Freedom gagged: Francois gautier (new Indian Express)

11 03 2008

Freedom gagged
This exhibition is not about raking-up the past or “creating communal disharmony”, it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike, knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is very much present

O N the March 7, 2008, in Lalit Kala Academi, Chennai, Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took off the wall an exquisite miniature painting, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple (which has been razed six times) and threw it on the ground, shattering it. Then his men started removing all the paintings from the wall, further damaging many of them. On that day, the morale and the reputation of the Tamil Nadu police must have sunk to a new low : of bowing down to their master’s wishes and those of a few fanatics, of forsaking moral decency and all the qualities that a police officer should embody.

The previous day the Nawab of Arcot visited the exhibition and lashed out at FACT volunteers accusing them of “misrepresenting facts.” He was particularly enraged by two miniatures – the first depicted Aurangzeb’s army destroying the Somnath temple and the second showed the destruction of the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura. We are told that he has direct access to the CM’s office and that orders to the police to clamp down on exhibition came down from there. Otherwise, Mr Murali would not have dared to go so far, so brazenly.

Soon, the nawab sent a group of goons, allegedly from TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and MNP (Manitha Neethi Paasarai) to pick up arguments with the volunteers, most of them elderly women from decent family backgrounds.

They came back again on 7th afternoon when I was there, screaming on, top of their voices in Tamil and in English that this exhibition was absolutely false and that unless it was closed immediately they would come back in force the next day (Friday) to break it down. I tried to reason with them, that these were all documents from Government archives, that I could explain everything to them, that we could even debate on TV, but they shouted even louder and got more threatening. When all these arguments were going on the police did not bother to come up.

(The hall is on the first floor.) Then the goons closeted them selves with Mr Murali, two other officers and Mr Palaniappan, the secretary of the LKA, in his office and when I barged in, Mr Murali told me he was closing down the exhibition. I decided to rush to the Commissioner’s office in Egmore to plead for a stay order.

But meanwhile Mr Murali swung into action: he terrorised the harmless ladies calling them ” stooges of a white dog,” threw two paintings on the ground and ordered his policemen to remove the rest. Then he arrested four volunteers (Mrs. Srarswathi, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, Mrs.

Malathi and Mr. B.R. Haran) and took them to the Thousand Lights police station. There ACP termed Mr. Francois as a “Foreign Terrorist” and threatened to book the volunteers “for helping and assisting him to incite communal violence in the otherwise peaceful Tamil Nadu.”

What was all the noise about? Lalit Kala Academi was showing an exhibition: “Aurangzeb as he was according to his own records.” This is an artistic exhibition on Aurangzeb, the great Mughal emperor using his own records and firmans (edicts), many of which are still preserved in Indian museums, such as the Bikaner archives.

Aurangzeb was truly a pious Muslim, copying the Koran himself, stitching Muslim skullcaps and enforcing strict laws, according to his own documents, which we were careful to show. How come Aurangzeb is such a hero with the Nawab of Arcot and his henchmen? Forget what he did to Hindus : reimposing the humiliating jiziya tax, forbidding them from riding horses, elephants or palanquins and ordering all temples destroyed (Among them the Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya), he was also a monster to his own family, having his father poisoned, his two brothers killed, and imprisoning his own son.

This exhibition was sponsored by FACT, which I created in 2003, when I received at the hands of the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha the Natchiketa Award of Excellence in Journalism. With the Prize money, my Indian wife Namrita and myself mounted an exhibition on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, four hundred thousand of them having become refugees in their own country.

This exhibition travelled around India and then in the world and was shown in Capitol Hill, Washington, in July 2005, leading to a bipartisan resolution on the Human Rights of the Kashmiri Pandits in the US Congress . Another exhibition on the persecution of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh was inaugurated in Mumbai on November 18, 2006. We have also a huge show on Shivaji ‘a Hero for Modern, India’ in Mumbai on March 12 in Ravindra Natya Mandir.

A lot of historical research and artistic efforts have gone into the making of this exhibition. It is also an effort to help a dying craft, of the painters of Rajasthan, that of miniature painting. Each original painting, which portrays a historically docu mented incident in the times of Aurangzeb, has been done in the original Mughal style and is signed and dated. Professor V. S. Bhatnagar of the Rajasthan University, Jaipur, has contributed the historical research part.

