Power Equations in Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century India:
the Empirical Backdrop to Nationalism

Meenakshi Jain

 

The author is a historian and professor at Delhi University. When she presented this paper at IFIH’s national seminar on Indian Nationalism she was fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti, Delhi.

 

A frequently overlooked but striking feature of the ideology of Indian nationalism as articulated in a modern idiom in the early nineteenth century, was its endeavour to transcend the historical experiences of the sub-continent. Though formulated in the backdrop of stressful foreign invasions and rule, early Indian nationalism maintained a calibrated aloofness from political realities. Bypassing nearly a millennium of history, it reconnected with the wellsprings of the land’s autochthonous culture and defined its goal as the fulfilment of the ancient life of India under modern conditions. This rooting of Indian nationalism in the civilizational ethos accounted for its all-embracing, all-encompassing vision, to which it remained steadfast. Thus, as opposed to other contemporary expressions of nationalism in Asia and Africa, Indian nationalism did not seek to centre stage the issue of the victimhood of its people. Rather it promised a fair deal to minorities, even as it pledged to further the process of economic and political modernization set in motion under the British.

Political power balance

An appreciation of the distance between the ground reality and the philosophy of Indian nationalism can be had by a study of the actual correlation of forces in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As the Mughal Empire went into decline, a number of successor states rose on its debris. While continuing to rely on indigenous clerical classes and accommodating the rising Hindu service gentry (Bayly 1983), they displayed an almost uniform unwillingness to incorporate members of that community into the upper echelons of the polity. Almost without exception, they failed to forge a synthetic mix of “transcendent Mughal and immanent local-regional traditions” (Barnett 1980: 246) even long after the British advent, as is evident from the examples of Awadh and Hyderabad, the two premier Mughal successor states in the north and south.

The kingdom of Awadh was founded in 1722 by an Iranian Shi`i émigré, who had arrived in India just thirteen years previously. Saadat Khan (Srivastava 1954: 1-30) and his heirs presided over the destinies of Awadh for a hundred and thirty years. Throughout these decades, they maintained a studied distance from the populace and the indigenous traditions of the region. Their Shi`i affiliations reinforced their isolation, as Shi`is were less than one percent of the total provincial population, most of whom were either migrants or had embraced Shi`ism under the influence of the ruling house. Even in Faizabad and Lucknow, the dynasty’s first and second capitals, the Shi`i population was only one and five percent respectively (Fisher 1987: 45fn).

The Awadh Nawabs established a markedly sectarian political system and court culture and accorded negligible representation to native elites, principally the formidable body of landholders within the realm. The majority of the landholders, 86 per cent according to the Awadh court akhbar, were Hindus, many of them Rajputs, heads of clans. Tied by jati links to their people, the landholders were the foci of their localities and its local traditions, and represented personnel and perspectives totally excluded from the Nawabi court (Fisher 1987: 46). The Nawabs and the landholders in fact have been described as inhabiting two mutually exclusive worlds, sharing little “in background, composition or interest” (Fisher 1997: 42).

The Awadh administration was split right through on religious and sectarian lines, mirroring the political and social divide in the kingdom. The various governmental departments were strongly linked with particular communities. The financial branch and all clerical offices were considered most appropriate for Hindus, particularly the scribal jatis (Kayasthas and Khattris), who completely identified with Mughal administrative norms and were proficient in the Persian language and culture.

The executive, however, was dominated by Muslims, and increasingly, Shi`i Muslims. Hindu presence in the executive, police and army, was modest, at best. The court akhbar reveals that all important executive posts, especially those of the wazir, kotwal and faujdar of Lucknow, were a Muslim monopoly (Fisher 1987: 55-6). Nearly eighty per cent of the police officers mentioned in Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s (1847-56) list were Muslims. Three-fourths of the officers in the army and more than half the soldiers were also Muslims. The army was “strongly Shi`i” in sympathy and identified with the ruler rather than the people. On an average, Muslim employees also received higher wages than Hindus for the same posts (Fisher 1987: 218-20).

