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Lucknow: Avadh is claimed to be among the most ancient of Hindu states. According to popular legend, Ramchandra of Ayodhya, the hero of the Ramayana, gifted the territory of Lucknow to his devoted brother Lakshman after he had conquered Sri Lanka and completed his term of exile in the jungle. Therefore, people say that the original name of Lucknow was Lakshmanpur, popularly known as Lakhanpur or Lachmanpur. The city of Ayodhya itself, forty miles away from Lakshmanpur, was reported to be full of great riches: Its streets, well arranged, were refreshed with ceaseless streams of water, its walls, variously ornamented, resembled the checkered surface of a chess-board. It was filled with merchants, dramatists, elephants, horses and chariots. The cloud of fragrant incense darkened the sun at noonday: but the glowing radiance of the resplendent diamonds and jewels that adorned the persons of the ladies relieved the gloom! (Ramayana). The ancient metropolis of Ayodhya was situated on the banks of the Ghagra, a river as wide as the Ganges at Chunar and its extensive ruins can still be seen. There is no record of when and how Ayodhya came to be deserted or allowed to decay: the legend is that Rama ascended to heaven, carrying with him all the population of the place. So large had the city been that Lakshmanpur was described as its suburb! Taking a descent through the mists of time we alight upon Ayodhya again in the record books of the Emperor Akbar. It is a prodigious descent in time -from fifteen centuries before the Christian era to fifteen centuries after. Incredibly though, not much is known about the history of Avadh during this time. We know that after the conquest of Kanauj by the Afghans at the end of the twelfth century, Avadh submitted to the Sultan of Ghazni, and became part of the Islamic empire of the Sultans of Delhi. Avadh then asserted its independence for a while under the Lodi Muslim rulers, but they were overthrown by Babur. Subsequent to this defeat Avadh became a Subah or province of the Moghul Empire. As the Moghul power declined and the emperors lost their influence and they became first the puppets and then the prisoners of their feudatories. In this period Avadh grew stronger and more independent under the Nawabs of Lucknow & Faizabad. Awadh’s capital city under the Nawabs was originally Faizabad.
Of all the Muslim states and dependencies of the Moghul Empire, Avadh had the newest royal family. They were descended from a Persian adventurer called Sadat Khan, originally from Khurasan in Persia. There were many Khurasanis in the service of the Moghuls. They were mostly soldiers and the successful ones were richly awarded with military power and huge areas of land. Sadat Khan proved to be amongst the most successful of this group. In 1732, he was appointed the Mughal governor of the province of Avadh. His original title was Nazim, which means Governor, but soon he was made Nawab. In 1740, the Nawab was called Wazir or Vizier, which means Chief Minister, and thereafter he was known as the Nawab Wazir. In practice, from Sadat Khan onwards, the titles had been hereditary, though in theory they were in the gift of the Moghul Emperor, to whom they owed allegiance. A Nazar, or token tribute, was sent each year to Delhi, and members of the Mughal imperial family were treated with great deference: two of them actually lived in Lucknow after 1819, and were treated with great courtesy. Achieving a certain degree of independence from the Moghuls in Delhi did not, unfortunately, mean that the Nawabs could rule entirely as they pleased. They had merely exchanged one master for another. The British, in the form of the East India Company based in Calcutta, had long looked with predatory eyes at the wealth of Avadh. Excuses for interference in the province were not hard to find. The most catastrophic from the Avadh point of view came when Shuja-ud-Daula invaded Bengal, and actually briefly held Calcutta. But British military victories at Plassey in 1757 and Buxar in 1764 utterly routed the Nawab. When peace treaty was signed, Avadh lost much of its territory. But the enemies became friends, on the surface anyway, and the Nawab Wazir was extolled in the British Parliament as the Chief native allay of the East India Company in all India. The Nawabs surrendered their independence little by little over many years. To pay for the protection of British forces and assistance in war, Avadh first gave up the fort of Chunar, then the districts of Benares and Ghazipur, and finally the fort at Allahabad. While annexing the territory of Awadh, the British East India Company successively demanded higher cash subsidy for their services as military protectors of the territory of Awadh. In 1773 the British forced the Nawab of Awadh to accept a permanent British Resident at Lucknow. This decision of the Nawab proved to be a fatal mistake. Under this regulation the British Resident overtook much of the administrative powers and especially the foreign policy powers from the Nawab. Although the British Resident observed the respect and deference towards the Nawab ceremonially, in practice he became the real ruler of the Awadh territory.