We are hiring a lawyer to file a case on FACT’s behalf on five counts:

1) Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took two of the paintings, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple and threw them on the ground. I hear six more paintings have been damaged and we have no news of the exhibition as it has been sealed. It costs 8 lakhs to do (all original miniature paintings not counting my time).

2) We paid Lalit Kala Academi a lot of money and they cancelled the show.

3) The police took in a police van three innocent ladies to the police station after 6 p.m. which is illegal.

4) The police totally sided with the goons, closeting themselves in the manager’s office for one hour.

5) Mr Murali threatened the ladies repeatedly that they were ‘terrorists.’ 6) Lastly, we will file a case against Lalit Kala Academi for damage to our paintings, infringement upon our freedom of expression and we will demand that they reopen the exhibition in their premises so that the people of Chennai may have the opportunity to make their own judgment about it.

This exhibition is not about raking up the past or “creating communal disharmony,” it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. For Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is still very much present in India.

It was there in Kashmir when all the Hindus were forced by terror to leave their homeland; it is there when Indian Muslims help plant bombs in Mumbai trains, Varanasi, or Delhi; it was there in Chennai when a few Muslim rowdies hold at ransom an entire state and its political apparatus. This is why we had that exhibition.

François Gautier is political correspondent in South Asia for ” Le Figaro” for eight years. He is now the editor in chief of Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde (

COUNTERPOINT Web | Mar 09, 2008

Aurangzebs Of Today

An exhibition on Mughal emperor Aurangzeb at the Lalit Kala Akademi in Chennai was abruptly closed down and the paintings taken away by the police, ostensibly to avoid a law and order problem. What gives? …

B. Raman

In a statement made after the July, 2005, blasts in London organised by suicide terrorists of Pakistani origin, Mr.Tony Blair, the then British Prime Minister, spoke of the need to counter jihadi terrorism not only operationally through better intelligence, better physical security, better counter-terrorism operations etc, but also ideologically in order to draw the attention of the public to the pernicious ideas being spread by Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda jihadi organisations and counter them energetically.

Amongst such pernicious ideas are that there was no civilisation in the world before the advent of Islam, that the Muslims have a right to re-capture all lands which historically belonged to them, that the Muslims do not recognise national frontiers and ,therefore, have a right to wage a jihad anywhere in the world where Islam is in danger and that the Muslims have the religious right and obligation to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and use them to protect their religion, if necessary.

The Pakistani jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), which are members of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF), project Aurangzeb as the greatest ruler in the history of the Indian sub-continent and describe their aim as the “liberation” of the Muslims of India and restoration of what they view as the golden era of Aurangzeb in the sub-continent.

This glorification of Aurangzeb was actually started by the Pakistan government after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. The text-books got written and prescribed in schools by different Pakistan governments depicted that there was no civilisation or culture in India before the Muslims came to the sub-continent and glorified Aurangzeb. In September 1996, Murtaza Ali Bhutto, the younger brother of Benazir Bhutto, was allegedly killed by the police of Karachi after he had returned from Islamabad, where he allegedly had a fierce quarrel with Benazir and her husband Mr.Asif Ali Zardari over his demand that he should be appointed as the Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party. In a piece on the rule of Benazir, the Economist of London compared her to Aurangzeb.

This created a lot of interest among analysts over the influence of the Aurangzeb model on the minds of Pakistani rulers–political and military– who grew up after its independence and studied the text-books, which glorified him. It is now recognised by imany that one of the reasons for the spreading prairie fire of jihadi terrorism in Pakistan is the pernicious influence of the Aurangzeb model on the mind-set of the Pakistani youth. Many of them, who are spreading havoc across Pakistan, see themselves as the Aurangzebs of today. Aurangzeb as well as bin Laden are their role models.

The overwhelming majority of the Indian Muslim youth, who remain intensely patriotic, have not let themselves be influenced by this pernicious veneration of bin Laden and Aurangzeb and their ideas, but recent events such as the involvement of one or two Indian Muslims in the UK with Al Qaeda, the role of two Indian Muslim youth in the attempted terrorist strikes in London and Glasgow in June last and the recent arrests of some Muslim youth of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in Karnataka indicate that some of these pernicious ideas might have started winning adherents in the India Muslim community too– in India as well as in the diaspora in the Gulf and the West.

