Stealthily, surreptitiously and silently, Faizabad has just walked for 301 years in the sands of time.

However, nothing is said about it though it deserved of being the first capital of Oudh Riyasat. All attentions are now being focused on its nearby Ayodhya and a bit distant Lucknow.

Ayodhya now has been catapulted into international scenarios while Lucknow retains its importance being the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

What about the lonesome Faizabad?

Mind you, much before Saadat Ali Khan, the Nawab, founded Faizabad as capital of Oudh Riyasat, it was a very important city of ancient Hindustan, being the main town falling on the route to Ayodhya.

The Hindu Sants, Sufi Pirs, Yogis, Faqirs, spiritual mendicants and pilgrims would rest in the Serais dotting this city before resuming their walk for Ayodhya. Such spiritual persons mostly included Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

After covering three centuries of its existence, Faizabad now sits silently on the past glory of the years that it saw since 1722.

Saadat Ali Khan

Though Lucknow is always in the news since its official founding as the capital of Awadh Riyasat in 1775 by Nawab Asaf-ud-Doula, the city is 53 years younger than Faizabad.

The Urdu poet laureate Mir Taqi Mir, born in 1723 in Agra only a year after the founding of Faizabad, was one of the most prominent Lucknawis living in the days of Asaf-ud-Doula.

Why did Mirza Asaf-ud-Doula shift to Lucknow from Faizabad which was crowned as Oudh’s capital in 1722 by the Riyasat’s first Nawab Saadat Ali Khan?

Was it that Asaf-ud-Doula wanted a free hand in ruling Oudh and to get away from the very rich and powerful Bahu Begum, his mother?

Asaf ud Daula

Politics of imperial or royal capital shift is always very interesting.

The British Raj shifted its capital to Delhi in 1911 as it felt a Firangi Raj could not be safe if Calcutta continued as its seat of power due to growing armed militancy by Bengalis, who were using violence as means to pack off the Gora (White Europeans) back to England from the shores of the Bay of Bengal.

In every phase of devolution of politics, rulers shifted their capital to safer places to play safe. Same thing happened to Lucknow. When the Oudh Nawab felt he was helpless before the iron-grip of Bahu Begum over Faizabad’s politics and purse, he made Lucknow his new capital in 1775.

This was the beginning of Faizabad’s fall!

It was in 1816 when the fast decline of Faizabad began, following the death of Ummat-uz-Zohra, the Bahu Begum, wife of Nawab Shuja-ud-Doula and mother of Asaf-ud-Doula.

Ummat uz-Zohra, Bahu Begum of Faizabad

Whenever we talk of Faizabad, Shuja-ud-Doula and Bahu Begum, a strange name comes before us: Chhota Calcutta Fort, or simply Fort Calcutta.

Believe me, it has no link with Calcutta!

This fort is very interesting and newsy in a sense because it is the only fort named after the then East India Company’s capital Calcutta, and this Qila was raised to mark the defeat of the Oudh Nawab in a battle.

Nawab Shuja-ud-Doula and Bahu Begum lived here till their last.

Now the issue of this strange name comes to fore. Why was Fort Calcutta named so? Perhaps, two reasons can be attributed to it.

Firstly and historically, Shuja-ud-Doula named it to mark his defeat against the British in the Battle of Buxar in 1764. Rulers usually raise a Qila or build a Darwaza in a town to mark a war victory but here a building was created to mark a defeat.

Who would do this, especially for a Nawab who was very tall with immense physical power, able to lift two healthy men in his two hands, behead a buffalo with only one chop of his sword, and a valiant warrior to boot?

Did a psychological reason, may be very personal, act as the second reason of raising Fort Calcutta?

We don’t know but it is quite possible for a person like this Nawab that he wanted to keep alive his desire to avenge the Firangis for his defeat in the Battle of Buxar, and to take all steps to stop the East India Company playing second fiddle in the affairs of Mughaliya Hindustan, particularly in the Awadh Riyasat.

May be he erected the building only to remind him repeatedly about the defeat and prepare for further campaigns against the Gora-log: the White Firangis?

Shuja ud Daula

Since he died in 1775, he might not have got the time make up his loss of getting defeated in the Battle of Baksar.

Let us now get back to the mother-son power tussle – between the Bahu Begum and her son Asaf-ud-Doula – an action-packed story indeed.

The historic tussle resulted in the supposed shift of capital of Oudh to Lucknow. This happened when Faizabad had already flourished and Lucknow had yet to attain the status of a developed Nawabi Nagri, a city of Nawabs.

Lucknow developed fast after 1775, outshining Faizabad. But Bahu Begum still made Faizabad her seat of power.

The twists and turns of this mother-son quarrel further intensified when in 1773 the Nawab became close to the British East India Company’s Nathaniel Middleton, who later became the Resident Bahadur (diplomatic chief) of Lucknow.

The Begum did not like it at all!

Launching the construction of a Residency for the British by Oudh Nawab in 1774 further embittered the Mother-Son relationship. Nawab Asaf-ud-Doula realised he could no longer tolerate intrigues in the Royal Oudh Court and power-brokering in the corridors due to the supremacy of the Bahu Begum, Ummat uz-Zohra, who had a very powerful coterie in Faizabad.

Naturally, the Nawab started sifting to Lucknow.

Bahu Begum loved Faizabad and played a dominant role in the city’s development and chiseling its architectural beauty. She kept the tradition of city beautification alive once begun by her husband Nawab Shuja-ud-Doula.

The Nawab’s time saw the rise of several beautiful Imarat or buildings one after another. The old records of East India Company say traders from far off China, Europe and Persia thronged this city.

