Translation series from Heroes of 1857, by Sayyada Anees Fatima, Episode III (First Ed., 1949)

Portrait of Sadat Ali Khan II, Source: Wiki Images

Saadat Ali Khan II (1798-1814)
Owing to unfortunate demise of Wazir Ali Khan, East India Company (EIC) successfully instilled fear in the hearts of his successors. The ill-fated Awadh State’s “Crown of thorns” now passed down to Nawab Saadat Ali Khan. His accession to the throne depended largely on his agreement to arrange for the implementation of two partially fulfilled treaties, which meant total curtailment of political authority of Nawab of Awadh by the East India Company. An agreement was signed between EIC and Saadat Ali Khan according to which half of the country (State of Awadh) was seized by the company. Although later, in the following four years, he constantly resisted its implementation with courage and bravery.

Until one day, the resident Colonel Scott summoned Saadat Ali Khan’s advocate, Molvi Saddan. He took out a double-edged straight sword (Kirch) and placed it in front of him demanding an answer. To which Molvi Sahib replied, “Since this question was already answered in the Battle of Buxar, no one dares ask for an answer the second time.”

Book titled “Qaiser ul Tawarikh’’ page 157 : In 1764 during the Battle of Baksar Shah Alam Shuja-ud-Daula and Mir Qasim were defeated and afterwards Bengal , Bihar and Orissa ‘s seat of power was taken over by Englishmen.

Saadat Ali Khan was blessed with the most unusual mental and emotional qualities, but sadly was never given a chance to demonstrate his extraordinary mental prowess. As opposed to Asaf-ud-Daula’s generosity, he spent wisely and cautiously giving an opportunity to people to mock him as a miser when he initially took control of the State’s finances. C.M. Elliot eulogized about this matter by further adding, “Saadat Ali Khan handled the state’s affairs with extreme diligence. Bulk of his time was spent in cajoling the Resident and whatever time he could spare was utilized to check the ledgers, evaluate non-commissioned officers and the issuance of State protocols.” By exercising an efficient control over the expenditure, he was able to accrue Rs 17 million, intending to recover the lost country of his ancestors from the company (EIC). But sadly, before this objective was achieved, he passed away on 11th July 1814. It was widely rumored, that Saadat Ali Khan was poisoned under a conspiracy by the company (EIC).   

Ghazi-Ud-Din Haider, King of Awadh, receiveing tribute by Robert Home, c 1820
Pic Source: Wiki Images

Ghazi Uddin Haider (1814-1827)
He was anointed to the throne after Saadat Ali Khan in 1814. He had to offer Saadat Ali Khan’s collected money to the company as a payment of the imperial crown along with forced acceptance of the title of “King” for the sole purpose of undermining the authority of Delhi’s emperor.

After Ghazi Uddin Haider’s coronation, the lackeys of company had a windfall of fortune. Saadat Ali Khan’s frugality introduced Ghazi Uddin Haider with the title of the “Generous of the world”. The Company could not complain less, owing to his submissive way of life, their camaraderie continued till the day he passed away in 1827.

Nasir ad-Din Haider Shah
2nd King of Awadh
A portrait by an unknown artist, Source: Wiki Images

Naseer Uddin Haider
Naseer Uddin Haider ascended to the throne after Ghazi Uddin Haider’s passing. He spent the 10 years of his reign following the footsteps of his father. In 1837, he was relieved from the confines of life with integrity under compelling circumstances. It’s a common belief that he too was poisoned. In his tenure, company’s hegemony saturated all aspects of life, so much so that the king (Naseer Uddin) adopted the company of Englishmen along with their lifestyle and attire. An author Shebab Lakhnawi writes, “I once happened to meet the Resident (Rep. of EIC). Despite being a commoner in London, the unlimited authority he had in Awadh at that time, over the King and the 5 million of his subjects, could not even conceived to be replicated by any King in Europe.”

Muhammad Ali Shah
3rd King of Awadh

Muhammad Ali Shah (1837-1842)
An orphan, Naseer Ud Daula who was the third son of Saadat Ali Khan, was anointed successor to the throne by the name of Muhammad Ali Shah. His health was already in decline due to advancing age. In a short span of five years he relinquished the crown. Repeating the past practices, the company again had a new contract with him, according to which all the “military” and “resources” were usurped. Afterwards his eldest son Amjad Ali Shah was appointed King in 1842 who passed away in 1847.

یہ دل ، یہ پاگل دل میرا، کیوں بجھ گیا آورگی 
اس دشت میں اک شہر تھا ، وہ کیا ہوا آورگی
Trans. This heart, this crazy heart of mine,
why being so glum… wanderlust?
In this wilderness, once there was a town
what did happen to it, Oh wanderlust?

