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In Lakhnawi Tradition, Communal Harmony in Places of Worship Leaves No Space for Hatred

The history of Lucknow's culture is replete with stories of harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Temples were either built or maintained by Muslim rulers. Some mosques were raised by Hindus.
Jhau Lal’s Imambara was built by Nawab Asafudaula's Hindu wazir (minister), Raja Jhau Lal Shrivastav. Photo: Aman
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Lucknow: “How times have changed. Gone are the days when people lived in utmost communal harmony and peace,” Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah, descendent of Wajid Ali Shah, lamented, while watching the news on the Gyanvapi mosque case, in his house in Lucknow’s Sheesh Mahal area.

Recalling an incident, the Nawab said, “Once Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was captured by Britishers and was being taken to Metiaburj, where he was kept in exile in a place which was then a suburb of modern Kolkata. As rumour spread that this famous Nawab of Awadh was being forcibly transported to London, congregations of Hindu women gathered in temples across large parts of Awadh and started to sing, ‘Hazrat jate hain London, kripa karo Raghunandan (‘the Nawab is being taken to London, please bless him Lord Ram’).’

Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah, descendent of Wajid Ali Shah, at his home. Photo: Aman

The history of Awadh is replete with tales of such communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims.

There are some prominent temples, not only in Lucknow but also in Ram’s town of Ayodhya, which were either built by Muslims or maintained by Muslim rulers of those times. Likewise, there are examples of some mosques or imambaras having been raised by Hindus.

Lucknow is not just the name of a city but it is synonymous with adab and tehzeeb (mannerism and culture). Its body may appear like a labyrinth of walls, roads, lanes and bylanes, but mannerism and hospitality are in its soul. The city is the epitome of love and brotherhood of the two biggest communities of the nation. What can be a better example of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb than Awadh’s fourth Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula’s mother Aliya Begum, undertaking the construction of Lucknow’s legendary 250-year-old Hanuman temple. If you find the temple’s old dome still adorned with a moon and a star, sure enough, it was because of her role in building this temple. This is the biggest and oldest Hanuman temple in Lucknow. Almost 30,000 devotees visit the temple every Tuesday and Saturday.

Hanuman Temple. Photo: Aman

Hanuman Temple’s old dome still adorned with a moon and a star. Photo: Aman

According to the temple priest, Pandit Jagdamba, “As the legend goes, once lord Hanuman appeared in Begum Aliya’s dream telling her that he is lying embedded in a garden and that he would be happy if she could have him extricated from that garden and get him installed in a temple. Aliya Begum identified the place and ordered excavation at the spot from where an ancient Hanuman idol was found and duly installed in what is this Aliganj temple today.”

Pandit Jagdamba. Photo: Aman

“Later, it was Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who started a mela (fair) around this historical Hanuman temple in Aliganj on the occasion of ‘Bada Mangal’ in the Hindu month of Jyeshtha,” he added.

The mela is a part of that old tradition that is being followed to this day, when one can witness it during the current month of Jyeshtha that started on May 17.

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Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had also banned the killing of monkeys, which was declared as a serious crime. And as a patron of art, a poet, playwright and an exponent of Kathak, that was known as the dance of traditional storytellers, he wrote the famous Urdu play titled Radha-Kanhaiya in which he himself played the role of the popular Hindu Lord Krishna.

A few kilometres away from the Hanuman temple stands Kazmain Rauza (dargah) in old Lucknow’s Chaupatiyan. The Rauza was made in 1852. It is a replica of a sacred mausoleum in Iran that was built in memory of the 7th Imaam of Khurasan Hazrat Moosa of Shia Muslims.

Kazmain Rauza, in old Lucknow’s Chaupatiyan. Photo: Aman

What makes the Rauza of Lucknow so unique is the story behind its making. “As it can be found in the book Lucknow’s Lost Monument, written by Saiyed Anwar Abbas, Nawab Amjad Ali Shah had a courtier, Jagannath Aggrawal, who used to live in Lucknow’s Chowk. He visited Iran and saw the Rauza of Imam Moosa. He was so impressed by its structure and beauty that when he returned, he immediately ordered a replica of it to be made here. Not only this, he invited Persian artisans to assist in the execution of this mission. This was the first Rauza to be built by a Hindu,” Shamil Shamsi from old Lucknow said.

The 250-year-old monument has the same large, splendid and influential dome set on deep drums with four minarets in four corners and has the same mehrab (niche) as on the original tomb in Iran.

This has been a symbol of communal harmony in the city for centuries. The Rauza, made by a Hindu, receives hordes of Muslim devotees, who also strongly believe that this place is endowed with magical faith-healing. “Whenever I am in some problem or in pain, I come here. I express to the Imaam what my heart feels and it seems as if Imaam holds my heart. I find spiritual peace here,” a devotee told this reporter.

