Nawab Mohammad Ali Shah

(Detailed Notes : This may not be very good in terms of language, but gives enough sketch for the purpose of research. This text may be using some vernacular terms too, which may be otherwise hard to understand in context but we will be happy to assist in this regard)

Nawab Mohammad Ali ShahSir Jadunath Sarkar had remarked that the Begums of Oudh have left an abiding mark in Indian history. He continued, “Nawab Begum Sadr-un-Nisa, the imperious daughter of one Nawab, wife of another and mother of a third and Bahu Begum, the petted foster child of an Emperor of Delhi, ended their days as the heroines of a tragic story which when told by the English, brought tears in West Minster Hall beyond the black waters. Towards the close of dynasty came the spirited wife of the imbecile Ghazi-ud-Din Haider, and Hazrat Mahal, the Judith of the Sepoy Mutiny, the even more heroic consort of the still softer Wazid Ali Shah.”

Mohammad Taqi Ahmad wrote about the fallen heroine Badshah Begum, “-must have made a better use of her prodigious powers if she had seen better days.- One who could make and unmake ministers, fight against kings and lead an army to place her own candidate on the throne, could as well use her wonderful gifts, indomitable courage and tenacity, more usefully, only if times had been different”. One can only shed tears for Badshah Begum and move forward with the pages of history.

Nasir-ud -Daula assumed the name of Mohammad Ali Shah after he was crowned. He was already 60 years old and of feeble health. He maintained the best of relations with English and allowed the East India Company to increase the forces in Oudh and intervention in the internal administration when ever deterioration in law and order happened. The British Resident Low prepared a suitable draft of new treaty which gave sweeping powers to the Company but for some reasons the Court of Directors did not ratified it. Mohammad Ali Shah would be remembered in posterity for beautification of Hussainabad. He started building Satkhanda and built Hussainabad tank. Roads were improvised. With Hussainabad Imambara and a mosque planned bigger than the Jama Masjid of Shahjahanabad, opposite the Hussainabad Tank, the King Mohammad Ali Shah wanted to build a new Babylon in Lucknow. He could not bring desired changes to improve further the state administration but tried best in spite of his impaired health. His subjects liked him. He succeeded in saving substantial amount in treasury for his successor, his own son Amjad Ali Shah was named during his lifetime. The aged King died early and left many of his projects unfulfilled.

Ascendancy to the Crown and Challenges

The late King Naseer-ud-Din Haider had already declared during his lifetime that Munna Jaan alias Fareidoon Bakht was not his son. When reminded about his earlier statement of declaring Munna Jaan as his own son, Naseer-ud-Din could not reason out well enough and referred only to the earlier overbearing influence of Padshah Bcgum on his life. The Resident accordingly received the petition of the late King and forwarded it to the Governor General in Calcutta. The English selected Naseer-ud-Daula, the eldest living son of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan and uncle of deceased King. Yet there were others claimants to the throne who were discussed by one Captain White in his pamphlet, ‘ The Prince of Oudh’. The legitimacy question of Munna Jaan was hotly debated at that time and of interest even today. The official English point of view was clear in that Munna Jaan was not the real son of Naseer-ud-Din but was implanted by the sinister design of Badshah Begum to realise her ambition of control of Oudh affairs. Colonel Sleeman examined this legitimacy question in his work, A Journey through the Kingdom of Oudh’. The famous Colonel became the Resident at Lucknow after twelve years elapsed of this coup d’état and gave arguments in favour of Munna Jaan. He cited the evidence of many members of the royal family who were brought up from childhood in the palace, and they declared that Munna Jaan was the real son of Naseer-ud-Din. The Colonel did not believe in the statement of the late King that he ceased to cohabit with Afzal Mahal, the mother of Munna Jaan. Colonel gave a very good character certificate to Afzal Mahal in spite of her humble birth Badshah Begum never left her assertion that she saw the birth of Munna Jaan and continued to shower her affections even when both of them were in prison and till the last moment of Munna Jaan, Colonel Sleeman noted many similarities in appearance and behaviour of Munna Jaan akin to his father Naseer-ud-Din.

