildings to be constructed. Tragically, the Press was razed in the 1990s and replaced with a multi-storey concrete tower. There is, however, a remarkable exception: astonishingly, the Bhatia house still stands – at least for the moment.


Almost Forgotten, if Not Unknown: Australian and Indian Capital Connections

August 10, 2012

Lucknow University– Lucknow’s tryst with higher education

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:38 am

Lucknow University that extends over a huge area of 90 acres made a modest beginning in 1864 as Canning High School, at the behest of the elites of Lucknow. The Lucknow University’s main campus is located in a small portion of Badshah Bagh. In fact it is the third venue of this educational institution which started as a school in a palace in Aminabad on May 1, 1864, and promoted two years later as Canning College, it was shifted to the Pari Khana at Qaiser Bagh. Maharaja of Kapurthala who purchased the Badshah Bagh from the British government [at an auction] for a throwaway price of Rs.35,000 after the uprising of 1857, gave 90 acres of the garden land to Canning College on the lease (with just Rs.3 as annual rent). It later became the Lucknow University.

Some details of the short period of the prime glory of Badshah Bagh are available from the accounts of Fanny Parkes, a French lady [who visited the gardens in 1831] and Sheikh Azmat AN Nami of Kakori, a contemporary chronicler. They speak of an ochre-colored Baradari with white marble pillars and a chequered floor at the center of the royal gardens, along with the zenana quarters for the royal ladies and a grand square house near the Jilo khana.

The high walled garden also had two gateways. A wide canal flowed in front of the Baradari which was filled with rose-scented water and small coloured fishes were seen gliding or leaping through its clear white sparkling waters. [A pretty small bridge was placed over the canal]. The beautifully laid flower beds contained a variety of plants and bushes and had their floored walks (paths) illuminated with silver lanterns in the evening. The lanterns were fixed to bright coloured lamp posts.

Badshah Bagh also served as a mini zoo with different varieties of singing birds and rare birds not generally seen in this area along with wild animals retained in beautiful cages or enclosures for the delight of visitors. Small animals like rabbit, white mice, and furry squirrels moved playfully as pets on the green lawns of the gardens. Often partridge and cockfights were held for the pleasure of visiting guests. The contemporary writers appear much impressed by the female gardeners (maalin) who were in majority amongst the five hundred or so employed at the Badshah Bagh. They were given two sets of different colored garments each week, with strict instructions that no old dresses were to be worn on duty. The maalin had silver handles fixed on their gardening implements and the chief of maalin had them studded with jewels.

Badshah Bagh also witnessed the tragic suicide of the Queen Qudsia Mahal, who was just twenty-four years old at the time. Thereafter Badshah Bagh lost its attraction for the King. Badshah Bagh also played a very important role in the freedom struggle of 1857-1858.

The idea of starting a University at Lucknow was first mooted by Raja Sir Mohammad Ali Mohammad Khan, Khan Bahadur, K.C.I.E. of Mahmudabad, who contributed an article to the columns of “The Pioneer” urging the foundation of a University at Lucknow. A little later Sir Harcourt Butler, K.C.S.I., K.C.I.E, was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces, and his well-known interest in all matters under his jurisdiction, specially in matters educational, gave fresh life and vigour to the proposal. The first step to bring the University into being was taken when a General Committee of educationists and persons interested in university education appointed for the purpose, met in a conference at Government House, Lucknow, on November, 10, 1919. At this meeting Sir Harcourt Butler, who was in the chair, outlined the proposed scheme for the new university.

A discussion followed, and it was resolved that Lucknow University should be a Unitary, Teaching, and Residential University of the kind recommended by the Calcutta University Mission, 1919, and should consist of Faculties of Arts, including Oriental Studies, Science, Medicine, Law, etc. A number of other resolutions was also passed and six sub-committees were formed, five of them to consider questions connected with the University and one to consider the arrangements for providing Intermediate Education. These sub-committees met during the months of November and December, 1919, and January, 1920; and the reports of their meetings were laid before a second Conference of the General Committee at Lucknow on January 26, 1920; their proceedings were considered and discussed, and the reports of five of the sub-committees were, subject to certain amendments, confirmed. The question of incorporation of the Medical College in the University, however, was for the time being left open for expression of opinion. At the close of the Conference donations of one lakh each from the Raja of Mahmudabad and Jahangirabad were announced.

The resolutions of the first Conference together with the recommendations of the sub-committees as confirmed at the second Conference were laid before a meeting of the Allahabad University on March 12, 1920, and it was decided to appoint a sub-committee to consider them and report to the Senate. The report of the sub-committee was considered at an extraordinary meeting of the Senate on August 7, 1920, at which the Chancellor presided, and the scheme was generally approved. In the meantime the difficulty of incorporating the Medical College in the University had been removed. During the month of April 1920, Mr. C.F. de la Fosse, the then Director of Public Instruction, United Provinces, drew up a Draft Bill for the establishment of the Lucknow University which was introduced in the Legislative Council on August 12, 1920. It was then referred to a Select Committee which suggested a number of amendments, the most important being the liberalising of the constitution of the various University bodies and the inclusion of a Faculty of Commerce; this Bill, in an amended form, was passed by the Council on October 8, 1920. The Lucknow University Act, No. V of 1920, received the assent of the Lieutenant-Governor on November 1, and of the Governor-General on November 25, 1920.

The Court of the University was constituted in March, 1921, and the first meeting of the Court was held on March 21, 1921, at which the Chancellor presided. The other University authorities such as the Executive Council, the Academic Council, and Faculties came into existence in August and September, 1921. Other Committees and Boards, both statutory and otherwise, were constituted in course of time. On July 17, 1921, the University undertook teaching — both formal and informal. Teaching in the Faculties of Arts, Science, Commerce, and Law was being done in the Canning College and teaching in the Faculty of Medicine in the King George’s Medical College and Hospital. The Canning College was handed over to the University on July 1, 1922, although previous to this date the buildings, equipment, staff, etc., belonging to the Canning College had been ungrudgingly placed at the disposal of the University for the purposes of teaching and residence. The King George’s Medical College and the King George’s Hospital were transferred by the Government to the University on the March 1, 1921.

The following three Colleges provided the nucleus for the establishment of the University :

  • The King George’s Medical College. (Now Known as King George’s Medical University)
  • The Canning College.
  • The Isabella Thoburn College.

This was a rich inheritance for the new-born University in 1920, both materially and intellectually, and it brought with it also the richest of all heritages “a fine tradition of some fifty-five years in the case of the Canning College and some nine years in the case of the King George’s Medical College.” To this the generous taluqdars of Oudh added an endowment of nearly thirty lakhs. The support from Sir Harcourt Butler’s Government was strong and hearty. Since then the Government of the United Provinces has annually contributed a substantial share towards the maintenance of the University.

University of Lucknow is not a modern structure, but rather a carefully planned building that combines the architectural and esthetic appeal with multiple domes, arched doorways, high ceilings and wooden staircase in the original halls. The breathtaking view is visible from the road and it is one of the existing un-spoilt landmarks in post 1857’s Lucknow. Today university might be known for many bad reasons, but then it also has been producing some of the greatest people such as Shankar Dayal Sharma (former President of India), Surjit Singh Barnala (Governor of Tamil Nadu), Syed Sibtey Razi (Governor of Jharkhand), Harish Rawat, (Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Labour – Government of India), Zafar Ali Naqvi (Member of Parliament – India Govt), K.C. Pant (former Union Minister and Dy Chairman Planning Commission), Vijayaraje Scindia (late Rajmata of Gwalior), Arif Mohammad Khan (former Union Minister), Ahmed Ali (English novelist and Urdu short story writer), Brajendranath De, esq., ICS (Magistrate and Collector of Hooghly also Commissioner Burdwan), Isha Basant Joshi (India’s first lady IAS), Nitya Prakash (Novelist and Author of Dear I Hate You & In the Name of Love, Rest in Peace, Poet), Swami Chinmayananda (founder of Chinmaya Mission), Vinod Mehta (journalist) and many others.

July 8, 2012

Begum Akhtar- The Melody Queen

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:35 am


The dilapidated Pasand Bagh still serves as a reminder of an unforgettable woman – Begum Akhtar.

Driving through the convoluted alleys of Saadatganj, an important business hub of the Nawabs, you have to diligently hunt for Pasand Bagh. The area was once central but now it is nothing more than an obscure extremity of Lucknow. Once there; you immediately wonder where the bagh is for the name so overtly suggests its presence. Well, it’s grudgingly lost in the jaws of time.

Somebody directs you to a lane and you realise it has a dead end. All that is visible is a rusted corrugated metal gate, shut in your face. Just as self-doubt begins to irk if the lane is the lane, it dawns that the misleading gate isn’t actually locked. One is tempted to peep in, as one last effort before aborting the quest. And it comes more as a relief than as a pleasant surprise, but certainly well worth all the trouble taken especially for the thirsty music loving historian. For, entering the gate, the mazar confronts you… the grave of Begum Akhtar.

