Monday, February 20, 2017

An arch witness to power stuggle at Madras - 200 years ago

Published in The Hindu - Friday Review, dated 17-02-2017 Madras was in the eye of a power storm, 200 years ago An ailing or aged ruler triggering a political crisis is not something new in Indian history, but what is interesting about the recent drama that unfolded in Chennai has its parallels to a power struggle that Madras was witness to a little more than 200 years ago. The drama then too had an ailing ruler, various aspirants including a ‘sister’ scheming to take over power upon his death, and a Governor keenly assessing the situation.
The only visible token of the dramatic events that unfolded in 1801 when Umdatu’l-Umara, the Nawab of Arcot, died, is a nondescript arch with the name ‘Azeempet’ chiselled on it, that still stands on Chennai’s Triplicane High Road, a few yards away from the Walajah Mosque. It is a reminder of sibling love that turned bitter and ultimately led to the dramatic fall of the House of Arcot, paving the way for the East India Company to establish itself firmly in the saddle and change the course of Indian history. Old timers remember this arch as the gateway, ‘Kaman-Darwaza,’ to the palace of Sultanu’n-nisa Begam, the daughter of Nawab Muhammad Ali Walajah and sister to Nawab Umdatu’l-Umara. Nawab Umdatu’l-Umara, who succeeded Muhammad Ali Walajah upon the latter’s death in 1795, was very fond of his sisters, especially his senior sister (meaning the eldest of his younger sisters) Sultanun’n-nisa, also known as Buddi Begum. Sultanu’n-nisa was equally fond of her brother so much so that, out of concern for his safety, and to ward off evil, she used to send everyday a rupee coin to the Nawab, which he would dutifully tie it on his upper arm.The Nawab very often spent his evenings at the palace of his senior sister, listening to musicians, watching a dance recital or just having dinner. He had a room in her house, where the Nawab met with his officers and others. It was widely believed that Sultanu’n-nisa was the actual power behind the throne. Somewhere down the line, Sultanu’n-nisa had assumed that her son Raisul Umara would succeed her brother to the throne. But she was not the only one eyeing the throne, as the Nawab himself would lament - “I intend my son for the throne; Sayful Mulk (the Nawab’s younger brother) intends that the throne is for him; my senior sister has in mind that her son is meant for the throne after me; and the firangs (foreigners – the East India Company) are waiting for their opportunity. But it shall be as the Supreme Ruler wills.” The Nawab wrote a will on his deathbed, making his son Tajul Umara his successor, a move that enraged his sister, who felt betrayed. It was an opportunity too good to miss for the firangs, who were looking for an excuse to take over the Carnatic entirely.The English used the simmering anger of Sultanu’n-nisa and spread the rumour that a coup against the Nawab was in the offing. With the connivance of Nawab’s Diwan, Col. Barret, they surrounded the ailing Nawab with the Company’s troops. When Nawab Umdatu’l-Umara died in 1801, a bitter Sultanu’n-nisa would not forgive her brother. She refused to let the coffin pass through the Kaman-Darwaza. It had to be left the whole night with guards in a hall opposite the arch. After failing to persuade his aunt to let the coffin through, Tajul Umara, son of the deceased Nawab, decided to break the wall behind Nusrat-mahall and send the coffin to Trichy, to be buried next to the tomb of his grandfather Nawab Walajah. This power struggle enabled Governor Edward Clive to make a man of Company’s choice as the next Nawab, a man who was willing to sign away the Kingdom, which the young Tajul Umara, the rightful successor, refused to do. Umara’s cousin Azim-Ud-Daula was anointed as the next Nawab. Tajul Umara died within a few months. Sultanu’n-nisa and her son left for a Hajj pilgrimage and chose to settle down in the holy city of Karbala in Iraq, where she eventually died. Two hundred years later, the arch still stands, a mute witness to the bitter power struggle that not just led to the tragic fall of the House of Arcot but a drastic change in power equation that would take more than century for India to recover from.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Deccan Herald
Peek into history
Landmarks (Clockwise from top left) Chepauk Palace; Wajallah Mosque; Plaque found on palace gates; Amir Mahal. Photos by Lakshmi Sharath
Heritage Think Carnatic and what plays in your mind is divine classical music. Aside from the ragas and thalam, the term Carnatic can also refer to a region in South India which was once known to be a hot seat of power amongst the Mughals, Marathas, and even the British and French. Soon, the region came to be associated with the Nawabs of Arcot. 

This dynasty began with a siege between the Mughals and Marathas in the 17th century, and survived for 200 years after. 

