Lucknow: “How times have changed. The time when people lived in the greatest harmony and communal peace is over,” lamented Nawab Mir Jafar Abdullah, a descendant of Wajid Ali Shah, watching the news about the Gyanvapi Mosque affair, at his house in the neighborhood. Sheesh Mahal of Lucknow.

Recalling one incident, the Nawab said: “Once Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was captured by the British and taken to Metiaburj, where he was kept in exile in a place which was then a suburb of modern Kolkata. As word 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 began chanting, ‘hazrat jate hain London, kripa karo Raghunandan (“the Nawab is taken to London, please bless him Lord Ram”).’

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

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

There are a few important temples not only in Lucknow but also in Ram city of Ayodhya which were either built by Muslims or maintained by Muslim rulers of the time. Similarly, there are examples of mosques or imambaras having been raised by Hindus.

Lucknow is not only the name of a city but it is synonymous with adab and tehzeeb (mannerism and culture). Her body may appear like a maze of walls, roads, alleys and alleyways, but mannerism and hospitality are in her soul. The city is the embodiment of the love and brotherhood of the nation’s two largest communities. What can be a better example of the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb as the mother of the fourth Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula of Awadh, Aliya Begum, undertaking the construction of the legendary 250-year-old Hanuman Temple in Lucknow. If you find the old temple dome still adorned with a moon and a star, it is of course because of its role in the construction of this temple. It is the largest and oldest Hanuman temple in Lucknow. Nearly 30,000 devotees visit the temple every Tuesday and Saturday.

Hanuman Temple. Photo: Aman

The old dome of the Hanuman Temple is still adorned with a moon and a star. Photo: Aman

According to the priest of the temple, Pandit Jagdamba, “According to legend, once Lord Hanuman appeared in Begum Aliya’s dream telling her that he is lying in a garden and he would be happy if she could get out of this garden and get him installed in a temple Aliya Begum identified the place and ordered excavations to the place from where an ancient Hanuman idol was found and duly installed in what is now this Aliganj temple.

Pandit Jagdamba. Photo: Aman

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

The mela is part of that old tradition which is followed to this day, when it can be witnessed during the current month of Jyeshtha which started on May 17th.

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

A few kilometers from the Hanuman temple stands Kazmain Rauza (dargah) in the old Chaupatiyan of Lucknow. The Rauza was made in 1852. It is a replica of a holy mausoleum in Iran which was built in memory of the 7th Imam of Khurasan Hazrat Moosa of Shia Muslims.

Kazmain Rauza, in the Chaupatiyan of old Lucknow. Photo: Aman

What makes Lucknow Rauza so unique is the story behind its making. “As can be found in the book Lucknow Lost Monument, written by Saiyed Anwar Abbas, Nawab Amjad Ali Shah had a courtier, Jagannath Aggrawal, who lived in Chowk of Lucknow. He visited Iran and saw the Rauza of Imam Moosa. He was so impressed with its structure and beauty that when he returned, he immediately ordered a replica to be made here. Not only that, he invited Persian craftsmen to help carry out this mission. It was the first Rauza to be built by a Hindu,” said Shamil Shamsi of Old Lucknow.

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

It 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 blessed with magical faith healing. “Whenever I have a problem or suffer, I come here. I express to the Imaam what my heart feels and it seems that the Imaam holds my heart. I find spiritual peace here,” said declared a faithful to this journalist.

In the narrow alleys of Aminabad in Lucknow, a huge white structure with a golden door and rectangular flowers will certainly attract the attention of all passers-by.

This mosque, popularly called ‘Panditan ki Masjid’ or ‘Padain Ki Masjid’ (Brahmin Woman’s Mosque), is special because it was built by a Brahmin lady for local Muslims 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 Awadh Nawab, Saadat Ali Khan. Their friendship was so strong that she had this mosque built as a gift to her friend Khadija Khanam, the wife of the Nawab.

Panditan ki Masjid. Photo: Aman

In Lucknow’s Thakurganj mohalla, as the clock strikes 4 a.m., the loudspeakers are tuned to when 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 right in front of the Imambara of Jhau Lal, in memory of the martyrdom of Karbala. This Imambara and Mosque was not built by any Muslim but by Nawab Asafudaula Hindu wazir (Minister), Raja Jhau Lal Shrivastav.

Mohd. Abbas, director of Imambara Jhaulal, said, “This Imambara is special; there are many Imambaras built by Muslims; but it is unique because it was built by a hindu. Worshiping in this Imambara gives peace of mind and comfort. Expressing concern over today’s radically changing social ethos, he goes on to add, “What brings the greatest joy is that there was a time hundreds of years from now when there was so much affection, understanding and brotherhood between people of different faiths”.

The list is endless. The temple of Baba Gomti Das in Thakurganj is in the same way as the Imambara of Jhau Lal. This temple was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-daula, who funded its daily operation.

Baba Gomti Das temple. Photo: Aman

Dhruv Lal Shukla, the temple priest, said, “Temples like Baba Gomti Das are an inspiration to us.” Alluding to the fact that communal politics was systematically fueled by vested interests, he said: “Before, there was so much brotherhood and friendship between people of different faiths that there was no room for hatred”.

Obviously, it was Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula who set the true benchmark of communal friendship and harmony in Awadh at the end of the 18th century itself. It is common knowledge that the mourning of Muharram is observed for two months and eight days in Lucknow. During this time, Shia Muslims wear black clothes and strictly avoid any type of celebration or music. However, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula even went out of his way to participate in Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, on one such occasion.

According to a popular anecdote, once Holi coincided with ‘Daswi Muharram’, and as the Nawab was returning after performing the traditional burial ceremony of the Tazia (miniature mausoleum), from Talkatora Karbala, he was greeted by a group of Holi revelers who were looking to put some color on it. What the Nawab did left his own courtiers dumbfounded.

It goes as follows, “The entourage of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula passed by the old Chowk Bazar, where the Hindus were busy playing holi. They asked the Nawab if they could color him. Far from scolding who whatever, the Nawab alighted from his royal cart, greeted everyone and told the Holi revelers to feel free to put the popular “gulal” (colored powder) on him.According to the story, later , when asked by his minister if it was appropriate for him to join a Holi celebration as he observed Muharrum’s mourning, he clarified that he had done nothing wrong as he had merely participated to the happiness of the people who were part of his family.

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

“It’s my passion and through it I want to carry on the rich Lakhnawi tradition,” said Himanshu, who comes from a very traditional Brahmin family.

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

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

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

Haq se you hi karte le 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 simple ghar se

18 baras baad bichhadta hu pisar se »

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