Stand in the middle of Hazratganj in Lucknow today, go back more than 200 years to 1810 and you will find yourself in a town called Munnawar Baksh, named after Munnawar Kothi, one of the many European-style kothis that were used to entertain the Nawabs’ Western visitors. It was from here that the story of Hazratganj, really began.
But it is really the enterprising early Nawabs of Awadh that laid the foundations of these buildings and marketplaces that morphed into the uber-swanky shopping mecca of current-day Hazratganj.
The enterprising early Nawabs laid the foundation of modern-day Hazratganj
Saadat Ali Khan II was made the fifth Nawab of Awadh on 21st January 1798 at a grand darbar held at Bibiyapur Palace. During his time, he turned an enthusiastic builder and commissioned many exquisite buildings, including the Dilkusha Kothi Palace, the Hayat Baksh Kothi, his residential palace the Farhat Baksh and the famed Lal Baradari, which was witness to his successor, Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar’s coronation.
According to historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, sometime before his accession, Saadat Ali Khan had escaped to Kolkata during a period of legal troubles, and fell in love with the beautiful mansions that lined its famous Chowringhee neighbourhood, so he decided to build a mini-Chowringhee in Lucknow.
Hazratganj’s architecture is inspired by Chowringhee neighbourhood in Kolkata
One of the main buildings he constructed was the Dilkusha Kothi palace, built in the English Baroque style, abandoning the Mughal style by adopting European innovations in architecture, due to his admiration for the building art of Chowringhee.
Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider ascended the throne in 1827. He presided over a very colorful court and led a flamboyant life, leaving the administration to more able hands, as he pursued a life of debauched extravagance.
The development of Munnawar Baksh into a centre of commerce was largely due to his enterprise, when he laid the foundation of the ‘Ganj’ or marketplace, the same year.
The USP of this ‘ganj’ was that it stocked wares from China, Japan and Belgium
The USP of this ‘ganj’ was that it stocked wares from China, Japan and Belgium, to cater to the finer tastes of the Nawabs. Nawab Haider founded the China Bazaar and Kaptaan Bazaar, in keeping with his fondness for all things foreign, and also the general shopping itinerary befitting a Nawab. In 1837, however, he was poisoned to death by his own loyalists.
In May 1842, the market town was baptized as Hazratganj, to enable then Nawab Amjad Ali Shah, popularly known as ‘Hazrat’, to mark his imprint in the area’s history. Later Nawabs followed suit, with Wajid Ali Shah, a known connoisseur of high culture, constructing an imambara to honor his father’s legacy.
The British remodelled Hazratganj along the lines of London’s Queen Street
Having successfully suppressed the rebellion of 1857, marching down the main Hazratganj road, the British rolled into town and looking at the marvellous architecture lining the area, decided it wasn’t ‘British’ enough. Blueprints were laid, foremen installed, and the ornate Mughal architecture of the Nawabs gave way to a pre-fab London’s Queen Street to appease the new British masters.
Ring Theatre took over as the Hub of ‘British-only’ entertainment and would later take on a more significant role in India’s galvanising fight for freedom, as the special court for the hearing of the Kakori Conspiracy case. It is today the city’s General Post Office (GPO). The Indian Coffee House which came up during the war years (1914-1918) was packed to the gills with the reformed nationalistic Indian and stood in stark contrast to British exclusionism.
Ring Theatre was the setting of the Kakori Conspiracy trial
As the years decayed, so did these landmarks. The old kothis were gentrified into sedate seats of local government.
Hazratganj received a makeover in 2010 to celebrate its bicentennial and it was a long time coming for sure. Buildings were painted with the same uniformity; stone pavements, vintage street lamps and Victorian-style balustrades were constructed to remind the locals of Hazratganj’s storied past as a glitzy entertainment hub.
As the glitz persists, Lucknowis laying about and indulging in a little bit of retail therapy in Hazratganj today often refer to the experience as ‘Ganjing.’
We think it’s time to broaden the meaning of the term.
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