Once again the attention of reader is invited to the happenings in Farhat Baksh on the night and morning of 8″ July 1837, Resident Low saved the situation for the old man on that day by his firm handling of the explosive situation. Once the miscreants were driven away, Low kept talking with Naseer-ud-Daula to build up his confidence and waited till Kaptaan Fateh Ali Khan brought the royal robe, ornaments and other items for dressing up the King for coronation. The royal procession now led by Nawab and followed by the Resident, Captain James Paton, Lieutenant Shakespeare, Syed Ilifat Hussein the Amirul Insha, entered the royal apartments where the throne was kept. Naseer-ud-Daula sat on the throne and gestured all present to take their seats. Resident Low took his seat on the right side and so the Brigadier Johnstone who sat close by. A 21-gun salute was given and repeated by all the batteries of Lucknow city. Mirza Amjad Ali Khan, eldest son of the King, was the first person that presented nazar to the King, Roshan-ud-Daula Bahadur, Subhan Ali Khan, Doctor Stevenson and Raja Bakhtawar Singh followed him. Takht-i-Rawan was then brought and King was carried to Farah Baksh Kothi. He was received there in all pomp and grandeur befitting to a King. Rukn-ud-Daula and the King’s brothers Ahmad Ali Khan & Mehdi Ali Khan offered their nazar. King visited the Mahalsara now where garlands were distributed. It was now the turn of Resident Low to garland the King and King reciprocated the gesture. Ceremonies were now over and Itr (the naturally extracted scent of smelling flowers & trees) was offered to the guests, which signalled the departure ceremony.

King now attended the most important state business of the day. Munnoo Khan, the artisan was ushered in his presence and was ordered to prepare the grave for the late King adjacent to the tomb of Qudsia Begum on the other bank of Gomti River. Next, the city Kotwal, Mirza Ali Khan was ordered to convey to all the traders and shopkeepers of the city to open their establishments and transact their normal business without any fear or doubt. Not only the business community but also all the Lucknow wallabs (citizenry) were assured of their lives and property. Royal orders were issued to imprison Ram Newaz and Bisram, both jamadars of Harkaras of Kot Gasti for their improper role in the riot and so also the rebel leaders Mirza Ali Vakeel and Imam Baksh Daroga were also sent to prison. The King affixed his seal on most important royal firman of the day notifying to all the Amils of Oudh, “Qutub-ud-Din Abu Nasat Suleiman Jah Naseer-ud-Din Haider died on Saturday night Rabiusssani 4, and by his right of succession and the Will of Allah, His Majesty, through the help of Company succeeded to the throne of Oudh. All are enjoined to perform their duties with great care and diligence, to comply with the royal orders and submit their reports of their work through Roshan- ud-Daula Bahadur till further orders”.

This was the way, third King of Oudh, Mohammad Ali Shah was crowned and he assumed the titles of, ‘Abul Fateh Moin-ud-Din Suleiman-uz-Zaman Nausherwan-i-Adil Mohammad Ali Shah Badshah-i-Oudh’. These titles were inscribed on the royal seal of Oudh.On this happy occasion, Dabir-ud-Daula Raja Ratan Singh Hoshiar Jung, the royal Amirul Insha or the highest official of the ministerial department, composed the Sikkah verse commemorating the event which gave the date of accession of the new King. Highly pleased with the composition, the King ordered for its stamping on the gold and silver ingots. King Mohammad Ali Shah did not forget the wretched condition in which the members of his Mansuria family were living through the neglect of previous administration. A generous amount was distributed immediately amongst the Mansuria family members to alleviate their economic status. King also took the opportunity of conferring the title of ‘Surayya Jah’ on his eldest son Amjad Ali Shah and declared him as heir apparent. The necessary sanction was obtained from the Governor General through the Resident Low. In a special function held on October 4, 1837, King conferred the robe of heir apparent to Prince Amjad Ali Shah. Rejoicings were held everywhere.

