The Begum Kothi, 1858

The Begum Kothi, 1858

(A truncated version of this article appeared in the Lucknow Tribune on 12th August 2013)

Lucknow in the times of Asaf-ud-Daula was a medieval city, with magnificent Nawabi structures, interspersed with squalid habitations of the general populace. While the Nawabi buildings were concentrated along the Gomti and its environs, it cannot be said that the citizens of Lucknow had similar access to a reasonable civic infrastructure. In due course, Asaf-ud-Daula moved out from the medieval Machhi Bhavan fortress, to his Daulat Khana complex, which consisted of a series of palaces, few of which are extant today. He, of course, was responsible for the immense Bada Imambara complex, which consisted of the renowned Imambara, the Asafi Masjid and the Shahi Baoli Palace, together with the Rumi Darwaza. His successor, Wazir Ali, had short innings, and ultimately, it was Asaf-ud-Daula’s half brother, Saadat Ali Khan, who was coerced by the British, to occupy the Oudh masnad, as the next Nawab Vazir.

The Nawabi Period

Saadat Ali Khan had spent his youth in Calcutta; he was thoroughly westernized, with a sincere admiration for Colonial architecture and town planning. One of his first appointments was that of Sir Gore Ouseley as his aid-de-camp, under advice from the British Resident. It was Ouseley who conceptualized the Dilkusha kothi for the Nawab; the kothi was inspired by Seaton Delaval, a country house in Northumberland, England. Possibly based on his experience with Calcutta’s Chowringhee, Saadat Ali realized that a proper arterial road was necessary for his capital city. Without disturbing the older buildings, this new road would cut across the city and connect Dilkusha to the recently re-located Residency. This arterial road was to form the nucleus of the Hazratganj we know today. It was an ambitious and far-sighted project.

Historical accounts of this new road of Saadat Ali state that there had been two impressive gateways at its two extremities, with markets at right angles of the road, and a chowk or crossing in the middle. Adjacent to the new road were the cruciform Chaupar stables on the north side and the Shifa Khana (Darul Shafa) on the southern side. No details or photographs available on the physical appearance or even exact location of these two gates. Perhaps they resembled the Rumi Darwaza; perhaps they resembled the later-to-be-constructed Hussainabad Gateway of Mohammed Ali Shah. The Gates were reported to have had a Grecian front on one side and a Moorish one on the other. Today, we can only conjecture about these magnificent gateways, now lost forever.

It is often conjectured by the un-initiated that the name “Hazratganj” is in honor of Begum Hazrat Mahal, for her contribution to the Uprising in 1857. This is far from the truth. In fact, Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar and his son Nasir-ud-Din Haidar concentrated their energies on the Bada and Chota Chattar Manzils – the ambitious road of Saadat Ali Khan terminating abruptly at these palaces, instead of reaching the Residency. Under the rule of Amjad Ali Shah however, there were significant developments, including the establishment of a grain market in the area. (Incidentally, Amjad Ali’s Chief Minister, Amin-ud-Daulah, is credited for having founded the Aminabad market).

Amjad Ali Shah was also responsible for building the Sibtainabad Imambara (popularly known as Maqbara nowadays). Due to his pious nature, he was commonly known as Hazrat. In all probability, the name, “Hazratganj” came to be adopted after Amjad Ali was buried in the Sibtainabad Imambara, after his death. Amjad Ali had also erected the massive Begum Kothi for his first wife, Malka Ahad in this area. The Begum Kothi was an immense complex, comprising of many palaces, a mosque, tombs, imambaras etc., and stretched right up to the Sibtainabad Imambara. With the ascent of Wajid Ali Shah, Nawabi building activity was at its prime; in the tradition of his predecessors, he abandoned the palaces occupied by his ancestors, and built a magnificent palace complex called Kaisarbagh or Caesar’s Garden. He, however, took special care for the care and maintenance of his father’s mausoleum in the Sibtainabad Imambara at Hazratganj.

