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Wajid Ali Shah - The last Nawab of Awadh

November 20, 2021
Mirza Firuz Shah
Bahadur Shah II 1837–1857

Wajid Ali Shah - The last Nawab of Awadh



H.M. Hazrat Khalid, 'Abul Mansur Nasir ud-din, Padshah-i-'Adil, Kaiser-i-Zaman, Arangha Sultan-i-'Alam, Muhammad Wajid 'Ali Shah Bahadur, King of Oudh. b. at Lucknow, 30th July 1822, second son of H.M 'Abul Zafar, Muslih ud-din, Sultan-i-'Adil Khaqan-i-Zaman Muhammad Amjad 'Ali Shah, Sipahr Shukoh Bahadur, King of Oudh, by his first wife, H.M. (Janab-i-Alia) Malika-i-Kishwar Bahadur, Mukhtar-i-Alia, Fakhr uz-Zamani Nawab Taj Ara Begum Sahiba, daughter of Nawab Hisam ud-din Khan Bahadur, of Kalpi, educ. privately. Granted the title of Nazim ud-Daula 1838, later promoted to the title of Khurshid Hashmat. Appointed as Heir Apparent and invested with the titles of Abul Mansur, Sikander Jah, Sulaiman Hasham, Sahib-i- Alam, and Wali Ahad Mirza Bahadur at the Farhat Bakhsh Palace, Lucknow, 17th May 1842. 

Wajid Ali Shah (30 July 1822 – 1 September 1887) was the eleventh and last King of Awadh, holding the position for 9 years, from 13 February 1847 to 11 February 1856. Wajid Ali Shah's first wife was Alam Ara who was better known as Khas Mahal (transl. special wife) because of her exquisite beauty She was one of two Nikahi[clarification needed] wives. His kingdom, long protected by the East India Company (EIC) under treaty, was annexed by the EIC on 11 February 1856, two days before the ninth anniversary of his coronation. The Nawab was exiled to Garden Reach in Metiabruz, then a suburb of Kolkata, where he lived out the rest of his life on a generous pension. He was a poet, playwright, dancer and great patron of the arts. He is widely credited with the revival of Kathak as a major form of classical Indian dance. Wajid Ali Shah succeeded to the throne of Awadh when the kingdom was well past its heyday. The British had annexed much of the kingdom under the treaty of 1801, and had impoverished Awadh by imposing a hugely expensive, British-run army and repeated demands for loans. The independence of Awadh in name was tolerated by the British only because they still needed a buffer state between their presence in the east and south, and the remnants of the Mughal Empire to the north. Wajid Ali Shah succeeded to the throne of Awadh when the kingdom was in decline. The British East India Company (EIC) had annexed much of the kingdom under it's rule in a treaty signed with the kingdom in 1801, and stymied the Awadh economy by imposing the costs of maintaining the Bengal Army on the kingdom's coffer, in addition to repeatedly demanding loans. However, the EIC refrained from annexing the remainder of the kingdom because they needed a buffer state between their territories to the east and south, and the Mughal Empire to the north. 

Wajid Ali Shah ascended the throne of Oudh at a time when the East India Company was determined to annex the throne of prosperous Awadh, which was "the garden, granary, and queen-province of India"- the royal predecessors and successors of Awadh were one of the major threats to the dominance of the Mughal Empire before the arrival of the East India Company to the Indian subcontinent.

 In different circumstances perhaps, he 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 fine arts in the Indian tradition. When he ascended the throne, he took keen interest in the administration of justice, introduced reforms, and reorganised the military. Wajid Ali Shah was widely regarded as a debauched and detached ruler, but some of his notoriety seems to have been misplaced. The main cause for condemnation comes from the British Resident of Lucknow, General William Sleeman, who submitted a report highlighting "maladministration" and "lawlessness" he described as prevailing there, although Sleeman himself was strictly opposed to outright annexation for a variety of reasons, including political, financial and ethical ones.

 This provided the British with the facade of benevolence they were looking for, and formed the official basis for their annexation. Recent studies have, however, suggested that Oudh was neither as bankrupt nor as lawless as the British had claimed. In fact, Oudh was for all practical purposes under British rule well before the annexation, with the Nawab playing little more than a titular role. The Bengal presidency army was recruited largely from Oudh; while, under direction by the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie in 1855, any tax revenue from Oudh not required for state government costs was appropriated by the East India Company. 

