Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider

Credit : This is a excerpt from the book (Publisher : Supernova): ‘Lucknow Wandering in the Lanes of History 1700s & 1800s’ by: Nasima Aziz.

Nawab Ghaziudin had not been the first choice of his father Nawab Saadat Ali who believed that his second son Shams-ud-Daula was the right successor. But the Company found Nawab Ghazi more amenable and in July 1814 he was duly installed.

Fifteen months later Lucknow got ready to receive the new Governor General, Lord Hastings, who was an Earl born into a family of Earls and Barons – not to be confused with Warren Hastings who had no such high titles.

An Important Visitor Arrives

As Lord Hastings and his entourage approached Lucknow they were met on the outskirts of the city by Nawab Ghazi and his entourage. Here is what Lard Hastings wrote in his diary that day: ‘October 25, 1815. We moved early towards the city. The Nawab Vizeer met me about two miles from it, and descended from his elephant. I quitted mine also, and after embracing him, I got with him upon another elephant equipped with a magnificent howdah calculated to carry us both!

In his opinion Lucknow has ‘a better appearance than any other town I have seen in India’ According to custom, he has to throw coins from his side of the howdah while the Nawab does the same from his side. ‘A bag containing 1000 rupees had been prepared for me accordingly…. As we proceeded nautch girls in their gaudiest habiliments sang congratulatory verses from the roof tops with which we were generally at a level. Persons every now and then ran to meet us, throwing up into the air a number of quails, a pretty compliment, as it was understood to mean a liberation of prisoners on this joyful occasion… We were long in reaching the palace…”

Wherever the Governor General travelled, the artist Sita Ram accompanied him to keep a pictorial record of his journey. (internet search: lord hastings party entering the city of lucknow on elephant back) In this painting we see the colourful procession going up a steep incline towards the Teeleywali Masjid. On the right is the graceful Stone Bridge. The large rectangular building in the middle is the Machhi Bhavan.

Nawab Ghazi entertained his guest as Avadhi courtesy demands: He arranged a lavish dinner party. But instead of the usual ‘nautch girls’ he went in for something different- Jerry Gahagan, Irish bagpiper. Jerry, who was employed by the Nawab at a very good salary, presented his musical act with gusto, but excused himself frequently when he ‘felt unwell’ and suddenly needed to go to his room. The Nawab was gracious, not guessing that the cure for ‘feeling unwell’ required a strong swig from a bottle… The visit went on for two weeks.

Lord Hastings gets an Idea

Cord Hastings also had the additional title of Commander-in-Chief and was obsessed with conquest. He fought a war with Nepal for which he had taken large loans from Nawab Ghazi and the new territory he acquired had the sites of our future hill stations: Nainital, Mussoorie, and Dehradoon.

By 1818 Lord Hastings had restrained the ambitions of the Marathas, and brought Rajputana and Central India under his control, marking a watershed in the history of the EIC.’ After all these accomplishments, he felt that the control of Moghul Delhi may soon be within the Company’s grasp, but wouldn’t it be nice if somehow that strange but strong ‘moral force’ of the Mughal Emperor could be eroded first?

Ninety-eight years had passed since the first Nawab founded the dynasty but the ‘moral force’ of the Moghul Emperor was still highly respected For example, whenever the son of the Emperor living in Lucknow Mirza Sulaiman Shukoh and the Nawab of Avadh happened to be passing each other in the street, it was the Nawab’s elephant that had to kneel out of respect. The Company also officially recognised the ‘moral force’ of the Mughals and continued to present a nazar to the Emperor.

‘In 1819 it struck Lord Hastings that Ghazi-ud-din, if created a King, would be a useful counterpoise to the Emperor in Delhi. He accordingly induced him to coin money in his own name and to assume the title of Shah.’

So Nawab Ghazi was informed by the Resident that the Company seriously thought he deserved to take on the title of ‘King’. He was surprised – and nervous – but allowed himself to be persuaded. A coronation date was set and preparations began. Our Nawab soon got into the spirit of things, imported a Coach from London and dressed the coachman in English livery.

At this time Raja Daya Krishna was the chief minister, and the position of finance minister was held by Raja Gulab Rai followed by Raja Sitaab Rai,  both from the family of Raja Tikait Rai. Raja Din Dayal, a great-grandson of Raja Amritlal (who had worked with the first Nawab) remained an important member of the administration and had a grand residence Naubasti Mohalla.