Begum Akhtar was born Akhtari Bai Faizabadi in Faizabad in 1914 in a traditional family where professional musicians were looked down upon. Her musical journey began at her enterprising uncle’s initiative because of whom she got to train under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great sarangi exponent and later under Ata Mohammed Khan. Her burning desire for music led her to distant Calcutta with her mother to further hone her natural talents under the tutelage of great stalwarts like Mohammad Khan and Abdul Waheed Khan. Finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan Sahib, which gave her the final sheen.

For the uninitiated (are there any?) Begum Akhtar was synonymous with ghazal, khayal and thumri gaayiki. She immortalized her own definitive style of singing, a style that few have been able to match. She was a spontaneous performer who sang whatever the audience requested for, branding each composition with her inimitable style. The Begum has nearly four hundred songs to her credit and was a regular performer on All India Radio and she usually composed her own ghazals with most of her compositions being raga-based.

She took the music world by storm with her maiden performance at the tender age of fifteen. The renowned poetess Sarojini Naidu had once immensely appreciated her recital at one of her first concerts organized for charity. This gave young Akhtari Bai all the confidence she needed to continue performing. Before she knew it, performing became a lifelong addiction. Soon, she made her first gramophone record carrying her ghazals, dadras and thumris and the storm raring inside her got an outlet.

With the advent of the talkies era in India, Begum Akhtar acted in some Hindi movies in the Thirties. Like all other contemporaries, she rendered her songs herself in all her films.

Soon, she moved back to Lucknow and married barrister Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi in 1944. She got a new name, Begum Akhtar as part and parcel of a new life. After the alliance, she disappeared from the scene for five long years. All that we know about her during this hiatus is from what her disciple Shanti Hiranand writes, “She enjoyed being Begum Abbasi for some time and flitted around the city as fit for an aristocrat’s wife.” However, her infatuation with the glamorous title did not last too long, and she soon found herself yearning for her only subterfuge. At the same time, she lost her mother which further heightened the restlessness brewing within. She fell seriously ill and ultimately physicians compelled Barrister Abbasi to relent and allow Begum Akhtar to take to music again.

So, in 1949, she returned to the recording studios, the Lucknow Radio Station and soon after, to stage performances. She continued performing right to the end of her life. She finally breathed her last soon after her last performance in Ahmedabad and was brought down to Lucknow and buried in Pasand Bagh.

With that one burial, we buried a life much larger than life. Imagine a woman who lived like a queen who ruled over the hearts of all her fans her entire life. She would shower gifts on all around her, to the extent that she would give away, there and then, even a shawl or a diamond if somebody would casually pay her a complement.

She loved her students like her children. ‘Ammi’, as she was so fondly called, epitomizes all that she meant to them. All her life, through thick and thin, she taught music to all who cared to learn from her, for not a single penny at all.
A liberated soul that she was, she lived royally in her ‘kothi’ on Havelok Road in the city. She was extremely fond of perfumes and she would rave about it for days if somebody happened to gift one to her. Such was her simplicity. She won hearts wherever she went, including the pilots who flew her to various parts of the country for her numerous concerts and the ordinary people. In fact, there was a man who would sell lemons claiming them to be grown in her garden. He would scribble her name everywhere, from doors to roads. He was one die-hard fan who boosted her popularity immensely in the city.

Today, the compound around her tomb stands encroached. Near her tomb, in two make-shift shanties live some people. “Humein Begum Sahib ki bahu ne rakha tha maqbare pe seva ke liye,” they say. They have never been paid for the job and they are indifferent. “Hum to mazdoori karte hain.”

And amidst all this you suddenly realize that the place is hauntingly barren, maybe because her voice doesn’t reverberate in the ambiance when she practices…….maybe inside.

June 10, 2012

Time now to gorge on Mangoes!!!

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:30 am

(Malihabad is a town 30 km from Lucknow (India). It is the mango belt of North India and is internationally acclaimed for its mangoes. Among different varieties of mangoes grown here, Dussheri is the most popular variety)

The people of Malihabad are as interesting as the Dussehri mangoes grown here. The frown on his forehead eases a bit as the old man moves for the kill. Check and mate. “Shatranj sharpens your mental faculties, but makes you an addict too,” he tells anybody who cares to listen, evidently satisfied with the result of the game. This cannot be contested. After all, Padmashri Haji Kaleemullah Khan is the country’s best known expert on mangoes. You could call Khan the ultimate aam aadmi (‘Mango Man’ – though correctly it translates as ‘common man’), He has developed innumerable new varieties of mango — 300 alone grow on a tree, in his orchard at Malihabad near Lucknow, which is at least 100 years old (one of these he calls Sachin and another Aishwarya). So, under the shade of mango trees laden with fruit, the peace disturbed only by the chirping of birds, his judgment on chess goes uncontested.

Of all the fruit we eat, mango perhaps is the only one indigenous to India. Soon, the mango crops, in all their splendid colours, flavours and shapes, will come to the market. First will be the Alphonso from the Ratnagiri belt in Maharashtra. Some time towards the end of May, Dussehri from Malihabad, long and sensuous, meant to be sucked and not cut, will hit the market. In a good year, it can fetch up to Rs 150 crore to the 8,000-odd mango growers of Malihabad. It is now sold to mango lovers in faraway Japan and United States also.

Malihabad, one of the three tehsils of Lucknow, has several claims to fame. It was home to Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi (born Shabbir Hasan Khan, he was close to Jawaharlal Nehru; but he migrated to Pakistan in 1958 because he feared Hindi would kill Urdu) and tennis champion Ghaus Mohammed. Shyam Benegal’s celluloid caper, Junoon, based on Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons and featuring Shashi Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Nafisa Ali, was shot extensively in Malihabad. But it is the Dussehri mango that has put the village on the world map. The Malihabadi Dussehri was granted Geographical Indication registration in 2009. It now sits on the same exalted pedestal as Darjeeling Tea and Coorg Orange (Karnataka).

The first Dussehri was grown some 150 years ago. That tree still exists, and locals say it is “in good health”. There are about 2,000 nurseries here and almost 30,000 hectares under mango plantation. The economy of Malihabad runs on the Dussehri mango; it’s the lifeline of the 17,000 people who live here, most of them Afridi Pathans. Legend has it that their ancestors came from the north-west in pre-British times to work as soldiers of fortune in the armies of local rajas and nawabs. In peace time, they took to farming and plantations. During 1857, several locals joined the mutineers against the forces of East India Company.

The men here are sturdy and handsome, and talk fondly of the Pathan code of honour that revolves around revenge, hospitality and protection. One Malihabad hothead, Nabi Sher Khan, is known to have removed his eye to drive away the fly that was nagging it — Na rahegi aankh, na baithegi makkhi (Where will the fly sit when there is no eye), he is said to have told his people.

Now there is a new twist to their ancestry. According to research carried out by Navras Jaat Aafreedi, assistant professor in the Gautam Buddha University in Greater Noida, on the lost tribes of Israel, the Afridi Pathans have Jewish lineage. He started his research work in 2002 and, after his PhD from the Lucknow University in 2005, went to the Tel Aviv University in Israel for this work on the history of the Jewish people. “About half of the Pathans in Malihabad are Afridis who are one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel,” he says. He prefers to call them Israelite meaning someone related to the ancient times in modern-day Israel which came into existence as a nation for Jews only in 1948.

But that is the last of the worries of Khan and the other mango growers of Malihabad. Their problems are more mundane. “Production is falling every year and it is sad that aam(mango, pun for commoner) is becoming khaas (special). Falling production and the high prices will keep it away from the common man’s plate,” says Khan.

Last year, Uttar Pradesh had produced 3.5 million tones of mangoes. About 40 per cent of that came from Malihabad. This year, Dussehri prices will stay high. It may not be such a bad thing for the farmers though. But they insist profits are down because of the drop in yield. Bugs and pests are regular spoilers here, so are parrots and squirrels.

A scientist in the Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture at Lucknow says that mango trees have biennial bearing and a regular crop is always followed by ‘shy bearing’. But farmers here say that, if the weather doesn’t turn inclement, with proper care these trees can give a rich harvest every year. That way, they might end up over-flogging the trees. Scientists suggest the mango plantations in Malihabad be rejuvenated to secure future production. In the early part of the last century, almost 1,300 mango varieties are said to have been grown in Malihabad; this figure is down to 600-odd now. Apart from Dussehri, other famous varieties grown here include Chausa, Langda, Amrapali, Safeda, Husnara etc.

Some growers rue that the fall in yields has driven their new generation away from the plantations. In the lucrative West Asian market, Pakistan is giving Malihabad a run for its money because it transports its fruit by sea, which works out cheaper than Malihabad mangoes which are sent there by air. Some sharp farmers have even begun to ask for a subsidy from the government to run their plantations! “There are no facilities or incentives from the government for the mango belts,” All India Mango Growers’ Association President Insram Ali says. What is left unsaid is that farm income is not taxed in the country.

Some threats are imaginary, some real. Malihabad is only 30 km away from Lucknow. Like most other cities, the Uttar Pradesh capital, too, has seen an explosion in population. Many people dread the day when the lush green mango orchards of Malihabad may have to make way for concrete and glass high rises.