The royal house still stands erect today, with the present prince, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali maintaining its age-old traditions. While Arcot may have been their seat of power, their home remains in Madras, or Chennai, as we know it today.

My trip to the royal house of Arcot began on a wet Saturday morning in Chennai, when I went on a Wallajah trail along with noted documentary film maker, Kombai S Anwar. The skies were covered with a thick layer of rain clouds waiting to drench the wind-swept city. The seas were choppy and the Marina looked vacant and washed out. As we walked towards the Chepauk Palace, Anwar traced out the history of the dynasty. 

Towards the end of 17th century, the Marathas were trying to establish their base in the south. Aurangazeb, the Mughal emperor, sent Zulfikar Khan, an army general, to Arcot to contain the Marathas. “The siege was supposed to get over in a few months, but it was prolonged for over six years,” said Anwar, adding, “it is possible that Zulfikar Khan was actually in collusion with the Marathas.”

Continuing with his narration, Anwar informed me that a local chieftain, Yachamma Nayak, wrote a note to Aurangazeb stating, “Your man was fooling you. If I was given the responsibility, I would defeat them in a week’s time.” The letter, however, was intercepted. Zulfikhar Khan invited the chieftain over for a meeting and without revealing his knowledge of the letter, killed him. 

“He made it look like an accident, by cutting off the ropes of the tent when the chieftain walked in,” said Anwar. The story, however, did not end here. Aurangazeb apparently did get to know about the incident after the siege was over and asked Zulfikar Khan to let the young successor of the chieftain ascend his rightful throne. 

The story, in many ways, is the beginning of the House of Arcot. Zulfikar Khan was appointed by Aurangazeb as a Nawab of Carnatic, and is officially recognised today as the first ruler of the dynasty. “Over six years, the camp slowly developed into a town and the successors eventually made Arcot their capital,” said Anwar.

The dynasty expanded despite the strong hold that the British East India company had over Madras, from Fort St George. The Nawabs and the British seemed to share a strange friendship, often mutually beneficial to each other. “The story goes that the British used to supply expensive liquor and gifts to Nawab Daud Khan Panni. Often in a state of inebriation, he gave away villages to the British in return! At times, when he was sober, he would demand them back,” said Anwar. 

However, his successor, Saadatullah Khan or Mohammad Saiyid, showed more caution, and preferred to contain the British. He built a fort in Kovalam, in the outskirts of Chennai, and invited several merchants, including the Armenian and Belgian East India Company. Anwar explained that as these were revenue states, they needed the money to fund wars and welfare schemes. Hence, trade came of importance. Saadutullah Khan also established Saidabad, known today as Saidapet. If you were to walk around the locality today, you would find a mosque named after him, right in the heart of the town.

Anwar continued with a bit of history, as we admired the Indo Sarcenic style of the Chepauk Palace. Internal feuds in the royal house took a bloody turn as the British and the French took sides in the war for succession. Robert Clive and Dupleix clashed in these Wars of Carnatic, but eventually, the British succeeded and the most important ruler of the dynasty, Mohammad Ali Wallajah, commonly known as Wallajah, came to the throne. 
“Wallajah prefered to move to Madras and stay closer to the British.

His wish for a palace in Fort St George was granted eventually by the local governors, but the directors in Britain developed cold feet,” explained Anwar. However, there is still a Palace Street in Fort St George. Finally, the area around modern day Chepauk was offered to them and a palace was built for them. Even today, one can see parts of the palace such as Kalas Mahal and Humayan Mahal where the darbar was held. 

Our next stop on the trail was the 18th century mosque built by Wallajah in Triplicane, Chennai. Being my first entry into a mosque, my initial observation was that of a natural pond that seemed to have formed in the front. As we explored the mosque, the second one to have been built in the city, we found ourselves detaching from the urban strappings and chaos of the city.

We examined the dargah of Bahrul Uloom, a highly revered scholar invited by Wallajah to teach in his madrasa, placed adjacent to the mosque. “Wallajah personally carried the palanquin of the scholar when he entered the city,” said Anwar, drawing our attention to the chronogram in the centre of the shrine, right above the Mihrab. ”One can gather Wallajah’s secular approach to life from the fact that the chronogram he had selected for the dargah was written by his Hindu Munshi, Makan lal Khirad,“ he added.� 

The trail led us to the heart of Mylapore, where Anwar pointed out to us the tank of Kapaleeshwar Temple and explained that it had been gifted by the Nawabs of Arcot. In fact, the tank is used by Muslims even today. Wallajah himself was connected to Mylapore in many ways. Wallajah wanted to be buried in Meccan or Trichy, where another sufi saint’s, Nather Wali, dargah is located. However, he was temporarily buried in the dargah of renowned scholar, Dastageer Sahib, in Mylapore. 

