Lucknow’s own little Kashmir
Credits : Anuradha Chak
Volume: 13, No: 11 ; November-2019
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.