Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Princess Omdutel of Oude Buried At Paddington Old Cemetery

Awadh, UTTAR PRADESH / London, U. K / Paris, FRANCE :

While walking around Paddington Old Cemetery during my lunch break earlier today, for some reason I felt compelled to read the faded stone slab that marked the resting spot of Princess Omdutel. Instantly my attention was grabbed, a Princess buried in Kilburn, North West London of all places, that sure wasn’t something I was expecting to find.

PrincessOmdutelMPOs20jan2018

I have walked past the grave of Princess Omdutel, perhaps a 100 times or more since I moved to Kilburn and never paid it any attention. Now she had my full attention.

The badly worn and faded inscription on the stone slab was barely readable, but after a lot of scratching of my head, I finally managed to decipher the words: Sacred to the memory of Princess Omdutel Aurau Begum, daughter of the late General Mirza Sekunder Hishmut Bahadur, Brother to His Majesty King of Oude, who died 14th April 1858 aged 18 months.

With a little help from Google and www.findagrave.com, I managed to find the following information: Princess of Oude. Oude, or Awadh, which was the epicentre of the 1857 Indian Mutiny, when the sepoys rebelled against the British after baulking at orders to use cartridges greased in pig and beef fat. Members of the Awadh Royal Family arrived in London soon afterwards, lobbying unsuccessfully for the return of their lands. The princess’s father, Mirza Bahadur, died two months before her and is buried in Père Lachaise in Paris.

The British obviously offered the Awadh Royal Family a haven in London after they were ousted. I’m not sure how long the family had ruled for in Awadh, which is a region in India. But from what I can gather it seems likely that they were a puppets installed by the British Government.

Princess Omdutel Aurau Begum, her life had barely begun, when she died at only 18 months of age. I wonder if any of the family survived and if so what became of them. It is also intriguing that her father died two months before her in Paris. No mention of the mother, which is kinda sad if you ask me…

I find it strange that I have walked past the grave of Princess Omdutel numerous times over the past twenty months and never once read it, until today. Very strange. Maybe she was wanting a mention on London Is Cool

source: http://www.londoniscool.com / London is Cool – a blog about Life in London / Home> Out and About in London / by William Wallace / February 21st, 2011

Malika Kishwar: A forgotten Indian queen in Paris

Awadh, UTTAR PRADESH / London, U. K / Paris, FRANCE :

The tragic story of Malika Kishwar, who rests in an unmarked grave in France’s most famous cemetery

The grave of Malika Kishwar at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The grave of Malika Kishwar at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

She lies buried amidst sepulchres that house the remains of many who are still famous.

There is Jim Morrison on the premises, the American rock legend whom trains of tourists come to pay homage, like pilgrims bearing flowers. Edith Piaf, the waif who sang her way to greatness, finds her peace nearby, as does Frederic Chopin, the composer whose pickled heart is in Warsaw but whose body dissolves in the French capital. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson rests here, and in the vicinity there is a man believed to have been sired by Napoleon. Oscar Wilde’s sculpted grave competes with Marcel Proust’s neat bed of stone, and many more still are the artists, writers, and persons of esteem who crowd the hillside cemetery that is Père Lachaise in Paris.

And yet, between them all, under a platform of rugged rock, lies this tragic Indian woman. Her name and cause have been largely forgotten, but since 1858, she has been here, longer than many of her revered neighbours. Tourists walk by with cameras, oblivious to her unmarked square existence. But every now and then there is a stray visitor who arrives on a quest: to locate the final resting place of that remarkable woman, the last queen of Awadh.

I was that visitor a few days ago, when I trekked up Paris’ most famous graveyard to look for this forgotten tomb.

The lady appears in yellowed old books by several names. She was to some Malika Kishwar, while others knew her as Janab-i Aliyah, Her Sublime Excellency, mother to the ruler of “Oude”, Wajid Ali Shah.