�We finally landed at the last point in our trail — Amir Mahal, a sprawling mansion in the middle of the city, and home to the current Prince of Arcot. After the death of the last nawab in 1855, the house was heavily in debt. The British eventually confiscated the palace and other properties and moved the nawab’s successors to Shaadi Mahal. “Eventually, the Crown recognised the house as that of Amir I Arcot or Prince of Arcot and they shifted back to Amir Mahal,” said Anwar. 

The charm of the house still rests with its artistic and cultural legacy. Aside from the monuments, one can lose themselves in the library built by the nawabs, which stocks books gifted by previous governors of Bengal and kings of Egypt. 

As if he were reliving a past life, Anwar shared a description of Triplicane, drenched in the tunes of courtesans, which mingled with a few Hindustani lyrics sung from a nearby street, Ghanabad. “There is also a story of Nawab Saadutullah Khan and his noblemen conducting an improptu mushaira in a church located near St Thomas Mount,” said Anwar. Relishing in these titbits of rich cultural heritage, and reflecting upon a forgotten secular past, we made our way back to Marina Beach.Go to TopAustria's Marcel Hirscher, center, winner of a men's World Cup giant slalom race, poses...Punjabi Singer Sippy Gill and Actress Rhianna Dhillon during the shoot of his music album...A woman embracing her son during the pipping ceremony after passing out parade of army at Jammu...A man dressed as Hindu god Lord Shiva takes part in a religious procession ahead...Farmers of Sultanpur near Hajipur demonstrate after refusing to reap their standing wheat crops...Tibetans hold candles and posters during a candle light vigil to show solidarity with the...Flamingo birds at Sewree in Mumbai on Saturday...Cape Canaveral Air Force Station: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral...Bollywood actors Alia Bhatt, Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra at the press conference to promote...BSF women take oath during a passing out parade at Kharka Camp in Hoshiarpur...
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Peek into history - Deccan Herald

Peek into history - Deccan Herald

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

உறவுகளுக்காக ஏங்கும் இலங்கை

"இங்கும் ( இலங்கையில்)  இது (தமிழகத்தை) போல்தான் உறவு பாராட்டி வாழ்ந்தோம். அந்த நாட்கள் வராதா?" என்று ஏக்கத்துடன் பலரும், "எல்லாம் இழந்து விட வில்லை. இன்னும் அந்த உறவின் சுவடுகள் இருக்கின்றன. அவற்றின் மீது மீண்டும் அந்த உறவுகளை கட்டியெழுப்ப வேண்டும்''  என்று இலங்கை ஒலுவில் உள்ள தென்கிழக்கு பல்கலை பேராசிரியர்களும், 'யாதும்' திரையிடலுக்குப் பின்னர்  இலங்கையில் சிதிலமடைந்திருக்கும் தமிழ்-முஸ்லிம் உறவுகளைப் பற்றி பேசிய போது, ஒரு படைப்பாளனாய் பெரிதும் மகிழ்ந்தேன். பிளவு பட்டுக் கிடக்கும் சமூகங்களை ஒன்றிணைப்பதை விட மிகப் பெரிய சன்மானம் ஏது?

கடந்த மாதம் கொழும்பு பல்கலைக்கழகமும் AILS ம்  இணைந்து நடத்திய ' Muslims in Sri  Lankan Social Sciences'    என்ற   ஒரு நாள் ஆய்வரங்கில் கலந்து கொள்வதற்காகவும் அத்தோடு 'யாதும்' திரையிடுவதற்காகவும்  இலங்கை செல்லும் வாய்ப்பு கிடைத்தது. Centre for Development and Research , International Centre for Ethnic Studies(ICES), கொழும்பு பல்கலைக் கழகம், தென் கிழக்கு பல்கலைக் கழகம்,  மட்டக்களப்பில் அரசினர் ஆசிரியர் பயிற்சி கலாசாலை என்று பல்வேறு இடங்களில் யாதும் திரையிடப்பட்டது.  

