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UP - Lucknow and Kanpur

Uttar Pradesh - Lucknow, Kanpur – wedding and sightseeing

The state Uttar Pradesh (Northern Province) is situated in the North of India and it is the 5th largest Indian state with the highest density of population. It has several historical cities attracting visitors from all over the world, including Taj Mahal, Fathipur Sikri, Varanasi, Allahabad, Lucknow and Kanpur.  In one of the travelling sections I have already described Taj Mahal of Agra and the fortress Fatehpur Sikri.

In 2013 we had a chance to visit Lucknow and Kanpur on the occasion of an invitation to a wedding of one of our employees.

Uttar Pradesh used to be at the heart of the vast empire called Hindustan, ruled by the Mughals (emperor) Babur, Humayun and Akbar.  After 1720, however,  wars of succession, the growth of religious intolerance (first Mughal preached religious tolerance) and the beginning of British colonialism had brought their rule to an end.  The new ruling family of Awadh, also known as Oudh, became established in the territory of the present State of Uttar Pradesh, originally with  British support. Their title was Nawabs (meaning rulers, kings, similarly to the title of Mughals). Their reign lasted from 1719 until 1858 until, as a result of the Indian Rebellion, the government of British East India Company in India was replaced by direct government of the British Crown.

Lucknow and Kanpur played a major part in the Indian Mutiny of 1857 (related to also as Sepoy Mutiny or the First War of Indian Independence.) The rebellion started in the army because of various grievences however culminated when the soldiers were asked to bite off the paper cartridges for their rifles which were greased by animal fat, namely by beef and pork. That was against the religious feelings both of the Hindus and of the Muslims.

Kanpur. The sepoys in Kanpur rebelled in June 1857 against General Wheeler and besieged the European entrenchement. Wheeler was not only a veteran and respected soldier, but also married to a high-caste Indian lady. He had relied on his own prestige, and his cordial relations with the sepoy´s leader Nana Sahib to thwart rebellion, and took comparatively few measures to prepare fortifications and lay in supplies and ammunition. The besieged endured three weeks with little water and food when  Nana Sahib made them an offer of safe passage to Allahabad on the provided boats. At the moment of loading on the boats, firing broke out and all finished in a horrible blood shed on both sides. Whether the firing was planned or accidental remained unresolved by both parties blaming each other. Even the British women and children which were taken as hostages and brought to Kanpur were later on murdered when it became clear that Nana Sahib would not be able to hold Kanpur. When the sepoys refused to carry out the order, two Muslim butchers were ordered to carry it out with knives and hatchtes and fill in the well with mutilated bodies.

When the British retook Cawnpore, they organized a retaliation and they hanged or blew from the cannon (a execution method used by moguls) the majority of the sepoy prisoners.  Although some claimed the sepoys took no actual part in the killings themselves, the fact was that they did not act to stop it.  

Lucknow. In difference to Kanpur, the British Commissioner resident at Lucknow, Sir Henry Lawrence, had enough time to fortify his position inside the Residency compound. The Company forces numbered some 1700 men, including loyal sepoys. The rebels' assaults were unsuccessful, and so they began a barrage of artillery and musket fire into the compound. Lawrence was one of the first casualties. The rebels tried to breach the walls with explosives and bypass them via underground tunnels that led to underground close combat. After 90 days of siege, numbers of Company forces were reduced to 300 loyal sepoys, 350 British soldiers and 550 non-combatants. The attempts to alleviate the besieged were only partially successful.  Only early in 1858, a new commander in chief Colin Campbell once again advanced on Lucknow with a large army. He was aided by a large Nepalese contingent advancing from the north, who decided to side with the Company in December 1857. Campbell's advance was slow and methodical, and drove the large but disorganized rebel army from Lucknow with few casualties to his own troops. This nevertheless allowed large numbers of the rebels to disperse into Awadh, and Campbell was forced to spend the summer and autumn dealing with scattered pockets of resistance while losing men to heat, disease and guerrilla actions.

It was a brutal war, with both sides resorting to what would now be described as war crimes. In the end, however, in terms of sheer numbers, the casualties were significantly higher on the Indian side. The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858. It also led the British to reorganize the army, the financial system and the administration in India. The country was thereafter directly governed by the crown as the new British Raj.

Lucknow – sightseeing. Some  monuments that we visited are associated with the most famous period of history of Uttar Pradesh, a rule of  Nawabs of Awadh. They were Shia Muslims, who ruled the predominantly Hindu subjects. They were also patrons of the arts, especially of dance, music and of excellent cuisine, which remained maintained in some dishes until today.  It was typical for them to have carved a sign of two big fish which they considered to be a symbol of good luck at the entrance gates to the grand palaces and tombs.  

Imam Baras (also Imam Barghas ) are actually replicas of tombs dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad and the members of his family, which were  built in the year 680 in Karbala on territory of  today's Iraq. Bara Imam Bara is a large complex where Nawabs never lived . Its construction was started in 1784 , when the king wanted to help his subjects who suffered from hunger after a crop failure and needed another source of livelihood than farming (obviously Nawabs already knew that boom in construction supports development of economy). The complex is still an important religious center, where Muslims celebrate the religious feast of Muharram every year. The main hall is reportedly the largest domed structure in the world, built without any column (50 m long and 15 m high). The stone blocks are wedged into each other without  use of any beams. The complex also contains a famous labyrinth that leads up to the top floor and ends with a beautiful view of the city,  but it is  so complicated that it is not recommended to pass it without a guide (so we better did not risk it).