In 1856, when the British deposed this nawab from his ancestral seat in Lucknow, his family departed for colonial Calcutta, with all the money they could gather and what dignity they had left. But while the son (a “crazy imbecile” in the eyes of his sneering oppressors) prepared to fade quietly into history, the mother was determined to win back that which was her family’s by right.

That very year, this woman who knew little beyond her sequestered palace, set foot on a ship, determined to sail to England so she might speak—woman to woman—to the English queen in person. After all, declared the middle-aged begum, Victoria was “also a mother”; she would recognize the despair her people had unleashed, and restore to the House of Awadh territory, titles, and its rightful honour. And so proceeded Malika Kishwar, her health already in decline, braving cold winds in a foreign land, to plead the cause of royal justice.

The mission was doomed from the start. Advisers were many and much was the money they sought for the privilege of their counsel. The results, meanwhile, were nowhere to be found.

As historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones records, Kishwar discovered quickly enough that Queen Victoria, in her “circular dress”, had little power to bestow anything more than polite conversation on her and her Awadhi line—when an audience was granted, they spoke about boats and English mansions, not about imperial treacheries and the unjust business in Lucknow.

In the British parliament, things got worse. A prayer at long last prepared was dismissed on spurious bureaucratic grounds: the begum was to submit a “humble petition”, words that she failed to use in the document laid before the House. While her son accepted British imperium, the mother was obstinate in battle. So, when she wished to travel, they sought to dragoon her into acknowledging their suzerainty—if Malika Kishwar and her ménage wanted passports, she would have to declare herself a “British subject”.

The begum refused to do anything of the sort, prepared, at best, to be under “British protection”, but never anybody’s “subject”. And legal quibbles aside, the Great Rebellion of 1857 compounded matters—there was now no prospect of relinquishing even a fragment of British power when the hour called for a demonstration of obdurate strength alone. Awadh was lost forever.

The tide having turned, in 1858, the begum decided to return at last, defeated and unhappy in the extreme. But in Paris she fell ill and died on 24 January. The funeral was simple, but there was yet some dignity and state—representatives of the Turkish and Persian sultans gave this Indian queen the regard the British denied her and her line.

A cenotaph was constructed by the grave, but it has long since fallen to pieces—when decades later the authorities at Père Lachaise sought funds to repair the tomb, her exiled son decided from Calcutta that it was simply not worth his pension, while the colonial state was even less inclined to honour a difficult woman lying several feet underground in an alien European country. And so, since that time, in a graveyard full of magnificent memorials, the queen of Awadh has remained, a shell of broken stone sheltering her from the weeds and overgrowth that alone have made a claim upon her and the story that she tells.

Others of her suite also suffered. A younger son had come with her, Sikandar Hashmat by name. He died in England, and was carried to join his mother in her unmarked grave. A grandson’s infant child was also buried within, turning the tally in Paris to three.

But it was in London that one more of the delegation fell, this one a baby princess, born to Sikandar Hashmat from his Rajput wife on British shores. I walked around a dull little place called Kilburn to look for this grave. And there, in a cemetery, after an hour between tombs set in the soggy English ground, I found a memorial to the child: Princess Omdutel Aurau Begum, “who died 14th April 1858”, months after her grandmother who was once a queen.

But Omdutel, all of 18 months, had a minor triumph where her royal grandmother had none—lying by a pathway in that cemetery in Kilburn, her grave at least bears her name.

The begum, on the other hand, has become to the passing tourist at Père Lachaise in Paris a plinth on which to rest, smoking a cigarette and looking on to a horizon full of the dead, till a stranger might appear to tell how they have under them.

Medium Rare is a column on society, politics and history. Manu S. Pillai is the author of The Ivory Throne: Chronicles Of The House Of Travancore.

