How was Nawab Wajid Ali Shah's early life

Lucknow is a beautiful city in India known for its refined culture, aesthetic taste, mouth watering cuisine, art of mannerism and luxurious indo-gothic architecture. The place was once a capital city of legendary nawabs of nishapuri dynasty who first as mughal governors and later as british vassals ruled the prosperous and wealthy state of awadh from 1722 AD to 1856 AD .

Among the ten nawabs that once ruled awadh,name of the last nawab i.e Wajid ali shah still stands out from the rest,the nawab who added a new charm to the legacy of nawabi culture in awadh during his reign. The nawab who had a taste for only good things in life.

He loved ecstasy and delights of life. Born to nawab Amjad ali shah and his queen Mallika kishwar on 30th july 1822,his story from an ordinary prince of royal house to becoming the most beloved nawab of awadh is a fascinating one.

In 1856 he was disposed by british east india company for being negligent towards his subjects and on charges of misrule but unlike other native rulers who revolted when their states were annexed he silently departed from his beloved city Lucknow to Calcutta.Where he again with his passion for good things created a mini Lucknow near his residence in matiaburj by introducing the Awadh cuisine and various kind of activities that his subjects used to enjoy in Lucknow.

Reading through his life history makes us realize that how from his youth to adulthood his destiny put him through several challenging situations that tested him from time to time but he kept his taste for good things always intact and how with his this taste he changed the taste of a whole capital city and of its people such that it became synonymous with the culture of the city. To find more about the various events of his life lets first browse through his early life.

Wajid Ali shah in his youth

Wajid ali shah was raised as an ordinary prince of royal house with minimal Millitary training and very few lessons on administration and art of statecraft. However the young prince was more interested towards fine arts and spent most of his time in learning music and writing verses. He was tutored by a poet of considerable merit called Imdad hussain khan who taught him Urdu prose writing. Under his guidance the young prince started writing romantic poetry and his heart and mind started exploring the meaning of romance.

When he was eight years old he experienced his first romance of life when a maid amiran molested him and he got addicted to her touch. In his autobiography Ishqnama the nawab has described that since from the age of eight he had several love affairs. He has mentioned the name of all these women who came into his life and stole his heart right from age of eight.

Apart from this at a very early age he came into contact of  bad influence and by the time he reached adolescence he had already adopted a lot of ignoble habits. So his experiences of chilhood already made him a kind of person whose focus was more towards the aesthetic values and sensual pleasures of life..which remained a constant theme of his life and luckily he never found himself in a situation where he could'nt pursue his taste for good things in life.

As luck had planned for him despite being the younger son of nawab he was crowned as the tenth nawab of Lucknow at age of 25.

Was Wajid ali shah a good King(Administrator)?

After the death of his father, Wajid ali shah was crowned as new Nawab of awadh. The state of Awadh had signed a treaty of Subsidiary alliance with British east India company .Under which The Nawab of awadh became a protege of British east india company.

The nawab was provided with a few battalions of  British east indian army to protect it from the external threats. Being a wealthy state it was in the benefit of Awadh to house a british trained force to protect itself from marathas and other external enemies.

The amount of maintenance for this force was to be charged on the royal treasury of Awadh. Along with it a British resident was appointed in the royal court of Awadh. His job was to act as an agent of the British Governor general and to communicate the messages of his lord to the Nawab and guide him in conducting the administration of the state. Since from the time of coronation of Nawab wajid ali shah his relation with these British resident officers remained difficult.

These officers from time to time kept accusing Wajid ali shah of ignoring administration of his state and being a careless misfit and a monarch indulged in Debauchery, dissipation and low pursuits.

However despite of his tough relations with these British residents he in the initial years of his reign did take some measures to improve the affairs of his state.