The highest executive post of wazir was almost a Shi`i preserve. Of the eleven appointees to this office in the nineteenth century, ten were Shi`is, the sole Sunni occupant Ghulam Yehya Khan held tenure for just two months. Like their Nawabs, the wazirs too, had few links with the province (Fisher 1987: 196). Similarly, government officials posted in the districts, mostly Muslims drawn from the Mughal administrative cadre, shared the worldview of their superiors at the centre. They too, were “unrelated” to the landholders and cultivators (Fisher 1987: 209).

Function, Monthly Rupee Salary and Community
of Officers under Wajid Ali Shah 


Function


Hindu


Muslim


Unknown


Total


Executive

 


Number


11


62


0


73


Percentage


15


85


0


100


Average salary


14.5


17.2


-


16.9

 


Clerical



Number


45


1


22


68


Percentage


66


1


32


99


Average salary


7.4


10


7.5


7.5

 


Subordinate



Number


60


67


79


206


Percentage


29


33


38


100


Average salary


3.2


4.6


3.1


3.6

 

Source: Fisher (1987: 219).

 

The Awadh rulers promoted Shi`i religious institutions and strove for Shi`i cultural ascendancy in their realm (Cole 1988). They virtually recast the landscape of Lucknow. By the early nineteenth century the city boasted of more than two thousand large imambaras, six thousand small taziya khanas, and a thousand mosques (Cole 1988: 93-6). Its most defining public ritual was Muharram (Ali 1982), and Imam Husain its patron saint. Awadh’s deep commitment to Shi`ism in fact led a contemporary observer to categorize it as “the religious successor to the defunct Safavi monarchy” (Sharar 1975: 83).

The Nawabs assiduously patronized Persian and were also instrumental in bringing Urdu to the region. They enticed distinguished poets and scholars of Persian and Urdu to abandon the decaying Mughal capital and take up residence in Lucknow, which soon outshone Delhi in cultural brilliance. According to one account, at least sixty-five poets migrated from Shahjahanabad to Lucknow during this period (Naim and Petievich 1997: 166), the most notable being Sirajuddin Ali Khan-e-Arzu, Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’, Mirza Muhammad Rafi ‘Sauda’, besides such literary luminaries as Soz, Fughan, Zahik, Jurat, Insha, Rangin and Musafi. New genres of Urdu poetry like the masnavi originated and developed in Lucknow, while the art of marsiya, or elegiac writing, attained great heights. Other forms of poetry like hazal goi, harzai goi, rekhti also flourished, as did Urdu prose (Sharar 1975: 76-108).

In contrast, the Awadh rulers totally ignored Awadhi, the lingua franca of the populace and the vehicle of the region’s cultural aspirations. As a consequence of Nawabi neglect, two parallel cultural worlds developed in Awadh: a Persio-Islamic one centred around the court of the ruler and an indigenous one located in the hinterland controlled by the landholders.

Things were hardly different in Hyderabad, the pre-eminent Mughal successor state in the south. As in the case of Awadh, here too, the founder of the new ruling house, Mir Qamaruddin Khan Chin Qilich Khan (better known as Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah) did not hail from the region, and established an administration dominated by nobles and high officials brought from the Mughal court (Husain 1963). This alien group constituted the political, military, and social elite of the state and survived intact well into the twentieth century. Hyderabad, as a consequence, was identified as ‘a major area in India where a political and social structure from medieval Muslim rule had been preserved more or less intact’ (Smith 1950: 27-51).