He tweets at @UnamPillai

source: http://www.livemint.com / LiveMint / Home> Leisure> Medium Rare / by Manu S. Pillan / Friday – Jan 12th, 2018

Mandi and the Arabian connection

Hyderabad, TELANGANA :

A must-try: Foodies having a Mandi, a combination of large chunks of mutton and rice garnished with dry fruits, at Mataram Al Arabi at Errakunta on Saturday.
A must-try: Foodies having a Mandi, a combination of large chunks of mutton and rice garnished with dry fruits, at Mataram Al Arabi at Errakunta on Saturday.

Restaurateurs in Barkas and Yerrakunta suburbs arrived here from Hadhramaut in Yemen over two centuries ago

A 20-minute drive south of Charminar is all it takes to wonder whether one has teleported oneself to a west Asian country. For, once in Barkas and Yerrakunta suburbs, one is greeted by exotic signage in Arabic on restaurants like Mataam al Arabi, Al Saud Bait al Mandi and Al Khaleej serving the Arabian delicacy Mandi. And the business is booming.

The connection is clear. The two neighbourhoods are home to those who arrived here from Hadhramaut in Yemen over two centuries ago. Several of these restaurateurs continue to bear Arabian tribal affiliations. While one eatery is owned by those from the Bin Ziyad tribe, another belongs to the Nahdis. There are dozens of tribes as are the restaurants run by them.

Abdul Raheem Yamani, proprietor of Real Arabian Dhaba, pegs the number of Mandi restaurants along the six-km stretch that connects Barkas to Shaheen Nagar along the Srisailam highway at approximately 35. “This is the reason why the highway has a new moniker – Mandi Road,” he says.

The restaurateurs say that the spurt in the number of Mandi restaurants began in 2011 when the Arab community realised that it was a profitable business. Restaurants started mushrooming not just along the margins of the main thoroughfares, but in the by-lanes of Barkas.

With diners converging from across the city, observers say that while traditional Hyderabadi biryani continues to be famous, Mandi is giving it a run for money.

One of the first Mandi restaurants in the area is Mataam al Arabi. Its proprietor Abdullah Bashaadi says the dish is a combination of large chunks of mutton and rice garnished with dry fruits.

The 38 year old recounts that he began the business in 2010 soon after returning from the Haj. “We were served Mandi during the pilgrimage. All ate from the same large thaala sitting on the floor. That is when I struck upon the idea to start a Mandi restaurant,” Mr. Bashaadi says.

The traditional Arabian method of dining—sitting on the floor and eating from the same large dish—has been retained in all the Mandi restaurants.

Like most who trace their ancestry to the Arabian Peninsula, Mr. Bashaadi’s great grandfather Ahmad bin Awad Bashaadi arrived in the city from Hadhramut, Yemen. In fact, noted scholar Omar Khalidi writes in Muslims in the Deccan: A Historical Survey that Hadramis were a part of Afwaj-e-Beqaidah(Irregular Army) of Asaf Jahs. Their numbers swelled so much so that the Diwan, Salar Jung, constituted a separate court, the Qazaat-e-Uroob, for them. Further, two Hadramis served as Commissioners of Police of Hyderabad State.

Taha Quadri, a professional caterer specialising in Arabian cuisine, explains the Mandi variants. The rule of thumb is three parts of mutton to one part of rice. The rice is cooked in the same water that is used to boil the meat. “Mutton can be replaced with fish, chicken and even quail,” he says.

But while diners converge at the Old City from all across Hyderabad, the dish is a hit with the IT crowd of Hitec City. The uptown area of Jubilee Hills has one.

“There was a great demand for the dish in this part of the city which is why we started the restaurant around nine months ago. A majority of our customers are those working in Hitec City,” says Syed Waaris Ali, proprietor of Mandi @ 36.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Hyderabad / by Syed Mohammed  / Hyderabad – January 13th, 2018

Driven by devotion, seven embark on journey on foot to Karbala

Hyderabad, TELANGANA :

The group of seven led by Syed Abdul Ali beginning their journey from Daira Mir Momin in the city on Saturday.
The group of seven led by Syed Abdul Ali beginning their journey from Daira Mir Momin in the city on Saturday.

