The history of Lucknow can be traced back to the ancient times of the Suryavanshi Dynasty. It is said that the foundation of this ancient city was laid by Lakshmana, the brother of Lord Rama. This was near the Gomti River on an elevated piece of land and called Lakshmanpur.
Lucknow in Medieval Period
From 1394 to 1478, Awadh was part of the Sharqi Sultanate of Jaunpur. Around 1555, Emperor Humayun made it a part of the Mughal Empire. Emperor Jahangir (1569–1627) granted an estate in Awadh to a favored nobleman, Sheikh Abdul Rahim, who later built Machchi Bhawan on this estate. Later, the Sheikhzadas, his descendants, became the seat of power for controlling the region.
Nawabs of Lucknow
The Nawabs of Lucknow or the Nawabs of Awadh got the name after the reign of the third Nawab when Lucknow became their capital. The city became North India’s cultural capital. Its nawabs were best recognized for their elegant and lavish lifestyles. They were patrons of the arts.
Music and Dance flourished under their control and the construction of numerous monuments took place. The Bara Imambara, the Chota Imambara, and the Rumi Darwaza are notable examples of monuments made during this period. One of the Nawab’s lasting legacies is the region’s syncretic Hindu–Muslim culture that has come to be known as the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.
Until 1719, the subah of Awadh was a province of the Mughal Empire controlled by a governor appointed by the emperor. In 1722, Persian adventurer Saadat Khan, also known as Burhan-ul-Mulk, was appointed Nizam of Awadh and established his court in Faizabad, near Lucknow.
Many independent kingdoms were established as the Mughal Empire disintegrated.
Shuja-ud-Daula (r. 1753–1775), the third Nawab, fell out with the British after helping the criminal Nawab of Bengal, Mir Qasim. He was forced to pay heavy penalties and surrender parts of his territory after he was defeated at the Battle of Buxar by the East India Company.
Awadh’s capital, Lucknow rose to prominence when Asaf-ud-Daula, the fourth Nawab, shifted his court to the city from Faizabad in 1775. The British East India Company appointed a resident (ambassador) in 1773 and by the early 19th century gained control of more territory and authority in the state.
In 1798, the fifth Nawab Wazir Ali Khan divided both his people and the British and was forced to resign. The British then helped Saadat Ali Khan take the throne. He became a puppet king. In a treaty of 1801, he allowed a large part of Awadh to the East India Company while also allowing him to leave his troops in favor of a hugely valuable, British-controlled army.
This treaty finally made the state of Awadh a servant of the East India Company, although it remained to be part of the Mughal Empire in name until 1819.
The treaty of 1801 proved a profitable arrangement for the East India Company as they gained access to Awadh’s vast treasuries, regularly digging into them for loans at reduced rates.
In addition, the revenues from running Awadh’s armed forces brought them useful returns while the territory acted as a buffer state. The Nawabs were ceremonial kings, busy with pomp and show. By the mid-nineteenth century, the British had grown impatient with the arrangement and asked for direct control over Awadh.
Lucknow under British Control
Indian Rebellion of 1857
The East India Company first moved its troops to the border in 1856, then annexed the state for the alleged disorder. Awadh was placed under a chief commissioner – Sir Henry Lawrence. Wajid Ali Shah, the then Nawab, was held, then exiled by the East India Company to Calcutta.
In the subsequent Indian Rebellion of 1857, his 14-year-old son Birjis Qadra, whose mother was Begum Hazrat Mahal, was crowned ruler. Following the rebellion’s defeat, Begum Hazrat Mahal and other rebel leaders sought shelter in Nepal.
In the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Lucknow was one of the major centers and actively engaged in India’s independence movement, appearing as a strategically important North Indian city. During the Rebellion, the majority of the East India Company’s troops were recruited from both the people and nobility of Awadh. The rebels took control of the state, and it took the British 18 months to reconquer the region. During that period, the army based at the Residency in Lucknow was attacked by rebel forces during the Siege of Lucknow.
The siege was removed first by forces under the command of Sir Henry Havelock and Sir James Outram, followed by a stronger force under Sir Colin Campbell. Today, the ruins of the Residency and the Shaheed Smarak offer an insight into Lucknow’s role in the events of 1857.
With the rebellion over, Oudh returned to British governance under a chief commissioner.
Changes by Britishers in Lucknow
In 1877 the offices of lieutenant-governor of the North-Western Provinces and chief commissioner of Oudh were combined. In 1902, the title of chief commissioner was left with the formation of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, although Oudh still held some marks of its former independence.
The Khilafat Movement had an existing base of support in Lucknow, building united opposition to British rule. In 1901, after remaining the capital of Oudh since 1775, Lucknow, with a population of 264,049, was merged into the newly formed United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
In 1920 the provincial seat of government moved from Allahabad to Lucknow. Upon Indian independence in 1947, the United Provinces were reorganized into the state of Uttar Pradesh, and Lucknow remained its capital.