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History & Politics
The thousands of mourners who lined Wajid Ali Shahs funeral route on 21 September, 1887, with their loud wailing and shouted prayers, were not only marking the passing of the last king but also the passing of an intangible connection to old India, before the Europeans came.
This is the story of a man whose memory continues to divide opinion today. Was Wajid Ali Shah, as the British believed, a debauched ruler who spent his time with fiddlers, eunuchs and fairies, when he should have been running his kingdom? Or as a few Indians remember him, a talented poet whose songs are still sung today and who was robbed of his throne by the English East India Company?
Somewhere between these two extremes lies a gifted, but difficult, character, a man who married more women than there are days in the year, who directed theatrical extravaganzas that took over a month to perform and who built a fairytale palace in Lucknow, which was inhabited for less than a decade. He remained a constant thorn in the side of the ruling British government with his extravagance, his menagerie and his wives. Even so, there was something rather heroic about a man who refused to bow to changing times and who single-handedly endeavored to preserve the etiquette and customs of the great Mughals well into the period of the British Raj.
Indias last king Wajid Ali Shah was written out of the history books when Awadh was annexed by the Company in February 1856. After long years of painstaking research, noted historian Rosie Llewellyn-Jones revives his memory and returns him his rightful place as one of Indias last great rulers.
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About the Author
Rosie Llewellyn-Jones is an author and historian, who is also Honorary Secretary of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA). With a first class honors degree in Urdu and Hindi, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, for a Ph.D award in 1980 on colonial architecture in India. She has several publications to her credit including A Fatal Friendship- the Nawabs, the British and the City of Lucknow, Engaging Scoundrels - True tales of old Lucknow, The great uprising in India 1857-58 - Untold stories, Indian and British, Portraits in princely India 1700 - 1947 and is a regular contributor to History Today.