The highest category of nobles, the paigah, belonged to the family of Abul Khair Khan, Asaf Jah’s closest companion-in-arms. The paigah family alone had the honour of receiving the daughters of the Nizam in marriage. The family’s jagirs, subsequently granted in perpetuity, yielded an annual revenue only slightly less than that of the Nizam. After the paigah came the Umra e Uzzam, the Great Nobles of the Realm, all of whom traced their ancestry to Mughal officials who had accompanied Asaf Jah to the south, or followed soon after. They constituted the catchment area from where the leading state ministers were recruited. Hindu members of the Umra e Uzzam tended to be restricted to a few families which were entrusted with administrative posts such as those of the peshkar (Deputy) which became hereditary to the family of Maharaja Chandulal (Lynton and Rajan 1974).

The top governmental posts were in fact regarded “the preserve of Muslims” (Benichou 2000: 10), from the beginning of Muslim rule in the region in the fourteenth century. Like the Bahamani and Qutb Shahi monarchs before him, Asaf Jah I entrusted military positions to Muslims, while leaving administrative posts and cultivation to Hindus. Gribble observed in 1896: “Asaf Jah had bought with him from Malwa a number of followers, Mahomedans and Hindus, who were attached to his person and fortunes. To the Mahomedan nobles he granted jaghirs or estates on military tenure and employed them as his generals… The Hindus… he employed principally in administrative work in the departments of revenue and finance. To them he also granted jaghirs as a remunerations [sic] for their services, and all these jaghirs, whether granted for civil or military purposes, came to be considered as hereditary in the different families.”

Several other contemporary accounts also attest to the “preferential recruitment” (Benichou 2000: 11) of Muslims. The Tarikh-i Yadgar-i Makhan Lal, lists fifty-four front ranking nobles for the years 1800-1820, of whom twenty were Hindus, eight being Kayasthas. Though numerically well represented, Kayasthas tended to be concentrated in the lower ranks of the ruling class (1000 to 2000 zat).

Of the 552 jagirdars of the state, fifty-one leading ones held personal jagirs valued at over Rs. 10,000/- a year, of whom only eight were Hindus. In the elite group of sixteen jagirdars entrusted with the maintenance of troops, there were just three Hindus. Altogether a miniscule seventeen Hindus held both personal (zat) and army (savar) mansabs; most Hindu mansabdars were granted the personal rank alone (Leonard 1978: 32-3).

Hindu nobles of Hyderabad, 1800-1820 


Number of Nobles


Hindus


Kayasthas


Total Hindus


54 leading nobles


20


8


20


51 with Jagirs over
Rs. 10,000/ p.a.


8


-


8


16 elite jagirdars


3


-


3

 

Source: Makhan Lal, Tarikh–i Yadgar-i Makhan Lal,
Hyderabad, 1829, pp. 144-156, quoted in Leonard (1978).

 
 

Hindu nobles of Hyderabad ranked by zat Mansab, 1800-1820


Zat mansab rank


Total number
of Hindus


Total number
of Kayasthas


7000


2


0


5000


2


0


4000


3


-


3000


8


0


2000


16


3


1000


40


4


Total


70


7

 

Source: Makhan Lal, Tarikh–i Yadgar-i Makhan Lal,
Hyderabad, 1829, pp. 144-156, quoted in Leonard (1978).

 

Even a century later, the composition of the ruling class remained broadly unaltered. The 1894 Civil List mentioned 680 gazetted officers, of whom as many as 447 were from outside the state, and the total Hindu representation a paltry sixty-three (Kooiman 2002: 80). Muslims held more than 75 per cent of the police and civil posts and dominated both the officer class and cadres in the reign of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan (r.1911-1950), though they comprised merely 11 percent of the population (Varshney 2002: 188). Of the seven leading feudal lords in his time, six were Muslims and one Hindu (Varshney 2002: 189). When the threat of annexation by the East India Company forced the Nawab to modernize the administration, he imported a significant number of graduates from Aligarh Muslim University, rather than promote local talent. Among those who came from the north during the premiership of Salar Jung on the recommendation of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan were Moulvi Mehdi Ali, Maulvi Mustaq Hussain, Maulvi Chiragh Ali, all of whom rose to high positions in the state (Bawa 1986: 113-6).