[Wajid Ali Shah state of mind summed by translator with verses of Mohsin Naqvi]

Wajid Ali Shah (1847-1856)
After him Wajid Ali Shah graced the ancestral seat of power on 13th February 1847. Unlike his elders he tried to adopt a liberal way focusing more on state’s reforms, opening new offices and institutionalizing the military. He also started publication of a newspaper by the name of “Aseer” (Prisoner) under the editorship of Munshi Muzaffar Ali, bringing discussions about the matter of the State out in open. The king showed great personal interest in these essays. Every time his Royal procession passed through the city, two riders used to carry a chest along, submitting all the complaints made by the plaintiffs. This practice was named as “Nausherwani” (A sort of process in which the complainant or petitioner’s identity is kept hidden). Wajid Ali Shah arranged to be fully aware of all the State’s affairs and issued a coin in his own name. This coin’s background is still registered among the list of preserved Coins in the Indian museum. He organized battalions of infantry and riders with peculiar Persian names like “Tircha (Slanted)”, “Akhtari (Energetic)”, and “Nadri (Rare)”. He also regulated methodical terms for Persian language. He used to visit the parade ground to inspect the routine of military drills, spear throwing, fencing and gunmanship. Mounted on his horse for straight 3 to 4 hours sometimes, he used to stay despite the harsh sunlight, sometimes distributing prizes to encourage the efforts of the deserving trainees. He also established a progressive department to settle the cases pertaining to loans. But such vision and intelligence started becoming a hurdle in the successful endeavors of the company (EIC), so following this perceptive saying, the resident established the understanding through the Prime Minister Ali Naqi Khan about the inevitability to fix the current situation. This understanding was to be taken as an order, not a petition which could be neglected. It just took a fraction of a moment to overturn the checkerboard.

A painting from the court of Wajid Ali Shah, Pic source: Wikiimages

سر چشمه شاید گرفتن به بیل
چو پر شد نشاید گذشتن به پیل
[Poet: سعدی/Saadi]
[Trans: A stream ‘s breach can be shut by a mere stitch
But when its filled then it cannot be even crossed on an Elephant’s back]

تھا جوش و خروش اتفاقی ساقی
اب زندہ دلی کہاں ہے باقی ساقی
[Trans: The oomph and vigor were accidental my friend
Live heartedness is a bygone my friend]

Manipulating the gift of novelty and foresight bestowed by nature, a new era of pleasure and joy commenced. The passing time further augmented this colorful intoxication and led him to be titled as “The Paramour Darling of the World”. The same Wajid Ali Shah was lost to the song of ecstasy, the magic of the swarming crowd of angelic beauties and the joy of the indulgence. He became oblivious to the world and its matters. 

الفراق اے صبر و تسکین 
الوداع اے عقل و دیں 
[Trans: Farewell ! o endurance and sustenance
Farewell ! o insight and belief]

The world-famous books he wrote can be compared to “A Deep River” without exaggeration, archiving his memoirs of the era of indifference.

  • Huzn-e-Akhtar (Distress of Akhtar)
  • Masaib-e-Ahle-Bait (Calamities of Muhammad’s (PBUH) Kith and Kin)
  • Daftar-e-Paresha’n (Dwelling of the Distraught)    
  • Risala Imaan (Magazine of Faith)
  • Seinkro’n Salam (Hundreds of Salaams “Poetic Salutation as a tribute to the Martyrs of Karbala” Rhymes)
  • Masnavis (Spiritual Couplets)

The King of Awadh had become either the provider of mere confab or investor in the Luxury.

Hanuman Garh’s Event
Hanuman Garh’s event” and the associated martyrdom of Molvi Shah Ghulam Hussain, Molvi Muhammad Saleh and Molvi Ameer Ali Shah is an important event during Wajid Ali Shah’s rule. The parallel progression of destruction and evolution constituted an inevitable law of nature. Syed Ahmed Sahib along with few of his disciples had continued Islamic movement which first raised its head during Ghazi Uddin Haider’s reign and apparently died down after the great sacrifice of the fighters in Balakot. The proverbial sword, which fell after Tipu Sultan, Meer Qasim, Siraj ud Daula, Hafiz Rehmat Khan, Nawab Muzaffar Khan, Ruler of Multan and the Meers of Sindh, was not sheathed, by the scholars and fighters of Islam, despite their powerlessness and destitution, till