Before this spreads further, it is important to counter this phenomenon ideologically. This is what some respected Muslim clerics and scholars, who had met recently at Deoband, have done.

One must welcome their initiative in condemning terrorism. That is also what some activists against terrorism under Mr Francois Gautier, a well-known French journalist living in India for many years, have been doing. Whereas the appeal of the Deobandi congregation was addressed to the Muslim community specifically, the anti-terrorism campaign of Gautier and his small, but devoted band of associates is addressed to all people–whatever be their nationality, religion, ethnicity etc. It seeks to educate them not only on the evils of terrorism, but also on the mental origin of it.

To understand the mental origin of the jihadi terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it is important to identify not only their present-day mentors such as bin Laden, the Pakistani jihadi leaders and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), but also their historical idols. Aurangzeb is one of their topmost historical idols. It is important to educate the people of India on the real nature of Aurangzeb, his policies and actions so that they do not get easily carried away by the way Aurangzeb’s rule is depicted by the jihadi terrorists.

An exhibition organised by Gautier and his associates as part of this education process had a successful run in New Delhi, Pune and Bangalore. In Pune, over 100,000 people visited it. In none of these places, did the members of the local Muslim community view the exhibition as anti-Muslim or anti-Islam. Unfortunately, some members of the community in Chennai viewed it as anti-Muslim and demanded that the exhibition be discontinued. This has reportedly been done on the advice of the Police.

[As we post this, the exhibition in Chennai was abruptly closed down and the paintings taken away by the police–” to avoid a law and order problem” — after protests that some of the depictions were objectionable and a distortion of history–Ed]

I had attended the inauguration of the exhibition on the opening day (March 3, 2008) and spoke on the importance of understanding the pernicious ideas about Aurangzeb being spread by Pakistani jihadi organisations. I had seen all the exhibits before the inauguration and did not find any of them of a provocative nature. More than the paintings, what was so eloquent in the exhibition was the collection of scanned copies of the various orders issued by Aurangzeb during his rule. These documents were authentic and the scanned copies were made over a period of three years from a Mughul Archive in Rajasthan which, I was told, contain a wealth of documents relating to the Mughul period.

One of the contentions of those, who protested against the exhibition, was that raking up the past would create a communal divide in Tamil Nadu, which has been relatively free of it. One of the lessons of history has been that remaining silent on unpleasant periods in history leads to a repetition of such unpleasant experiences. That is why Western school children are taught about the evils of rulers like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin etc. That is why the Jewish people keep reminding themselves and the rest of the world about the holocaust. That was why some years ago Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French rightist leader, was severely criticised for denying the reality of the holocaust.

When we deny harsh truths of history, we are only playing into the hands of jihadi terrorists, who see themselves as the Aurangzebs of today.

The links below show what foreign scholars, including scholars in Pakistan itself, have been saying on this subject of what a Pakistani scholar described as a creation of myths regarding the real nature of Muslim rule. When Pakistanis have themselves started realising the damage done to their society and country by this myth-making, leaders of our Muslim community should refrain from starting a similar myth-making exercise in India about the past.

B.Rman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.


1. From: The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition | Date: 2007

“Aurangzeb or Aurangzib , 1618-1707, Mughal emperor of India (1658-1707), son and successor of Shah Jahan . He served (1636-44, 1653-58) as viceroy of the Deccan but was constantly at odds with his father and his eldest brother, Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent. When Shah Jahan fell ill in 1658, Aurangzeb seized the opportunity to fight and defeat Dara and two other brothers in a battle for succession. He imprisoned his father for life and ascended the throne at Agra with the reign title Alamgir [world-shaker]. A scholarly, austere man, devoted to Islam, he persecuted the Hindus, destroying their temples and monuments. He executed the guru of the Sikhs (see Sikhism ) when he refused to embrace Islam. Although the Mughal empire reached its greatest extent under Aurangzeb, it was also fatally weakened by revolts of the Sikhs, Rajputs, and Jats in the north and the rebellion of the Marathas in the Deccan. From 1682, Aurangzeb concentrated all his energies on crushing the Marathas, but his costly campaigns were only temporarily successful and further weakened his authority in the north. The Mughal empire fell apart soon after his death.”

