By Anurag Kumar
I often wonder whether the Nawabs of Lucknow are still relevant and if so how. In a world which is dominated by the rise of far right ideology and which has become a very dangerous place one cannot help but be amazed at the Nawabi rule that only lasted eighty odd years yet still left a permanent imprint on the history of not only India but the world. Though the Nawabs changed India for the better in many ways but I think what was most important was that they truly unified at least the people in their area of influence regardless of their religion, caste or creed. The amity and the peace was not forced or needed reinforcement by sham tricks as we see today but it permeated the sphere of influence of the Nawabs seamlessly and in a non invasive organic manner.
The world today needs the healing touch that the Nawabs of Lucknow provided back then but it is perhaps the magic trick that humanity has forgotten. Though devout Shias the Nawabs had deep respect for all religions including Hinduism with Nawab Wajid Ali Shah going so far as recreating the complex ‘rahas’ ceremonies of Krishna cult, celebrating Janmashtmi the birthday of Krishna and even fasting during it. In the sham secular antics of political leaders we see today there is nothing to motivate the people to imbibe the true spirit of secularism as professed by the Nawabs of Lucknow. I think it is mainly due to the fact that the Nawabs did not preach secularism rather they lived it as if that was the only option and to speak the truth in a multi cultural and multi religious country like India due harmony can only be achieved by true secularism. The sham secularism that political parties started practicing around the Ayodhya movement in early nineties has given rise to the far right movement which harmed the nation and checked its progress for nearly three decades and now that the jinn is out of the bottle it is very difficult to put it back since it has the power to put people, the political leaders, in power. The Nawabs never practiced sham secularism in which they had the distinction of being much ahead of their times in spite of being devout Shias. Only some very developed Scandinavian countries today can claim to be truly secular and so truly peaceful.
Only a long period of calm and stability can allow development of the finest arts and crafts which is what the Nawabi rule gave to the world. Nawabs created such complex art that a world run by the juggernaut of mass media cannot truly appreciate it. Even a simple, rather monotonous craft like embroidery was given a masterful boost during this long period of peace and thus was invented Chikankari now a dying art since it is expensive and time taking, however the high and mighty have switched in a big way to Chikan though in a slightly modified version brought about by clever dress designers who sell the Chikankari pieces at astronomical prices.
The stucco work created by the Nawabs has never been imitated anywhere in the world and at its zenith Lucknow was ranked higher than Rome and Constantinople by European travellers one of whom was so impressed by Wajid Ali Shah’s Badi Lanka that he had it etched in his book of most beautiful buildings in the world and it is only in his book that the most beautiful and elaborate building of Nawabi architecture can be seen since it was demolished by the British soon after the Mutiny of 1857 to which Nawab Wajid Ali Shah protested vehemently in his letters sent from Matia Burj. To this date no one knows what the purpose of that building was though contemporary historians believe it was a massive stage for his plays based on Hindu god Krishna.
It would be futile to attempt to recreate the atmosphere of peace, amity and secularism artificially and in contemporary political landscape no party seems interested in promoting peace and amity between peoples. It seems only when Indians become truly educated and some mature and truly dedicated ruler like the Nawabs comes to power can we see at least an era of peace similar to Nawabi rule till then we can only read about that magnificent era which we never saw but may catch a whiff of in some old lane in Lucknow.