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The First of His Name

At its peak, the Imperial Mughals controlled twelve of the roughly sixteen provinces that made up the Indian subcontinent. This high tide of the Mughals was reached during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, who died in the year 1707. The empire had already begun to come apart in the last decade of his rule.

The collapse was rapid, with different regions following various paths of dissociation from the Mughal core. Within a decade and a half, some provincial governors became virtually independent and carved out their own estates, like Asif Jah in far-off Hyderabad, while others retained formal links but stopped paying taxes, such as the Sheikhzadas of Lucknow, closer home in Avadh. With rebellions breaking out across the sub-continent and resources stretched thin, Delhi could do little to stop it.

And so it came to be, that on 19th September 1722, the Mughal Emperor Mohammed Shah (Rangila), appointed Mir Mohammad Amin (later known as Sa’adat Ali Khan), a first-generation migrant from Persia, as the new governor of Avadh. He had recently gained prominence for quelling the Rajput and Jat rebellions in Rajasthan and then as the Subahdar of Agra, bringing order to the region around Mathura. More importantly, he was a co-conspirator in the murder of the younger Syed brother, who had been the kingmakers in Delhi since Aurangzeb’s death.

The grateful emperor awarded the title of Burhan ul Mulk to Muhammad Amin and appointed him as the new Subahdar of Avadh. He was the first in the line of the Nawabs of Avadh.

His first port of call was at Farrukhabad, to meet the experienced Mohammed Khan Bangash, who advised the incoming Nawab that the Sheikhzadas ruling Lucknow were an unruly bunch and not amenable to surrendering power, the royal decree notwithstanding. It was Bangash who further advised him to seek the help of the Sheiks of ‘Kurb’ and ‘Jawar‘ (Kasbah Kakori) near Lucknow, who were of a different mould and not particularly fond of their Lucknow brethren.

Thus, the young Muhammad Amin, taking counsel with the wise Sheikhs of ‘Kakori’, entered the city of Lucknow from the west, avoiding the garrison at Akbari gate, where the Lucknow sheikhs had gathered their forces. He crossed the Gomti at ‘Gau Ghat’ at night and silently took control of the Macchi Bahwan fort, without shedding a drop of blood.

Faced with a fait accompli, the Lucknow Sheikhzadas surrendered and were asked to vacate the city within a week.

The newly appointed nawab took residence in the medieval fort and commissioned a 'Naubatkhana,' a structure serving as both a guardhouse and a gateway, housing the esteemed royal drummers. A daily ritual unfolded where the skilled musicians, six times a day, heralded the enduring reign of the Nawabs—a tradition that persisted until the culmination of the Nawabs' rule in 1856.

Proving to be a capable administrator, he swiftly restored order in the realm. He achieved this by placating the 'Jagirdars' with reduced Jagir assessments and by firmly assuming control of the administrative apparatus, relying on the 'Amils' or court officers.

However, his focus on administrative and military affairs left no room for the opulent palace construction that would later define his successors. Instead, he chose to establish temporary encampments outside the capital in Ayodhya. It is these tented settlements that evolved over time, ultimately developing into the thriving town of Faizabad.

Burhan ul Mulk, serving the empire as Mir Atish (commander of the arsenal), consolidated his position in Avadh over nearly two decades, a province which, after an extended period of turmoil, witnessed an era of unprecedented stability.

However, the crumbling of the Mughal empire was like the ringing of a bell, heard the world over. The first to respond was Nadir Shah of Persia, who invaded the northwest in the years 1738-39. This event marks the end of medieval history and the beginning of the modern history of India.

Burhan-ul-Mulk was commanded to join Emperor Mohammed Shah’s forces at Karnal, and he complied with the royal call with 30,000 cavalry.

The details of the battle between the Persians and the Mughal forces remain a subject of historical debate, but the confrontation ultimately concluded with the surrender of the Mughal forces and the march of the invaders into Delhi.

Nadir Shah's sack of Delhi lasted for three days.

To be continued…


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