Reforms carried out by Wajid Ali Shah  in Administration  

1. Judicial Reforms - Earlier the Judicial system of Awadh was under the chief Shiah Priest . The nawab decided to take a lead role by dispensing justice to his subjects. He ordered for two silver complain boxes to be attached to his conveyance (Buggy) in which every citizen of his state was allowed to put his complaint. The keys remained with the nawab himself and he opened them every morning and would deliver justice to the oppressed. Many a time he was approached by nobles and family members regarding such complains but he remained unbiased non influence by their views.

2. Military Reforms - With growing numbers of local taluqdars/aristrocrats and their increasing power the nawab decided to take some important reforms in organizing his army. First he abolished the useless battalions and raised some new companies of infantry and several companies of cavalry. He initiated new drills for his soldiers and ensured that he supervise them while performing these drills. He kept a check on the soldiers by performing regular inspections of his army. Prizes and awards were given to best performing soldiers. He ensured that up to date arms and smart uniforms were provided to his army . The new recruitment brought a significant increase in his army swelling its numbers to nearly 44000 infantry and 5000 cavalry .

3. Steps against Corruption -  The major concern for new nawab was the increasing corruption in his court and various other royal departments. He prohibited his officers from taking even a single grain as bribe from the recruits during the recruitment for his army. He encouraged discipline and efficiency among his soldiers. He also ensured them security of service so that they remain detached from the feelings of insecurity and avoid indulging in corruption. 

However all these reforms were not approved by the British resident officer of that time Col. Richmond . According to him the idea of increasing army was alarming so he called it a failed strategy and accused the nawab of raising battalions that were full of crap and inefficient soldiers thus wasting money from the treasury of state. Similarly he pointed out that the judiciary worked on the whims and fancies of the nawab as he is the one dispensing justice and this has made common people suffer. 

Thus the Nawab was debarred from making any innovation in the army and the government .On hearing the continuous complaints of the British resident officer he decided to adopt the british system in the administration of state. This British scheme included an elected panch of a village as an assessor of the revenue and the distict collector was to collect the revenue from each village . 

In case the zamindar is unable to provide the pre-assessed revenue then District collector had power to auction his zamindari rights to new suitor. This scheme was forwarded by the assistant to British resident officer Major Bird to the Governor general for his approval however before the Governor general could take any decision the Secretary of British govt Sir Henry Elliot rejected it saying that adoption of administration is just about one department for which the govt cannot waste its valuable resources and it is not worthwhile to take trouble instead his majesty (Nawab) should give up whole of his dominions.

Col. Sleeman the British residency officer frequently wrote to the Governor General about the mal administration and depleting situation in the royal court of Awadh in one such letter he wrote-
"The king is surrounded exclusively by eunuchs,fiddlers,and poetasters worse than either and the minister and his creatures worse than all. They appropriate to themselves atleast one half of the revenues of the country and employs nothing but the knaves of the lowest kind in all the branches of the administration. The king is crazy imbecile."
Yet another disapproval by the Resident officer but the Nawab still thought of giving it one more try by created his own code of laws called Dastur-i-wajid which he had specially prepared for his guidance and requested for Resident's cooperation . 

The resident after examining the new code brought by the Nawab replied that he is not confident of his majesty's ministers to carry out such proposed improvements and first his majesty should think about replacing his trusted officals who are the vary reason behind the failure of Awadh's administration. The king could replace two and three officials and maintained the rest.

The resident didn't allow the new scheme saying that officials elevated by the Nawab at the high offices were mostly sycophants of nawab like songsters,eunuchs etc. Thus his one last effort of instituting administrative reforms in his state was rejected one more time and the disheartened nawab sunk himself into the pleasures of his harem and in the company of poets,musicians,dancers etc. 

Nawab Wajid Ali shah's love for Women and stories of Parikhana. 

Wajid ali shah had a special love for women since from his early years. He owned 4 wives 29 Muta wives and 400 concubines in order to accomodate them he had built Qaisarbagh palace with a hefty amount of 80 lakhs.

