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Wajid Ali Shah

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Wajid Ali Shah

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
Mirza (Royal title)
King of Oudh
5th King of Awadh
Reign 13 February 1847 – 11 February 1856
Predecessor Amjad Ali Shah
Successor Birjis Qadra
Born (1822-07-30)30 July 1822
Lucknow, India
Died 21 September 1887(1887-09-21) (aged 65)
Metiabruz, Kolkata, India
Full name
Abul Mansoor Meerza Muhammed WAJID ALI SHAH
Dynasty Awadh
Father Amjad Ali Shah
Religion Shia Islam
Silver rupee of Wajid Ali Shah, struck at Lucknow in AH 1267 (1850–51 CE) and showing the Awadh coat of arms on the reverse. The two figures holding the pennants are intended to be fish, seen also on the Awadh flag.

Wajid Ali Shah (Urdu: واجد علی شاہ‎) (b. 30 July 1822 – d. 1 September 1887) was the fifth King of Oudh, holding the position from 13 February 1847 to 11 February 1856.[1][2]

He was the tenth and last Nawab of the state of Awadh in present day Uttar Pradesh in India. He ascended the throne of Awadh in 1847 and ruled for nine years. His kingdom, long protected by the British under treaty, was eventually annexed bloodlessly on 11 February 1856, 2 days before the ninth anniversary of his coronation. The Nawab was exiled to Garden Reach in Metiabruz, then a suburb of Kolkata, where he lived out the rest of his life off a generous pension. He was a poet, playwright, dancer and great patron of the arts. He is widely credited with the revival of Kathak as a major form of classical Indian dance.

As a Nawab

Vajid Ali Shah as Nawab

Wajid Ali Shah succeeded to the throne of Awadh when its glory days were at its peak and passing. The British had annexed much of the kingdom under the treaty of 1801, and had impoverished Awadh by imposing a hugely expensive, British-run army and repeated demands for loans. The independence of Awadh in name was tolerated by the British only because they still needed a buffer state between their presence in the East and South, and the remnants of the Mughal Empire to the North.

Wajid Ali Shah was most unfortunate to have ascended the throne of Oudh at a time when the British East India Company was determined to grab the coveted throne of prosperous Awadh, which was "the garden, granary, and queen-province of India"- the royal predecessors and successors of Awadh were one of the major threats to the Mughal Empire before Britain's attempt at usurping full political control in India.

In different circumstances perhaps, he might have succeeded as a ruler because he had many qualities that make a good administrator. He was generous, kind and compassionate towards his subjects, besides being one of the most magnanimous and passionate patrons of fine arts in the Indian tradition. When he ascended the throne, he took keen interest in the administration of justice, introduced reforms, and reorganised the military. Wajid Ali Shah was widely regarded as a debauched and detached ruler, but some of his notoriety seems to have been misplaced. The main case for condemnation comes from the British Resident of Lucknow, General Sleeman, who submitted a report highlighting "maladministration" and " "lawlessness" he described as prevailing there. This provided the British with the facade of "benevolence" they were looking for, and formed the official basis for their annexation. Recent studies have, however, suggested that Oudh was neither as bankrupt nor as lawless as the British had claimed. In fact, Oudh was for all practical purposes under British rule well before the annexation, with the Nawab playing little more than a titular role. The army was composed mostly of British officers, while the purse strings were firmly under the control of the East India Company. In his book "Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah", Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar[3] gives the following assessment of this ill-starred prince:

"Cast by providence for the role of an accomplished dilettante, he found himself a misfit for the high office to which he was elevated by chance. Wajid Ali Shah's character was complex. Though he was a man of pleasure, he was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He was a lovable and generous gentleman. He was a voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his five daily prayers. It was the literary and artistic attainments of Wajid Ali Shah which distinguished him from his contemporaries."

Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar, Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah

Patron of the arts

Contribution to music

A large number of composers who thrived under the lavish patronage of the Nawab rulers of Lucknow enriched the light classical form of thumri; most prominent among these was Wajid Ali Shah. He was not only a munificent patron of music, dance, drama, and poetry, but was himself a gifted composer. He had received vocal training under great Ustads like Basit Khan, Pyar Khan and Jafar Khan. Pyar Khan, Jafar Khan and Basit Khan were the direct descendants of Mian Tansen and were the sons of the famous tanseni Chajju Khan. Bahadur Hussain Khan/Zia-ud-Daulah was the favourite musician of Wajid Ali Shah. Bahadur Hussain Khan was the son of the famous Sufi saint Jeevan Shah of Jhansi and descendant of Tansen's son-in-law Naubat Khan. Although Wajid Ali Shah's pen-name was "Qaisar", he used the pseudonym "Akhtarpiya" for his numerous compositions. Under this pen name, he wrote over forty works – poems, prose and thumris. Diwan-i-Akhtar, Husn-i-Akhtar contain his ghazals. He is said to have composed many new ragas and named them Jogi, Juhi, Shah-Pasand, etc.

Revival of Kathak

Kathak dance attained new heights of popularity and glory under his expert guidance and lavish patronage. Thakur Prasadji was his Kathak guru, and the unforgettable Kalka-Binda brothers performed in his court. What with the grand pageantry of the Rahas, Jogiya Jashan, Dance dramas, and Kathak performances, Lucknow became the magnetic cultural centre where the most reputed musicians, dancers and poets of the time flourished. The greatest musicians, dancers and instrumentalists of the time enjoyed his munificent patronage and hospitality.

Hindustani Theatre

When Wajid Ali Shah was a young boy, some astrologers warned his parents that he would become a Yogi, and advised them that the boy should be dressed up as a Yogi on each birthday of his so as to counteract the effect of the evil stars. He established his famous Parikhaana (abode of fairies) in which hundreds of beautiful and talented girls were taught music and dancing by expert-teachers engaged by the royal patron. These girls were known as Paris (fairies) with names such as Sultan pari, Mahrukh pari and so on. On each birthday, the Nawab would dress up as a Yogi with saffron robes, ash of pearls smeared on his face and body, necklaces of pearls around his neck, and a rosary in his hand, and walk pompously into the court with two of his 'paris dressed up as Jogans. Gradually he made it into a spectacular pageant or Mela known as Jogia Jashan, in which all citizens of Lucknow could participate, dressed as Yogis, irrespective of caste and creed. Later on, when his favourite venue, the Qaisarbagh Baradari was built, he began to stage his magnificent Rahas (obviously a Persianised name for Rasleela) full of sensuous poetry, his own lyrical compositions and glamorous Kathak dances.

Ranbir Singh gives details of Wajid Ali Shah's book entitled Bani in which the author mentions 36 types of Rahas all set in Kathak style (with colourful names like Mor-Chchatr, Ghunghat, Salami, Mor Pankhi and Mujra), and gives exhaustive notes about the costumes, jewellery, and stage- craft. Rahas, prepared at a fabulous cost of several lakhs (hundred thousands) of rupees, became very popular, and was performed at the Kaisarbagh-Rahas Manzil, (most probably the first Hindustani Theatre Hall). Many have regarded Wajid Ali Shah as "the first playwright of the Hindustani theatre", because his "Radha Kanhaiyya Ka Qissa" staged in the Rahas Manzil was the first play of its kind. It featured the Goddess Radha, Lord Krishna, several sakhis, and a Vidushaka-like character named "Ramchera". Songs, dances, mime, and drama were all delightfully synthesised in these Rahas performances. He dramatised many other poems such as Darya-i-Tashsq, Afsane-i-Isbaq, and Bhahar-i-Ulfat. It is said that Amanat's Inder Sabha was inspired by these dance-dramas, written, produced and staged by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

His exile years

An illustration from the title page of Musammi Ba Banni written by Wajid Ali Shah, a book on Kathak dance lithographed at Matiabruz, Calcutta. in the manuscripts collection at the Portrait Gallery of Victoria memorial, Calcutta.

