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When Nawabs Come Calling Paris- the history

When Nawabs Come Calling Paris- the history

The prominence of the city of Lucknow came in 18th and 19th centuries under the reign of the Nawabs as they were great patrons of art, music, poetry, dance and architecture. Saint-Hubert Théroulde, an early French traveller to Lucknow between 1838 and 1840, remarked that in Lucknow, one could find statues of Hercules, Apollo, Venus and Shepherds and shepherdess of Louis XIV and Louis XV and that once accustomed to the natives and their dresses, one could believe himself to be in Paris.


La Porte du Lal Bagh, Faizabad

© British Library Images, The British Library Board. All rights expressly reserved.

With its composite nature of Mughal roots and European influences during the colonial era, Lucknow comes to Paris to recreate its Nawabi splendour of en era gone by through more than 200 works including oil paintings, water colour painting, engravings, miniature paintings of Indian courts, textiles and other decorative objets d'art, gold work, glass work and jewellery.


In contemporary India, Lucknow has an ambiguous place between nostalgia of a time gone by and a source of national pride and culture. But delving deeper into the golden era of the city helps one understand the role and the place of Lucknow as the last bastion of Mughal Empire and the birth place of the Great Mutiny- two distinct eras that have marked the Indian history and psyche.


Travelling back in history of Lucknow

Awadh was established as one of the twelve provinces in 1590 AD by the Emperor Akbar after the Mughal empire disintegrated. It continued under the guardianship of 'Subedaars' appointed by the Mughal empire.The dynasty of Nawabs started with the appointment of Saadat Khan in 1722 who strengthened his position away from the empire of Delhi while swearing allegiance to it. Under Saadat Khan, Faizabad was the capitlal of Awadh. Lying in the fertile plains between the rivers Ganges and Jamuna, this wealthy province was a choice prey for the invaders be they Marathas or the British.The third Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula gave refuge to Mir Qasim- the rebel Nawab of Bengal and attracted the wrath of the British East India Company who, in turn, imposed heavy penalties and a British resident on the province.


In 1775, the capital of Awadh was shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow under Asaf-ud-Daula, son of Shuja-ud-Daula. Under his rule, Lucknow became one of the most prosperous and glittering cities of India earning titles such as the Golden City of the East and Shiraz-e-Hind. Many architectural edifices were created during his time- Bara Imambara, Chotta Imambra, Rumi Darwaza that still stand witness to the golden era of Lucknow. Splendours like Lal Baradari and other palaces were built by Sadat Ali Khan who succeeded the throne after abdication of Wazir Ali by the East India Company. Mubarak Manzil, Shah Manzil and Hazari Bagh were built by Ghazi-ud-Din, the son of Sadat Ali. His son Nasir-ud-Din had fondness of the western style of living.


Jardins d’un palais dans un paysage fluvial

© Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin/  Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Germany/  Art Resource, NY


A few successors later came Wajid Ali Shah, the fifth king and the last nawab of Awadh who succeeded the throne in 1847 from his father Amjad Ali Shah. The British had already annexed most of Awadh under 1801 treaty and imposed heavy loans on it. The final annexation from the British came under the allegations of mismanagement by the Nawab though studies show that the Nawab was only a title holder in what was otherwise a British administered province. Political manoeuvres of the British aside, Lucknow flourished as a cultural centre under the reign of Wazid ali Shah who was a great patron of arts, poetry, music and dance. The revival of Kathak can safely be credited to him. While the nawab was sent to Calcutta with a luxurious pension, one of his wives Begum Hazrat Mahal chose to stay back in Awadh and defy the British rule. She played an important role in the First War of Indian Independence of 1857. Although defeated by the British army, her resolute firmness in defying the British makes her one of the earliest heroins of the Great Mutiny. Thus from the middle of 18th century to 1858, with the affirmation of British rule in India, Lucknow saw its glorious rise and subsequent fall.


Throughout this time, under the patronage of the Nawab, the fame of Lucknow spread far and wide as a cultural pole of North India, rivalling Delhi, which was on decline with the disintegration of the Mughal empire. From 1739 onwards, Indian artists and poets as well as European artists, travellers and political representatives were attracted to this city that led to its cosmopolitan culture and European influences.


Related Program

Lucknow- A Royal Court of India XVIIIth- XIXth century
Photo exhibition- Lucknow: in the mirror of time
Conference- The Annexation of the State of Awadh in 1857

Conference- Lucknow: In the city of gold and silver
Film- Shatranj ke Khiladi
Conference: Precious poetry and Fairy Tales: Urdu Literature in the 18th-19th Centuries
Conference: The French in the courts of the Newabs of Lucknow
Meeting with Antonio Martinelli
Conference: European Artists and Painters of Awadh in the court of the Nawâbs of Lucknow


Photo Credits

'La Porte du Lal Bagh à Faizabad', tirée d’Oriental Scenery, Part 3, pl. 3 Angleterre, 1801
Thomas Daniell (Angleterre, 1749-1840) et William Daniell (Angleterre, 1769-1837).
Aquatinte polychrome, Image : 42,3 x 60,5 cm
The British Library, Londres, X432/3(3) © British Library Images, The British Library Board. All rights expressly reserved.

'Jardins d’un palais dans un paysage fluvial'   Inde, Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, vers 1785
Gouache et or sur papier, Page : 45,7 x 62,5 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Polier album I 5005, fo 10
© Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin/ Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Germany/ Art Resource, NY