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Role of Eunuchs in Muharram of Awadh

Volume: 12, No: 04 ; April-2018

(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)

Credits : Dr. Mazhar Naqvi (Original Title : Azadari and role of Khwajasaras)


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