No wonder, it was one of the most prosperous cities of Hindustan in those days. Call it a suburb of Ayodhya, Faizabad is interwoven with the establishment of Oudh Riyasat as Saadat Ali Khan, the Burhan-ul-Mulk, created his seat of power at this city in 1722 as first Nazim of Awadh.

Faizabad’s building construction and beautification was begun by the Burhan-ul-Mulk to be followed by Nawab Shuja-ud-Doula and the process was continued by Ummat uz-Zohra whilst she was alive.

In between the Burhan and the Begum, the person who played the most important role to add glory to this city was Safdar Jung, who succeeded Saadat Ali Khan as the Nawab. Probably it was Safdar Jang who named the city formally as Faizabad.

As Asaf-ud-Doula moved to Lucknow caring less about Faizabad, the town started losing its importance, though Bahu Begum left no stone unturned to allow the time to have beautiful new buildings, market places, mosques and gardens.

But Royal patronage is something else. It has more potentiality as the purse could be opened liberally to beautify the city.

Mirza Safdar Jang

If you have seen Waheeda Rahman-Guru Dutt’s one of the finest Bollywood creations Chaudvin Ka Chand, you may jolly-well remember this stanza of its title song:

Yeh Lakhnau Ki Sar Zamin
Ye Rang Roop Ka Chaman, Ye Husn-o-Isq Ka Vatan
Yeh to Vo Mukaam Hai, Jahan Avadh Ki Shaam Hai
Jawa Jawa Hansi Hasi, Yeh Lakhnau Ki Sar Zami
Yeh Lakhnau Ki Sar Zamin…

I am not a Lacnawi but the city attracts me greatly. No wonder, I like this song written by Shakeel Badayuni giving free flight to his poetic imagination and voiced effusively by Muhammad Rafi.

The lyric has “Ye Rang Roop Ka Chaman” as some of its words. Yes, when the Oudh capital was shifted from Faizabad to Lucknow, Nawab Asaf-ud-Doula did convert the new city into a Chaman or garden having its own-unique Rang-Roop: a unique look due to opulence of gardens with smiling flowers and little honeybees humming their songs.

In old Lucknow, there is a saying that still runs in the mouths of old timers:

Jis Ko Na De Moula
Usko De Asaf-ud-Doulah

This Nawab was as generous in embellishing the queen of cities Lucknow with buildings, mosques or Ibadatkhanas, gardens and Havelis, offering her a bridal look as he was in helping the poor, often without giving them a feeling of being helped.

His Nawab Wazir and Dewan Raja Tikait Rai most wonderfully had constructed the Rumi Darwaza, Asafi Imambara. It is believed that the Nawab, when a terrible famine gripped Awadh, made a plan to help the people financially that saw them through the worst of famine.

With the help of Raja Tikait Rao, Mirza Hasan Raza Khan and his finance minister Raja Jhau Lal, the Nawab launched Rifah-e-Aam or charity on a vast scale to help the needy. As part of this programme, the Nawab launched a massive construction programme in Lucknow. As a result, a large number of people: expert masons, architects and others could earn wage.

As a result of the Rifah-e-Aam, Lucknow saw several beautiful constructions spring up one by one like the Shahi Baoli, Rumi Darwaza, Badi Masjid, Sheesh Mahal and Charbagh.

This Lucknow Nawab, during that crisis phase of drought, would often fill muskmelons with coins and distribute them among the poor. The poor could know the fruit contained coins only after opening it.

He lavished funds not only to beautify the city’s public buildings but also on promoting the city’s art and culture.

No wonder, the Lacknavis still say:

Jis Ko Na De Moula
Usko De Asaf-ud-Doulah…

Rumi Darwaza, Lucknow

During the anti-Firangi Ghadar or Mutiny of local rulers of princely states of Oudh and their Sepoys, Faizabad played as much a dominant role as Lucknow.

Of course the siege of The Residency, the battles at Chinahat, Sikandar Bagh, Charbagh, Dilkusha Kothi area, Alambagh and other parts of Lucknow are a very important part of 1857 with Begum Hazrat Mahal being the main leader of the mutineers, Faizabad played no less important role in Ghadar.

There were major battles in Faizabad with the mutineers led by Maulavi Ahmadullah, one of the trusted captains of Begum Hazrat Mahal. It was this Maulavi whose sepoys forced Sir Henry Lawrence to suffer a defeat at Chinhat. If the sepoys had not staged a Kooch, march, from Faizabad to Chinhat, this victory might not have been possible.

Many people living in India perhaps don’t know that Faizabad was the city that remained free of the rule of East India Company for one year during the Sepoy Mutiny. That way, it was Oudh’s one of the liberated zones. In Lucknow, the battles in 1857 raged almost constantly but it could not technically be termed a liberated zone.

Ahmadullah, belonging to a well-known warrior family of Faizabad, kept the city free from British rule until he was murdered on June 5, 1858. He conducted his campaign from Masjid Sarai located in the Chowk area of Faizabad.

Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh

It really is a historical reality that both Faizabad and Lucknow are enmeshed in a gendered struggle. The reason? The reason is that Faizabad saw emergence of a strong feminine personality in the living form of Bahu Begum and Lucknow too witnessed how revolt against Firangi rule can manifest itself through another Begum: Hazrat Mahal, the main spirit of the Sepoy Mutiny of Oudh in 1857.

Today, Ayodhya, though lying very near to Faizabad has attained an international status. Lucknow, not too far from Faizabad, continues to offer a wonderful look, as ever. But it is not the same of Faizabad.

Is not it an interesting tale of two cities (rather three cities if Ayodhya is included)?