It was at the court of Lucknow, above all others, that the late Mughal civilization reached the zenith of its splendour and sophistication. Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture describes the culture and way of life of the people of Lucknow during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Long recognized as the most authentic and circumstantial account of its subjects, this book, while invaluable for students and teachers of Indian history, literature, and culture, will engage general readers interested in learning more about Lucknow and its rich cultural heritage.
Abdul Halim Sharar (1860-1926) is regarded as a pioneer of the modern Urdu novel. A historian and an essayist, he had profound knowledge of Arabic, Urdu, and Persian literatures and Islamic theology.
Colonel E.S. Harcourt served in the British Indian Army, and lived for many years in Lucknow. After his Army career he taught Urdu and Persian at Oxford University. Fakhir Hussain, born and brought up in Lucknow, holds a PhD from the University of London, and a further Doctorate from the Sorbonne.
Like all civilizations, the Indo-Mughal was grounded in a powerful set of ideas related to a specific social context. These ideas, expressed in institutions, ceremonies, ritual and language, underlined a markedly class-based society that, however unrepresentative and elitist, was in itself cohesive and harmonious. But inevitably, such a civilization could not remain static. New forces emerged, old ideas were challenged and the framework of the established order was disturbed. It is on this period of Indo-Muslim civilization, at its zenith which was also its last phase, when its centre was transferred from Delhi to Lucknow, that the present work concentrates. In Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, the essayist, historian and novelist Abdul Halim Sharar (1860-1926), himself a native of Lucknow, describes in detail many aspects of this civilization and particularly its more tangible manifestations in everyday life. In effect, he also deals with the religious, political and socio-economic patterns on which it was based, and the power of those ideas which provided its vitality. Whatever aspects he is dealing with, he makes the importance of the underlying ideas very clear. When they were powerful, so was the society embodying them ; when they declined, so also did the society, though of course there were many other contributory factors.
The Indo-Mughal civilization developed during the long reign of the Mughal Emperors. These Mongol-Turks, who originally came from Central Asia, established themselves in 1526/7 in parts of north India and later expanded their empire in the sub-continent. Their rule effectively lasted until the middle of the eighteenth century, though it nominally continued until 1857. It is generally agreed that it reached its peak during the reign of Akbar 556-1605)," and started to show signs of decay during the rule of Aurangzeb (1658-1707)." Thereafter, military and political strife became rampant in the capital as well as in other parts of the empire. The ensuing turmoil was brought about by the rapid rise and fall of many rulers in Delhi and those parts of the empire that had become independent. The chaos was quickly exploited by invaders from the north-east and political unrest did not end until the British gradually began to intervene. They became de facto rulers of Bengal in 1764. It took them another century, however, to establish themselves throughout the sub-continent.
The Mughals were the last group of invading Muslims who brought with them to India their own distinctive religious ideas, Islamic customs and social institutions. The contact of Islam with India had begun long before the Mughals' arrival, and Muslims had even established themselves as kings in parts of north India before 1526/7: consequently the Mughals' impact was far more profound than that of their predecessors. In part this was due to the longevity of their dynasty. But more particularly it was due to the new social style, religious spirit and system of administration which they introduced. However, the new home of the Mughals also had a civilization of its own, which was later to have important repercussions.
The Indus Valley civilization, as it is known today, existed in parts of the north-west of India in the third millennium before Christ. These people were invaded by the Aryans, who are presumed to have come from southern Russia. They conquered the non-Aryans, fought among themselves, looked after their cattle and organized pastoral life in villages. 'It was they who gave us the gift of the Sanskrit language, the horse and a religion' (Gokhale, p. 21).
Indeed, the all-embracing influence of the Aryans still survives, since the Rig Veda, the book of their religious beliefs concerning the thirty-three Gods and ritual practices, remains the most holy scripture in India up to the present day. This survived from one generation to the next through oral tradition, and there later developed from it the texts known as Brahmanas," which concern the correct performance of rituals. By 1500 Bc the Aryans had extended their rule to the present region of Delhi. Their civilization seems to have reached its high-point with the legends of their wars and high-minded warriors which became the subject of the national epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. From the Aryan sense of values evolved a pattern of social organization having a strict code of behaviour, with ideas of moral and physical courage at its centre.
Aryan values dominated India almost totally until the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries when the Muslims became dominant in the north of India. Even after their arrival, however, these values remained supreme for the non-Muslims and are still important today.
The source of this value system was the religious spirit formalized in the Rig Veda: polytheism and incipient monotheism with leanings towards pantheism, and a constant concern for correct ritual. This gave rise to the study and development of the books of revelation, the four Vedas,'" the Upanishads, explaining the doctrines of Brahman, Karma and Atmanócreation and re-birth in the process of life and deathóas well as a body of literature which elucidated these doctrines, such as the Sastras and the law codes of Manu. In addition, there was the Bhagavad-Gita dealing with the manifold aspects of religion in relation to the complexities of everyday life, and also the literature propounding the Buddhist and Jain view-points. From these major sources Hindu philosophy developed over the course of centuries. Since most of this literature was in Sanskrit, the language flourished, both as the vehicle of intellectual discourse and because of its rich literary merit. In society at large, therefore, a respect for education and learning developed which culminated in the rise of universities such as Nalanda (near Patna) between 415 and 456. Religious sentiment found new forms of expression in temple architecture, sculpture and painting, characteristically to be seen in such outstanding achievements as the rock temple of Ellora, the wall paintings of Ajanta and the carved lions at Sarnath, which have now been adopted by the Republic as the government seal. To attain self-realization an individual had to follow dharma, duty of wisdom in action, which in turn was subdivided into artha, economic duty, kama, the duty of the preservation of the race, and moksa, the duty towards the self. These duties were related to the four stages of an individual's life."' The underlying idea was that life is a preparation for salvationóa notion that was further developed by Buddhism. The last message of Gautama the Buddha (d. 483 or 543 BO was: 'Decay is inherent in all component things, work out your salvation with diligence.'
Social organization was based on the notion of 'caste'. By virtue of birth people became members of a fixed social group, their caste determining both their occupation and their choice of marriage-partners. There were four castes which ranked in hierarchical order. Among Aryans, the Brahman, teacher and preacher of the sacred lore, was at the top, followed by Kshatriya, the soldier administrator, and Vaisya, the farmer artisan. The non-Aryan Sudra was assigned the task of serving the higher castes through menial work. This system was opposed by the Buddhists and Jains. They strongly attacked the caste systemóan opposition which was revived in recent times by Gandhi who also attempted to integrate the lowest caste into the general social order. (Today, of course, it is a criminal offence in India to discriminate on grounds of caste.) But Indians with this background experienced a long-drawn-out encounter, beginning in the early thirteenth century, with another group which had a different religion, set of beliefs and social institutionsóthe Muslims.
`There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.' With this message, Muhammad (born about 571) began to call the faithful. His aim was to restore and complete through his religion, Islam (which means 'I submit to the will of God'), the religion of Abraham. This was at a time when people in the land of Abraham had lapsed into polytheism and Christianity. Having consolidated his position in Mecca and Medina through converts and peace treaties with the Jewish and Christian tribal leaders, Muhammad planned to take the message of Islam into neighbouring lands. At the time of his death in 632, the Arabs had found a superior faith and morality.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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