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HistoriCity | Awadh and its continued journey as the cultural and political heart of UP

The Awadh region has been politically important for the past two and a half thousand years. Currently, this region covers nearly 25 districts of Uttar Pradesh (UP), with voters exercising their franchise in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections in key locations such as Ayodhya-Faizabad, Rai Bareilly, Amethi and Lucknow, among others. Much of Awadh’s history is shrouded in darkness and so myths are usually thrown up to fill in the blanks. However, it is the rich and multifaceted histories of this region that sustain the famous, yet beleaguered, syncretic Ganga-Jamuni culture.

PREMIUM
Plate 3 from the third set of Thomas and William Daniell’s ‘Oriental Scenery.’ The print shows the entrance gate to the Lal Bagh in Faizabad, a pleasure garden created by Shuja ‘al-Daula. (British Library Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections/Wikimedia Commons)

Awadh, also known as Kosala, was one of the 16th Mahajanpadas, or kingdoms, that existed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC (Before Common Era). It is also said to be the location of the Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, and of modern-day Ayodhya, believed to be the birthplace of Ram.

The empire builder, Bimbisara (5th-6th BCE), who laid the foundation for the Mauryan Empire; the renunciate, Buddha; and the originator of the Jain religion, Mahavira – all fought, preached or converted in the lush and fertile plains of the present-day Awadh region, described by both Mughals and the British as the breadbasket and garden of India, whose rich land has always attracted human armies and caused constant strife.

Subordinates of Awadh

Any account of Awadh’s history is also incomplete without looking at the indigenous communities living in the region. The Nishads, who survive to this day and live along the banks of the Sarayu, Ganga, Gomti, Yamuna, Son and other rivers in Uttar Pradesh. Besides the riverine Nishads, the Bhars (also called Rajbhars due to their royal past) also abounded in the region, accounting for one of the other major indigenous communities found here. Both Bhars and Nishads, despite being socio-economically marginalized, remain politically important. For example, the high-profile and only Congress stronghold of Rai Bareily takes its name from Bharauli, which according to local tradition was the capital of a Bhar kingdom. However, in the absence of conclusive evidence, it is difficult to attribute precise dates to their period or rule, or to the manner in which they lost political power.

There is a strong tradition in Awadh and in fact among the Bhar community of Uttar Pradesh that King Suheldev, revered among the Bhars, Salar Masud (remembered as Ghazi Mian or a holy warrior), a legendary general of Mahmud Ghazni, in the 11th century defeated and killed. century, on the day Masud was to get married.

Shahid Amin has shown himself Conquest and Community: The Afterlife of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan, that this tradition is largely based on Mirat-i-Masudi or Mirror of Masud, a Persian hagiography written in the 1620s. Historically, however, an account written six centuries after an event cannot generally be considered authentic or accurate. Nevertheless, today’s religiously polarized politics have led to Suheldev being posited as a hero and defender of Hinduism against the invader Masud, and these accounts rarely mention that shortly after Suheldev killed Masud, Suheldev was put down by a Masud commander.

Awadh during Mughal Rule: The Formation of Composite Culture

Although several Afghan tribes had been present in the region since the time of the Ghaznavid raids and the Sultanate period, its first mention as the Subah of ‘Oudh’ comes during the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556-1605), when it was one of the most important used to be. dozens of provinces under Mughal rule.

The death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 plunged the Mughal kingdom into a crisis from which it never recovered. Feudal kingdoms like Bengal and Hyderabad became virtually independent of the central authority in Delhi, each trying to serve its own interests first.

The province of Awadh was also in constant turmoil and the small settlement of Ayodhya was then about to enter a decisive period in its history. Mughal Emperor Farukh Siyar appointed two little-known Hindus in quick succession as governors of Awadh. The first Hindu governor was Chabile Ram. After his death in 1719, his cousin Girdhar Bahadur was appointed governor. In 1722, Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah appointed his minister, Mir Muhammad Khan, as Governor of Awadh, who then assumed the title Saadat Khan, declared himself the independent Nawab of Awadh and built the Qila Mubarak in Ayodhya. According to tradition, it was during the time of Saadat Khan that the first land grants were made to Ramanandi Akharas.

