That Hindus and Muslims celebrate Holi together is headline news. That Muslim clerics adjust the timing of the Friday prayers in Lucknow to allow everyone to enjoy the festivities at Holi, is talk of the town today.

It was not too long ago when consideration for others was no big deal. To participate in times of joy and sorrow of the neighbor and to be sensitive towards the feeling of fellow citizens was as normal as breaking bread with each other.

However times they are a changing, it seems. So heed the call of the poet who suggests that more friends should come together to extinguish hatred in the flame of festivals like Holi.

These lines need to be recited loud from all rooftops now:

hum ko lazim hai ki nafrat ki jalaein holi, doston aao chalo aisi manaein holi.

None realized the advantage of having humanity on his side than Saadat Khan, a Persian soldier and shia Muslim employed at the Mughal court and who was sent by the emperor in Delhi to calm the very troubled region of Avadh, in 1722.

On the eve of Saadat Khan’s mission to Avadh, this part of the world was a simmering volcano of numerous big and petty chiefs, and landlords. They did not pay revenue to Delhi unless compelled to do so. They had indulged in highway robberies, making the roads in the vicinity of Lucknow unsafe.

On his way from Delhi through Agra, Saadat Khan made numerous friends who helped him to deal with dissent. The shaikhzadas of Kakori were by his side when he wrestled the city from the shaikhzadas of Lucknow. He made the ancient town of Ayodhya his seat of government. He made communal harmony a state policy. Soon the revenues of the province increased considerably. His military gains catapulted him to king maker, and founder of the dynasty of Nawabs who ruled Avadh till 1856.

Saadat Khan had reasoned with rebellious rulers and landlords from Lucknow, Gorakpur and Allahabad. In his lifetime he appointed Safdarjung a nephew and son-in-law his successor, or naib a word that over time has come to be pronounced as nawab.

The policy of Saadat Khan towards the Rajput principalities was one of reconciliation. He did not overthrow hereditary rulers but subjugated them. The stream of local traditions continued unabated and slowly an understanding percolated down among the masses that the new master would provide them safety, security and protection of their native customs and religious faith. Saadat Khan had no interest in converting people to his faith.

His friendship with native officers and the local population led to solidarity. This way Saadat Khan was able to lay the foundations of a new state of Avadh where a live and let live attitude still prevails more than in many other parts of the country.

His successor Safdarjung too was forced to spend much of his time on the battlefield. The Rohilla Afghans were his enemy. He found the Rohilas similar to serpents that had infested the road from Delhi to Avadh and back. The Marathas helped him against the Rohillas. When he was called back to Delhi, Safdarjung left Avadh in the care of his trusted friend Raja Newal Rai.

Shuja-ud-daula followed to the throne of Avadh in 1754 and his equally liberal religious rule earned him many friends. Both Lucknow and Faizabad, the twin town of Ayodhya flourished and attracted people from all over South Asia, and Europe. This way Avadh became the home of hundreds of communities from around the world inspiring Firaq Gorakhpuri to say this about all of South Asia:

sar-zameen-e-hind pe aqvaam-e-alam ke ‘firaq’ qafile baste gaiye Hindustan banta gaya.

The rulers of Avadh catapulted deserving non-Muslims to powerful positions in the important ministries of defense, finance and home. They shared a life long bond and mutual understanding with people of different communities living in the region since ancient times, and worked hard to earn the trust of the population.

For example the local people were happy that Surajkund on the banks of the Gomti continued to enjoy the status as one of the holiest of holy places in the country. Lucknow was respected as the abode of different communities of people like the Pratiharas, Bhars, Nagas and Rajputs from ancient times, and the devi temples were provided special protection by the nawabs.

Atmaram was one of the most powerful personalities in the revenue administration. He was the finance minister of the ruler and was succeeded by his son Ram Narayan, and his grandson Maha Narayan.

It was Shuja-ud-daula who started the fashion of shaving his beard. All the later nawabs and kings of Lucknow followed likewise and kept only a moustache. Soon many ordinary Muslims too got rid of their beard.

When Delhi was in decline, Avadh welcomed a break from the Mughals. The ruler of Avadh realized that his strength was the people of the region and not decrees from Delhi. The consolidation of administration in the heartland by the rulers had provided the landed interests security. Now they had the time to concentrate on agricultural activities and to indulge in healthy trade and commerce.

Friendship fostered amongst different human beings promised long periods of peace, leading to greater fortune. Much prosperity was granted to the region because the rulers were confident of support from a fairly united inclusive society that made them wealthier and more powerful. During the reign of Asaf-ud-daula many Hindu temples were built in Lucknow including the Hanuman Temple by Lala Jatmal. When Raja Tikait Rai was the diwan he built a tank beside the Shitla Devi temple and a number of Jain temples came up around the city.

Asaf-ud-daula also built beautiful baradaris. The baradari was scattered all over the many gardens in the city. The building is invariably framed with three mehrabs or arched entrances on all four sides, totaling twelve ways to enter it. The shia Muslim equate the 12 entrances to the 12 Imams, or leaders they revere. Since the ancient rulers of Ayodhya were from the suryavansh or sun dynasty the Hindu equates the 12 entrances into the baradari with the passing of the sun through the 12 signs of the zodiac. That is why the open, airy and single storeyed baradari is beloved of all citizens and is used by the public for cultural activities as well.

Asaf-ud-daula did not discriminate against human beings belonging to a different community or religion than his own. He favoured talent. His favourite attendant was Bhawani Mahra. He allowed his palanquin bearers to attend court and he had participated joyously in festivals like Holi, Basant, Shravan and Muharram, a tradition practiced to this day in the city.

The rulers of Avadh were inflicted with various vices as well, but sectarianism and encouraging communal violence was not one of them. The policy of the nawabs of Awadh was to unite and rule. This is in sharp contrast to the short-term gain of policies of divide and rule, practiced in the past by European colonialists and now by a section of present day politicians.

Wrote Wajid Ali Shah, the poet and last king of Avadh in mid 19th century that the likes of him are devotees of love, unaware of religion and unable to see the difference between kaaba and the temple:

hum ishq ke bande haiin mazhab se nahin vaqif, gar kaaba hua to kya butkhana hua to kya.