2. Pakistan Studies

3. BBC on Pakistan’s missile symbolism — commentary by Zaffar Abbas, BBC correspondent in Islamabad

4.An article carried by the Dawn of Karachi on March 27, 2005: The myth of history by Prof Shahida Kazi


Pak envoy meets Prince of Arcot

Chennai, Feb. 02: Pakistan High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik made a courtesy call on the Prince of Arcot, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali at his official residence ‘Amir Mahal’ during his brief visit to the city today.
He was accompanied by Pakistan Minister (trade) High Commission of Pakistan Fazal Abbas Maken.

During the discussions, the High Commissioner, exteded an invitation to the Prince, to visit his country as such good will would also promote socio-cultural and bilateral relationship between the two countries.

He also lauded the services of Prince of Arcot, in promoting Hindu-Muslim unity in this part of the country.

Mr Malik greeted the Nawab on his becoming the President of the Ajmer Dargah Committee in the recent past.

The diplomat evinced keen interest in the political history of the Carnatic under the Nawabs, during the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly their religious policies towards non-Muslims during the rule of Nawabs in South India.

Published: Sunday, February 03, 2008

Here is a quote from the following report in the Hindu of Feb. 1, 2004: “”More than 300 years ago, his ancestor Zulfikar Ali Khan was summoned from Mecca by Emperor Aurangazeb in order to fight against the Marathas. In the 17th Century when the Marathas were holding sway in the Southern Carnatic from their stronghold at Gingee, Zulfikar Ali Khan came down and inflicted a crushing defeat on the ruler Rajaram.

The delighted Mughal emperor made him the Nawab of the Carnatic under the suzerainty of the Nizam of Hyderabad and thus were sown the beginnings of the House of Arcot. Later holders of the title identified closely with their area of domicile. The cordial interaction between the Nawabs of Arcot and the Hindu inhabitants of the Tamil country generated a climate of mutual tolerance and secularism that is proudly being carried on to this day.”

The genealogy of Nawab of Arcot goes back to Aurangzeb. Read more…

The Nawabs of Arcot trace their line back to 2nd Caliph Umar bin al Khattab.

“The involvement of the Nawab of Arcot, a close friend of N.Ram and a side-kick in his nightly adventures, has also got to be investigated. The post of Nawab of Arcot was created by the British to introduce a muslim royal family where none existed. The south was predominantly Hindu and the British needed a muslim ‘royal’ family to protect their interests. The present Nawab of Arcot continues to receive government pension, free electricity and free phone connection for his palace Amir Mahal in the heart of Chennai city. On the other hand Indira Gandhi abolished all pensions and benefits to Hindu kings. During Karunanidhi’s regime it was standard practice to invite this ‘nawab’ for all government functions in which the chief-guest was a visiting foreign dignitary. But during Jayalalithaa’s rule this man is not invited and he keeps a very low profile. A separate investigation will have to be done on this ‘nawab’ and the report submitted to the government. I shall start on this investigation too.”

“There is an interesting legend about the (Mylapore) temple tank. The temple did not have a tank and the present tank at the temple belonged to Nawab Mohammed Ali, the Nawab of Arcot. It is said that a delegation of priests and devotees met the Nawab and impressed upon him, that it was an absolute necessity for a temple to have a tank. The benevolent Nawab gifted the tank to the temple. However, at that time Shia Muslim brethrens were already using this tank for immersion of Panjas (Tajias) on the day of Moharram. The tank was gifted to the temple on the condition that Shia brethren would continue to use it for Moharrum. This practice continues till date. The descendants of the Nawab of Arcot have shown goodwill towards the temple from time to time. The present Prince of Arcot, Janab Mohammed Abdul Ali visited the temple and tank on the eve of ‘Teppam Festival’ and had darshan of the Lord in the Teppam. He was bestowed with temple honours. The Lord at Mylapore is all pervasive, all embracive. He truly belongs to all.

“In his new role as president of the Ajmer Dargah Management Committee, the Prince of Arcot Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali has set his priorities for the Dargah. To tighten security arrangements in and around the shrine tops his agenda. Besides, he wants better connectivity for Ajmer city and better management of resources at the Dargah. He said that he wanted to set up a university on one of the lands of the Dargah, the tomb of the Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti.”