He also built alam bagh and sikander bagh for his chief consorts Khas mahal and Sikander mahal. He had prepared a special palace called Parikhana for the beautiful women that were brought into his service . These women were called Paris and they were trained in music dance and drama by the legendary musicians and dancers of those times. 

The walls of Parikhana were huge and lofty and its gates were guarded by the Ethopian women guards who were trained in martial arts and weapons. The best of these Paris were taken as a Mutah wife by the nawab . On his birthday he used to dress as a Jogi in saffron robe and dance along with his paris who would dress as joginis in his court. The Nawab was fond of poetry and music and himself composed various plays and enacted as a main lead in Radha Kanahaiyya ka Qissa where he became Krishna surrounded with gopis. 
In a letter to Military Secretary, Col. Sleeman who was the British resident officer during Wajid ali's reign wrote-
"The king as i shall show in my next report is utterly unfit to have anything to do with the administration since he has never taken or shown any disposition to take any heed of what is done or suffered in the country. My letters have made no impression on him. H e spends all his time with singers and the females they provide to amuse him and is for 7 and 8 hours together living in the house of chief singer RajeeUd dawla.The fellow who was only lately beating a drum to a party of dancing-girls on some 4 rupees a month.This singer are all domes the lowest of the low castes of India and they and the Eunuchs are the virtual sovereigns of the country and must be so as long as the king retains any power. All ministers are indirectly under them and everything that king has dispose is sold."

Nawab Wajid ali shah as a Poet(Akhtar piya), Dancer and dramatist 

Wajid ali shah like other rulers of awadh was an active patron of art and culture. Under him Lucknow became a magnificent court city. Privileged society dominated it and they lived a  life full of splendor and comfort. In such society fine arts achieved a high status pursued by king himself . The nawab was himself a good musician he composed songs in simple awadhi language in light music like raag bhairavi . He was the composer of famous Thumari "Babul mora naihar chhoto hi jaye " . 

Under his reign the classical dance of kathak got more artistic and was given an aesthetic touch. He enriched it with rasa and Bhava added literature to it and displayed sensuality through it . He himself performed dance Rahas with his paris which included acting music and dance.The other dance was Rasa was more of a religious dance where he portrayed himself as kanahiya and danced along with his gopis in a circle.

Thakur prasad ji was his kathak guru and great kathak legends Kalka-Binda brothers performed in his court. The Lucknow style of kathak got more refined and became distinct with addition of graceful movements ,elegance,natural poise with dance. During Muharram ceremonies the nawab used to beat drums tied across his neck while leading the processions.

He was a great poet of his time wrote poetry under his pen name Akhtar piya. His prominent works include Sawat-ul-Qalub,Huzn-i-akhtar,Bani etc. Under his reign a great patronage was given to poets of all kind. Mushairas , qahava khanas were organized and became a hub of interaction among varous poets. This led to the development of a literary language Rekhta a blend of Desi , Braj bhasha and Urdu as spoken by elites.

Refinement of Urdu language as Rekhta under Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

His reign is known for refinement of Urdu as a language such mushaira clubs discussed on weeding out all the desi and vulgar expressions of popular speech and including more persianized expressions. His reign saw a number of poets like Mushafi Nasikh, Atiah,Munir,Barq etc. the style of Ghazal was improved and focus was put more on external beauty of language,making it flowery, jugglary, ornated and sweat sounding. The Masnawi style of narrating an epic through poetry was also became popular. 

Wajid ali shah's another talent was composing plays and drams in urdu and staging them infront of whole public. He had put great efforts in the composition, production,stage play, costume,dialouges etc. to make it look better to the audiences. He can easily be called as founder of urdu drama.

The paris of Parikhanas were trained in acting and dance to perform on the drams written by nawab himself. He made Qaisarbagh Baradari as a special place to stage his plays .One of his famous drama was Radha Kanahaiya  ka qissa written as well as produced by himself. These were called Jalsas where local public was invited to watch as audience.