After losing the kingdom, the Nawab first went to Kanpur and then progressed to Calcutta in a steamer accompanied by his close relatives and large entourage comprising musicians, nautch girls, cooks and animals from his menagerie and came ashore at Bichali Ghat near Metiabruz, Calcutta on 6 May 1856. He had made up his mind to go and plead his case to Queen Victoria because of his firm belief in the British sense of justice. However, his physicians did not think his health would permit such a long voyage and it was his mother, brother and heir apparent who left for England. A year later when the First War of Independence spread to Lucknow and the sepoys installed one of his sons to the throne of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah was imprisoned in Fort William by the British along with his Prime Minister, due to apprehensions that he would become a rallying figure for the sepoys. HEA Cotton wrote that on Panic Sunday (14 June 1857), there was wide spread apprehension among the white inhabitants of Kolkata because he had "one, two, three thousand" (no one knew) armed men under him. The First War of Independence dashed all his hopes of returning to Lucknow.[4] After his release from Fort William, he was "allotted" a building called BNR House in Garden Reach near the headquarter of South-Eastern Railway , Kolkata. In those days, it is said, it was called Parikhana.[5] However, heartbroken after leaving Lucknow, he had carried his dear city in his heart and proceeded to carve out a miniature of Lucknow in Metiabruz. In his exile in Metiabruz, he tried to keep the sweet memories of his Lucknow era alive by recreating the musical environments of his Kaisarbagh Baradari. The banished king had been "given" a number of fine houses with vast grounds stretching along the banks of the river Hooghly three to four miles south of Kolkata. Because of the presence there of an earthen dome (or raised platform), people would refer to it as Matiya Burj. The king spent lavishly out of his income of 12 lakhs (or, 1.2 million) rupees per annum and before long a "second Lucknow" arose in this area.[6]

His legacy: "Babul Mora" Thumri

His bhairavi thumri Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto Jaay has been sung by several prominent singers, but a particularly popular rendition remembered today was performed by Kundan Lal Saigal for the 1930s movie Street Singer.

In a strange manner, this sad song epitomises the pain and agony of the poet king himself when he was exiled from his beloved Lucknow.

Devanagari Lyrics

बाबुल मोरा, नैहर छूटो ही जाए
बाबुल मोरा, नैहर छूटो ही जाए

चार कहार मिल, मोरी डोलिया सजावें (उठायें)
मोरा अपना बेगाना छूटो जाए | बाबुल मोरा ...

आँगना तो पर्बत भयो और देहरी भयी बिदेश
जाए बाबुल घर आपनो मैं चली पीया के देश | बाबुल मोरा ...

Urdu Lyrics

بابُل مورا، نیہر چھُوٹو ہی جائے
بابُل مورا، نیہر چھُوٹو ہی جائے

چار کہار مِل، موری ڈولِیا سجاویں (اُٹھایّں)
مورا اَپنا بیگانا چھُوٹو جائے ، بابُل مورا۔۔۔

آںگنا تو پربت بھیو اؤر دیہری بھیی بِدیش
جائے بابُل گھر آپنو میں چلی پیّا کے دیش ، بابُل مورا ۔۔۔

  • The thumri refers to his exile. For a translation see Babul.

In popular culture

  • In Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khilari, Wajid Ali Shah is shown as a very enthusiastic patron of dance and music. He is proud of the fact that songs and poems composed by him are favored by his subjects. When it is revealed that the British are about to annex his throne, his chief-minister breaks down, but he himself maintains his calm because, according to him only music and poetry can bring a real man to tears ( सिर्फ शायरी और म़ौज़िकी ही मर्द की आँख़ो में आँस़ू ला सकते हैं ). The role was played by Amjad Khan.


Preceded by
Naser ad-Dowla Amjad `Ali Thorayya Jah Shah
Padshah-e-Oudh, Shah-e Zaman
13 Feb 1847 – 7 Feb 1856
Succeeded by
Berjis Qadr (in rebellion)


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah", Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links

  • Royal line of Nawabs of Oudh, A complete genealogy of the rulers of Awadh
  • National Informatics Centre, Lucknow – Rulers of Awadh
  • Annexation of Oudh – Its Affairs – The Truth An Extract from King Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh By Mirza Ali Azhar
  • The Literary And Cultural Contributions of Wajid Ali Shah
  • HISTORY OF AWADH (Oudh) a princely State of India by Hameed Akhtar Siddiqui
  • My Wajid Ali is Not 'Effete And Effeminate'! -Satyajit Ray
  • Wajid Ali Shah, King of Oudh
  • A tribute to Wajid Ali Shah, the last and greatest King of Avadh, THE TAJ MAGAZINE – Volume 23 No. 1
  • Much of the content here has been extracted from an article by Susheela Mishra.
  • "Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah", Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar
  • "Wajid Ali Shah: The Tragic King", Ranbir Sinh
  • Baabul Moraa
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