To take at least six months to reach the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain

Faith and devotion make people do remarkable feats. It can make them test their limits and transcend spatial and political boundaries. Even if they have to walk hundreds of miles across three countries in their quest for spirituality. Seven men from the city have embarked on this very journey to reach the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain in Karbala, Iraq.

A revered and loved figure for both the Shi’ites and Sunnis, Hazrat Imam Hussain was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. Each year, dozens of Shi’ites embark on what they call ziyarat or pilgrimage, from the city to Karbala.

The group of seven led by Syed Abdul Ali, a 66 year old from Purani Haveli in the Old City, left for New Delhi from the Daira Mir Momin early on Saturday morning. The others making the journey on foot are Syed Sharif-ul-Hasan Razvi (28), Mir Asim Ali Moosvi (33), Syed Ali Razvi (31), Syed Saqib Zia Naqvi (33), Ali Asghar (31) and Syed Ali Ahmed (37).

“The journey to Karbala will take at least six months. Our intention is to walk between 35 and 40 km every day along the National Highway 44. In other words, eight hours of walk every day. That way, we will reach New Delhi by the end of February or the first week of March,” the leader and sexagenarian said.

Out of the seven, two have made the pilgrimage on foot twice.

To avoid crossing into Pakistan on foot, they will take a flight from the national capital to Tehran in Iran. From there, they intend to go to Yazd and then cross into Iraq where they will proceed to Karbala.

A vehicle carrying supplies such as food and bedding will trudge alongside till New Delhi.

The six wayfarers began to prepare for the journey more than two months ago. “We practised walking every day without fail. It’s not possible to go without preparing yourself for something like that,” they said.

Explaining what the journey means to him, Mr. Ali Asghar, a businessman, said, “I got a job in Dubai, but I gave it up since I wanted to go to Karbala. Going there on foot is a great act of piety. What more could I want?”

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Hyderabad / by Syed Mohammed / Hyderabad – January 06th, 2018

Tiger Pataudi’s daughter Saba recasts Auqaf-e-Shahi Board

Bhopal, MADHYA PRADESH :

Bhopal :

Saba Sultan, daughter of Tiger Pataudi, the only women custodian of royal endowment properties in Saudi Arabia, appointed a new secretary and member, here on Monday. With appointment of Azam Tirmizi as secretary and social worker Abdul Tahir as a member, process of completion of six-member executive board came to an end. The board advises Sultan on financial, administrative and legal issues.

Resignation of two members, including former secretary Mohammed Hasim necessitated freshappointments. Sultan heads Rs-1,200 crore Auqaf-e-Shahi, a royal endowment charitable trust of erstwhile Bhopal State with its properties spread across Bhopal and also in the holy city of Mecca and Medina.

Monday’s meeting comes in backdrop of a confrontation between trust advisor Gufran-e-Azam and current MP Waqf board chairman Shoukat Mohammed Khan.

In presence of Sultan, Azam claimed Auqaf-e-Shahi is independent as it only registers its Indian properties with Madhya Pradesh Waqf Board, which is a caretaker and paid chanda nigrani (token amount from rent/earnings).

Azam took on MP Waqf Board over jurisdiction claim on Auqaf-e-Shahi, a royal endowment trust of former Bhopal State.

Saba Sultan reiterated she was ‘mutawalli’ (custodian), a position accepted by Saudi Arabia and MP Waqf Board. She said her agenda was now to augment rent collection and, in return, provide better pay to all Auqaf-e-Shahi workers and imams of mosques under the trust.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News Home> Cities> Bhopal / TNN / November 21st, 2014

Muslim men take care of the synagogues

Kolkata, WEST BENGAL :

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Mohammed Khaleel Khan, an old Muslim man clad in a pristine white skull cap, shirt and lungi, has been working as the caretaker of Beth El Synagogue for 58 years.

His father, Muharram Khan, who came from Odisha, also served as the caretaker and now, Khaleel’s sons, Shiraz and Anwar, work in the same profession. “We are serving in a religious place and we are very happy about it. While I work in Beth El, my brother, Anwar, is in Maghen David,” said Shiraz.