Bara Imam Bara

Chhota Imam Bara, a similar complex, contains a tomb looking like a smaller replica of the Taj Mahal in Agra.  In a big hall there is a collection of chandeliers from all over the world and in the background there is a monumental mosque.

Chhota Imam Bara


British Residence
The history of the resistance of British during siege of their Lucknow residence was already described in the historical chapter above. We visited the places where British held against the rebelling sepoys for 147 days, dying of hunger, disease and constant bombardment. The ruins of houses are still there, including the cemetery, as they had to bury their dead on the spot.

British Residence

La Martiniere School
The prestigious school, which had during the years some students who became famous, among them the famous pop singer Cliff Richard. It was  designed as a palace by the French Major General/architect Claude Martin (his tomb is on the premises). It has an eccentric facade, Romanesque arches, Corinthian columns, decoration partly looking as from a  Gothic horror film, partly as from Disneyland castle. However, the college La Martininere in Lucknow is a part of a project which provides  a liberal education for children from 5 to 18 years, without distinction of religion - two schools of the same type and name are in Calcutta and three in Lyon, France.

La Martiniere School

Kanpur - wedding
The wedding to which we were invited took place in Kanpur, two hours drive from Lucknow.
It is an industrial town - there are mainly tanneries and textile industry there.  Lucknow was clean and neat. The same  cannot be said about Kanpur which also showed marks of poverty. When asked why the city which has such a large industry, is not prospering, the answer was that only the owners of the factories were getting rich, but the city did  not have money  for sanitation, repair of streets, garbage disposal etc. (probably  meaning  that the wealthy get even more wealthy because they avoid paying taxes).  

It was interesting to get acquainted with the bridegroom´s family  who invited us to the wedding.  They belong to Sindhis, which are Hindus who lived in Pakistan and had to flee to India after Partition only with a bundle of basic things in their hands.  This also happened to bridegroom´s  grandfather and grandmother. But they considered themselves  lucky that nobody murdered them on the way, because that was happening all the time in this period of both sided exodus, when Hindus organized hunts against the Muslims and Muslims against Hindus.  Anyway, they survived and reached Kanpur in 1949 where they were given a small house from the Indian government as compensation. In this house bridegroom´s father was born. We visited the house – it probably did not change too much since 1949, but it was cleanly painted and furnished with care.
In the late afternoon, the wedding procession started to move through the narrow streets of the district. As habitual in the country,  the groom was sitting on a white horse, with a small child in front of him, surrounded by people,  at the front of the parade a lit float.  You have to imagine hundreds of bulbs flashing  and recorded Indian traditional music accompanied by drummers beating loudly their drums of all sizes playing  at full decibels whilst the procession proceeded slowly forwards. Electricity was procured by a generator with cables connected to the individual attractions which was also moving.  We toured with this procession three times around the narrow streets, once we had to stop and wait until the owner who parked the car was found because our human powered float was huge and did not fit. The march  took more than an hour - I can assure you that in any European country, neighbors would not be able to stand it and would minimally pour buckets of water on us,  if not worse - it was a big rumble. But not so in India – everybody is tolerant to such a type of celebration. 

At the local temple we stopped for a moment and groom and his nearest family and friends (including us) went in for a quiet prayer.  Then we finally arrived to the place where the ceremony and reception should take place. It was a large lawn with a stage and  usual colorful decorations. Before we went through the gate, fireworks started, rockets shot out right next to us, ladies had flying sparks in their hair – it looked dangerous in such a confined space, but it was  a normal "health and safety " situation a la India.

All these procedures were happening without the bride. Groom went through certain ceremonies and then he was allowed to get on the stage, were hinged door  with poster photographs was hiding the bride. The door turned, and here she was – beautiful, all adorned including ring in the nose (she was Sindhi as well, of course).  Bride and groom exchanged flower garlands and were standing at the podium, flames of four torches in front of them.  Fire is the most important element for the Sindhi community (originated from Persia, similar to the Parsi community). Then they were sitting on the royal sofa and accepting congratulations and gifts while the  reception was in full swing on the lawn, people were eating,  chatting and enjoying (a bottle of wine was bought especially for us – Indian weddings are without alcohol).

Another Hindu wedding ceremony was to begin only after midnight as per the recommendation of the astrologer. When we asked how long it would take, we were told that it apparently depended on the mood of the priests, it could be settled in half an hour or last more than two hours. Well, because we had already participated in more Hindu weddings and were knowledgeable about the rituals (going around seven times all over, incense, mutual feeding and exchange of the rings, all during  for us incomprehensible  mumbling of the priest), we decided to call it a day. As showed later, it was good that we did because we would not be able to stay up so long. In the morning , we learned that the whole event ended at four. That he got  to bed so late  did not stop the groom to show up in our hotel to thank us once again before our departure. To our big surprise, as we thought that it was only bride and bridegroom who should get the gifts, each of us got a wristwatch and an impressive modern plastic of Ganesha decorated with stones. It goes without saying that as usual we had been shown high esteem,  the bride and groom were touching our knees as per local habit and everybody made  clear that we were welcomed and honored guests. It was a sentimental  moment for us as well when we remembered  that the groom had started in our company eight years ago, we could follow up all his development to a young man. (he was twenty eight now). He was in no hurry to get married but in the end the parents speeded up the procedures (marriage is agreed between the parents of the young people in 80% of cases in India) . But he looked relaxed and also his nice bride made a happy impression – so hopefully the gods will bless them.