Thursday, November 20, 2014




Uptil now , I carried with me , a grossly mistaken opinion about Nawab Wajid Ali Shah ( 1827-1887) , the last Ruler of Awadh . Nothing more than a profligate ,indolent and wealthy Nawab who was also a lover of poetry, Music , Rang Mahal and Nautch Girls. I was made to believe that he was a fickle minded person who generally wavered while taking strong administrative decisions and consequently unfit to govern .

Every thing has changed after I read a wonderful Book titled “ WAJID ALI SHAH : THE TRAGIC KING ” By Ranbir Sinh . My renewed interest made me to read   more reliable work  on this unfortunate king. I now firmly believe in something otherwise .

Whatever be his fault or whatever be his presentation by various historians , Wajid Ali Shah comes out as a remarkable character in this Book. A person who never compromised with his fundamental beliefs nor sold his country . For me, at least , In the scale of honour , he stands heavier to Lord Dalhousie ( who ordered the annexation Awadh ) who wanted him sign a treaty ( Colonial conspiracy ) to give up Awadh in exchange of an annual stipend. To execute the conspiracy of forcible annexation of Awadh , Lord Dalhousie ensured that a patently biased report was prepared by General Sleeman , the then British Resident of Lucknow. Far from realities , this report highlighted maladministration and lawlessness supposed to be prevailing in Awadh so as to justify its annexation to British East India .

"He is entirely taken up in the pursuit of his personal gratifications. He has no desire or 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." So wrote General Sleeman in his report .

Upon refusal to sign the treaty , Wajid Ali shah was forcibly removed and Awadh annexed to British East India Company . His property and palaces were confiscated . After being compelled to move from Lucknow to Bengal in 1856, the deposed nawab was settled by the British in Garden Reach, an area south-west of Calcutta that had luxurious villas along the Hooghly river.

One of Wajid Ali Shah's wives, Begum Hazrat Mahal, remained in Lucknow during the Sepoy Mutiny 1857. Supported by Raja Jailal singh and Nana Sahib , she put herself at the head of those fighting for freedom from British Raj. The Begum did not surrender and died in Nepal in 1879 after being allowed Asylum by Rana Jang Bahadur.

The persecution and injured pride of the Nawab gave birth to some fine poems that he composed while he stayed in calcutta . Poems of Patriotism and loneliness. I quote a sample …

Shikwa kis se karoon yaan Dost ne maara Mujh ko,
Juz khudaa ke nahin ab Koyee sahaara Mujh Ko,
Nazar Aataa Nahin Bin Jaaey Guzaara Mujh Ko
Dar o Deewar Pe Hasrat Ki nazar kartein Hain
Rukhsat Aey Ahl e wattan Hum to safar Karein Hain…

Saare Ab Shahar Se Hotaa hai Yeh “AKHTAR “ Rukhssat,
Aagay Bas ab Nahin Kehnay ki Hai Mujh Ko Furssat ,
Ho Na barbaad Meray Mulk Ki Yaaron Khalqat,
Dar o Deewar Pe Hasrat Ki nazar kartein Hain
Rukhsat Aey Ahl e wattan Hum to safar Karein Hain…

( when he Left Awadh )

Kabhi sar pe rakhtaa thhaa mein kaj Kulaah.
Awadh ka kabhi mein bhi thhaa Baadshaah.
Koyee Ranj Zindaan Mein Aisaa Nahin
Jo iss Be sar o paa ko Pahunchaa nahin
Huve Qaid Iss tarah hum Be-Gunaah
Aseeron Mein Huun Naam Hai Baadshaah ..
( In Prison During the sepoy mutiny of 1857 )

As a patron of arts , Wajid Ali Shah sanctioned a life long pension of Rs500 Per annum to Mirza Ghalib. He spent a large amount from his annual stipend patronizing musicians, dancers and poets in Calcutta .
His interest in Architecture made him to build the Famous Quaiser Bagh complex at a cost of 80 Lakhs . To him goes the credit of revival of Kathak form of Dance in Awadh. And he himself was a skilled kathak dancer. I also came across a story about his dancing that goes as under ..

“During the Holi celebration in 1867 at the Durbar Hall of Metiabruz, near Kolkata, where the nawab built a replica of his palace in Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah sang and danced in a peshwaj In a gathering of eminent musicians and connoisseurs. He wore a long full-sleeved gown that flared from the neck to the ankles,where it measured as much as 80m in circumference.
In this gathering , the nawab began his recital with a khayal, and later moved on to the bandish ki thumri “neer bharan kaise jaaoon sakhi ri” that is sung even today in Raga Tilak Kamod.”

Thumri singing and composition received greatest support from him. He himself sang and composed Thumris. He is the composer cum first singer of the most popular Thumri of the subcontinent “ Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Jaaye ”. “ Jab chhorr chale Lucknow nagari/Kaho hal adam par kya guzre?” is another popular Thumri composed and sung by him .

While shooting “Shataranj Ke Khilari ” Film Director Satyajit Ray once asked the Calcutta based descendants of the Nawab the reasons as to why the legendry Nawab is shown dressed in an angrakha while leaving his left bosom exposed in many Potraits /Photographs . It was gathered by Ray that the late Nawab had himself given a reasoned reply to this query in his lifetime in following words

“I deliberately keep it exposed because I believe as a poet I should keep my heart open to emotions and sensibilities.”

Wajid Ali Shah was a playwright as well. His Plays Including “Radha Kanahayya ka Qissa “ was staged for many weeks to packed audience in Qaiser Bagh Complex Lucknow. With Bells tinkling in his feet ,He himself danced as Krishna in many stage plays based on Raas-leela. Kathak was also introduced and popularized through these dance Dramas .

As ruler , he introduced reforms and dispensed justice . He was truly secular , liberal and fair to all subjects irrespective of their faiths . He himself led Holi and Deewali Celebrations .Under his personal supervision , Poor and Destitutes from all communities were given food and clothes during Idd and Muhharam . Inspite of being known as a man of pleasure , Wajid Ali Shah never touched wine nor missed his five daily prayers.

In his later life, he was carried all over on a sedan chair. He is said to have been afflicted with an anal fistula that forced him to spend many agonizing hours in the toilet.

He was a remarkable poet of romance who added AKHTAR or AKHTAR PIYA as Takhallus to his name and wrote poetry . His creative work is spread in over 40 books of poetry , prose and Thumris. Out of this, Two books "Diwan-i-Akhtar", "Husn-i-Akhtar" contain his Ghazals. I quote lines from his popular romantic Gazal ….

Ilahi koyee hawa ka jhonka, dikha de chehra-udaa ke Aanchal
Jo jhaankta hai kabhi sitamgar,to khidkiyon mein-laga ke Aanchal
Suni jo kadmon ki meri Aahat, to jaake chupke se so gaye woh
Jo mainay talwon pe gudgudaya, ulat diya-muskura ke Aanchaal
Zaroor dhayegaa koyee fitna, Zaroor mahshar bapaa karega
Ye tera at-kheliyon se chalnaa, jhukaa ke gardan-gira ke Aanchal
Zaroor hai majra yeh koyee, jo rehtay hain duur-duur hum se
Jo paas Aakay bhi baith-tay haain ,to har taraf se-dabaa ke Aanchal…

(Autar Mota ) 

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CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
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