 

Nobles and officer holders in Hyderabad as listed in the Tuzuk –i Mahbubiyah (1902)


Category


Total


Non-Muslims


Kayasthas


Nobles


337


59


19


Office holder’s


58


23


1


Total


395


82


20

 

Nobles were those who held high positions in the Mughlai administration.
Office holders were western educated recruits in the modern administrative apparatus and mostly came from outside Hyderabad. Source: Leonard (1978: 197-98).

 
 

Religious Composition of the seventh Nizam’s Police Force 


Religious Group


Percentage Officers


Percentage others


Muslims


78.3


85.4


Hindus


15.1


10.1


Christians


6.5


4.3


Others


-


0.2

 

Source: Varshney (2002: 189)

 
 

Religious Composition of the seventh Nizam’s Civil Administration 


Religious Group


Percentage Officers


Percentage others


Muslims


83.0


76.7


Hindus


11.3


21.9


Christians


5.6


1.2


Others


0


0.2

 

Source: Ashutosh Varshney (2002: 189)

 
 

Religions and Languages, Hyderabad 1921 

 


Hyderabad
city


Urban areas
(i)


State


Religions

 


Hindu


52%


62%


84%


Muslim


43%


34%


10%


Languages

 


Urdu


50%


-


10%


Telugu


39%


-


48%


Tamil


3%


-


-


Marathi


3%


-


26%


Kannada


-


-


12%

 

(i) Over 5,000 population
Source: Leonard (1978: 217).

 

A 1944 British report on the Civil Service in Hyderabad reiterated the unvarying character of government recruitment policies, on the eve of independence. It noted, “Of officers drawing Rs. 600/- a month or less, 930 are Muslims, 340 are Hindus, and 74 others. Of officials, drawing between Rs 600/- and Rs 1200/-, 59 are Muslims, only 5 Hindus, and 38 others. This means that of the 1,765 gazetted officers in the State, 1,268 are Muslims, 421 Hindus, and 141 others. The largest number of Hindus in the lower ranks shows some headway being made with reducing Muslims preponderance. But the number of Hindus in the higher posts remains very low. Figures are not available for the clerical and menial services but even there Muslims have monopolized at least 75 per cent of the posts.”

 
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Like rulers of other Mughal successor states, the Hyderabad Nizams were enthusiastic patrons of Persian and Urdu and attracted a steady stream of scholars, theologians and jurists from North India and further afield from Persia, Bokhara, Samarkand and Arabia. Persian remained the court language till 1884, when it was replaced by Urdu. Among the noted scholars in Persian were Haji Maulvi Muhammad Sayeed Khan, Haji Agha Shaikh Muhammad Ali, Maulvi Muhammad Abdul Qaidar, Maulvi Muhammad Zaman Khan Sahib, Raja Girdhari Pershad and Maharaja Kishen Pershad. Eminent Persian poets included Agha Syed Ali Khan Shustri Tooba, Maulvi Mir Shamsuddim Faiz, Raja Girdhari Pershad Baqi, Muhammad Ali Bartar, Maharaja Kishen Pershad Shad, and Josh Hyderabadi among others (Sheela Raj 1987: 261-2).

Books published in Hyderabad state by 1910 


Language


Number


Urdu


883


Arabic


25


Telugu


14


Persian


6


Marathi


2


Kannada


1


English


2


Total


933

 

 Source: Sheela Raj (1987:  270).

 

Nawab Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, himself an accomplished poet, drew to his court Dagh Dehlavi, formerly poet at the Delhi and Rampur Courts. Dagh Dehlavi was accorded the honour of being the court poet and given titles and a generous endowment. He stayed in Hyderabad for almost eighteen years till his death in 1905. Another immigrant poet from Rampur was Amir Minai, whose, son Akhtar Minai and pupil Jalil were also admitted as court poets (Sheela Raj 1987: 262-4).