These jalsas became so popular that even kids and local people started enacting such small plays in streets. Every year he used to act in a play called Indersabha where he enacted lord Indra in the qaisarbagh baradari . Enactment of Ras lila, Ram lila were promoted and encouraged too.


Wajid ali shah's love for food and his promotion of Awadh cuisine 

According to Mir Mohammed Taqi Court cuisine was an obsession among the Nawabs of Awadh. Wajid ali shah was a connoisseur of great food. The cooks in his Kitchen were handsomely payed for creating mouthwatering dishes Khichri made of finely chopped badams that looked like rice , Pulao anardana, Mutton kormas,lucknowi biryani were star attractions of Awadh cuisine. 

The menu of Wajid ali shah's dastarkhwan(dining carpet) has became a legend. The number of savoury dishes consisting of rich and aromatic spices duzdbiryan,qeemaphulao,dampokht chicken,roghuni and varieties of sweatmeat went even beyond fifty in numbers. The paan taken by him held the reputation of being good in colour tied with a silk colour thread delicate in fragrance. The people who visit lucknow still savour the taste of succulent Tundey Kababs that flourished and developed as a mouth watering dish in his reign.

The Buildings built by Nawab Wajid ali shah in Lucknow.

Even before he became Nawab the prince had started building various palaces .He built a Palace that suited for winter called Shashank Manzil, another for summer called Makan-i-khas and for rainy season Falak sair.

He took a great interest in gardening constructed developed a beautiful garden called hundur bagh around it constructed a big road which had a series of banana trees planted on its both sides. Two pretty canals chashma-i-shirin and other chashma-i-faid, studded with fountains with sprays of water falling in beautiful cascade.

Garden was rich in fruits and tress of various kinds were planted to imprive its beauty. The chief creation of Wazid ali shah was Qaisar bagh palace which is still an attraction of lucknow city with its gilded domes,cupolas and numerous buldings such as Tarawallie kothi,hazrat bagh,khas mukam,chandiwali biradari etc. is the largest palace in lucknow.

Later in calcutta he constructed Sibtainabad imambara at Matiaburj which has ornate interiors lit up with colourful chandeliers. The mausoleum also houses his tomb and intricately designed tazias that date back to his time.His architectural legacy is still living through the beautiful buildings that he constructed during his reign.

Nawab Wajid Ali shah was a Fashion enthusiast

During his reign a great emphasis was laid on looks and costumes. Existing styles were refashioned and newer outfits were introduced. Royalty Encouraged Tailoring and local fashion designer made unprecedented progress. Angarakha in lucknow style , Chapkan(Coats), Achkan, kalidar coat,shorter coats all became popular and added to lucknawi style. The Nawab himself designed a special libas for himself and called it Jama-i-husn.

 He had a taste for clothes and depicting himself in different poses. He often had his his portraits created in a manner in which he had his hair in ringlets and dressed in robes that sneekingly exposed his left nipple

The designers of his time put emphasis on embellishments as these kind of dresses were suited for public gatherings and events like mushairas etc. Women dresses also saw a great improvement over older styles. 

Lehnga kurti with dupatta was in style and Dancing-girls used to wear tight trousers.The bountiful rewards encouraged local tailors and weavers to develop arts of Chikankari,zardoji,Kamdani,shawl,embroidery work,brocade,lace work and metallic art. Numerous skillful artists migrated to Lucknow from places like Delhi,Allahabad,Kashmir,Surat,Punjab etc. The new working groups like Kashmiri rafugars, dushala farosh , rangrezs etc. emerged in the city. 

Wajid Ali shah (image credit-

Nawab Wajid ali shah patronised various Sports and entertainment during his reign

During the reign of Wajid ali shah people of Lucknow lived a luxurious and wealthy lives. There were numerous ways that they deploy to entertain themselves the Kite flying emerged as a greatest sports among the Lucknow elites .