At the moment, it is business time in Malihabad. Several contractorscome to Malihabad, some local and many outsiders, some on bicycles and others on motorcycles and cars, to take part in the auction of the orchards. Exporters have already had trade enquiries from Japan; besides they will export mango to Dubai, West Asian nations and Singapore too. The sweet taste of success, and money, is unmistakable.

‘Ek Shaam Malihabadi Dussehri Ke Naam’ – 30th June’12

Come 30th June 2012, Mango Growers’ Association of India will be organising ‘Ek Shaam Malihabadi Dussehri Ke Naam’ at Amrapali Water Park on the outskirts of the state capital. Envoys of Algeria, Fiji, Lebanon, Tajakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and many other countries are expected to attend this programme, that will include stroll in the mango orchards, interaction with the farmers, mango tasting and cultural programmes including sufi music and poetry recitals by none other than Munawwar Rana, Suman Dubey and Raees Ansari.

TORNOS will arrange a free transport for all the guests handled by it from their respective hotels to the venue and back. Also the guests of Tornos will be offered VVIP passes at the venue including an exclusive dinner.

May 8, 2012

Bada Mangal (The Big Tuesday)

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 9:01 am

It was 1718 when the queen Alia Begum was getting some construction work done in Aliganj area for a regal building. During the digging work labourers found two statues of Lord Hanuman. Alia Begum got the statues placed somewhere in the corner of the construction area. Next, night in her dreams, she heard -‘install these statues and you will have a child born to you’. Within few days Alia Begum got the statue installed and it is the temple that is now known as ‘Purana Hanuman Mandir’, Aliganj. Alia Begum was ‘blessed’ with a son she named him, ‘Mangat Rai Firoz Shah’

If you think that ‘Naya Hanuman Mandir’, Aliganj is some recent temple, then you are wrong. ‘Naya’ or new is a misnomer. The Naya Hanuman Mandir is about 400 years old. It’s called ‘Naya’ as it came up a few decades after the ‘Purana’ or the old temple. Jathmal made the Naya Hanuman Mandir in 1752; the commander of Alia Begum was taking the other statue to some other place for installation. While they all were moving in a procession, the elephant carrying the statue sat at one place and refused to move further. Jathmal installed the statue at the place where the elephant sat. ‘This became the ‘Naya Hanuman Temple’.

Jathmal after making the temple, performed ‘puja’ (prayers). It was the first Tuesday of Jyestha month (month in hindu calendar – usually peak summer of May/June). Since then from the first Tuesday of Jyestha this ‘Bada Mangal’, is celebrated in the Naya Hanuman Mandir, Aliganj, where people come from far off places to make their wishes to Lord Hanuman.

This is the story that old Pujaris and shopkeepers were telling the visitors on the eve of Bada Mangal on Tuesday at the Naya Hanuman Mandir.

Bada Mangal, a festival devoted to the Hindu Deity Lord Hanuman is unique to Lucknow as it happens only in Lucknow and is celebrated here for past 400 years. As it is unique to Lucknow, devotees come over from all over the state and even some other parts of the country to seek blessings of Lord Hanuman.

Bada Mangal is celebrated each Tuesday from the first Tuesday to the last Tuesday of Hindu month Jyestha. About eight hundred thousand devotees visit the temple on each Tuesday of the Bada Mangal.

The Kapata (doors) of the Sanctum Sanctorum are closed since morning and behind the closed doors, ‘snan’ (bathing), ‘vastra dharan’ (clothing) and ‘shringaar’ (make up) ceremonies of Lord Hanuman are done. The doors are thrown open to the devotees few hours before the midnight and are open till the wee hours of Wednesday.

Though the Bada Mangal is unique to Naya Hanuman Mandir, but over the years it is being celebrated in all Hanuman Temples in and around the city. In fact this year a temple in Indira Nagar locality of the city became a temple in news as here a huge ladoos (sweet meet in the shape of a ball) – weighing 301 kgs was offered to Lord Hanuman. This is claimed to be biggest ladoo being offered to lord Hanuman ever on Bada Mangal.

On the roadside corporate houses, shopkeepers and residents erect canopies to offer free unlimited chilled sherbet, water and food to all passer-bys, blaring chants dedicated to Lord Hanuman can be heard in all Hanuman temples. Evening is the time for children to rejoice in fairs that are put up around the temples for the devotees. Muslims in large numbers put up stalls to offer water and food to the devotees in the scorching summer heat of Lucknow.

This festival that is unique to Lucknow is the biggest example of secularism and cross-religious beliefs of people of Lucknow. Innumerable examples of Hindus constructing mosques and Muslims constructing temples can be found in Lucknow. Lucknow till date is a peaceful city that has had no history of any communal violence or has shown any intolerance toward opposite regions.

April 8, 2012

Ex-Chief Minister of UP, Mayawati – the Lutyens of Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:59 am

State of Uttar Pradesh has just had brush with a very Lutyens like chief minister Mayawati, who lost to a new generation young man AKhilesh Yadav, but not before realizing her long cherished dream of making a mark in the architectural re-construction of Lucknow (the capital of Uttar Pradesh & an erstwhile capital of Oudh) and Noida (Part of Delhi’s region). The marvels have become famous – some will say notorious – for erecting dozens of giant statues in Lucknow of dalit (downtrodden castes) icons like B.R. Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and herself (this of course has had comparisons to Saddam Hussian, who was fond of making his own statues while alive). Yet history may eventually remember her not just as a dalit politician but also as the Lutyens of Lucknow.

When the British Raj shifted its capital to Delhi, Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and other British architects were summoned to India to build New Delhi, a great new city outside the old walled city of Delhi. They created wide avenues and giant edifices of red sandstone. Enormous public spaces were created between Lutyens’ two most famous creations, India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House).

Mayawati’s scale was though not quite as ambitious. Yet her giant parks in Lucknow must rank among the greatest new public spaces created in any Indian city since Independence. Her parks are ringed by sandstone lattice walls that seem to come straight off the drawing board of Lutyens.

Let nobody think that she has simply built statues. She has installed statues and memorials in public parks covering hundreds of acres. The Gomti Park, right along the banks of the Gomti river in Lucknow, is a wonderful open space in the heart of the city, one that Mumbaikars (people of Mumbai) would kill for.

She has used a creamy sandstone, different in colour from Lutyens’ red, but her style is startlingly similar. Her memorials have domes reminiscent of the dome of Rashtrapati Bhavan, built for the Viceroy to occupy in Delhi. Some architects believe that in designing Rahstrapati Bhavan’s dome, Lutyens aimed to incorporate elements of Buddhist architecture. Famous Buddhist stupas at shrines like Sarnath and Sanchi have huge drum-like domes. They also have sandstone lattice walls. Lutyens and his fellow architects incorporated both these features while building New Delhi.

So, it is no coincidence that Mayawati’s Lucknow resembles Lutyens’ Delhi. She has drawn on ancient Buddhist architecture no less than Lutyens did.

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar asked dalits to adopt Buddhism as a refuge from caste oppression by high class Hindus. Mayawati has taken the neo-Buddhist approach further, using the elephant (sacred in Buddhism) as her party’s election symbol. Hindu dalits have always been oppressed, and have never had a historical golden era to draw on as a source of pride. But the neo-Buddhist dalit has a Buddhist golden era to hark back to, and Mayawati has used this to the hilt.

Like Lutyens and the Mughals earlier, Mayawati has used architecture to send out a political message. Lutyens’ New Delhi aimed to symbolise the glory of British imperial rule. Shahjahan’s Red Fort aimed to symbolise the glory of Mughal rule. Mayawati’s Lucknow symbolises the rise of dalits, mixing this with memories of the ancient glory of Buddhist India.

She has been criticized widely for spending hundreds of crores on symbols of grandeur instead of spending it on the poor. This is no different from criticism by Indian nationalists of Lutyens and the British Raj, who were also accused of wasting enormous sums on grand edifices while ordinary people starved. Nobody remembers that criticism of Lutyens any more. The same will one day be true of Mayawati.

Her New Lucknow has snazzy wide roads and posh hotels next to the great parks. They look very high-class compared with the crumbling, crowded alleys of the old city. Critics complain that she has created a brand new area for a new elite while neglecting old areas of the city. They acknowledge that the parks are indeed great open spaces that the public can use, but say it’s terrible to spend crores on a New Lucknow while leaving the old city immersed in filth and neglect. Doubtless exactly the same criticisms were made of Lutyens when he built New Delhi, neglecting Old Delhi.

Some old-time residents of Lucknow are highly critical of the building style of Mayawati’s New Lucknow. They say her giant new structures are completely out of character with the city’s famous Islamic architecture and its two great Imambaras. This, again, eerily echoes criticism of Lutyens by Delhi residents of his time, for building something completely out of character with the great Islamic architecture of old Delhi.

The criticism in both cases is accurate, but misses the point. Both Mayawati and Lutyens sought to overthrow the old order and establish the greatness of the new. In doing so, they consciously sought an architectural style that would be grand in ambition but totally different from the style of the rulers they displaced.