Reign of the new King

The King was 60 years old when he sat on the throne. At this age, a person desires to go slow as his body does not help while the mind might gallop off. It was true with Mohammad Ali too. He was old and therefore saw and learnt much from the ups and downs of life. He was well conversant about the ways of royal court. He watched closely the functioning of his father Nawab Sadat Ali Khan. His conservative outlook of life made him careful and guarded in actions. He tried to enforce administrative reforms and save the state wasteful expenditure. The big Talluqdars of Oudh were conversant with weaknesses of the administration. They used to hide themselves whenever the servants of King visited to collect taxes. Sometimes these Talluqdars used to shoo away these state servants by force. He invited Hakim Mehdi from Farrukhabad and made him the Prime Minister of Oudh. Montazim-ud-Daula Hakim Mehdi for the third time took the charge and discharged to his best ability. He always took up cudgel on behalf of poor and oppressed people. He helped Kashmiris Muslims to settle and start the shawl industry in Lucknow. Unfortunately the health of aged Hakim Saheb did not help him and he died 6 months after. Zahir-ud-Daula was made the next Prime Minister but he too passed away from this world soon after his few months in the office. Munnawar-ud-Daula, the nephew of late Hakim Saheb was appointed next to succeed. He was not cut to the size of his uncle. He followed the routine and left matters mostly to his assistant who was a capable person. Finally he took early retirement and went on pilgrimage to Mecca. Ashraf-ud-Daula Mohammad Ibrahim Khan, a person of great understanding, balanced mind and serious nature was now made the Prime Minister who carried out his duties in a very commendable way.

The Resident Low played a very proactive role in drafting, preparation and obtaining signature of the King on a new Treaty. East India Company on earlier occasions had drawn a new agreement whenever there was change in Oudh Ruler. It happened again during Mohammad Ali Shah’s reign when the Company acquired greater interest and control in the internal affairs of kingdom in the event of any breakdown in law & order. An auxiliary English army was enforced on a charge of Rs. 16 lakhs. The Police, Judicial, and Financial Departments of Oudh were to be remodeled on the pattern of the Company Bahadur. The British Officers were empowered to assume direct administration of any part of Oudh whenever any laxity or failure occurred. Mohammad Ali Shah was helpless and he had to agree as he came to throne with the support of English Company only. Mohammad Ali Shah was most reluctant to sign as he felt that he was taking away his kingdom from his children. The Governor General Auckland did not concur with Low. Accordingly, the Court of Directors of Company also did not ratify the new treaty. However the King was not informed of all these internal proceedings. English continued to intervene in the administration as usual.

In the very second year of his reign, Mohammad Ali Shah started the construction of his famous Imambara of Hussainabad. He also started building a grand Masjid nearby and planned it to be bigger than Jam-i-Masjid of Shahjahanabad. With decline in importance of Delhi, Lucknow was attracting persons from all over Hindoostan. People were enamored with the beautiful buildings coming up in the city and the patronage of the rulers of Oudh encouraged to gifted persons in all walks of life. There was influx in population and city of Lucknow witnessed unprecedented flurry of activities everywhere. Mohammad Ali Shah must have heard about the beauty of ancient Babylon and amazing buildings like hanging garden and tower of the city. Mohammad Ali Shah wanted to build another Babylon in Lucknow. The most ambitious project was commenced. Satkhanda building near the modern clock tower and Hussainabad started taking shape. It was planned a circular building, seven stories high. Each story was designed to have only circular, decorated mehrabs or arches to form the exterior. Only five stories were completed when the King died in 1842. His dream of making Satkhanda or seven-storied tower remained a dream project. Completion of Satkhanda would certainly have provided a visitor the most spectacular view of Lucknow.

During a short period of five years only, Mohammad Ali Shah made Lucknow a very beautiful city to live in. From Hussainabad Gate towards Rumi Darwaza, a wide road was taken out which became famous by the name of Chowk. On both sides of the road, elegant looking buildings came. Rumi Darwaza, Asaf-ud-Daula Imambara and its Masjid were on one end of this road, and on the other side Satkhanda and Hussainabad Gate were standing, many high buildings encircled the new Imambara and adjacent to it was Jama Masjid. Even now the visitor would certainly be captivated by the enchanting view of the buildings while standing on the balcony of the now famous Picture Gallery building facing Hussainabad Tank. At that time it was certainly considered the most beautiful panoramic view of the city.

The year 1837 saw a high-ranking visitor in the person of Emily Eden who was the sister of Governor General Lord Auckland. Lord Auckland himself preferred to stay at Kanpur, an important English Cantonment in those times. Arrangements for stagecoaches and pitching of tents along the Kanpur-Lucknow road were made and the Chief Cook of the royal kitchen was deputed to oversee the food preparations and servings. A royal visitor from Russia Prince Alexis Soltikoff also visited Lucknow towards the end of 1841. His impressions about the city were, “Hussainabad as a large and noisy street, terminated by a gateway of Moorish design behind which towered slender minarets with small golden domes gleaming in the sun. At one end of the roadway stood the Imambara, enclosing aviaries of rare and lovely birds, several edifices of Eastern designs, and a small gilded mosque erected over the remains of the Queen Mother”.