பாரதி என்ற பேராசிரியை படம் 'emotional' ஆக இருப்பதாக குறிப்பிட்டார். மற்றொரு நிகழ்வில் ஒரு முஸ்லிம் மாணவி தனது நெருங்கிய தோழி ஒரு தமிழ் பெண் என்றும் அந்த நட்பை மேலும் வலுப்படுத்துவதாக 'யாதும்' தன்னை உணரச் செய்தது என்று சக மாணவர்கள் மத்தியில் உணர்ச்சி மேலிடப்  பேசினார். மதங்களைக் கடந்து ஆண்  பெண் என்று எல்லோரிடமும் இது போன்ற உறவு நிலை இங்கே மீண்டும் வர வேண்டும் என்ற ஏக்கம் இருப்பதை உணர முடிந்தது.  தென் கிழக்கு பல்கலைகழக கலந்துரையாடலில் திரௌபதி அம்மன் மடை போன்று சில நிகழ்வுகளைச் சுட்டிக்காட்டி இன்றும் அது போன்ற மதம் கடந்த முதல் மரியாதைகள் இலங்கையில் வழக்கத்தில் உள்ளன. இனச் சண்டையினால்,  போரினால்  நாம் எல்லாவற்றையும் இழந்து விடவில்லை. இழந்தவற்றையும் முயற்சி செய்தால்  மீட்டு எடுக்க  முடியும்  என்று  பேசியது நம்பிக்கை  அளிப்பதாக இருந்தது.  மட்டகளப்பு சார்ந்த நிகழ்வுகளை மௌனகுரு ஐயா சிறப்பாக ஒருங்கிணைத்திருந்தார்.

மட்டகளப்பில் 'யாதும்' திரையிடலினை அடுத்து நடந்த கலந்துரையாடலின் போது அப்படத்தில் பேசப்படும் 'சியான்' என்ற உறவு முறை குறித்து பார்வையாளர்களில் ஒருவர் ஒரு சுவாராசியமான தகவலைத் தெரிவித்தார்.  மதுரை மாநகரைச் சுற்றி வாழும் பிரான்மலை கள்ளர் சமூகம் தங்கள் தாய்வழிப் பாட்டனை 'சியான்' என்றே அழைக்கின்றனர். அதே போல் தங்களை விட வயதில் மூத்த இஸ்லாமிய பெரியவர்களையும் 'சியான் என்றே அழைக்கின்றனர். இஸ்லாமியர்களும் வயதில் மூத்த பிரான்மலை கள்ளர் சமூக பெரியவர்களையும் 'சியான்' என்றே அழைக்கின்றனர்.  இது தமிழகத்தில் நிலவும் சாதி மதங்களைக் கடந்த வித்தியசமான ஒரு உறவுமுறைகளில் ஒன்றாகும். இலங்கையைப் பொறுத்தவரை இது போன்று உறவு முறையாக இல்லாமல் பிரான்மலைக் கள்ளர்கள் தங்கள் தாய்வழிப் பாட்டனை 'சியான்' என்று அழைப்பது போல் சிங்களவர்களும் தங்கள் தாய்வழிப் பாட்டனை ' சியான்' என்றே அழைக்கின்றனர் என்று அந்த பார்வையாளர் தெரிவித்தார். கேட்க ஆச்சரியமாக இருந்தது. வரலாற்றில்  மதுரைக்கும்  சிங்களவர்களுக்குமான தொடர்பு அனைவரும்  அறிந்ததே. ஆகவே இது குறித்து ஆய்வு அவசியம் என்று உணர்ந்தேன்.

யாதும் ஆவணப்படம் பார்த்த பின்னர் வரும் இது போன்ற விமர்சனங்களே ஒரு கலைஞனுக்கு மிகப் பெரிய வெகுமதி. அந்த வகையில் எனது இலங்கை பயணம் பயனுள்ளதாக அமைந்ததில் மிக்க மகிழ்ச்சி அடைகிறேன். இலங்கையை விட்டுக் கிளம்பும் போது வேறொன்றும் தெளிவானது. வரலாற்று ரீதியாக இலங்கைக்கும் தென் தமிழகத்திற்கும் இடையே நெருங்கிய கலாச்சார பொருளாதார தொடர்புகள் இருந்திருக்கின்றன. இனக்கலவரம் இலங்கையை மட்டும் பாதிக்கவில்லை. அது பொருளாதார ரீதியாக தென் தமிழகத்தையும் மிகவும் பாதித்துள்ளது. இதிலிருந்து அனைவரும் மீள்வது அவசியம்.

எனது இலங்கை பயணத்தை அர்த்தமுள்ளாக்கிய  ஆகியோருக்கு எனது நன்றிகள்.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kombai S Anwar's Yaadhum won the Bronze Remi award in the Ethnic / Culture category at the 48th WorldFest Houston International Film Festival, 2015