Besides these three-generation-long caretakers, there is Sheikh Wasim, another caretaker, whose father, Sheikh Naseer, also served at the Beth El Synagogue for 60 years.

“Some people questioned why we should be working in a synagogue. My answer is simple. I am working in a religious place. Name him Allah or Vishnu — there is no discrimination in God’s land. The work I do here is far better than working in a pub where they serve alcohol,” said Wasim.

Talking about the Muslim caretakers, Ian Zachariah asked, “What’s so surprising? We’ve never had any problems. They don’t have any problems either. This is how it should be everywhere.”

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The  Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Shamayita Chakraborty / December 22nd, 2017

Umrao Jaan gets a tomb in Varanasi

Faizabad / Varanasi , UTTAR PRADESH :

Rekha as Umrao Jaan
Rekha as Umrao Jaan

Lucknow:

Umrao Jaan, the courtesan and poetess immortalised by Rekha in a 1981 classic, has got an address 80 years after her death.

A local club of sportspersons and social activists who had found Umrao Jaan’s nondescript grave in Varanasi in 2004 have built a tomb and decorated it for public viewing.

The tomb at the Fatman graveyard in Sigra was thrown open for public viewing on Tuesday (December 26, believed to be her death anniversary) and over 2,000 people have paid tribute to her since then.

Although there is no authentic research available on her, the general belief is that Umrao Jaan, on whose turbulent life at least a dozen films have been made in India and Pakistan and who inspired Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s novel Umrao Jaan Ada, left Awadh at the turn of the 19th century and lived in many places since, slipping into oblivion.

Shakil Ahmad, the president of the Derbyshire Club, a group of sportspersons and While trying to gather more information about her, “I was working on the grave of (shehnai exponent) Ustad Bismillah Khan one-and-a-half years ago when someone told me Umrao Jaan’s resting place was near his.”Some local people and I discussed and decided to renovate her grave. . The grave has been kept open at the centre in keeping with Islamic tradition, which says a grave shouldn’t be completely covered

None of the films made on Umrao Jaan, including the 2006 movie in which Aishwarya Rai Bachchan played the courtesan, mentions that she spent her final years in Varanasi.

source:  http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta, India / Home> India / by  Piyush Shrivastava / December 28th, 2017

Fort museum opened in Bidar

Bidar, KARNATAKA :

An amazing collection of artefacts, inscriptions and photographs are on display at the refurbished tourist information centre and museum opened by the Archaeological Survey of India on the fort premises here on Wednesday.

The museum had been closed for two years for restoration.

The old museum housed in the Royal Bath room inside the Turkash Mahal complex has been moved to the Awwal Talukdar office near the front gate, opposite Rangeen Mahal.

It has tools used by hunters in Neolithic times that were found in 11 archaeological sites in Bidar district. Stone tablets dating from the 1st century; inscriptions that speak of the genealogy of Hassan Gangu Behman, the founder of the Bahmani dynasty; and a space saving tablet that has an inscription on one side and a design on the other, are among the exhibits.

The weapons section is full of guns of various shapes and sizes, cannon balls and thorns and grenades. Metal armour, swords, and khanjars are on display.

Of special interest are implements used by doctors in the 14th century, ornaments made from sea shells, terracotta tiles and painted wall hangings.

It also has artefacts found in neighbouring sites of Sannati, Maski, Kalaburagi, Vijayapura and Basavakalyan.

Archaeologist Prasanna Kumar took visitors and students around the museum and explained the significance of the artefacts. He spoke of sculptors used soap stone to carve female figurines to symbolise that beauty fade away over time, like the rock it was carved on. Abdul Samad Bharati read Persian and Arabic inscriptions to the delight of young visitors.

A.M.V Subrahmanya, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, pointed out that some Madanika busts found in Basavakalyan and other sites in Bidar district were older than those found in Belur and Halebid.