Asaf-ud-Daula, son of Shuja-ud-Daula, moved the capital from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1775 and made it one of the most prosperous and glittering cities in all India. Historians attribute various reasons to the shifting of Awadh’s capital from Faizabad to Lucknow. Some scholars believe the move was just whim of the Nawab while others believe that he wanted to get away from control of a very dominant mother. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was a generous and sympathetic ruler, an inveterate builder of monuments and a discriminate patron of the arts. He built the Bara Imambara with its intricate “Bhul-Bhulayya” (maze) and adjoining mosque, primarily to create employment for his subjects during a drought and thus alleviate the suffering of his subjects. The Rumi Darwaza also testifies to his architectural zeal. Wazir Ali, the son of Asaf-ud-Daula came to regret the decision of his grandfather in accepting the appointment of a British Resident in the court of Nawab of Awadh. The East India Company’s Governor-General removed him from the throne because the British expressed doubt that he was a son of Asaf-ud-Daulah. The real reason for his removal was that Wazir Ali asserting more powers than the British wanted. They appointed his uncle, Sadat Ali Khan, the younger brother of Asaf-ud-Daulah on the throne of Awadh. Sadat Ali Khan was supposedly a better administrator and conservative in spending the wealth of Awadh. In practice Sadat Ali Khan spent as much wealth if not then his predecessors. He commissioned the construction of many grand palaces including the Dilkusha, Hayat Baksh, Farhat Baksh and the famous Lal Baradari. Despite considerable control over treasury, the issue of recognition of successor to the Nawab became more a matter of the acceptance by the British East India Company in Calcutta than by the puppet Mughal monarchs in Delhi. The deposed Wazir Ali had a British Resident assassinated in Banaras in 1798. The Governor-General Lord Wellesley, the brother of the Duke of Wellington, exploited this event by forcing the Nawab of Awadh to give up all control over his army and pay an almost unbearable tribute for maintenance of the same army under a British officer. The southern Doab, the Rohilkhand territory between two rivers was ceded to the British along with the remaining districts of Allahabad. Within 30 years the British coerced the Nawab of Awadh to give up more than half its territory. Each time a territory was ceded the British agreed to allow the Nawab full sovereignty over the remaining areas without any interference of the British Resident. The British knew that this was not possible because the Nawab did not have any control over the army under a British commander. Another clause added to the treaty between Awadh and the Company was that the Nawab undertook to establish a system of administration by the advice of and acting in conformity to the counsel of the officers of the Honourable Company which should be conducive to the prosperity of his subjects. With this clause the Company virtually annexed the territory of Awadh. Sadat Ali was followed by Ghazi-ud-Din Haider (the title literally meant the fighter or defender of faith) in 1814. The British formally acknowledged him as a sovereign king but in practice he was completely dependent on the mercy of the Company. When the British had to fight a battle against the Nepalese in the Tarai (marshy forests in the foothills of Himalayas) they coerced the Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider to grant the Company a loan of Rupees 2 million on the condition that Nepalese Tarai territory won from the battle would be handed over to the Nawab to liquidate half of the Company’s debt. Though the Tarai region produced very valuable timber, it was still considered a poor bargain. Ghazi-ud-Din was an efficient monarch. He commissioned many buildings like the Mubarak Manzil, Shah Manzil and Hazari Bagh on the one hand creating employment for his subjects while at the same time he paid personal attention to the administration of justice in his territories. He also had the “Shah Najaf Imambara” (a replica of the mausoleum of the son-in-law of the holy Prophet, Hazrat Ali) constructed. His three queens, Sarfaraz Mahal, Mubarak Mahal and Mumtaz Mahal are buried in this building.
His son, Nasir-ud-Din Haider ascended the throne of Awadh in 1827. Nasir-ud-Din Haider was very much influenced by the English dressing, eating, and more ominously their drinking styles. He led an extravagant life of debauchery and left the administration initially to Wazir Hakim Mahdi and later to Raushan-ud-Daulah. Despite this reputation he was a much beloved monarch in his territories. He had an astronomical observatory with sophisticated instruments constructed in Tarunwali Kothi and employed a British astronomer as its caretaker. He died without a male heir to the throne but his mother, queen of Ghazi-ud-Din Haider, Padshah Begum, claimed that an infant, Munna Jan, was his legitimate son. The British did not believe this claim and appointed an uncle of the late Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider and the son of Sadat Ali Khan, Muhammad Ali Shah, as the next Nawab.
Muhammad Ali Shah paid a large sum of money to the Company for their recognition of his title. He was 63 years old at the time of his coronation. He became a very popular monarch. He commissioned the construction of Chota Imambara. For a short period reign of five years Awadh regained some of its old splendor. He died of rheumatism and related illness in 1842.
His son, Amjad Ali Shah succeeded him on the throne of Awadh. He was deeply religious and left the day to day administration of the state to inefficient and corrupt ministers leading to complete neglect of government. He died after a short reign of six years suffering from cancer in 1847.