Saadat Khan’s successor, Abu-i-Mansoor Khan Safdarjung (1739–1754), moved the capital a few kilometers west to what was first known as ‘Bangla’, a name derived from the wooden mansions built there for the new seat of the province. Later this became known as Faizabad.

In 1775, Safdarjung’s grandson, Asafudaulah, moved the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow, which was developed into a city that sought to rival the now fading eminence of Shahjahanabad (Delhi). It is believed that Asaf, the first Awadh-born nawab, started building the famous Bara Imambara in Lucknow as an anti-drought measure, and it has since been given the somewhat disturbing nickname of ‘a monument to hunger’. A verse from that time even equates him with God.

This is the Maula

Usko de Asafudaula

(To whom God does not give

Asaf-ud-daulah will give)

Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah died in 1797. Over the next sixty years, Awadh was ruled by seven nawabs. With few exceptions, all continued to patronize religious bodies and individuals. The court of Lucknow gained fame for its patronage of poetry, dance and music, and war became a distant memory. A syncretic Hindustani culture flourished and its extent was epitomized by the last king of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, who in 1855, while responding to a complaint regarding a religious dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a place of worship, is said to have said:

Hum ishq ke bande hain mazhab se nahin waqif

Gar Kaaba hua tuh kya, butkhana hua, tuh kya?

(I am a man of love, not familiar with religion

What about, whether it is the Kaaba or the temple?)

Annexation of Awadh and the Rebellion of 1857

On February 7, 1855, the British annexed Awadh. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah offered neither resistance nor acceptance and announced his plan to go to London on March 12, 1855 to plead his case before the King of England. However, he could not get further than Calcutta, where he stayed until his death in 1887 in Matia Burz, a small fort, under British guard.

In 1851, Lord Dalhousie had described the kingdom of Awadh as ‘a cherry that will one day fall into our mouths. It has been maturing for a long time.” Professor Rudrangshu Mukherjee writes in ‘Awadh in Revolt, 1857-1858’: “British governors-general in India very often referred to Awadh as something to eat. Wellesley had promised London ‘a supper of Oudh’”.

With the benefit of hindsight and historical research, many historians have noted that the mutiny or rebellion of 1857 was doomed from the start. It lacked a common purpose, leadership and military organization. Therefore, it degenerated into anarchy and with the death and capture of key rebel leaders such as Rana Beni Madho from Mankapur near Rai Bareily, Rani Laxmibai from Jhansi, Tatya Tope, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmad Ulla Shah and Begum Hazrat Mahal, to name a few mention, it was quickly suppressed by British forces.

However, the role of several minor leaders like Man Singh of the Mehdona (Ayodhya) in suppressing the rebels by siding with the British is not appreciated enough by the common people of Awadh.

Man Singh was instructed by the British to win as many talukdars as possible for the British side. An illustration of this can be seen in letters written by Man Singh to the leaders of Awadh. He used the theme of religion and labeled the Muslims as anti-Hindu, which was remarkably similar to the way the British portrayed the rule of Muslim kings. The uprising was ultimately caused by the rumor of cartridges greased with pig and cow fat. It had brought ordinary Muslims and Hindus to fight side by side and created the specter of a general uprising against landlords.

With these very real fears in mind, Man Singh raised the pretense of the return of Muslim rule in an attempt to convince the talukdars of Awadh to support the British. Addressing the talukdars who perhaps still viewed the uprising as a war for their respective religion, Man Singh said: ‘It is also surprising that people would help and bring to power those very Muslims who, when they invaded India, destroyed all our Hindus destroyed. temples, forcibly converted the natives to Mahomedanism, massacred entire towns, seized Hindu females and made them concubines, prevented Brahmins from saying prayers, burned their religious books and levied taxes on every Hindu. It is precisely those Muslims who are proud to call us infidels and subject us to all kinds of humiliation.”

It was a variety of factors that led to the defeat of the rebels of 1857. They were greater in numbers and resources, but lacked cohesion and, more importantly, suffered from severe internal sabotage by the likes of Man Singh of Ayodhya and the Nawabs of Rampur . who sided with the British to ensure the prosperity and proliferation of their lineages.

HistoriCity is a column by author Valay Singh that tells the story of a city in the news by going back to its documented history, mythology and archaeological excavations. The opinions expressed are personal