The Uprising and its Aftermath

During 1857 – 58, Hazratganj stretched right from the Begum Kothi, and if we go further east, till the Kothi Hayat Baksh (now Governor’s House). It did not extend till the Dilkusha, however. In the west, it extended upto the Chattar Manzil complex, where it was cut short, instead of proceeding straight to the Residency. Hence it was only an abbreviated version of Saadat Ali’s road. The Begum Kothi itself extended till the Sibtainabad Imambara, which occupied the area followed by the Kothi Nur Baksh (present DM’s bungalow), then the Cheeni Bazar (today’s China Gate).

On the opposite end, the first important building that one encountered after the Chattar Manzil complex was the Taron Wali Kothi (present day SBI) with the Khurshid Manzil (now La Martiniere School for Girls) and Moti Mahal behind it. Further east would be the Ainon Wali Kothi (present day Hindi Sansthan), followed by the Kankar Wali Kothi (present day Post Master General’s Office, Habibullah Estate and Halwasiya Court). This would have been contiguous with the Chaupar stables (today’s Lawrence Terrace and Lucknow Club).

The Kankar Wali Kothi, 1870

The Kankar Wali Kothi, 1870

After the British took control in 1858, they cut large swathes across the city, smashing through palaces, gateways and natives’ quarters alike, under the supervision of Colonel Robert Napier of the Bengal Engineers, who had earlier carried out a similar exercise in Old Delhi. Palaces, kothis, even royal gardens, or “enemy property” were declared as nazul, and taken over by the British for themselves, or simply sold / auctioned off at throwaway prices. For example, Badshah Bagh (now Lucknow University), which has been laid at the cost of Rs 53 lakhs, during the times of Nasir-ud-Din Haidar, was auctioned off for Rs 35,000/= . It was indeed a sorry state of affairs and a black period in the history of Lucknow. In the Hazratganj area, the ire of the British was naturally directed against the Begum Kothi, where they had suffered maximum casualties. The boundary walls of the Kothi were demolished; the main building of the Kothi started functioning as a post office and the Kothi Inayat Sultan within the complex, was bought by Munshi Nawal Kishore for establishing the offices of his publishing empire. Nawal Kishore also built his own house in main Hazratganj. This building, with a clock tower, now houses the premises of the Central Bank of India. The Chaupar stables were demolished, to make way for low-cost housing for Anglo-Indians (Lawrence Terrace). One arm of the Chaupar, however, survived as the Lucknow Club, maintained by the British for their non-gazetted officers. A new road started from the Gomti, cutting across Sikandra Bagh (now part of NBRI). This road, christened as Outram Road (now Ashok Marg), continued as Abbot Road (now Vidhan Sabha Marg), which cut across the Begum Kothi compound. New roads viz. the Lawrence Road (now Nawal Kishore Road) and Oliver Road (now Sapru Marg) were laid parallel to main Hazratganj.

The Anglican Church (now Christ Church) was consecrated in 1860, in the memory of fallen British soldiers in the 1857 insurrection. The St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1862, which later metamorphosed into the great St. Joseph’s Cathedral we know today. A portion of the Begum Kothi compound made way for the offices of the Oudh Rohilkhand Railways (now DRM, Northern Railway’s Office) in 1862. The outer boundary walls of the Sibtainabad Imambara, had been earlier razed to the ground, to make the area more accessible, as well as to establish shops and housing units for Anglo-Indian families. In 1871, the Commissioner circulated a blue-print for the design and layout future shops to be built in Hazratganj, which was being gradually built in the form of a Civil Lines. Hazratganj was to be a commercial hub, on the ruins and remnants of old kothis and palaces, which had earlier lined the road. In effect, the British had actually revived the arterial road laid earlier by Saadat Ali Khan, when they cut across the Chattar Manzils, so that Dilkusha and the erstwhile Residency were once again connected directly. It was an irony of sorts.

(to be continued)

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