“The Government gives liberal subsidies to Muslims who want to go on a Haj pilgrimage, which is being questioned by no less a Muslim personage as the Prince of Arcot, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali. Reacting to newspaper reports that the Union Government has decided to allow the Haj pilgrims to carry $ 10,000 as basic travel quota, in Addition to 2,000 Saudi Riyals, Nawab Abdul Ali is reported to have said that this move means an annual outflow of foreign exchange to the tune of $ 1,000 million for one lakh pilgrims visiting the holy mosques at Mecca and Medina.” See also:

Besides ‘Vigil’, those present at the meeting included the US Consul General, Ms.Joanella Morales the US State Department official, Ms.Anjana Chatterjee, political analyst in the US embassy, Habibulla Badsha, Senior Advocate, Madras High Court, the Nawab of Arcot, Zafar Ahmed and wife Fathima Zafar Ahmed, Kumaravelu from the state BJP, Dilip Chand Jain and Swami Gautamananda of the Ramakrishna Mutt. Considering that the State Department official had come with the specific purpose of discussing the Tamil Nadu anti-conversion law it was strange that not one Christian religious leader or intellectual was present at the meeting. To say that their absence was fishy was an understatement.

N_Ram: Engineer, Harmony India has become somewhat inactive and needs to be activised. But my dear friend, The Nawab of Arcot, has made a fine contribution to it.


The House of Arcot (The Hindu, Feb. 1, 2004)

… and `secularism is the oxygen without which India cannot survive’, says its heir to KAUSALYA SANTHANAM.


The Prince of Arcot, Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah (second from left), with his family at the Amir Mahal.

IN the heart of Chennai is a mahal which is home to a princely family that traces its lineage from the Second Caliph of Islam, Hazrath Omar Bin-Khattab. Not many residents or visitors to the city, as they hurry through the crowded streets of Royapettah, would be aware that beyond the high crimson walls that enclose the wrought iron gates, lie centuries of history. Enter them and you pass through a driveway, flanked by sheds and outhouses, to a huge building in Indo-Saracenic style.

This is Amir Mahal, the 14-acre residence of His Highness Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali Azim Jah, the eighth Prince of Arcot. More than 300 years ago, his ancestor Zulfikar Ali Khan was summoned from Mecca by Emperor Aurangazeb in order to fight against the Marathas. In the 17th Century when the Marathas were holding sway in the Southern Carnatic from their stronghold at Gingee, Zulfikar Ali Khan came down and inflicted a crushing defeat on the ruler Rajaram.

The delighted Mughal emperor made him the Nawab of the Carnatic under the suzerainty of the Nizam of Hyderabad and thus were sown the beginnings of the House of Arcot. Later holders of the title identified closely with their area of domicile. The cordial interaction between the Nawabs of Arcot and the Hindu inhabitants of the Tamil country generated a climate of mutual tolerance and secularism that is proudly being carried on to this day.

Welcoming you with typical courtesy, the Prince leads you into his study. The dominant thread running though the interview is his passion for promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. “Secularism is the oxygen without which you cannot survive,” states Abdul Ali. Few residents of present day Chennai know that the land for the construction of the Kapaleeswarar temple tank was donated by his ancestors. “Every year, on the 10th day of Mohurram, the Hindus allow the Muslims to dip their panjas (the sacred symbol of the hand) in the waters of the tank.”

The Arcot House is different from most royal houses in the country as there is no friction between the government and this former ruling family. “We have a very good rapport with the Central and the State governments,” says Abdul Ali. His Highness the Prince of Arcot is ranked on par with the Cabinet ministers of the State in the Warrant of Precedence, the Courtesy ranks accorded to officials and non-officials.

“Amir Mahal has been visited by numerous presidents, chief ministers and spiritual leaders,” he says proudly.

The Prince is founder-secretary general of “Harmony India” a registered association formed in 1990 to promote communal amity and national integration. Mr. N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, is the president while the other 32 members are drawn from different communities. “The aims of the organisation are to educate people to live in peace, to hold seminars, processions and meetings towards this end and to extend help and advice during riots.” The Nawab has recently returned to the mainstream after a period of illness. “Harmony India has not been very active for some time but we hope to reenergise it,” he says.

The Prince of Arcot is considered the “First nobleman in the Muslim community of South India”. He heads various religious endowments, charitable organisations and educational trusts. The Arcots manage the wakf in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and have developed infrastructural facilities for pilgrims to visit the holy places. “We maintain eight mosques in Tamil Nadu. Many of those who work in our trusts are Hindus,” he points out.