Maulvi Altaf Hussain Hali, the celebrated author of the Musaddas-e-Hali, who taught at the Anglo-Arabic school in Delhi, received a monthly stipend from the Nizam as assistance for his work. Likewise, the Nizam purchased several books of Syed Ahmed Dehlavi, compiler of the Farhang Asafia, a lexicon of Urdu language and also granted him an honorarium and a life pension. Educational institutions in several parts of India, among them Aligarh Muslim University, were also recipients of the Nizam’s aid.

Among the galaxy of Urdu scholars in Hyderabad in the late nineteenth century were Mir Kazeem Ali Khan ‘Shola’, Raja Girdhari Pershad ‘Baqi’, Mir Vazir Ali Khan ‘Vazir’, Ghulam Imam Shahid, Muhammad Faiyazuddin ‘Faiyaz’, Hakim Vazir Ali ‘Josh’, Muinuddin Iqbal, Maharaja Kishen Pershad ‘Shad’, Muhammad Hafeezuddin ‘Paas’, Zaheer Dehlavi, Tabatabai, Syed Kazim Kantoori, Sheefta Lucknowi and others. Maharaja Kishen Pershad, later Prime Minster of the state, was an able composer in Persian and Urdu, and published diwans in both languages, one of which entitled Khumkadae Rahmat was in praise of the Prophet. The Urdu novel also developed in Hyderabad the late nineteenth century. A number of writers from outside Hyderabad were drawn to the state by the munificence of the Nawab. They included Ratan Nath Sarshar, Abdul Halim Sharar and Maulvi Nazir Ahmed.

In the reign of Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, a department of education was also opened and the north Indian poet laureate Shibli Nomani appointed its literary director (Sheela Raj 1987: 264-9).

The privileged status of Urdu and Persian in the state is also borne out by a survey of 1884, which reveals that of the 162 schools in the Diwani (directly administered) territories of the Nizam, 105 were Persian schools, 35 Marathi, 19 Telugu and 3 English (Bawa 1986: 86). The newspapers and journals published in the state in the latter half of the nineteenth century reinforce the primacy of Urdu and Persian. There were 25 newspapers and journals in these two languages as against 1 in Telugu, 4 in Marathi and 13 in English. There were 24 monthly magazines in Urdu and Persian, 1 in Marathi, 2 in English (Sheela Raj 1987: 275-6).

In contrast to Urdu and Persian, which prospered under generous state patronage, Telugu, Marathi and Kannada “did not have sufficient opportunities for development” (Sheela Raj 1987: 272). Telugu grew as a result of the efforts of people anxious to preserve their culture. In 1901 K.V. Lakshmana Rao, the Diwan of the Raja of Managala, and Ravisetti Kanga Rao set up the Krishnadevaraya Andhra Bhasa Nilayam, which soon emerged as an important literary centre. In 1908 however the organization was compelled to relocate itself in Madras due to the suspicions of the Nizam Government.

The Maharashtrians of Hyderabad state emulated the example of the people of Telengana and in 1906 set up their own Vivek Vardhni Pathashala and Vivek Vardhni Educational Society. In the Kannada speaking Gulbarga region also a movement to promote the language began in the first decade of the twentieth century (Sheela Raj 1987: 272-5).

 
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Cultural Equations

The skewed power equations found a manifestation in the physical landscape of the imperial and regional capitals. Islamic religious architecture dominated the skyline, edging out of view the sacred structures of other faiths. In Shahjahanabad for instance, starting with the majestic Jama Masijd, mosques occupied commanding positions on the main roads of every quarter of the city. There was no area which had temples and no mosques; not even predominantly Hindu-populated sections such as Katra Neel, which often had six to seven temples on a single street (Asher 2002b).