Coronation Party, 19 October 1819

There has never been a Coronation before in Lucknow. The Party Planners have to come up with a theme that would appeal to a variety of people. The decorations should include Mughal, Shia, European and Avadhi elements. Nawab Ghazi is a puppet king of the East India Company but this fact has to be hidden from him, as well as from the rest of Avadh – quite a challenging job for Party Planners!

The King is going to wear a cape made of ermine fur, the most expensive kind of fur in the world. He will wear a multi-strand necklace made of very large pearls and large round beads of emeralds. He will wear a very English-looking crown designed by Robert Home who has also designed the throne and a new coat-of-arms prudently incorporating the double-fish emblem, the established motif of Avadh. Coins with the new King’s name and titles will be designed by two Saxena Kayasthas, Raushan Lal and Jamiyat Ray. Royal medals will be the party favours for guests. The money lender Shah Bihari Lal has given an estimate of twenty million rupees to make the throne, the canopy, and other party decorations.”

The plan is that Nawab Ghazi, followed by all his courtiers, will walk in a procession through the main streets of Lucknow to the most important Shia shrine, the dargah of Hazrat Abbas.

Then everyone will assemble in the Lal Baradari, for The Ceremony. The Resident and other English officials are invited, but the Crown is going to be placed on the royal head by a Mujtahid (Shia theologian) to make it all-very-propah in the eyes of the locals. The Resident has arranged for a 21-gun salute, followed by the anthem God Save Our King (the king back home in England, George III). This will be followed by the traditional custom of khilat, gift-exchanging. Everyone is going to have such a good time!


Robert Home, designer

Robert Home, the chief designer of all the kingly paraphernalia, has painted a portrait of Nawab Ghazi wearing the crown, sitting on a very high gem- studded throne that evokes the Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan, set under a lavish umbrella and golden canopy. (internet search: ghazi ud din haider king of awadh receiving tribute oil on canvas robert home)

Robert Home took up the full time job of court artist in Lucknow 1814, lived here for thirteen years, and designed the Nawab’s personal robes and other accessories. He also introduced the first gas-lit lamps to Lucknow. He painted miniatures of the Nawab that were given away as nazar, and portraits of important visitors were given to them as a memento of their visit. His talents extended to designing a boat shaped like a fish and another shaped like a swan, which pleased the Nawab so much that he asked him to design a carriage with fish details. After the Nawab’s death Robert Home moved to Cawnpore where he lived till the end of his days.

On Being a King

From now on King Ghaziudin Haider and his successors had to be addressed as ‘Your Majesty, even by the Governor General.

The Company officials were very irritated when Nawab Ghazi insisted on a new protocol for his new exalted status: For example, when the Resident left after a meeting, the Nawab would accompany him only half way to the exit, not all the way as before. He would not climb stairs but would insist on being carried up and down in a Chair – even when he visited the Residency. He wanted European officers to stand in his presence and not use umbrellas (a symbol of royalty in India) in the inner courtyard of his palace but unfortunately they did not always comply. The Nawab had taken clearance ahead of time about the Imperial Titles he would be using, however he was told by the Resident to cancel some of them when they were already in use!

Although Nawab Ghazi and succeeding Nawabs may have enjoyed being called ‘King, and the 21-gun salute that went with it, but the truth is that they had lost all real authority, and all the ‘symbols’ and ‘external trappings’ in the world could not change that fact.

Now that he was King, equal in status with the son of the Mughal emperor Mirza Sulaiman Shukoh who was living in Lucknow, Nawab Ghazi arranged a match for his son (the future Nawab Naseer) with the Mirza’s daughter. ‘As the prince was impoverished and had received hospitality from the Nawabs of Awadh, he could not make much fuss over the matter but gave in.

The people of the province of Oudh continued to think of their rulers not as the Kings but as the Nawabs. “The title never took much root out of Lucknow and though Ghazi-ud-din and his four successors were all titular kings, their rule is far more commonly spoken of by the country folk as the

Nawabi’ rather than the ‘Shahi.’

By the end of his rule, Nawab Ghazi had loaned the Company three and a half million rupees from his father’s savings on which the Company aid annual interest of 25,00,000.” But instead of paying the interest to the lender, the King, it was paid to the King’s nominees – relatives and dependents of the Avadh dynasty. This created a class of generational pensioners, and since the payments were physically handed over to them by the Company they gave the Company their loyalty – forgetting the fact that it was their own Nawab who gave the loan to the Company in the first place!

“The dependence of such a class on the Company provided the Resident with considerable influence in Lucknow.”