The dynasty has had numerous enlightened rulers. Like the house of Tanjore, the Arcot family has integrated perfectly into the Tamil country. Respect for other faiths has been translated into action as can be seen by their contributions to the temples of Srirangam, Tirupati, Tiruvarur, Tirunelveli and Madras.

A cataclysmic upheaval was experienced by the other princely families when the privy purses were abolished in 1971. But the event has not affected the House of Arcot. The enforcement of the Doctrine of Lapse by the British had resulted in their privy purses being abolished in 1855. The splendid Chepauk palace — spread over 121 acres and perhaps the first specimen of Indo-Saracenic architecture in the country — which was the residence of the rulers was taken over by the British. Now the Senate House and other government offices function from the premises.

Abdul Ali came to the title in July 1994 after the death of his father Ghulam Mohammed Abdul Khader. Educated at the Churchpark Presentation Convent and the Madras Christian College High School, the student of history also received coaching in Arabic from private tutors. Abdul Ali, Sheriff of Madras for two terms, was interested in public life from the time he was in his teens.

“It takes courage to speak out about religion,” he says. “But I feel the Kazis should educate the people. People go to dargahs and offer prayers, asking for favours from the dead. But this is not right. You can visit dargahs and only ask for the blessings of the Almighty. Just as the Vinayaka Chaturthi procession has become a political one, so has the Meelad-un-nabi ….

“We should not mix politics and religion — it will not work in our country. This `nonsense’ about dividing people on religious lines has been going on only for the last four years. At the time of Partition, we (Muslims) chose to live in India. We prefer to live here and die here. India belongs to all of us,” he says passionately.

The 70-room Amir Mahal which is home to 600 people (family members, staff and their families) was abuzz with activity as it was getting spruced up for the wedding of the Nawab’s sons. (Both of them got married last month). The elder son, Nawabzada Mohammed Asif Ali, is a talented musician who has scored the music for quite a few Tamil films. (The Prince too is an accomplished singer and pianist.) The younger, Nawabzada Mohammed Naser Ali, is a businessman.

Abdul Ali’s wife Sayeeda Begum, a lovely, gracious woman, spends her time in religious and social activities, and takes great interest in the upkeep of the palace.

The drawing room is full of portraits of dignitaries who have visited the mahal. Palanquins and Mughal witness boxes placed at strategic intervals provide an old world charm and a regal touch. Suites of furniture upholstered in brocade, huge porcelain vases, colourful carpets and chandeliers enhance the impact. On the first floor, the Durbar hall is adorned with eight-foot high paintings which are 125 years old.

There is not much of a crunch for funds as the family owns properties and has business interests. But it is the present prince’s organisational abilities and pride in his genealogy that has carved an image for the Arcots as they are seen today.

The Prince insists on seeing you off to the car. As you drive out, the old bearded retainer raises his hand in a typical Muslim salute. Just a few yards away from the mahal, the strains of Carnatic music emanate from a small shrine. For a few rarefied moments in the haunting air of dusk, one feels at peace, filled with hope that this microcosm of unity and seamless blending of cultures will find reflections and echoes wherever the two religions exist. One is also filled with pride that a slice of history and heritage is being faithfully preserved amidst the overpowering consumerism of a rapidly growing metropolis.

Rich history

AS we drive past Wallajah road, it would occur to few of us that this arterial road in Chennai, adjoining the Chepauk stadium, is named after one of the most liberal and philanthropic rulers of the Arcot family. Muhammad Ali Wallajah, Nawab of the Carnatic, who ruled from 1749 A.D. to 1795 A.D., was freed from suzerainty and made the independent ruler of the Carnatic by the Mughal emperor in 1765. His reign was a glorious period for the House of Arcot. They controlled a vast territory.

Wallajah was a man endowed with a breadth of vision that manifested itself in the donation of lands for the construction of temples, mosques and churches. The Srirangam temple and the Wallajah Big Mosque in Triplicane owe much to his munificence. Wars supporting the English against the French and Hyder Ali, placed him heavily in debt and he had to surrender much of his territory to the East India Company.

Wallajah was the eighth Nawab of the Carnatic.