یا تن رسد بجاناں یا جاں زتن برآید 
Braving the odds to fulfill goals

After Syed Ahmed Rai Barielly, for almost half a century, his followers kept themselves busy in shielding the masses from the venomous atmosphere created by the Courtiers and keeping their emotions of solidarity alive. In every front where good was confronted with evil, this organization of scholars and fighters came out of their seminaries, bravely upholding the honor of Islam and motherland.
During Wajid Ali Shah’s reign, in the four mosques constructed by Emperor Babur, Aurangzeb and their well-regarded commanders, the Muslims were refrained to perform prayers or delivering Azan (call to prayers) by their country Brethren. And, they did not hold back from demolishing the mosques as soon as they got a chance. This whole event took place on behest of the so-called valorous Company’s encouragement.
As part of retaliation, Shah Molvi Ghulam Hussain and Molvi Muhammad Saleh raised the standard of resistance and achieved martyrdom in Hanuman Garh by hands of some ascetics. But in this silent city known as “Darbar e Shahi”, such was the state of apathy, that not even a single sigh was uttered at the demise of the fallen fighters. The helplessness of the Awadh State and criminal negligence of the affluent added fuel to the fire among masses and clerics. Molvi Ameer Ali went to Ameethi and started a rebellion. Wajid Ali Shah’s court issued religious decree of heresy against Molvi Ameer Ali, under the influence of Prime Minister Ali Naqi Khan. This religious decree was signed by some famous scholars among which Molvi Fazal Haq Khairabadi, Molvi Abdul Razzaq Ferangi-mehli and Molvi Saad ullah Muradabadi were noteworthy. But it’s a nature’s miracle that later, the former of the above mentioned (Molvi Fazal) was immortalized by achieving martyrdom during the banishment at the Andaman Island, fighting in the name of the same cause. Molvi Ameer Ali met the same fate as his predecessor’s movement. He embraced martyrdom reciting the following couplet,

بہ ذکر حق سراپا گوش دارم
سر میداں کفن بردوش دارم
I am all ear for the remembrance of truth
When I am in expeditions, the shroud lies on my shoulders

Decline of the Kingdom
The event of the decline of the Kingdom took place just 3 months after the martyrdom of Molvi Ameer Ali. The following Persian couplet of Shifa’i Isfahani seems to be contextual.
دیدی کہ خون ناحق پروانہ شمع را
چنداں اماں ندار کہ شب را سحر کند 
Have you seen unjust death of moth by candle flame
It didn’t even get respite for a day

In 1856, just 9 years into the rule, General James Outram confiscated the rest of the authority from Wajid Ali Shah and took control of the whole Kingdom of Awadh. He announced a pension of Rs 1.2 million and land within 5 miles radius of Lucknow to be given to Wajid Ali Shah. Helpless Wajid Ali Shah decided to travel to Calcutta to make an appeal at the office of Governor General. But the Company efficiently knitted the same trap which costed him with his dominion at “Matiya Burj”. He was lured by the provision of all the attractions of Lucknow, till he got distracted from the objective and became oblivious to the very reason for which he decided to endure the hardships of exile.

A portrait of Wajid Ali Shah & Birjis Qadr at Manzilat’s restaurant, Pic Source: Rehan Asad

Finally, mother Hazrat Aalia was sent to London to seek refuge in telling the “Saga of Hue & Cry”. In the meantime, with all means of respite at disposal there was no reason keeping them from indulging in a celebration of a wedding arranged under the same circumstances.

Gateway of Imambara at Matiya Burj, Kolkata where resting place of Wajid Ali Shah is located, Pic source: Rehan Asad

Molvi Abdul Haleem Sharrar wrote, “In reality, there was another Lucknow reborn in Calcutta during the King’s (Wajid Ali Shah) stay. Matiya Burj was chosen to manifest its form. In fact Matiya Burj was Lucknow.” Although, it was the same intoxication, the same cupbearer, also the festivity was the same. But the exultation could not replicate the same intensity. With no alternative to the house arrest, detached from the Kingdom’s affairs there was a strange sense of refuge which still could not hold them back from enjoying the perks of monarchy. Titles like Rustam-e-Zaman (Brave of the Times), Sikandar-e-Daur’an (The Contemporary Alexander), Shah-e-Zameen o Zaman (King of Land and times) were the only sources left to pacify the ego and quench the thirst of authority. The Kingdom was gone but the inebriation remained still.

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[In the words of Poet Mohsin Naqvi sung beautifully by Ghulam Ali]

This is a translation series of Urdu account by Sayyada Anees Fatima titled “Jang-e- Azadi (Awwal)’57 kay Hero” (Trans. Heroes of the First War of Independence). It was first published in 1949 at Aligarh under the aegis of All India Muslim Educational Conference (A movement founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan). The author captured the melancholy, conflicts of Indian states with East India company & struggle of 1857 in a vivid story telling style integrated with contextual Persian & Urdu Poetry. The translation & contextualization is done by Sayyad Asad Ali (her grandson) & edited by Saba Saif.

Syed Asad Ali is Lahore based branch head for a Japanese company that develop large scale Industrial Projects. Reading & writing are his favorite hobbies. His fathers family hails from Bareilly, UP & maternal side was from Kishangarh, Rajasthan. He is an avid follower of pre-partition history of India.


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