Contributions to music 

A large number of composers who thrived under the lavish patronage of the Nawab rulers of Lucknow enriched the light classical form of thumri; most prominent among these was Wajid Ali Shah. He was not only a munificent patron of music, dance, drama, and poetry but was himself a gifted composer. He had received vocal training under great Ustads like Basit Khan, Pyar Khan and Jafar Khan. Pyar Khan, Jafar Khan and Basit Khan were the direct descendants of Mian Tansen and were the sons of famous tanseni Chajju Khan.Bahadur Hussain Khan (Zia-ud- Daulah,title conferred by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah) was the favourite musician of the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Bahadur Hussain Khan was the descendant of Tansen's son-in-law Naubat Khan.Although Wajid Ali Shah's pen-name was "Qaisar", he used pseudonym "Akhtarpiya" for his numerous compositions. Under this pen name, he wrote over forty works – poems, prose and thumris. Diwan-i-Akhtar, Husn-i-Akhtar contain his ghazals. He is said to have composed many new ragas and named them Jogi, Juhi, Shah-Pasand, etc. The source for much information on music in Nawabi Lucknow comes from the text Ma’danul Moosiqui ('The Mine of Music') of Hakim Mohammed Karam Imam, courtier of Wajid Ali Shah.[8] During his time, complicated ragas like hori and dhrupad were ignored and easier raginis like tilak, pilu, sendura, khammach, bhairvi and jhanjhauti were encouraged. As these were liked by the king and easily understood by all sections of society, they came to be well-loved by commoners. Wajid Ali Shah has been accused of cheapening the classical tradition and promoting lighter forms of music such as ghazals and thumris. But then, as argued by scholars like Ravi Bhatt, this is how popular music has always been criticised.Popular belief has it that the light classical form, thumri was created by Wajid Ali Shah. However, James Kippen argued that evidence suggests thumri had almost certainly already become an independent vocal form somewhat influenced by khayal by 1800, becoming extremely popular and pervasive in the time of Wajid Ali Shah. Wajid Ali wrote and performed ghazals, and the modern-day style of ghazals was certainly evolved by his innovative ideas and experimentations in ghazals, some of which were noted for their inclusion of obscenities and sexually explicit references to his own private life.

Contributions to dance: Kathak 

Together with music, dance in Lucknow developed strongly and became a pre-eminent art under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah. In the ancient times Kathak being the part of the temple ritual was performed at temples. With the change of time the Kathak performers in search of better prospects and rich patronage left the temple and entered into royal courts. The transformation was inevitable. The dance started adapting itself to the demands of the court, but it was under the artistic guidance and patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, that Kathak achieved greater dimensions. He gave a definite form, made it more artistic, and gave to it an aesthetic touch, he enriched it with rasa and bhava, and he added literature to it, lent it sensuality, and furnished it with grandeur and splendor to its presentation, argued Abdul Halim Sharar.During this period, Kathak was also extensively performed by tawaifs, who themselves developed the art in parallel to its refinement in court. They frequently performed on lighter classical music of such as dadra, kajri and tappa as well as thumri. Given the tawaifs' environment, their performance style of Kathak also differed from the court style, involving more of what in Kathak is termed nakhra (mischievous playfulness). Wajid Ali Shah started two distinct forms one is Rahas and the other one is called Raas. He himself choreographed a dance based on the moves of Kathak called, Rahas, that he danced himself with the ladies of his court. For him, Rahas was a dramatic form of theatre including acting, dancing, and music and with different scenes the whole setting and locale changes. On the other hand, Raas was purely a religious form. Primarily Dhrupad was sung in Raas and the performance began with its singing. Raas was a circular form of dance where many gopis danced with one Krishna. Radhakamal Mukerjee in his book, The Lord of the Autumn Moons, says that the Raspancadhyayi or the five chapters pertaining to the circular group dance of Krishna with the Gopis, distill the embody the full maturity of the mystical emotions. 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. It was at his reign that Lucknow Gharana came into existence. It was in this period that the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak attained maturity, through the efforts of the stalwarts like Thakur Prasadji and others. The Lucknow style of Kathak dance is characterized by graceful movements, elegance and natural poise with dance. Abhinaya, concern for movement shape and creative improvisations are the hallmarks of this style. He not only made Kathak as the official court dance, but using it in performances of rahas made it popular among the people. 

Contributions to Hindustani theatre 

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. He established the 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 Paris (fairies) with names such as Sultan pari, Mahrukh pari and so on. On each birthday, 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 'paris 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. Later, when his favourite venue, the Qaisarbagh Baradari was built, he began to stage his magnificent Rahas (a Persianised name for Rasleela) full of sensuous poetry, his own lyrical compositions and glamorous Kathak dances. Contributions to literature Like the performing arts Wajid Ali Shah also patronised literature and several poets and writers in his court. Notable among them were 'Barq', 'Ahmad Mirza Sabir', 'Mufti Munshi', and 'Aamir Ahmad Amir', who wrote books at the orders of Wajid Ali Shah, Irshad-us-Sultan and Hidayat-us-Sultan, Amanat the famous author of Indra Sabha and Bekhud wrote Jalwa-Akhatar, Hajjo Sharaf and Afsana-i-Lucknow have presented a picture of the times and life of Wajid Ali Shah. The famous poet Mirza Ghalib also received the gracious patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, who granted him a pension of Rupees five hundred per year in 1854.

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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.


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