Zulfikar Ali Khan who persevered to overthrow the Marathas, was made the first Nawab of the Carnatic in 1690 with control over all the territories south of the Krishna. After a decisive battle, Zulfikar Ali camped on the banks of the Palar — Arai Kattai — and this is thought to have given the family its name. It is alternatively believed to refer to six forests or villages — Aaaru Kaadu. After Zulfikar Ali, his son Daud Khan came to power.

Daud Khan was followed by Saadatullah Khan who moved the court from Gingee to Arcot. Anwaruddin Khan (1744-1749) who was a descendant of the Second Caliph of Islam founded the second dynasty. His successor Wallajah was followed by his son Umdat-ul-Umra, who built the Thousand Lights structure. The next nawab, his nephew Azim-ud-Daula, had to give up much of his powers and territory and became the first titular Nawab of the Carnatic. After him came Azam Jah followed by Ghulam Muhammad Ghouse Khan.

He died without a male heir and the English were quick to implement the Doctrine of Lapse.

Ghouse Khan’s uncle Azim Jah who determinedly fought for recognition, became the first Prince of Arcot in 1867. The English bestowed various titles upon him and allotted him a very high rank. This status is protected by the Constitution and so the family continues to retain its privileges and titles. During Azim Jah’s time, the British agreed to construct the Amir Mahal as they had taken over the Chepauk Palace in 1859. From 1876, the mahal has been occupied by successive heirs, among them the charitable Ghulam Muhammad Ali Khan. His brother who became the next Prince of Arcot was succeeded by his son, Ghulam Mohammed Abdul Khader, a philanthropist. Many grand receptions were held during his time at Amir Mahal. His son, the present prince, follows the tradition of hospitality. One is sure to find an eclectic gathering at his banquets. A guest one remembers meeting there is Muhammad Ali — the greatest boxer of them all.

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Website on the Nawabs of Arcot

By Our Special Correspondent (The Hindu, Aug. 19, 2004)

The website of the Prince of Arcot launched in Chennai on Wednesday.

CHENNAI, AUG. 18. The mother of the Prince of Arcot, Nawab Jeelani Begum Saheba, and the Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu and group publications, N. Ram, today launched a website on the Nawabs of the Carnatic and the Princes of Arcot.

The historical website ( contains details of the Nawabs of the Carnatic from 1690 to 1855 and the subsequent Princes of Arcot since 1867 to the present day.

Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali, the Prince of Arcot, said the website would be valuable to students of history and politics. Historical facts from the records in his possession and the Government went into the creation of the site, he said. Nawab Abdul Ali said he had all along been a non-political person and would continue to remain so. He was interested in aiding social uplift and fostering communal harmony.

S. Muthiah, historian and storyteller, requested that the records of the Arcot family and the records in other places of historical importance be made available to researchers. “Those records have some of the finest stories of this part of the world… The website will never be able to do justice to the kind of details in the original records.” The Chepauk palace was “architecturally one of the most significant buildings” in India because the palace was built a hundred years before Indo-Saracenic architecture was talked about. This was the beginning of that school of architecture.

Proven success

“We do not want hagiographies we want proper histories and this is a first step,” Mr. Ram said and added that the website had relied upon proven sources. He described the Arcot lineage as “great agents of historical change as well as continuity” and said, “the period witnessed traumatic events as well as periods of development.”

“While being devout Muslims, the Nawabs of Carnatic and the Princes of Arcot deserve to be celebrated for their respect for diversity,” he said adding that the Carnatic Nawabs practised secularism even before the word was invented.

Commenting on the website, Mr. Ram said there was a need to fill up the 12-year-gap when the title changed from Nawab to Prince of Arcot.

Nawab Adbul Ali explained that the gap was because the last Nawab, who died in 1855, did not have an heir. A legal battle followed in England and the then Queen of England granted the title Prince of Arcot to the uncle of the Nawab. The gap was the period when the case was fought.

Communal harmony

David Abbot, the Acting British Deputy High Commissioner in South India, who presided, said the history of the Nawabs was closely linked to the history of Tamil Nadu.

Noting the Prince of Arcot’s service to the community and his interest in the promotion of communal harmony, he said the need for such service was very important at this juncture.

Mohammed Asif Ali, the Dewan to the Prince of Arcot, who designed the website, said the website narrated the lives and times of the Nawabs of the Carnatic and the Princes of Arcot.



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