An archeological survey conducted in the early twentieth century listed 200 mosques constructed in the city between 1639 and 1857, of which half were built in the imperial heyday between 1639 and 1739 (Blake 1991: 52). Interestingly, 96 temples have also been recorded as constructed by Hindu and Jain inhabitants of Shahjahanabad between 1648 and 1857.

Of the 96, 12 bore inscriptions and could be precisely dated. None of them was constructed in the era of Mughal effulgence (1639-1739) and only 2 were built during the years 1739-1803. The overwhelming majority of the dated temples (10) came up in the period of British ascendancy in the city (1803-57) (Blake 1991: 110). Taken as a whole, none of the 96 temples can be traced to the century 1639-1739, only 15 to the years 1739 -1803, and 81 to the period 1803-1857 (Blake 1991: 181). The absence of temples in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries has been attributed to the “economic and political impotence” of the Hindu merchants of the city (Blake 1991: 110).

Mosques and temples in Shahjahanabad 1637-1857 

 


Mosques


Temples

 


Dated 56


Total Mosques 200


Dated 12


Total Temples 96


1639-1739


28


100


-


-


1739-1803


13


42


2


15


1803-1857


15


58


10


81


Total


56


200


12


96

 

Source: based on Blake (1991: 181).

 

Even the 96 temples constructed in Shahjahanabad between 1739 and 1857 make a riveting statement on the cultural equations of the times. Their size and placement are testimony to the physical transformation temples had undergone in Delhi from the time last encountered in the Qila-i-Rai Pithora.

The temples of Shahjahanabad are all virtually invisible, perhaps the consequence of a conscious effort to keep them veiled from public view. There is absolutely nothing to even indicate their existence. Most are merely small openings in alcoves and are generally located in private courtyards surrounded by high walls. None of the temples built in this period in the city has the hallmark shikhar (Asher 2002b). This diminution of temples and their almost subterranean status bespeaks of political realities as late as the mid-nineteenth century, which the ideologues of early Indian nationalism were careful to keep out of public discourse.

Today there are two temples located on the main street in Shahjahanabad, the Digambar Jain Mandir and the Gauri Shankar temple. The Jain Mandir was first known as the Urdu or Camp Temple. Most of the present structure was built between 1835 and 1870, though its position on this site is said to date back to Shah Jahan’s time. The Gauri Shankar temple was built in the mid-eighteenth century at the time of Maratha ascendancy by a brahmin in Scindia service. It was considerably rebuilt later, and the shikhar it currently bears was not part of the earlier structure (Asher 2002b). Maps between 1751 and 1850 suggest that both these temples were originally not part of the visible landscape, and indicate the site as a rest-house (Asher 2002b).

This pattern of prominent mosques and hidden temples appears to have been set much earlier. In Rohtas, Bihar, for instance where Raja Man Singh served as Emperor Akbar’s governor, the Jami Mosque stood prominently on the main arterial road, while a small temple built by Man Singh could not even be seen from a distance. In his home state of Amber as well, a huge mosque was erected on the Delhi highway on Akbar’s orders, while Man Singh’s own beautiful Jagat Shiromani Temple, built in the memory of his eldest son, Jagat Singh, remained concealed from the gaze of the casual passerby (Asher 2002b). This trend was maintained in the new city of Jaipur, constructed in the eighteenth century by Raja Jai Singh. The Govind Deo temple seems to deviate from this norm. However its design has led some scholars to argue that it was originally built as a residence and only later converted into a temple (Tillotson 1987: 181). Only one temple inside Jaipur’s city walls bears a shikhar. This is the Kalkiji temple built by Sawai Jai Singh in 1740, and it is appropriately away from the main street (Asher 2002b).