In the narrow lanes of Aminabad in Lucknow, a huge white structure with a golden gate and rectangular flower work will definitely catch the eye of every passer-by.

This mosque, popularly called as ‘Panditain ki Masjid’ or ‘Padain Ki Masjid’ (the Brahmin Woman’s Mosque), is special as it was built by a Brahmin lady for the Muslims of the locality to offer their prayers. According to Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah,“Rani Jai Kunwar Pandey, who owned Aminabad, was a close friend of the Begum of then Awadh Nawab, Saadat Ali Khan. Their friendship was so strong that she got this mosque built as a gift to her friend Khadija Khanam, the wife of the Nawab.”

Panditain ki Masjid. Photo: Aman

In Lucknow’s Thakurganj mohalla, as the clock strikes 4 in the morning, the loudspeakers are adjusted as it’s time for azaan. The muezzin urges Muslims to come and offer namaz. Devotees offer namaz five times a day in what is popularly known as ‘Jhau Lal ki Masjid’. They also hold Majlis just across Jhau Lal’s Imambara, in the memory of the martyrdom of Karbala. This Imambara and mosque were not built by any Muslim but by Nawab Asafudaula’s Hindu wazir (minister), Raja Jhau Lal Shrivastav.

Mohd. Abbas, manager of Imambara Jhaulal, said, “This Imambara is special; there are many Imambaras built by the Muslims; but this is unique as it was built by a Hindu. Worshiping in this Imambara gives peace of mind and solace.” Expressing concern over today’s drastically changing social ethos, he goes on to add, “What gives the greatest joy is that there was a time hundred years from now, when there was so much affection, understanding and fraternity among people of different faiths.”

The list is never ending. Baba Gomti Das’ temple in Thakurganj is in the same lane as Jhau Lal’s Imambara. This temple was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-daula, who funded its daily running.

Baba Gomti Das Temple. Photo: Aman

Dhruv Lal Shukla, the priest of the temple, said, “Temples like Baba Gomti Das are a source of inspiration for us.” Hinting at the communal politics being systematically fuelled by vested interests, he said, “Earlier, there was so much brotherhood and amity among people of different faiths that there was no room for hatred.”

Evidently, it was Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula who set the real benchmark of communal amity and harmony in Awadh during the late 18th century itself. It is common knowledge that mourning of Muharram is observed  for two months and eight days in Lucknow. During this time, the Shia Muslims wear black clothes and strictly shun any kind of celebration or music. However, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula went out of his way to even participate in Holi, the Hindu festival of colours, during one such occasion.

According to a popular anecdote, once Holi happened to coincide with ‘Daswi Muharram’, and while the Nawab was returning after carrying out the traditional ceremony of burying the Tazia (miniature mausoleum), from the Talkatora Karbala, he was greeted by a group of Holi revellers who sought to put colour on him. What the Nawab did left his own courtiers dumbfounded.

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It goes as follows, “The entourage of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was passing through the old Chowk Bazar, where Hindus were busy playing holi. They asked the Nawab if they could put colours on him. Far from rebuking anyone, the Nawab alighted from his royal cart, greeted everyone and told Holi revellers to feel free to put the popular ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) on him. As the story goes, later, when his minister asked him whether it was appropriate for him to have joined a Holi celebration while he was observing Muharrum mourning, he clarified that he had done no wrong as he had simply participated in the happiness of people who were part of his family.”

That clearly reflected the extent to which he could mould himself in the larger interest of upholding his ideal of religious harmony. In Awadh, dozens of Hindu poets wrote dirges in the memory of Hazrat Imam Hussain. In keeping with the ‘Lakhnawi’ tradition of brotherhood, today’s well-known ‘Dastango’ (storyteller) and scholar Himanshu Bajpai, recites Marsiya or elegiac poetry.

“This is my passion and through this I wish to keep the rich Lakhnawi tradition alive,” said Himanshu, who hails from a highly traditional Brahmin family.

Himanshu Bajpai in Lucknow’s Chota Imambara reciting a Marsiya. Photo: Aman

In Lucknow’s Chota Imambara, Himanshu’s voice echoes as he narrates a Marsiya.

“Har martaba fariyaad thi aur nalaya-e-jan kah

Haq se ye hi karte the dua ro k basad aah

muztar hu bahut sabra ata kar mere Allaha

Aulad ke sadme se mera dil nahi aagha

Jati hai muhammad ki nishani mere ghar se

18 baras baad bichhadta hu pisar se”

This Marsiya expresses Hazrat Imaam Hussain’s pain over the death of his 18-year-old son, martyred in Karbala.

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