Wajid Ali Shah, son of Amjad Ali Shah succeeded him in 1847. Wajid Ali Shah was a very cultured personality. He patronized artists, musicians and dancers. He also undertook an unprecedented construction project that transformed the city of Lucknow. In two years between 1848 and 1850 he spent over Rupees 8 million on a huge complex of palaces called Qaiser Bagh. The British historians wrote a completely different account of his rule. William Knighton in his The Private Life of an Eastern King wrote that 'He is entirely taken up in the pursuit of his personal gratifications. He has no desire to be thought to take any interest whatever in public affairs and is altogether regardless of the duties and responsibilities of his high office. He lives exclusively in the society of fiddlers, eunuchs and women: he has done so since his childhood, and is likely to do so till his last.' The reality was that the British had full control of the finances of Awadh and controlled almost every aspect of the government administration of the kingdom of Awadh. Moreover the cash demands of the British East India Company virtually bankrupted the kingdom of Awadh. But Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of the Company used the private life of the Nawab Wajid Ali Shah as a pretext to annex the kingdom of Awadh on February 11, 1856. Wajid Ali Shah was transported virtually as a prisoner to the Matiaburj Building in Calcutta. One of the queens of Wajid Ali Shah remained back in Lucknow. The British did not foresee the rebellion that this treachery would cause. The population of the territory of Awadh joined the fighters for independence in 1857. The fighters were initially the Indian soldiers in the British Army who rebelled against their masters because of various reasons. Begum Hazrat Mahal was full of anger against the British for annexing the kingdom of Awadh and readily agreed to lead the freedom fighters. The struggle for independence did not succeed because many powerful Hindu and Muslim princely states assisted the British to crush the aspirations of the fighters. Begum Hazrat Mahal never surrendered to the British. She took refuge in Nepal after the suppression of the First War of Indian Independence. She died in Nepal in 1879. She is still revered in Lucknow as a freedom fighter. A garden near Hazratganj Bazaar, the main shopping district of Lucknow, is named after her.
Excursions from Lucknow:
Bithur, situated on the banks of River Ganga, at about 114 kilometers or 71 miles from Lucknow and 24 kilometers or 15 miles from Kanpur, is an ancient Hindu pilgrimage center. In ancient times it was known as Brahmateerth and Sage Valmiki is believed to have composed the Hindu religious epic, Ramayana in this place. Hindu pilgrims visit the three famous temples of Luv-Kush, Dhruv Tila and Valmiki Ashram at Brahmavarta Ghat on River Ganga. During the “First War of Indian Independence” the Sepoys (Indian soldiers in British Army) followed by the Britishers, crossed the River Ganga here.
Faizabad, the former capital of Avadh during the rule of the Nawabs is famous for its monuments. The most important monuments of Faizabad are the Gulab Bari, Moti Mahal, Khursheed Mahal, Dilkusha, Tulsi Smarak and the famous Guptar Ghat.
Ayodhya, the birth place of the Hindu God Ram, is 7 kilometers or 4 miles from Faizabad. During the reign of the first Mughal Emperor Babur, many Hindu temples were destroyed in Ayodhya and a mosque called “Babri Masjid” was constructed. The right-wing Hindu parties like BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and RSS (Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh) led a mob that destroyed this mosque resulting in riots in many places all over India. The archaeological experts appointed by the High Court found remains of various Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religious sites under the Babri Masjid but could not prove if a temple dedicated to Lord Ram existed in Ayodhya. The site is at present under judicial custody. Various Hindu organizations have built Ram Janma Bhumi structures in neighboring areas.
Chapiya is a small town popular among Gujarati Hindus as a pilgrimage center. It is about 50 kilometers or 31 miles from Ayodhya. There is a famous Swami Narayan Temple in Chapiya.
Taj Vivanta Residency Hotel – 110 rooms
Hotel Clark Awadh – 98 rooms (free WiFi)
Piccadily Hotel near Airport - 106 rooms
Gemini Continental Hotel (Hazratganj)- 60 rooms
Best Western Plus Levana (Hazratganj) - 66 (free WiFi)
Continental PAX Hotel - 40 rooms (free WiFi)
Golden Tulip Lucknow Hotel (near train station) - 115 rooms (free WiFi)
Arif Castles Hotel - 42 rooms (free WiFi)
Hotel India Awadh (Hazratganj) - 68 rooms (free WiFi)
La Place Sarovar Portico - 50 rooms
Comfort Inn Lucknow (Gomti Nagar) – 64 rooms (free WiFi)
Grand JBR Hotel (Gomti Nagar) - 25 rooms (free WiFi)
Carton Hotel Lucknow – 28 rooms
La Place Park Inn – 50 rooms
Tulip Inn near Vidhan Sabha - 50 rooms
Charans Club Resort - 30 rooms (free WiFi)
Distance from Lucknow in Kilometers and Miles:
Ayodhya: 127 Kilometers or 79 Miles
Faizabad: 121 Kilometers or 75 Miles
Kanpur: 77 Kilometers or 48 Miles
Shravasti: 170 Kilometers or 106 Miles
Agra: 363 Kilometers or 225 Miles
Allahabad: 238 Kilometers or 148 Miles
Varanasi: 300 Kilometers or 186 Miles