Lutyens celebrated rule by the British imperial race. Mayawati is celebrating rule by the underdog, a miracle made possible by democracy. In this respect, New Lucknow now is on the road to beat Lutyens’ New Delhi or so she perceived it to be.

The luck was not with her and she lost the 2012 elections, and now all we wish is that the new political bosses appreciate the new buildings and maintain it as a hallmark of a creative excellence, made by public money for the public to enjoy in it. Also the new government adds to the beautification of Lucknow in many other manners that were left out by the Mayawati regime.

March 8, 2012

The Epicurean Delight – Lucknow, The Culinary Capital

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:56 am

It was 154 years ago that the last of the king of Avadh walked on the sarzameen (land) of their beloved Lucknow. While these monarchs sat on the throne of Avadh, there was nothing that they left untouched, thankfully, for their touch was like the proverbial magic wand. It could raise the most mundane of activities into the realm of art and to unattained heights of excellence. Little wonder that even bawarchis became master-creators of culinary delights. Powerful courts all over India vied with each other to wean away a cook who had either worked or was trained in Lucknow. To belong to Lucknow was the highest qualification a cook could hold.

The rulers of Avadh engaged in peaceful pursuits since the battle of Buxar, and laid the foundation of a culture which dazzled the world. Under their patronage developed a cuisine which did not remain the prerogative of royalty alone. Recipes travelled from the royal kitchen to the kitchens of the nobility and from there, to the kitchens of ordinary people. Soon the Luckhnawi learnt not only to eat well but to spend more than he should on his bawarchi khana.

All the while, research and innovation proceeded unabated in the bawarchi khanas of the royalty and aristocracy where money was not a constraint, neither was time. In the mid-l8th century, in the personal bawarchi khana of Nawab Shuja-ud-daula, Rs. 60,000 was spent per month or Rs. 720,000 thousand per year on the preparation of dishes. The dishes which adorned his dastarkhwan did not come from that kitchen alone but from five other bawarchi khanas, including that of his mother Nawab Begum and his wife Bahu Begum. These ladies separately spent Rs. 9000 every month on the preparation of food. The staggering salaries of the hierarchy of cooks and other kitchen staff came from a separate budget. However, high salaries were not the only reason for the excellent performance of the cooks. They were given total freedom to pursue their work their own way. Examples of cooks laying down conditions of employment before crowned heads, and the latter meekly accepting them, would only be found in Lucknow. And in Lucknow alone would you find cooks strutting off in a huff if the king did not sit down for a meal when told to do so by the cook because the food was hot. A tale is told of a cook employed only to prepare mash ki dal (arhar ki dal) on a monthly salary of Rs. 500. The dal was not cooked daily but once in a while, and the king was condition-bound to sit down at the dastarkhwan when the cook announced that the dal was ready. The king once delayed, so the cook left. Before leaving, he emptied the contents of the dish at a place where stood a stalk of a dead tree. In a few days, leaves started sprouting from the stalk and before long; the tree turned a healthy green colour (source: Abdul Sharar’s `The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture’). The story may appear like an exaggeration but the fact remains that the ingredients that went into the preparation of the royal dishes were very nutritious.

It was an unwritten law that the master would sanction whatever quantity of ingredients the cook demanded. No questions were asked, nor doubts expressed. Another popular story goes that king Ghazi-ud-din Haidar slapped his vazir Agha Meer for reducing the quantity of ghee used by the cook in preparing parathas. The king was no fool. He said that even if the cook pilfered some ghee, so what? The parathas he made were excellent, while “you rob the whole monarchy and think nothing of it !” It was not royalty alone who pampered their cooks. The nobility, aristocracy and people of lesser means too maintained well stocked and well staffed kitchens from where were turned out the most exotic of dishes. Begums and ordinary housewives too persevered in their kitchens and acquired an excellence that could match the skills of a professional bawarchi.

Broadly, there are three categories of cooks in Lucknow. The bawarchis cook food in large quantities. The rakabdars cook in small gourmet quantities. Rakabdars also specialize in the garnishing and presentation of dishes. The nanfus make a variety of rotis, chapatis naans sheermals, kulchas and taftans. Normally, one cook does not prepare the entire meal. There are specialists for different dishes and also a variety of helpers like the degshos who wash the utensils, the masalchis who grind the masala and the mehris who carry the khwan (tray) to be spread on the dastarkhwan. The wealthy always had their kitchens supervised by an officer called daroga-e-bawarchi khana or mohtamim. It was this officer’s seal on the khwan that guaranteed quality control.

The Lucknow dastarkhwan would not be complete unless it had the following dishes: qorma (braised meat in thick gravy), salan (a gravy dish of meat or vegetables), qeema (minced meat), kababs (pounded meat fried or roasted over a charcoal fire), bhujia (cooked vegetables), dal, pasinda (fried slivers of very tender meat, usually kid, in gravy). Rice is cooked with meat in the form of a pulao, chulao (fried rice) or served plain. There would also be a variety of rotis. Desserts comprise gullati (rice pudding), kheer (milk sweetened and boiled with whole rice to a thick consistency), sheer brunj, (a rich, sweet rice dish boiled in milk), muzaffar (vermicelli fried in ghee and garnished with almonds and saffron) and halwas garnished with balai (cream). The varieties of dishes would increase with one’s status.

Lucknow is known for its large varieties of pulaos. Seventy types of pulaos were cooked at a wedding banquet thrown by Prince Azimushan (son of Muhammad Ali Shah) and attended by king Wajid Ali Shah. There was a nobleman in Lucknow who belonged to the family of Shuja-ud-daula’s Begum, Nawab Salar Jung, whose passion for pulaos earned for him the title of Chawal Wale. Even the king looked forward to his banquet of pulaos.

There are two broad methods of cooking pulaos that are followed in Lucknow. For the yakhni pulao, a thick meat broth (yakhni) is prepared in which the whole spices like pepper, cloves, cardamoms, aniseed, cummin, ginger, garlic and onions are not added directly into the broth but wrapped and tied in a muslin cloth and then dropped into the broth. After the dish is cooked, the spices are taken out and thrown away. This way the aroma of the spices is absorbed by the meat and the broth gradually. The rice is then cooked in this broth over a slow fire. This process of cooking is called dum. Burning coal is also put on the lid of the vessel for even heat. During the process of dum, a wet muslin cloth is sealed with flour paste along the mouth of the vessel before covering it with the lid, to contain the flavours. In keeping with the Lucknowi’s disdain for masala, chillies are never put in pulao. This pulao is light and easy to digest.

The other variety is called qorma pulao. Here, the qorma and the rice are cooked separately. The water in which the rice is boiled is poured out so that there is no starch in the rice. For the qorma, finely cut onions are fried over a very slow fire with the spices and ghee till the ghee separates – this very slow shallow frying is called bhoonna. The meat is then added and allowed to cook in water. Then alternate layers of rice and qorma are spread in another vessel and the latter put on a slow fire.

In Lucknow, the yakhni pulao is preferred. The yakhni should be made of meat which has some fat (not lean meat). The quantity of meat should be at least twice the weight of rice used. There are instances of one seer of rice cooked in a yakhni of 34 seers of meat. Abdul Sharar has recorded that a couple of morsels of this pulao could satisfy one’s hunger. The rice would almost melt in one’s mouth.

Lucknow believed in quality and not quantity. It is considered uncultured to eat large quantities. They believe that the food eaten should be rich and nutritious. An interesting incident is told about a well-known wrestler who was invited to lunch by Hakeem Banday Mehndi, a connoisseur of good food, and was offered just a small plate of pulao. The wrestler whose daily diet included about 12 kilos of meat, an equal quantity of milk and three kilos of dried fruits, was taken aback and felt insulted. He quietly ate the small quantity. A little later, an elaborate dastarkhwan was spread before him and other guests. But the wrestler could not eat another morsel. The little plate of pulao had satisfied him completely. The following day, he came to his host and reported that he never felt so fit before!

The Lucknow aristocracy derived great pleasure in extending invitations to friends to elaborate meals where a couple of items on the menu would be camouflaged. The discomfiture of the guests at not recognizing the dish would give great satisfaction to the host. It was taken as a proclamation of the host’s culinary expertise.

At a dawat (banquet) given by Wajid Ali Shah for Mirza Asman Qadar, a Mughal prince from Delhi, a dish was served which looked like a morabha (a spicy conserve of vegetables) but was a qorma. Even the prince who was a discerning gourmet was fooled. The king was very pleased, but not for long. Very soon Prince Asman Qadar invited His Majesty for a meal. The king was extremely cautious, there were bound to be camouflaged dishes. His expert eyes surveyed the dastarkhwan, but only found a magnificent spread of qormas, pulaos, kababs, sheermals, a variety of salans and kheers. He suspected no danger! But lo and behold! every item on the dastarkhwan, qormas, pulaos, katoras (little bowls) and spoons included, were made of caramelised sugar ! A similar dawat, where the food and containers were made of sugar, was given by the Raja of Mahmudabad in the early part of this century. These dawats were a common feature in Lucknow. The scale of grandeur varied with the status of the host.