Wajid ali shah promoted such kite makers who crafted big size kites and that could fly with candles in night . Public Kite flying competitions were organized and the winners were paid handsomely. Even today the people of Lucknow city enjoy Kite flying as an sports in a festival called Jamghat where people of all religions and caste enjoy flying kites.

Similarly Cock fighting, Shatranz, Marble play were also popular among the lucknow people during his reign. A lot of people joined the kite making industry which developed as an important business in those days.

According to reports of British residents Nawab Wajid Ali shah was a negligent ruler

Though Nawab was more more concerned about his own pleasures but in the process he also brought several changes in capital lucknow,but the countryside of Awadh largely remain unaffected to these developments,Infect condition of countryside in Awadh worsened. 

The anarchy spread in these areas as local Aristocrats/zamindars became powerful due to the neglegence of Nawab and incapability of Awadh army. These zamindars used to carry a small force of retainers with them fully armed to extract revenue from the farmers and whenever the nawab's army would came to tackle them they either fight or flee deep into the jungles where they had constructed forts with mounted cannons to defend themselves.

The Resident officer Col. Sleeman who made a journey through the state of awadh came to know about the miseries of farmers in the country side and wrote a full report about the growing anarchy in the state of awadh due to the misrule of  Wajid Ali shah and sent that report to Governor General Lord Dalhousie.                                 

The situation aggravated when new Resident officer took charge, Lt Col. Outram wrote in his report -

"With the exception of a few government forts , there are literally no other public works in awadh. Immense sums were charged in the accounts for the erection of royal palaces and tombs of which but a small proportion was actually thus expended. Crimes and outrages and oppressions and cruelties by government officials were on rise . The killed and wounded in dacoities and riots were estimated to around two thousand annually and irresponsible officials of nawab continue to inflict further pain by extortioning money from their poor subjects. The lamentable condition of this kingdom has been caused by the very culpable apathy and gross misrule of the sovereign and his darbar"
 Lord dalhousie finally in 1856 instructed Col. Outram to inform the king of his disposition and Awadh was annexed into British india on 11th Feb 1856. The Nawab and his descendents were allowed to keep the title King of Awadh and were given a pension of Rs 12 Lakh every year.

The nawab was sent to Calcutta .Where he developed a small Lucknow with that money and tried to recreate the past days .

The last nawab of Awadh finally passed away on 21 september 1887 and his death was mourned deeply by his subjects in lucknow. Despite of all the things written by British historians of that time there is no denying the fact that he was a popular monarch atleast in his capital, who was stuck in a kind of situation where he could not do much due to the treaty of subsidiary alliance that hung over his head like a sword all the time and prevented him from taking steps for the welfare of his people.

The only chance he had was when British annexed his kingdom he could have objected to the injustice that was done by Britishers but he being a soft hear-ted poet and due to his family's historical loyalty towards British authorities silently handed over his crown to the British resident Col. James Outram and departed from his kingdom peacefully.

The great irony was that the Nawab liked to play romantic Krishna in his plays but didn't fight against injustice like warrior Krishna in real life. However the annexation of Awadh really enraged the common peopleof Awadh against British and many of them took the revenge of this injustice by taking part in the 1857 war of independence.

Awadh was the only state where apart from mutineers the ordinary people from all castes and religion fought as a nation against British occupation. Most soldiers who rebelled in British Indian army during 1857 were also belonged to the state of Awadh.


1. Lucknow - A gazettier Published 1904

2. The Garden of India; Chapters on Oudh History and affairs H.C.Irwin published 1880

3.The Tourist guide to Lucknow in 5 parts Edward H Hilton Year 1894

4. A journey through the kingdom of awadh Maj Gen. William.H. Sleeman year 1858

5. Awadh under Wajid ali shah - G.D.Bhatnagar Published 1956

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