Unnao district was created in February 1856 by the British upon their annexation of Oudh State. Before then, under the Nawabs of Awadh, the area was divided between several different districts or chaklas: Purwa covered the eastern part, and to the north were Rasulabad and Safipur.
The pargana of Auras, meanwhile, was part of the chakla of Sandila, and the parganas of Baiswara were included in the chakla of the same name, whose headquarters were at Rae Bareli.
After the British takeover, the district was originally called “Purwa district” with Purwa as its headquarters. This only lasted for a very short period before the headquarters were relocated to Unnao.
In the accounts of Xuanzang
Xuanzang, the Chinese pilgrim to India, stayed at Kannauj for 3 months in 636 AD. From here he traveled a distance of about 26 km and reached the city of Nafotipokulo (Navadevakula) which stood on the eastern bank of Ganga. The city was about 5 km in circumference and had a Deva Temple, several Buddhist monasteries, and Stupas.
Navadevakula has been identified with Nawal, 18 miles southeast of Kannauj.
Rajputs in Unnao
After that period, this area’s history is almost completely obscure, with only the traditions of the later Rajput families as a source. These traditions indicate that today’s Unnao district was heavily divided between various groups: the Bhars are said to have ruled in the eastern part, while the central part was inhabited by a mix of tribes including the Lodhs, Lunias, Ahirs, Thatheras, Dhobis, and Kurmis.
The mud forts of their rulers are still pointed out, but none of them ruled over a very large area. In the north, the rulers were the Rajpasis, whose capital was the city of Ramkot (now known as Bangarmau). Finally, the area around Safipur was supposedly ruled by Brahmin rajas, with Safipur originally being called “Saipur” after one of them.
In the following centuries, the Rajputs were the main ruling class in this area. The Bais ruled in the south, the Dikshits were prevalent in the central part (their family traditions call this the “kingdom of Dikhitana”), and the north was divided between several smaller clans.
Muslim Rulers in Unnao
Muslim rule was never very strong here, and so the medieval history of the Unnao district is actually a collection of separate family traditions of the ruling Rajput clans, with no specific dates given.
The first major Muslim center in the region was Bangarmau, around the year 1300: according to tradition, one Sayyid Ala-ud-Din conquered the area from the raja of Nawal, then destroyed Nawal and built a new capital at Bangarmau. The shrine over his grave bears an inscription with the date of 702 AH (1302 CE).
The next major Muslim conquest was Safipur, said to have happened in 819 AH; a different Sayyid Ala-ud-Din was killed in battle here, and his shrine is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. His son, Baha-ud-Din, is then said to have later conquered Unnao itself from the Bisen raja of the city, disguising his soldiers as women in order to take the raja’s troops by surprise. Other Muslim outposts included Asiwan and Rasulabad.
At the time of Akbar, the entire area of the modern Unnao district was included in the sarkar of Lucknow, in Awadh Subah. It consisted of the following mahals: Unnao (called Unam in the Ain-i-Akbari), Sarosi, Harha, Bangarmau, Safipur (then called Saipur), Fatehpur-Chaurasi, Mohan, Asiwan, Jhalotar, Parsandan, Unchgaon, Sidhupur, Purwa (then called Ranbhirpur), Mauranwan, Saron or Sarwan, Kumbhi, Magrayar, Panhan, Patan, Ghatampur, and finally Asoha.
This administrative setup remained almost unaltered through the 20th century, although there were a few changes. For example, the pargana of Pariar was formed from parts of Sarosi and Safipur in 1785, and then in the 1800s the pargana of Sarosi became known as Sikandarpur instead (C.A. Elliott wrote in 1862 that it had “recently become habitual” at that time). As another example, Daundia Khera was formed out of Unchgaon and Sidhupur by Rao Mardan Singh around 1800.
Nawabs of Awadh
There are few references to this area during the later Mughal period, but they become more numerous under the Nawabs of Awadh. The Nawabs originally maintained a strong central authority over the region, with most of the local zamindars submitting to them without putting up a fight, but gradually their authority here diminished, and the local rulers became practically independent.
Under the Nawabi administrative setup, the area covered by today’s Unnao district was divided between several districts or chaklas: Purwa, Rasulabad, and Safipur were based here, while Sandila and Baiswara were based outside of the present district but included some of its territories.
Annexation By British Rule
When the British annexed Awadh in 1856, they established a new district based at Purwa, but the district headquarters were relocated to Unnao soon after.
Unnao was chosen for its central location, and the Deputy Commissioner had been posted here even during the short time when Purwa was the headquarters. At first, the new district was smaller than it is today, with only 13 Parganas.
In 1869, however, it became much larger: the 7 Parganas of Baiswara (Panhan, Patan, Bihar, Bhagwantnagar, Magrayar, Ghatampur, and Daundia Khera) were transferred into Unnao district (from Rae Bareli district), where they became part of the tehsil of Purwa. Also in 1869, the pargana of Auras-Mohan was transferred here from Lucknow district, and Mohan became the seat of a tehsil (replacing Nawabganj).
Some fighting during 1857 sepoy mutiny took place in this area. Following the mutiny, the civil administration was re-established in the district which was named district Unnao, with headquarters at Unnao. The size of the district was however small until 1869, when it assumed its present form. The same year the town of Unnao has constituted a Municipality.
Famous Personalities of Unnao
Rao Ram Bux Singh
A renowned freedom fighter hailing from Biaswara in Unnao Babu Ram Bux Singh was Daundia Khera’s talukdar who fought with the British for the country’s independence. However, his army was eventually defeated leading to his capture at Varanasi followed by hanging at Daundia Khera in December 1858.
Chandrika Bux Singh
Chandrika Bux Singh was the son of Ajit Singh; Bethar State’s Ruler and ascended the throne following his father’s premature demise. He strongly opposed the British in the First Independence struggle of 1857 which he continued even later. He together with his family was imprisoned for killing British General Murray along with his wife.
The British planned his cruel murder and sentenced him and his associates to ‘Kalapani’ by the judgment of December 28, 1859. The next day, an auction of all of his property was ordered along with the implementation of aforesaid punishment. The British killed him on December 30, 1859, en route to Kalapani.
Chandra Shekhar Azad
One of the foremost freedom fighters, Chandrashekhar Azad came from village Badarqa, which still holds his parental home. He had pledged not to let the British troops capture him alive. On 27 February 1931, the British forces surrounded him in Alfred Park in Allahabad. On realizing that escape was impossible, Azad shot himself with his pistol to keep his vow.