The Lucknowi’s menu changes with the seasons and with the festivals which mark the month. The severity of winters is fought with rich food. Paye (trotters) are cooked overnight over a slow fire and the shorba (thick gravy) eaten with naans. Turnips are also cooked overnight with meat koftas and kidneys and had for lunch. This dish is called shab degh and is very popular in Lucknow. The former Taluqdar of Jehangirabad would serve it to his friends on several occasions during winter.

Birds like partridge and quail are had from the advent of winter since they are heat-giving meats. Fish is relished from the advent of winter till spring. It is avoided in the rainy season. Lucknow is prefer river fish particularly rahu (carp), for fish bones are the last thing they would like to struggle with! For this reason, fish kababs (cooked in mustard oil) are preferred.

Peas are the most sought after vegetable in Lucknow. People never tire of eating peas. One can spot peas in salan, qeema, pulao or just fried plain.

Sawan (spring) is celebrated with pakwan (crisp snacks), phulkis (besan pakoras in salan), puri-kababs and birahis (parathas stuffed with mashed dal). Khandoi (steamed balls of dal in a salan), laute paute (gram flour pancakes, rolled and sliced and served in a salan) and colocasia-leaf cutlets served with salan add variety. Raw mangoes cooked in semolina and jaggery or sugar, makes a delicious dessert called curamba, in summer. These dishes come from the rural Hindu population of Lucknow. Activity in the kitchen increases with the approach of festivals. During Ramzan, the month of fasting, the cooks and ladies of the house are busy throughout the day preparing the iftari (the meal eaten at the end of the day’s fast), not only for the family but for friends and the poor. Id is celebrated with varieties of siwaiyan (vermicelli) – muzaffar is a favourite in Lucknow. Shab-e-barat is looked forward to for its halwas, particularly of semolina and gram flour. Khichra or haleem, a delicious mixture of dals, wheat and meat, cooked together, is had during Muharram, since it signifies a sad state of mind.

There are dishes which appear and disappear from the Lucknow dastarkhwan with the seasons and there are those which are a permanent feature, like the qorma, the chapati and the rumali roti. The test of a good chapati is that you should be able to see the sky through it. The dough should be very loose and is left in a lagan (deep, broad vessel) filled with water for half an hour before the chapatis are made. Sheermals were invented by Mamdoo Bawarchi more than one and a half centuries ago. They are saffron covered parathas made from a dough of flour mixed with milk and ghee and baked in iron tandoors. No other city produces sheermals like Lucknow does and the festive dastarkhwan is not complete without it. Saffron is used to flavour sweets too.

Utensils are made either of iron or copper. Meat kababs are cooked in a mahi tava (large, round shallow pan), using a kafgir which is a flat, long handled ladle for turning kababs and parathas. Bone China plates and dishes were used in Lucknow since the time of the Nawabs. Water was normally sipped from copper or silver katoras and not glasses. The seating arrangement, while eating, was always on the floor where beautifully embroidered dastarkhwans were spread on durees (rug/carpet) and chandnis (white sheets). Sometimes this arrangement was made on a takht or low, wide wooden table.

In spite of the best efforts to recreate the original taste, it was not possible to put in the ingredients which were originally used. For, how many of us can today feed chickens and goats with saffron tablets to create a pleasant aroma in their flesh as was done during the time of the Nawabs?

February 8, 2012

Mahadeva (A Shiva Temple) – The water that cures

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:18 am

Parijaat Tree (Adansonia Digitata) – The only one

Mahadeva (A Shiva Temple) – The water that cures

This time we bring you a story about a unique tree, Parijaat and about a temple that comes to life every year with only men and not a single woman in the district of Barabanki, just 60 to 70 km (1 hour) away from Lucknow. Most of us in Lucknow too do not know about the existence of this unique botanical and religious treasures so close to us.

Parijaat Tree ( Adansonia Digitata) – The only one….

Village Kintur, about 38 Kms. east of district headquarters Barabanki was named after Kunti, mother of the Pandavas. There are a number of ancient temples and their remains around this place. Near a temple established by Kunti herself, is a special tree called Parijaat. There are a number of sayings about this tree, which have popular acceptance too. One being, Arjun brought this tree from heavens and Kunti used to offer and crown Shivji with its flowers. The other saying being, that Lord Krishna brought this tree for his beloved queen Satyabhama.

Historically, these sayings may or may not have any bearing, but it is true that this tree has a very ancient background. The following is written in the Harivansh Puraan (a sacred book) about Parijaat tree. “Parijaat is a type of Kalpvraksh, it is said to be found only in the heavens and, whosoever makes a wish under this tree, his wishes are granted”. In the Religious and ancient literature, we find a number of references to the Kalpvraksh, but no description whatsoever is found about its existence anywhere else in the world, except for at Kintur (in Barabanki). This unique Parijaat tree of Kintur holds a special place in the world. In botanical terms, PARIJAAT is known as Adansonia digitata and has been kept in a special category, because it does not produce either its fruit or its seeds, neither can its cuttings be planted to reproduce a second Parijaat tree. This is a unisex male tree, the botanist say, that there is no such tree anywhere else to be found.

The leaves of this tree in the lower portion have five tips like the fingers of a hand, while at the upper reaches it has seven. Its flower is very beautiful and white in colour, on drying out it takes on golden tinge. This flower has five petals. This tree blossoms very occasionally, with very few flowers, but when it does, that is after the ‘Ganga Dashehra’, it spreads its fragrance far and wide. The age of this tree is said to be 5000 years. The perimeter of the trunk of this tree is about 50 feet and the height is about 45 feet. There is another popular saying that, its branches do not break or dry out but shrink and disappear into the original trunk. The locals consider it to be their protector and thus they protect its leaves and flowers at all costs. Local people hold it in high esteem, in addition to the large number of tourists who visit to see this unique tree.

Mahadeva (A Shiva Temple) – The water that cures….

Bam-bhole, bam-bam-bhole resounding with the devotees moving in groups through Lucknow with a Kanwar (a stick with some essentials dangling on both ends and resting on the shoulders) heading to the famous Lord Shiva’s Lodheshwar temple where the wishes of the devotees are said to be fulfilled since times immemorial and the belief continues even today. People numbering more than 200,000 flock this place in the month of Phalgun (the twelfth month of the year in the Hindu/lunar calendar, usually beginning around 20 February and ending on 21 March). every year i.e. on the occasion of Mahashivratri to worship and offer water to the famous shivling.

This ancient Shiva temple is situated at village Mahadeva in the district of Barabanki on the banks of river Ghaghra. Lodheshwar Mahadev has an ancient history to its credit. The Shivling in this temple is one of the exotic and rarest of the 52 shivlings on earth. It is said that, prior to the Mahabharat period, Lord Shiva wished to reappear on the earth once again. Pandit Lodheram Awasthi was a learned Brahmin, simple, kind and good natured villager. One night Lord Shiva appeared in his dreams. Next day, Lodheram who was childless, while irrigating his farmland, saw a pit from where the water was getting drained into the earth. He tried hard to plug it, but failed and returned home. In the night, again he dreamt about same statue, and heard whispers saying “The pit where water is getting drained is my place, establish me there and I would be known by your name.” It is said that, next day when Lodheram was digging the same pit, his spade struck a hard rock, and he saw the same statue that he had seen in his dreams with blood oozing out from where his tool had hit the statue, this mark can be seen even today on the statue. Lodheram was terrified by this sight, but he continued to digging, though he failed to get to the other end of the statue, so he left it as that, and built the temple at the same place with half of his name ‘Lodhe’ and the Lord Shiva’s ‘Ishwar’, thereby this place became famous by the name i.e. Lodheshwar. The Brahmin was then blessed with four sons, Mahadeva, Lodhaura, Gobarha and Rajnapur, villages named after them exist even today.

There are several instances in Mahabharat where this ancient temple has been referred to. Pandavas after the Mahabharat had performed the Mahayagya at this place, a well exists even today by the name Pandava-Koop. It is said that the water of the well is has spiritual qualities can cure a number of ailments if drunk.

In the history of the fairs and festivals the world over, the fair held here on the occasion of Mahashivratri (Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva. It is celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day of the Phalguna month of the Hindu calendar.) at Mahadeva is unique. As among the millions of devotees thronging the place, there is not a single woman devotee to be found during this fair.

January 8, 2012

Hazratganj- the hep and happening always!

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:13 am

In the mid-twenties, my parents, along with two other Sindhi families from Karachi, came to Lucknow in search of a new world. I was very young and recall living in Hazratganj. I went to St. Joseph’s school. My father opened the Lucknow Book Shop where the current Kashmir Emporium is, as well as bookshops in Cawnpore and Nainital. My mother died in 1934 and my father decided to return with his young family to Karachi. The two families that had come with him insisted that he stays.