A 30-minute audio guide about Bidar would be prepared to help tourists, he said. He also said work would start on an interpretation centre and sound and light show in Bidar fort.

The ASI is working with various government departments to draft a proposal to be sent to the UNESCO seeking heritage city status to Bidar- Kalaburagi and Vijayapura, he said.

Hanchate Sanjiv Kumar inaugurated the museum and asked youth to take pride in their history. Prakash Nikam, Superintendent of police, asked youth to desist from defacing monuments. “If we don’t etch on the walls at home, why should we do so on the walls of monuments that are national treasures?” he said

source: http://www.thehindu.com/ The Hindu / Home> News> States> Karnataka / by Rishikesh Bahadur Desai / Bidar – February 05th, 2016

Inscription traces genealogy of Bahmani Kingdom founder

Bidar, KARNATAKA :

Historian Abdul Samad Bharati showing the stone inscription to visitors in the Bidar ASI museum.— File Photo: T. Gopichand
Historian Abdul Samad Bharati showing the stone inscription to visitors in the Bidar ASI museum.— File Photo: T. Gopichand

History textbooks in the State say that Allauddin Hasan Gangu, founder of the Bahmani dynasty, began his life as the slave of a Brahmin in New Delhi. However, other versions of history strongly claim that he hailed from Iran and served in the army of the medieval Delhi kings.

The latest evidence that argues against the slave-to-king theory is a stone inscription unveiled at the Archaeological Survey of India museum in Bidar that opened last month.

The inscription of two sets of seven lines, with neatly carved rectangular borders, starts with hailing King Ahmed Shah Bahmani and how his rule brought prosperity to the region. It speaks of how he was the ninth king of the Bahmani Sultanate founded by Allauddin Hasan Gangu Bahmani . It identifies Hasan Gangu as a descendant of the legendary warrior Esfandiyar Goshtap. It describes him as a proud son of a Bahmani village in Iran. “Experts have dated this tablet between 1350 and 1550,” said Prasanna Kumar, archaeologist with the Bidar ASI office.

“For long, scholars have argued with evidence that Allauddin was a general in Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s army. He founded the Bahmani Kingdom in Kalaburagi, after rebelling against the Delhi kings in 1347. But, we continue to teach the legend that Allauddin was a slave who became a king by chance. This is unfortunate,” said Abdul Samad Bharati, historian and author of the book ‘Historic monuments of Bidar’. He hoped the Bidar inscription would help change the minds of history writers. “There are two other documents that refute the theory about Allauddin’s humble beginnings, a book published by University of Dhaka that speaks of the life and contribution of the hero and medieval era historian Abdul Mallik Esami, who said Allauddin was an Iranian, who joined the Delhi army,” he said.

International scholars also feel the same. “The whole story of Hasan Gangu being a slave to Gangadhar Shastri is a legend that is not supported by any primary source,” said Sara Mondini, art history scholar from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, who is on a tour of Ashtur near Bidar. Helen Philon, historian of the Deccan Heritage Foundation, says history books need to accommodate changes over the years. “Farishta, a court historian of the Bijapur Adilshahis accorded legitimacy to such legends and hearsay in the 17 th century. Most historians and writers seemed to have believed Farishta, without considering theories that offered alternative explanations,” she said.

Ashwath Narayana, professor of history in Bangalore University, and a member of the Karnataka state textbook review committee, said history textbooks should change with the emergence of new sources. “If history is an attempt at truth-telling, new research should prompt us to change the way it is written. We will study this inscription and make suitable changes to the history of the Deccan, if need be,” he said.

A stone inscription unveiled at the ASI museum in Bidar is evidence that negates the slave-to-king theory in history textbooks.

source: http://www.thehindu.com/ The Hindu / Home> News> States> Karnataka / by Rishikesh Bahadur Desai / Bidar – April 04th, 2016

Lucknow, recovered

Lucknow, UTTAR PRADESH :

Lessons in conservation at the Sibtainabad Imambara

As a young girl, when I was studying in Lucknow, I would often go to Hazratganj to buy storybooks. Browsing through the collection in the market and buying a book would be the highlight of every week. I only had my eyes on the bookshops and never on the name of the market or the dilapidated gateway, which had once been impressive but now looked the worse for wear.

