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A Map of the Kingdom of Oudh

A Map of the Kingdom of Oudh

The region which was once Oudh is a fertile portion of Northern India located in the contemporary province of Uttar Pradesh. The name is an anglicisation of the name “Awadh” which in turn is derived from the older name “Ayodhya,” the quasi-mythical capital city of Lord Rama (eponymous hero of the Ramayana).   During the age of the Mughals, Awadh was an important province run by different Nawabs (governors) on behalf of the Mughal emperor. In the 18th century, the authority of the Mughals waned and the position of Nawab became a hereditary feudal one.  The Nawabs of Awadh were a Persian Shia Muslim dynasty from Nishapur and they were renowned for their wealth and culture, however their (real) power was short-lived. In the latter half of the 18th century, the East India Company manipulated Oudh into serving as a buffer state against the Mughals and a de-facto treasury for their projects and adventures in northern India.

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh (Robert Home, ca. 1819, oil on canvas)

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh (Robert Home, ca. 1819, oil on canvas)

In 1819 the East India Company granted the Nawabs of Oudh permission to rule as independent kings. Anyone interested in power should immediately be able to spot the problem with that sentence: real authority was in the hands of the East India Company. However the delighted new king had a royal crown created for himself (designed by a British artist, Robert Home who painted portraits in the various courts of India). Here then is the crown of Oudh. Although it was a real object made of actual gold and jewels (unlike say, the Dutch crown, made of foil and fish paste) the crown of Oudh was a British stage prop meant to further disconnect Oudh from the last of the Mughals. By 1856, these theatrical machinations became too much for the British, and they dispensed with the Nawabs in order to rule the region directly.  Yet the stagecraft of politics are a funny business—by annexing Oudh outright instead of running it through decadent puppet kings, the British precipitated the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (A.K.A. the First Indian War of Independence).

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Crown of Bahadur Shah II (circa 1825-50)

Crown of Bahadur Shah II (circa 1825-50)

Here is the crown of Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor who lived from 1775 – 1862. The Mughals were the most powerful Indian dynasty since the (quasi-mythical) empire of Ashoka the Great and they ruled over almost the entirety of the subcontinent for three centuries, however the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century were a bad time for them and their empire had blown apart into feuding principalities (and the remainder of Mughal lands was truly run by the East India Company).

Bahadur Shah II (August Schoefft, ca. 1854, oil on canvas)

Bahadur Shah II (August Schoefft, ca. 1854, oil on canvas)

Bahadur Shah II was an apt poet, calligrapher, and artist, however he was poor emperor. His father Akbar Shah II had preferred that a more warlike younger son, Mirza Jahangir, should take the throne, but the East Indian Company exiled bellicose prince so that Bahadur Shah II became Emperor in 1837.

The Red Fort in Delhi India

The Red Fort in Delhi India

Although Bahadur truly only ruled the Red Fort—the Mughal palace in Dehli, he was chosen as the nominal head of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 which had started as a mutiny by sepys (Indian troops fighting for the British) but grew into a powerful rebellion to throw the East India Company out of power in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi.  The rebellion did succeed in getting rid of the East India Company which was dissolved in 1858.  The British army crushed the revolt and turned authority over India directly to the British crown. After the emperor and his sons were captured, a British calvalry captain named Hodson had Bahadar Shah II’s sons beheaded and then presented the severed heads to the emperor as a mocking Nowrūz day gift.  Upon being presented with this ghastly present, the emperor famously and nonsensically said, “Praise be to Allah, that descendents of Timur always come in front of their fathers in this way.” He was then exiled to Rangoon and the Mughal dynasty was extinguished.  His emerald and gold crown today belongs to the Queen of England who keeps it in her royal collection.

Capture of the King of Delhi by Captain Hodson (steel engraving)

Capture of the King of Delhi by Captain Hodson (steel engraving)

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