The other two families were those of Seth Gyanchand Thadani and Mr. H. Mansukhani. Mr. Mansukhani was trading in silk from the shop where the current Choudhary Sweet House now stands. His daughter, Shanti Hiranand, later became the first student of Begum Akhtar and continues to perform till today. Mr.Thandani was running four regimental cinemas in the Dilkusha Cantonment and also managing the Prince of Wales Cinema and my father helped him there. Sometimes as children we stood at the gate as ushers and let the British soldiers in and were rewarded with peanuts and chocolates. As children we also got to see every film that was screened at the Prince of Wales cinema. I remember when sound came to the movie in 1934, I saw Rio Rita and what I remember clearly are the signs, lit in red, all around the dark hall, asking for SILENCE. Sometimes I went back again and again to see a particular sequence that I liked. Mr. Thandani wanted to open his own cinema house in civil lines and asked my father to stay on in Lucknow and help him.

After watching films, very often the late show, we used to walk back to our first home in Lucknow, which was close to Wingfield Park. After the Allahabad Bank on Park Road were the Kasmanda House and the residence of the City Magistrate. Beyond Park Lane and up to the crossing of Narhi there was wooded, forest area. Wingfield Park itself stretched right up to Park Road and current Civil Hospital and Information Department buildings were a part of the deer enclosure and you could see deer and rhinos as you walked along Park Road. Across the road from Wingfield Park was just one house, Jackson House. Later it became Thapar House. A road ran through Wingfield Park connecting Jopling Road to Loreto Convent and this was open to vehicular traffic up to the fifties.

My memories of Hazratganj become sharper from 1933 onwards. Perhaps this was because I learnt how to ride a bicycle and began to roam around Hazratganj on it. The roads were cleaner and seemed much wider than now. I clearly remember that between the St. Joseph’s Church and the Post Master General’s office there was just one bungalow. The other prominent buildings that I remember were the District Magistrate’s bungalow, the Jehangirabad Palace, the Allahabad Bank, the Central Bank and the East Indian Railway Building. Halwasiya Court, Halwasiya Market, and the stadium were not there then. Neither were the buildings opposite Halwasiya market on either side of the Maqbara gate. There was open ground with trees there. Mayfair and Basant Cinema were built later, on open ground where people sat around and vendors sold peanuts. Hazratganj was very green with large trees on the pavements on both sides of the road and in the open areas.

I remember the time when there were no electric lights on the street of Hazratganj. Yet it was well lit (by gas) during the night. A man came around in the evening, carrying a ladder on his bicycle, to light the street lamps, and early in the morning to put them out. At some places in Hazratganj there were notices indicating the lighting time. After this designated time, it was mandatory for all bicycles, tongas and other vehicles to carry lights on them. I also recall that there was no street food available in Hazratganj. Ice cream or Ice Sodas were only available in restaurants. There were no carts selling anything. There were hawker selling peanuts and seasonal fruit but they sold these items from baskets, which they carried around on their heads.

There were distractions in Hazratganj apart from the three cinema halls. There were the billiard rooms in the Prince of Wales, the Capitol and in the Lawrie Building (where the Capoor’s Hotel is today), where I went to watch friends play. Or I went skating in the rink opposite Whorras. I still have the roller skates I bought then. I knew the shops well, though I never shopped in Hazratganj, people paid extra for the privilege of shopping in well-managed shops where service standards were European. The floor staff in these shops were Indian while the European managers and owners stayed in the background.

Of the Europeans, I particularly remember Robert Anderson of Anderson Brothers who had a lucrative tailoring business. His shop was where Woodland is today with a portico at the eastern end of the Ganj. His wife ran a tailoring business for women called Nortons, close by. The Andersons were very nice to us because my father had worked with him. Then there was German Jeweller called Rufener in the Lawrie Building. I remember him because he was European and spoke with an accent that was not British. When the war broke out, he was detained as a German national and sent to Dehradun, and the shop was closed. There was also Mr. Lancaster who was associated with the Oriental Motor Company. Mr. Lancaster was from the same family as Percy Lancaster, the author of the well-known book ‘Gardening in India’.

There was Valerio’s tea room where Gandhi Ashram is today but I never went in there except once to buy some cream rolls because they had superb confectionary, but they were very expensive. It had a dance floor too. Benbows opened later. Where Burma bakery is today there used to be very popular Chinese restaurant with cubicles, across which you could draw curtains. Close to it was Mangolia. I loved eating fish and chips and I ate these often at Chinese restaurants all of which served European cuisine. All restaurants used to have liquor licenses.

For a haircut I went to Aktor & Co. run by Akhtar Jan who later opened a successful haircutting salon A.N.John & Sons. He was not only one who changed his name. The owner of Mayfair had also changed his name to Mr. Thad and it was only after independence that he reverted to Thadani.

In 1937 Mr. Thadani decided to lease the vacant land opposite St. Joseph’s Church, from raja sir Mohd. Ejaz Rasul Khan Sahib of Jehangirabad for a paltry amount and decided to build a cinema hall. There were many ups and downs and finally the cinema opened in 1939. Mr. Thadani had decided to name it Matropole but for some reason, when he went to register it, he changed his mind and decided to call it Mayfair. There was also Mayfair Ballroom and a Mayfair Restaurant attached. My father managed all these establishments for Mr. Thadani.
The outbreak of the war and the influx of soldiers invigorated Hazratganj. The cinema halls had two shows a day: at six thirty and nine thirty. The popular notion of having fun was to come to Hazratganj: have a drink, eat at a Chinese restaurant and see a movie or go to one of the ballrooms. Mayfair was the first commercial ballroom but the Ambassador Skating Rink next door was converted in to another ballroom too. There was also the Lucknow Club at Lawrence Terrace for those who found the other two very expensive.

The Mayfair ballroom was on the first floor and would open at 8 PM. It was managed by Bob Lawson and one of its attractions was a crooner named Miss Fanthome. There used to be a live orchestra on Saturday and Sunday and it stayed open till five in the morning on weekends. The entrance charge was too high but the ballrooms made enormous profits from the sale of liquor. Anyone could enter as long as they were properly dressed. Women were mostly dressed in European style though some come in saris. There were more men than ladies and many of the women who came there used to smoke and drink. This ballroom was a great opportunity for many men to learn dancing and to mix with ladies. I myself learnt to dance the Waltz, Fox Trot and Tango from an American lady who was a great Tango dancer. People would go out on to the terrace from the ballroom and later at night the revelry would sometimes spill over into the streets with drunken soldiers and their lady friends dancing on the street. But, by and large discipline was expected and maintained in areas like these. The Mayfair Ballroom used to have the tambola nights and organize music shows.

During the war years other things changed too. Valerio’s closed down and a coffee house opened in its place. Above it, where Soochna Kendra now is, there was a private guest-house called soldiers’ home. Bush-shirts were seen for the first time with the arrival of American soldiers, and increased traffic in Hazratganj saw the appearance of cycle rickshaws.
After independence things naturally changed again. The change in liquor licensing laws meant that most of the popular restaurants, particularly the Chinese ones, closed down. The Mayfair restaurant too closed and the space was leased out to Kwality. The ballrooms closed. Europeans, unsure of the future, began to leave. The establishments owned by them in Hazratganj either closed down or changed hands. Many of the Anglo-Indians who lived around Hazratganj, and who were crucial to its fabric, also began migrating. With the coming of refugees after partition, Hazratganj grew rapidly. The work culture began to change. The migrants were more active, more aggressive and intent on getting on with their jobs. On the other hands, these newcomers to Lucknow couldn’t help but be influenced by the sophisticated, courteous and stylish culture of Lucknow because there was so much to imbibe.

I also got the opportunity to open a branch of J.Ray & sons. The chain of family book shops belonging to my grandfather which until then had existed in Lahore, Peshwar, Rawalpindi, Murree and Simla. The Indian Coffee House Shifted to Jehangirabad Mansion and its space was allotted to Gandhi Ashram. I happened to meet Acharya Kripalani, President of the Gandhi Ashram, who, aware of my family’s long association with the book trade was kind enough to offer me space within the Gandhi Ashram to open a book shop. A 12 X 40 Ft area, to the left as you entered, was cordoned off and allotted to me.

The Gandhi Ashram was supposed to open on February 1, 1948 and on 30 January of that year, Gandhi Ji, was assassinated. The opening was postponed for a fortnight. The book-shop being situated right there was a very lucky break for me. Khadi was in vogue all over the country and this was the place to buy khadi. All the stalwarts, whether it was Pandit Nehru or the Chief Ministers, visited the shop. I was a newcomer to the book trade in Lucknow but I found a clientele immediately. I was eager to do well and therefore did everything to educate myself about books. I also did not treat books like a commodity.

I did well and by 1950 they began to politely hint that they wanted their space back. In 1951, I got this shop in the Mayfair building. I heard from Mr. Larkins, the manager of Lawrence & Mayo, the opticians who were occupying the premises, that they would be vacating it. Mr. Gulu Thadani naturally agreed to rent it to me provided it was allotted to me. I had built up enough good-will for that not to be a problem.

I decided to change the name of the shop. The Right Reverend George Sinker, Bishop of Nagpur, who had been a godfather to me, came and stayed with me around that time. I told him of my plans that I was thinking of calling my new shop ‘The Strand’ or ‘The Globe Book Stall’, and he said “Don’t be silly. Booksellers all over the world are known by their names and not as strand, Globe or Britannia. Call it Ram Advani Booksellers”. My father laughed at the idea but against the advice of my entire family I followed George Sinker’s advice. On July 1, 1951, I opened this shop-and here I am till today.

