MEHRU JAFFER | 3 JUNE, 2019
When Hanuman Appeared in Queen Alia Begum's Dream
Heritage of Lucknow
Neend se jaagey tho dekha fiza meiin azaan ho rahii thii
ghar se nikley tho dekha mandir meiin pooja ho rahii thii
yeh tehzeeb-e-lucknow hai
yahan din meiin gharibon ke liye badey mangal ki poori
shaam meiin iftar hoti hai…
Thanks to the faith in a centuries old dream of a Queen Mother, a feasting binge has kept citizens in Lucknow united like nothing else. At least at this time of the year during jyestha, third month of the Hindu calendar, canopies come up all over the city every Tuesday.
Irrespective of caste, class, gender and religion differences devotees of Hanuman, distribute costless, and endless portions of food and water to everyone.
Combine this bingeing on the four bada mangal or big Tuesday of the month with the breaking of the fast after sunset by the Muslim population throughout the month of ramzaan and what you get to experience is a city swearing by one of the most immovable feasts to be held in any other part of this world known to us.
The 400 year old belief is that sometime in the mid 18th century Hanuman made a promise to a Shia Muslim Queen Mother in a dream that a son would be born to her. That is if she built a temple in honour of the god and devotee of Lord Ram.
The childless Queen Alia Begum was desperate to provide an heir to the throne of Avadh and to consolidate her power at court. It was a well known fact that the colonialists coveted the fertile agricultural lands of the wealthy province cradled in the heart of the Indo-Gangetic plains and ruled by her husband Shujaudaula.
If there was no heir to keep the land safe from the British, the greedy would surely take advantage of the situation, worried the Begum. On waking up it made sense to her to order the construction of a temple.
Wonder of wonders led to the find of two statues of Hanuman buried on the construction site. One of them was installed in the Purana Hanuman Mandir in Aliganj, a neighbourhood named after the Begum, and the second one was placed nearby at the Naya Hanuman Mandir built a few decades later.
Alia Begum did give birth to a son one balmy mangal or Tuesday morning in the month of jyestha. The occasion coincided with the birth of Hanuman born on a mangal on a night when the moon was full moon but in chait, the first month of the Hindu calendar.
Alia Begum called her son Manlgu after the auspicious mangal when both Hanuman and her son were born, and she participated in prayers held for Hanuman at the newly built temple on the first Tuesday of the high summer month of jyestha.
The Begum had personally supervised the building of the temple and contributed the first finery of clothing and decorations for Hanuman’s statue placed in the sanctum sanctorum.
Over time all the four Tuesdays of jyestha have become famous as bada mangal when numerous devotees flock to Lucknow to worship Hanuman between mid May and mid June. Each devotee is hopeful that Hanuman will make their dream come true. While in the city the devotees give the place of worship a festive air as makeshift shops selling colourful goods from souvenirs made of clay and plastic, to saris in chrome and synthetic material encourage visitors to celebrate love of Hanuman and of other human beings and to ignore the hate, heat and dust thrown up year after year.
“Of course there are many problems in the world, many of them impossible for individual human beings to solve. But why should I worry? I devote my life only in worship of the sankat mochan Hanuman, the destroyer of all obstacles. Hanuman knows what is best for me,” says a pilgrim who travelled from the neighbouring city of Kanpur to pray at the temple in Aliganj this year.
However most historians regret that there is not enough evidence to show that the temple that is crowned with a crescent and a star was built by a Begum.
For PC Sarkar, author of Lucknow Buildings, Begums and the British the festivities associated with the annual bada mangal are based on nothing but an urban legend that has no historical evidence.
“Once you start examining the legend with dates, chronologies, historical facts and hard logic, everything falls apart,” says Sarkar.
There is no historical figure called Mangat Rai Feroze Shah or Manglu in the records of that time. The story is best appreciated as a belief of many people, and by leaving the rational part aside.
Historically speaking the sons of Shujaudaula who succeeded him as rulers of Avadh are Asafudaula in 1775, and his half brother Saadat Ali Khan born in 1752. The mother of Asafudaula was Bahu Begum but there is no proof that Saadat was ever known as Manglu or that the name of his mother was Alia Begum.
Adity Chakravarty, heritage lover and founder Citizens for Lucknow finds the ostentatious aspects added to the festivities too filmy.
Many others add that the belting out of popular Bollywood songs in competion with modern day bhajansout of rusting loudspeakers in full volume is disturbing.
“The spirit of the festival is corrupted like the hyper glamourisation of the karva chauth rituals,” says Adity who is appalled by the mountain high litter left by devotees all over the city.
Anil Chandra who grew up in Lucknow recalls the temple being surrounded by a forest around the mid 20th century. In fact only the very devout had dared to pray at the temple surrounded by a dangerous growth of forest. Some devotess had performed penance after their wish was fulfilled and crawled to the temple irrespective of the heat. The penance called parikarma and pronounced paikarma by local peole still prevails amongst the most ardent devotees of Hanuman.
“I recall Aliganj being a wild area till 1965. We went there a few times for partridge shooting. It had a huge population of small wildlife. This is before the development of Aliganj started,” adds Anil who is astonished to know that apart from the well known Aliganj temple, hundreds of other temples devoted to Hanuman have mushroomed since, across the length and breadth of a fast expanding city.
Syed Mohammad Haider, High Court advocate and head of Lucknow’s magnificent Sibtainabad Imambara from the 19th century, likes the idea of citizens from diverse backgrounds routinely breaking bread with each other .
“This is a very humane gesture that transcends religious belief. May this unique festival, fostering the spirit of oneness amongst human beings and unity amongst us all keep us connected, always,” concludes Haider.