After completion of his five years reign, in May 1842 (7 June!), King Mohammad Ali Shah died and was laid to rest in a silver sarcophagus. During his lifetime, he selected a place for his burial in Hussainabad Imambara. His eldest son, the Crown Prince or Wali Ahad, Amjad Ali Shah, succeeded him. King left Rs Thirty five lakhs, and one hundred and twenty four thousand gold mohurs (coins) in the state treasury. He also left Rs Twenty four lakhs in Government Security. Besides the King also lent lakhs of rupees to the Company and helped in several other ways when the Company was involved in Afghan War.

A Day in the Life of a King

Account of Nasir-ud-din entertaining his guests find place in several chronicles. Mohammad Ali Shah did not lead a colorful life. He was a very mature, calm and quiet person. His personal life was without blemish.

A record is available about events that took place on 20h June 1839 when the King completed his two years of reign. On 19th June, the King sent 51 covered trays of food to the Queen Mother. This was done in the name of prayer for Hazrat Ali. Rs 80,000 were returned to the Oudh Treasury, which were earlier taken as loan for the marriage of a Prince. The Daroga in charge of the food baskets department presented the King with the fresh arrivals of mangoes. King was highly pleased and bestowed on him a shawl. The coronation ceremony of the King was celebrated in great style and royal splendor. King sat on the royal throne dressed in richly jeweled robes and ornaments on his body. Hall was full with the high-ranking nobles and officers of the Court. Military Officers of royal Oudh troops were also present. English Resident John Caulfield was warmly received and honored by the King. A 21 guns salute was fired on arrival of the Resident. The Resident then placed royal crown over the head of the King. Amjad Ali Shah, the heir apparent, then came forward and presented nazar to the King, which he accepted by a symbolic touch of the tray. The royal artillery then fired 50 shots to celebrate the occasion. The large Hall and whole city of Lucknow reverberated with the sound of guns firing, Robes of honor or khilbats as these were called, were then conferred on people as a time-honored custom. The King then presented Resident Caulfield, a jeweled turban, a fine robe and other gifts. The festivities continued during rest of the day by pleasant exchange of gifts between the King and nobles of the court.

Mohammad Ali Shah and his women

Chief Consort of Mohammad Ali was Khetu Begum. Her full titles were Nawab Malika Muqqadara Uzma Mumtaj-us-Zamani Nawab Jahan Ara Begum. She was assigned another title of Hazrat Marium Makani after her death. She came from a noble family of Dehli. Her father was a grandson of Qamr-ud-Din Khan. On her marriage, she was given a meher of Rs. 6 lakhs, property worth Rs 7 lakhs and appropriate maintenance allowance. When the King started living at Kaiserbagh, the Begum desired to stay at Husn Bagh. She was a pious lady and was respected by all. Her interference in state matters was negligible and opined only when she was called upon to do so. Amjad Ali Shah used to consult her and so his son Wazid Ali Shah. She contacted cholera and died on October 20, 1850.

Although a 60 years old person, Mohammad Ali Shah kept up his interest in women. At least seven names appeared in prints that were his secondary wives and one more name of Begum Badshah Khanum is added in the list. Nawab Malike-i-Jahan Hamida Sultan Faqr-ul-Zamani had a special place in the heart of Mohammad Ali Shah, which was evident from one of the letter written by him to the Governor General. Mirza Humayun Bakhat was her son. She was granted a pension of Rs 9000 per month and another monthly allowance of Rs 4,800. He also gave her Rs 10,000 for construction of Jama Masjid. After the death of Mohammad Ali, the new King Amjad Ali Shah harassed her over her pension and property. Property dispute again cropped up between Begum and his son this time but was reconciled. With the death of her son, Begum was again embroiled in property dispute against her elder daughter in law who claimed for her husband’s share with support of the new King. A long drawn correspondence ensued between the Begum, the King and the Resident. Begum went pilgrimage to Mecca after on the mutiny and on return in 1865; she was surprised to find that her property at Daulatpur, Lucknow was under occupation by the British. It seems the litigations over property never left her till the end. This time she took her case to Privy Council in London but she lost. Begum was now heartbroken, infirm and wanted to spend rest of her life at Mecca. She arrived at Bombay but she died on the day of her embarkation on the ship. Her body was sent to Karbala for internment. It was said that Begum left a large amount of her movable property at Bombay.