Bishop Heber’s Breakfast

Bishop Heber, who had been serving as the Anglican Bishop in Calcutta since 1823, set out on a tour of northern India the next year, which included a stop-over in Lucknow, where the Ruler invited him for breakfast. He writes:

“The King received us, first embracing the Resident, then me. He next offered an arm to each of us, and led us into a long and handsome, but rather narrow gallery with good portraits of his father and Lord Hastings over the two chimney pieces and some very splendid lustres hanging from the ceiling. The furniture was altogether English and there was a long table in the middle of the room, set out with breakfast, and some fine English and French china… The King began by putting a large hot roll in the Resident’s plate, and another on mine, then sent similar rolls to the young Nawab his grandson, who sat on the other side of me, the prime Minister and one or two others. Coffee, tea, butter, eggs and fish, were  then carried around by servants…”

Vilayati Begum and the Armenian Connection

Nawab Ghazi’s chief wife was Badshah Begum but he had other wives as well. The only wife to accompany him in public was Mubarak Mahal who had a Hindu mother and a Roman Catholic father, Colonel Aish of Cawnpore.

The Nawab also had an Anglo-Armenian wife. Armenians had he coming to India as traders for centuries, trading in everything from indigo to precious stones. By the time the East India Company arrived this vibrant community was already well settled in Calcutta and had built the Holy Church of Nazareth in 1734- still in excellent condition today But the Company saw them as rivals and worked hard to keep them in check.

An Armenian lady Mary Minas married an English doctor, James Short, employed by the Company in Lucknow, and it was their fourteen year old daughter Mary Angela Short who married Nawab Ghazi in 1822 and was known as Begum Mariam Saheba and also as Vilayati Begum, the Foreign Wife.

After Vilayati Begum was widowed in 1827 she continued to live in the palace on a good pension – the interest from loans made to the Company – a monthly sum of 2500 by which she could also support her brother Joseph and other siblings.

In 1833 a Bishop from Armenia visited Lucknow and was hosted by Vilayati Begum who had turned one of her palace rooms into a chapel. The Bishop conducted a religious service for the Begum and her many Armenian servants, male and female.

When she herself died, childless, of tuberculosis in 1849, her brother Joseph inherited her house and her wealth. He had an elegant small domed tomb constructed for her in the Qaiserpasand cemetery. (Joseph Quieros, Claude Martin’s manager, who also worked with Nawab Saadat Ali and Nawab Ghazi, is buried in the same cemetery.)

Building Lucknow

With little power of any sort, Nawab Ghazi threw himself into building monuments, and created a dense residential complex with imambaras, mosques, gardens, and a water tank interspersed between three beautiful palaces: The Chhota Chattar Manzil topped with a golden dome and a chhatri; the Gulistan-e-Iram; and the Darshan Bilas which is also known as Chaurukhi Kothi because the exterior architecture of each of the four sides of the Kothi was distinctly different.

The Chhota Chhatar Manzil Complex included the Lal Baradari his father had built as a Darbar Hall, which Nawab Ghazi used as a Throne Room, where his coronation took place.20 One of the tall gateways to this palace complex was called the Latkan Darwaza – facing the Residency. The Nawab was naturally extremely angry when Major John Baillie, without permission, constructed right opposite his gate, the taller and more imposing Baillie Guard Gate (1814-15) on the public road that led into the Residency. All the houses in the Residency in which the Company’s employees lived were owned by the Nawabs, ever since 1775, from Nawab Asaf’s time. The Nawabs were expected to pay for the upkeep of these buildings, which was already a source of friction.

The Moti Mahal, with its three spacious courtyards along the banks of the Gomti, had been commissioned in his father’s time, which Nawab Ghazi completed, and to decorate the interior of his palaces he bought up most of Claude Martin’s collection of paintings when they were auctioned.

He started to build a canal to connect the river Gomti with the river Ganges, but soon after the project was started in the south-east of the city it ran into a problem some landowners were not willing to cooperate. The incomplete canal passed behind the Charbagh Gardens carrying water from the Gomti, and then petered out.

Nawab Ghazi’s best known monument is the beautiful Shah Najaf imambara with its impressive gateway leading into a garden that has on one side, a small mosque with elaborate stucco designs. The imambara itself, with its ‘shallow Turkish-style dome, had in its interior numerous glittering European chandeliers and ornate stucco decorations . When Nawab Ghazi- the-Grand died on 20th October 1827 this is where he was buried. Three of his wives are also buried here.

Credit : This is a excerpt from the book (Publisher : Supernova): ‘Lucknow Wandering in the Lanes of History 1700s & 1800s’ by: Nasima Aziz.