Tornos’ Victorian Walk….

Tornos’ Victorian Walk at Hazratganj that lets you into its rich history, legacy and of course the market that has evolved with times to cater the cultured and the elite of Lucknow. We take you on this 2 hours walking tour, that includes a seated session at one of the local shops, where you meet a senior shopkeeper who has much more to share with you over a freshly brewed Darjeeling Tea that goes so well with some scones and sandwiches served at this meeting place. On this tour you will rediscover Hazratganj of yore and compare it with the transformed Ganj of today. You also get an opportunity to walk-in and out of the glitzy showrooms and emporia that entice you with their colour and style. MORE…

December 8, 2011

Katarniaghat – A Paradise for the Gangetic Dolphins !

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 8:07 am

Established in 1976, Katarniaghat Sanctuary is situated in Terai area on the Indo-Nepal border in Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh. The sanctuary is spread over an area of 400 sq km, and is home to a variety of animals such as tiger, leopard, swamp deer, blackbuck, chital, barking deer, sambhar, nilgai, sloth bear, wild boar, gharial and magar. November to June is the best time to visit here. Katarniaghat is well linked by road to other parts of the state. It is 44 km from Mihinpurwa. The nearest airport is at Lucknow, 225 km away.

BAHRAICH: Remaining under water and coming out only to breathe and then again going inside, the 100-odd gangetic dolphins found in Katarnighat wildlife sanctuary, locally called ‘Sus’ prove to be visual delight for the wildlife lovers, who flock here to catch a glimpse of the nature’s treasure.

Katarniaghat wildlife sanctuary is a part of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, and is located near the Indo-Nepal border, in the Terai area of Bahraich. The Gangetic dolphins, found in the region, are rare species. Earlier, it was found in Ganga river basin and all the linked rivers. But now, its habitat is limited to few rivers. Rivers like Brahmaputra, Ganga, Chambal constitute its natural habitats. In these rivers, around 2,500 dolphins are found. Gangetic dolphins have been included in the Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

According to a recent population estimate of the Gangetic dolphins, by the World Wildlife Fund-India, UP is the only state where the dolphin population has increased since 2005. The earlier figure was 500, but now 547 dolphins have been reported from the state. In UP, dolphins are found in stretches of upper Ganga from Bijnore to Narora, Chambal on the borders of Etawah and Agra, and Gerua River in Bahraich’s Katerniaghat sanctuary.

The Gangetic dolphins float away from the rivers of Nepali mountains and fall in the Gerwua river, which later joins Ghaghra river and finally connects with Ganga. The population of Gangetic dolphins across the country is merely 600 of which their population at Katarniaghat wildlife sanctuary is 100. Regular monitoring and awareness programmes have led to an increase in the dolphin population in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The Gangetic dolphin or Platinista Gangetica was declared the national aquatic animal in 2009. The distribution range of the Gangetic dolphins in India covers Assam, Uttar Pradesh , Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal.

According to initial estimates 547 dolphins have been reported in Uttar Pradesh. The earlier figure stood at 500, however, the survey in the state is in progress and certain areas are yet to be covered. On the Union government’s directions WWF started with the process of formulation of an action plan for conservation of dolphins across the country. As the first step they are surveying the dolphin population in various states to ascertain the exact figures. From the survey so far, it can be easily said that Uttar Pradesh is the only state in India where the number of dolphins in some stretches has increased,

According to the WWF-India estimates till now, the number of dolphins in Gerwua increased to 48 as compared to 36 in 2006. The survey at Narora in UP will be conducted next month. On surveying the area, it was found that the habitat here is favourable for dolphins. Eight calves were also sighted here. There are reports of dolphin sightings from Sharda, Rapti and Saryu rivers, where the survey will start soon. No estimation of dolphins has been made in these rivers in the past, so it will be a first such survey in this area.

Tornos has a special package for Dudhwa National Park & Katarniaghat. As these places do not have proper facilities for tourists we have a special wing that takes over the basic facilities of Forest Department and converts it into a proper comfortable facility for tourists. We would be delighted to work out a special package for the wildlife lovers.

November 10, 2011

MUHARRAM – when Lucknow’s Muslims & Hindus weep together

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:46 am

(Tornos conducts a special tour during Muharram : “Weeping Lucknow” (on 1st day and again from the 6th till the 10th day of Muharram and yet again on 50th & 68th days of Muharram) .


One can observe the richness and beauty of the diversity of the Indian Culture at all festivals and more so on the occasion of Muharram in Lucknow. Since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Muharram ceremonies are observed all over the world primarily by Shia Muslims. Hindus too take part in them with great reverence and devotion in the city of Lucknow. The tragedy of Karbala has become the harbinger for interfaith understanding in the Indian sub-continent. The participation of Hindus in the mourning rituals of Imam Hussain has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians observe Muharram. In the city of Varanasi too which is the holiest city for the Hindus, many non-Muslim families participate in Muharram processions to date.

A Hindu poet had once wrote:

“Baad marne ke bhee matam ki sada aati rahi,

Log harat se meri jalti chita dekha kiye”.

Translation: The sound of lamentation (at the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) continued even after my death. The people watched my burning pyre with adoration and admiration.

A story goes that once during the reign of Wajid-Ali-Shah, Ashura the 10th day of Muharram happened to fall on the same day as the Hindu festival of Holi that is full of celebrations and happiness. So when the king got up in the morning and realized that the people were not on the roads playing colours as they would usually do, so he inquired from his secretary and came to know that in solidarity of their Muslim King the subjects have decided not to play Holi as it is the mourning day. The king was so touched that he decided to throw the first colour and let his Hindu subjects celebrate the festival, the Hindus played colour till 10 in the morning and then joined the King in the mourning and other Muharram rituals.

One can notice the same spirit of love, respect and sadness for Imam Hussain in Lucknow. Lucknow also boasts of several Hindu ‘imambaras’ (mausoleums). One such is the ‘Kishnu Khalifa ka Imambara’ in the old city area. The Imambara, established in 1880, is famous for its Hindu ‘azadars’ (devotees) who observe Muharram with all the religiosity of the Muslims. In Lucknow, the seat of the Shia Nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, the standards representing the Karbala event.

Muharram is a unique occasion in the socio-cultural fabric of Indian history which presents an unparalleled example of Hindu-Muslim unity.

What is Muharram?

Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the first day of Muharram, the Islamic New Year is observed by Muslims. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and is 11 to 12 days shorter than the solar year. Hence it is a little different from the Gregorian calendar that is used in the western nations. When compared with the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar, the lunar month of Muharram shifts from year to year.

The month of Muharram is of great religious significance to Islamic people the world over. It is held to be the most sacred of all the months, excluding Ramadan. The word “Muharram” is often considered synonymous with “Ashura”, the tenth day of the Muharram month.

“Ashura” is a highly important day for both sects of Islam – the Shias and the Sunnis. The Shia Muslims believe that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, became a martyr at the Battle of Karbala on the tenth day of Muharram in 61 AH(680 AD).

The pre-Islamic period in the Arabian peninsula was the era of warring tribes. In the absence of strong leadership, there were conflicts and battles on minor issues. But fighting was prohibited in four months of the year. These months, of which Muharram was one, were considered sacred. Muharram is so-called because it was unlawful to fight during this month; the word is derived from the word ‘haram’ meaning forbidden. This period of inactivity was a necessity in heavily decorated replicas of the tomb of the Imam and his family are made for Muharram the era of warring tribes. The tradition was maintained even after the advent of Islam, though provisions to accommodate and accept war in special situations, like a threat to the sovereignty of an empire, were introduced.

The gory battle of Karbala was fought against this law and tradition of Islam. The inhabitants on the banks of rivers Euphrates and Tigris were traditional rivals. Their animosity was contained to some extent by Muhammad. But when his son-in-law Hazrat Ali was the Caliph (Muslim civil and religious leader considered to be Allah’s representative on earth), the old enmity re-surfaced. Hazrat Ali had two descendants, Hazrat Imam Hussain and Hazrat Imam Hassan. Hussain was the ruler of the part of the empire known today as Iran. The other part in modern Iraq was ruled by the Umayyads. Hussain was called upon by the Shiahs of Kufa, a small town in the Umayyad kingdom, to accept their allegiance and claim his place as the leader of the Islamic community. This was against the wishes of the ruler of Kufa, Yazid, who instructed his governor, Ibn-e-Ziad to take appropriate action. Meanwhile, in response to the call of the Shiahs, Hussain accompanied by his family members, headed for Kufa. When they reached Karbala, en route to Kufa, the forces of the governor surrounded them and their 70 men. Hussain, his family and his troops were tortured and killed, and Hussain’s head was severed and presented to the king. They received no help from the Shiahs of Kufa.