The Shahjahanabad model found a replication in neighbouring Awadh. Though the capital city of Lucknow was predominantly Hindu (even in 1829 they comprised as much as two-thirds of the population), Nawabi presence ensured a preponderance of Islamic structures with “a disproportionate emphasis” on Shi`i architecture (Llewellyn–Jones 1985: 210). A survey of the architecture commissioned by the Nawabs and their officials and courtiers between 1722 and 1856 lists 107 religious structures. Of these 33 were mosques, 21 imambaras, 9 karbalas, and 23 mausolea, all serving the requirements of the Islamic faith (Tandan 2001: 30-45). Only 21 of the 107 religious edifices were temples, of which just 2 were in any way linked to the royal family, one to Safdar Jang or Asafuddaulah, and the other to Bahu Begum. The remaining 19 were all commissioned by Hindu officials and courtiers of the Nawabs (Tandan 2001: 66).

Religious architecture commissioned by the Nawabs and their officials and courtiers, 1722-1856 


Religious structures


Number


Mosques


33


Imambaras


21


Karbalas


9


Mausolea


23


Temples


21


Total


107

 

Source: Tandan (2001).

 

Further, the Awadh temples, like their Shahjahanabad counterparts, were small, modest structures, single chambered, unadorned on the outside, with no mandapa or ardha-mandapa (Tandan 2001: 67). The temple reputedly sponsored by Safdar Jung or Asafuddaulah is enclosed within a high walled compound, sports a small dome and has no feature to indicate its Hindu religious affiliation from a distance (Asher 2002b).

Islamic architecture dominated the landscape in Murshidabad, capital of the successor state of Bengal as well. In 1724-25 the governor Murshid Quli Khan commissioned an impressive Jami mosque cum madarsa (the Katra Mosque), one of the largest in Bengal, thereby endowing the city that “hitherto held little religious significance with a dominant sacred importance” (Asher 1992c: 330). Medieval chronicles in fact record Murshid Quli Khan’s zeal in propagating his faith (Sarkar 1948: 420-1). He is stated to have recruited two thousand readers of the Quran, and an enormous supporting staff who were probably housed in the domed cloisters around the Katra Mosque (Asher 1984e: 207).

Fifty years later, another Jami mosque was commissioned, this time by Muni Begam, de facto ruler and wife of the late Nawab Mir Jafar, which soon emerged as the most important religious building of the city (Asher 1992c: 330). Several other mosques modeled on it sprang up in the capital.

In the late eighteenth century two structures associated with Shi`i Islam, the faith of the Murshidabad Nawabs, were added to the city. The first of these was the Husainiya intended to house taziyas during Muharram. Its construction was associated with two highly placed court eunuchs, Amber Ali Khan and Darab Ali Khan. Work on it began in 1804-05 and the structure was considerably enlarged in 1854-55 (Asher 1992 c: 330). The celebration of Shi`i rites “appears to have become an increasingly important aspect of official ceremony” under the Murshidabad Nawabs (Asher 1992c: 330).

In 1788-89 was built in the capital the Qadam Sharif Complex, also a result of the beneficence of court eunuchs. Its patron Itwar Ali Khan, was the chief eunuch of Nawab Mir Jafar. The impression of the Prophet’s foot it housed is said to have come from Arabia and was previously kept at Gaur and before that in Padua, capitals of earlier sultans of Bengal. The transfer of the relic to Murshidabad was again designed to “bolster the religious status of the city” (Asher 1992c: 331). With the same objective, in the mid-nineteenth century, Nawab Feredun Jah commissioned a colossal imambara, 209 metres in length (Asher 1984d: 89), making it the largest in eastern India. It was 80 metres longer than even the royal palace (Asher 1991c: 332).

Notwithstanding this politico-cultural reality, early Indian nationalists sought to inculcate a spirit of inclusivity and accommodation into the emergent socio-political discourse. As the freedom movement developed however, the Muslim League articulated an ideology committed wholly to its Islamic fountainhead and stressed the need to maintain the community’s political dominance in the country. The League’s refusal or failure to come to terms with the forces of modernization ushered in by the British further pushed it on a trajectory away from the national mainstream.

 

© Meenakshi Jain, 2003

 
 
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