Even on subsequent trips as an adult, I never bothered to think about it till the day a Lucknow-based heritage activist and lawyer, Syed Mohammad Haider Rizvi, invited me to speak at an inter-faith assembly in Sibtainabad Imambara.

As a devout follower of Imam Hussain, I had visited almost every Imambara in Lucknow for the majlis, or assemblies, to commemorate his sacrifice, but never this one. I wondered why I hadn’t even know it existed. I soon found out.

Origin of the Imambara

Amjad Ali Shah was the fourth Nawab of Awadh and ruled from 1842 to 1847. Since he had a religious bent of mind, as a child he learnt Islamic values of faith and piety. His piety as a ruler earned him the sobriquet of Hazrat. The famous Hazratganj of Lucknow is named after him and that’s the area where he chose to build an Imambara which would also house his mausoleum.

It was started in 1847 and completed after his death by his son Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. It was named Sibtainabad as the two Shia imams Hasan and Hussain (grandsons of the Prophet) are known collectively as Sibtain.

When I entered, I found myself inside a huge open area from where I could see a compound with a beautiful Imambara, a congregation hall for assemblies where Imam Hussain is mourned.

The Imambara architecture comprises a main hall (with additional halls depending on the size) where the mourners gather, a raised shahnasheen (platform) where the taziyas and alams (replicas of the shrine of Imam Hussain and his standard) are kept. A pulpit would be kept on one side for the speakers who would speak of the tragedy of Karbala.

The reason I had never been to this Imambara when I was living in Lucknow soon became clear. Once a beautiful Imambara covered with fine carpets, silk curtains, priceless art treasures and exquisite chandeliers, it was vandalised in 1857 during the First War of Independence. Nawab Amjad Ali Khan lay buried here in a vault under the central hall, forgotten by all.

It was even used as a church by the British officers till 1860, while the Christ Church was being built, and Lord Canning attended a service in the building.

In 1919, it was declared a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Despite this, it was sold by one Sultan Bahadur in 1921, who claimed to be a descendant of Nawab Amjad Ali Khan, to the Lucknow Improvement Trust (LIT). The LIT, in turn, allotted the surrounding land for residential purposes. The Imambara fell into disuse and disrepair.

The main Imambara post-1947 was used as a workshop and storehouse for furniture as well as by the government census office. A motor workshop had sprung up outside.

In 2008, Rizvi was appointed the joint mutawalli by the Shia Waqf Board and he started the long fight to free it from encroachment and illegal occupation. He took recourse to judicial avenues and slowly, with the help of Right to Information applications and public interest litigations, he succeeded. Then came the task of restoration, which was undertaken by the ASI.

The splendour inside

The approach to the Imambara is through the gateway and into an open space which gives way to an enclosed court. The Imambara stands on a high platform and its arched façade looks very impressive, with its delicate floral stucco and stained glass doors. The inner walls, which had got blackened with neglect and abuse, have been lovingly restored, and its green and white paintings and stucco work are exquisite. The roof and “its beams, which formed a vault over the grave of the late king, had collapsed in a heap of rubble,” according to a 1945 report. It once again supports beautiful glass chandeliers.

A recurring motif on the archways inside the halls is a painting of the Prophet’s celestial steed, the ‘buraq’, that carried him to heaven on the night of ascension. The master mason, Ansaruddin, traced out the designs and restored the paintings and stucco work very carefully.

Preservation of our heritage is our fundamental duty as it is an important source of history of the era in which these buildings were built. If other ‘lost monuments’ received such dedicated and methodical renovation, they could also be rehabilitated and restored to us.

source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Opinion> Columns / by Rana Safvi / November 26th, 2017