In the 17th century, the English devised a rich and powerful kingdom, that of Oudh, around the lavish and marvellous capital of Lucknow, to counterbalance power relations, however weakened they had become, in the Great Moghol in Delhi.
In the middle of the 19th century, the sovereign of Oudh was Wajid Ali Shah. He was a first-class musician and dancer. These were of course sacred dances, which he performed in front of swooning crowds. Wajid Ali Shah was infinitely popular but the English had declared that he was a perverted, decadent and lazy man who lived too extravagantly.
It was a strategist to Lord Dalhousie, the English Governor of India, who did not hesitate to come up with the worst of lies in order to expand the British Empire.
Accused of sins he had never committed, Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned and sent into exile in Calcutta. The kingdom of Oudh was annexed by England.
Wajid Ali Shah resigned himself to his sad fate, but his wife did not – not the wife that he liked the most, but the one who had the most personality out of all the wives, the Begum Hazrat Mahal.The Begum was particularly determined and audacious.
She maintained a romantic liaison with a religious Muslim, who went by the name of Maulvi of Faizabad, for many years. It was rumoured that even the King of Oudh’s son was not Wajid Ali Shah’s, but Maulvi’s.
Since the Maulvi supported and encouraged the Begum, she decided to resist the English. The opportunity arose when the Great Rebellion of 1857 broke out. She led the rebels.
Wajid Ali Shah had remained so popular that the people supported the Begum without any hesitation.
It is the only place in India where all the social classes supported the mutiny. The untouchables, the prostitutes – everyone joined forces to fight the English.
The English won. They took over the city, pillaged it from top to bottom. The city was so rich that one could find emeralds lying around in the streets, which the English – their pockets overflowing with treasures – had left behind like litter.The Begum managed to escape to Nepal and won over the hospitality of the local maharajah by offering him a magnificent diamond rose. As for the Maulvi, he escaped, found a hiding place, was denounced, found again and hanged.