As this tragic incident happened on the tenth day of Muharram, Shia Muslims consider this a day of sorrow. They commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain as a religious occassion called “Muharram” (named after the month of its observance). The occasion starts on the 1st day of Muharram and lasts for 10 days until the 10th of Muharram. As Muharram approaches, they put on black clothes, as black is regarded as a color of mourning. During the entire 10 day period, they keep themselves away from music and all joyous events (e.g. weddings) that can distract them in any way from the sorrowful remembrance of that day. During each of the first nine days of Muharram, “Majalis” (assemblies) are held where Shia orators vividly depict the incident of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his party. Mainstream Shia Muslims fast until the evening. On “Ashura”, devoted Muslims assemble and go out in large processions. They parade the streets holding banners and carrying models of the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Hussain and his people, who fell at Karbala. Some Shia sects observe “Ashura” by beating themselves with chains in public, cutting themselves with knives and sharp objects and holding mournful public processions. This is an expression of their grief on the death of their favorite leader Hussain, considered to be the representative of Allah. (But no Shiite scholar affirms any extreme behavior that harms the body and Shia leaders consider such acts as “Haram”, or forbidden.) It is a sad occasion and everyone in the procession chants “Ya Hussain”, wailing loudly. Generally, a white horse is beautifully decorated and included in the procession. It serves to bring back the memory of the empty mount of Hazrat Imam Husain after his martyrdom. Drinking posts are also set up temporarily by the Shia community where water and juices are served to all, free of charge.

While Shia Muslims consider “Muharram” to be a sorrowful occasion, Sunni Muslims observe it as a festival and look at “Ashura” as a happy day though the religious aspect remains intact. Pious Sunnis keep a fast (“roza”) on “Ashura” as per the “Hadith”(a tradition based on reports of the sayings and activities of Muhammad and his companions) of Prophet Muhammad. According to the “Hadith”, the Prophet saw the Jews fasting on the 10th of Muharram to commemorate their liberation from Egyptian slavery and the extermination of the army of the Pharoah in the waters of the Red Sea. Prophet Mohammed liked the custom for he believed that it was Allah who saved the Israelites from their enemy in Egypt. He started to fast on the same day as the Jews but he planned to fast on the 9th and 10th from the following year. But death came in between him and his pious wish. Usually, Sunni Muslims are recommended to fast either on the 9th and 10th of Muharram or on the 10th and 11th of Muharram.

October 8, 2011

JAMGHAT – a festival of kite-flying in Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 7:37 am

( Kite Flying is a favourite pass-time for Lucknowites, specially in the older part of the city. This pass-time is full-time for many in Lucknow, who spend the major part of their days on their rooftop or the banks of river Gomti fighting undeclared match of kite-flying in the Lucknow skies. One particular day in a year is dedicated to kite-flying, a day when no mother scolds her children for not studding and just flying kites from dawn to dusk. Great preparations are on for this festival that falls every year, the very next day of Diwali and binds all religions, casts and communities together in the skies. TORNOS has an exclusive product based on Kite Flying, ‘Kankave Baazi’ – We arrange exclusive event for visiting groups and FITs. Read More: > )

Hundreds of kites resembling butterflies, dragons, fish and birds Thursday fluttered in the Lucknow sky, particularly in the old city where Hindus, Muslims and others come together to celebrate the festival of Jamghat, that falls the very next day of Diwali.

“For those of us in Old Lucknow, Jamghat is a festival that helps maintain social relationships,” Assad Ahmad, 64, a kite enthusiast and retired government employee in Aminabad locality, tells. “The festival in a true sense reflects communal harmony as Hindus and Muslims come together to fly kites and exchange sweets,” he adds.

In several localities, including Hussainganj, Batashey-wali-gali, Chaupatiya, Chowk, Daliganj and on the banks of river Gomti, kite enthusiasts form teams and challenge each other to showcase their prowess and supremacy in the battle that is fought in the skies of Lucknow. Besides the traditional kites, people have now started opting for the Chinese kites because of their attraction quotient. However, professionals still prefer the local handmade ones to their imported contemporary.

Chinese kites are mainly made of plastic sheets whereas the local ones are made of thin paper. Chinese kites require windy conditions to soar in the skies, where as the local ones can be maneuvered in almost all conditions.

According to a popular belief, Jamghat started off as a hobby when Lucknow was ruled by the Nawabs almost two centuries ago. Now It has become a tradition that has a large number of followers of different age groups and from all religions. It is also said that that Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hein brought the tradition of kite flying to India, when they came in 4th and 7th century respectively.

Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah is believed to have developed an intense interest in kites due to his uncle Ustad Aga Abu Turrab Khan. With patronage from the Nawab, the pass-time soon became popular among the masses. Amjad Ali Shah is believed to have changed the basic design of kite from two shoulders to just one.


TADDHA: the spine of a kite.

KANG: Shoulders of a kite or the bamboo stick that runs across the kite.

KANKAWWA: Kite made from full sheet of a paper with shape like wings of a bird. This form of kite owes its origin to the Nawabs of Avadh.

PAUNTAVA: Kite made from 3/4 part of a sheet and is the most popular form of kite preferred by experts.

PAUNTAI: Kite made from paper left from a pauntava.

ADDHI: Two kites made from a single sheet.

SAVA KA TEEN: Three kites made from 3/4 parts of a sheet.

CHICHI: Small kite with a spine of about 6-8 inches.

KANNE: An arrangement of cords tied on the spine of the kite that are connected to the main cord.

SADDI: The cotton cord, usually white, used to fly a kite.

MANJHA: a sharp cord tied ahead of the saddi used to cut the kite of opponents.

CHARKI / PHIRKI: A spindle used to keep saddi or manjha.

September 1, 2011

Gandhi’s Connection with Lucknow

Filed under: Lucknowledge — Tornos @ 11:22 am

(to commemorate Gandhi’s Lucknow bond. 2nd October is Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth Anniversary, so we carry this special feature to show you Lucknow’s connection with Gandhi and Nehru. The two heroes of Indian Independence. )

Date 26th December year 1916 a 27 years old young man arrived in Lucknow in a train from Allahabad and met another 47 years old man for the first time in front of Charbagh station of Lucknow. They chatted for a while and developed a rapport between themselves to get together and fight for the independence of India.

This young man was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and while the other was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the city of nawabs was place where this duo met for the first time during the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress.

Nehru went on to become the Prime Minister of India while Gandhi Ji came to be known as the Father of Nation. During the meeting, Nehru vociferously opposed the recruitment of Indian laborers for the assignments in other countries like Africa , Caribbean Island and Fiji. He presented the bill in front of congressmen and he was supported by Gandhi. From here on, the duo got going. Mayank Ranjan who organises Yuva Mahotsav in the Lucknow festival every year, says,”My father Yogendra Nath Srivastava is a hardcore Gandhian. He was the one who told me about the place where Gandhi and Nehru first met” He added, “We saw that no one cared about the sanctity of the place. No one even remembers that place where these two great men met first and history was created. The place remains filthy and is being used by a parking stand owner. But as a mark of respect, we have been cleaning the area for the last 25 years. Candles are lit at this place on Independence Day and on 2nd October. At least this is what we can do for those who won us the freedom, ”says Ranjan.

Nehru met Gandhi for the first time in 1916 that was the year of his marriage with Kamla. In his autobiography, Nehru has written about his first meeting with Gandhi Ji was about the time of Lucknow Congress during the Christmas of 1916. All of us admired him for his heroic fight in South Africa, but he seemed very distant, different and non-political to many of the young men of that time. At that time he refused to take part in Congress or national politics and confined himself to the South African Indian question.

Soon afterward, his adventures and victory in Champaran, on behalf of the tenants of the planters, filled all in the Congress, especially the young crowd with enthusiasm. He was prepared to apply his methods in India and they promised success.

The place the duo met has a stone with the history written on it. But now it is surrounded by advertisement bards thus no one can see it clearly. Besides, a parking lot too has come up at this spot. The place has also become a resting spot with people sleeping here just beneath the stone, not realizing the importance of this spot and the story behind it.

Another Connection – A sapling planted by mahatma Gandhi in 1936 has endured the onslaught of time to give shade to many passers-by.

Gokhale Marg is one of the city’s posh localities, but not many know that the place is rooted in history. A perfect example of this is a large banyan tree in the locality.

Mahatma Gandhi had planted the sapling when he visited the Kaul Family in March 1936 along with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. “My Grand Mother welcomed Gandhi Ji and Pandit Nehru when they came to our house. The visit was special as Gandhi Ji planted a sapling on the occasion” says Deepa Kaul, The daughter of a senior Congress leader and a former Member of Parliament Sheela Kaul.

A local social worker Bhaiya Ji, who was also a witness to the two leaders’ visit, says, “When Gandhi Ji came to Lucknow a large number of youth followed him. People were very keen to walk with him and I was a child than”

Trees were considered a symbol of harmony back then and the leaders fighting for India’s freedom had made it a practice to plant saplings. The Kaul Family nurtured the tree ensuring that it grew over the years to provide shade to passers-by. As the branches became long and heavy the boundary wall suffered damage. When the repairs were carried out the family made sure the branches remained intact. A majority of those passing-by the road may not know the history of this tree. But they sure would agree on one thing it does give comfort to many in Lucknow summers. They hope this blessing of nature and nurture remains with them for many more years to come and the Banyan, India’s national tree, stays as a delightful symbol of all that was best in the days of yore.

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