The Nawabs of Avadh, though also nominally serving as Vazirs (Prime Ministers) of the Mughal Empire, began to establish themselves as virtually independent rulers to the east of the imperial centre. They were able to achieve this independence by virtue of Avadh's wealth and relative security, off the beaten track of the marauders. Additionally, the nawabs were able to offer asylum and cultural patronage on a grand scale, attracting the destitute intellectual and artistic elite from Delhi.
The high culture of Lucknow was in full flower from the last quarter of the eighteenth century until the collapse of the Lucknow monarchy in 1856. It actually survived, however, as long as the feudal system survived in Uttar Pradesh that is, until the British left India in 1947.
A significant by-product of Lucknow's new role as the Urdu markaz was the intense cultural rivalry between Delhi and Lucknow which lies at the heart of the Two School theory. This rivalry persisted for generations, and is manifest in the words of nineteenth century writers as well as those of the twentieth. The main that can be cited for rivalry was the issue of cultural authority, wherein the role of patronage was a crucial element. Cultural patronage is a valuable political resource. The nawabs of Avadh, in extending patronage to Delhi's leading lights after the demise of Delhi's court culture, began to compete with the Mughal emperor for political and cultural pre-eminence. Ostensibly, the patronage extended to Delhi's greatest exponents showed the nawabs to be loyal supporters of the empire, interested in bolstering its artistic endeavours and helping to perpetuate its cultural achievements. In fact, by drawing the great names to their own court the nawabs were also enhancing their own stature as rulers.
It is often believed that Lakhnavis were very keen to create a rival culture to that of Delhi. Lucknow was not content with just being the continuator of the traditions of Delhi in life and civilization. It wished to evolve a civilization of its own, to mould a new idiom of its own, and to mark it off from that of Delhi.
Just as the Navab Vazir obtained freedom from the Delhi court, Lakhnavis freed themselves in every respect: new standards arose in culture and society, including new fashions in dress, apparel and adornments. There arose differences in polite discourse. In keeping with all this, writers and poets also began to rebel against the literary conventions which had been in vogue - in Delhi.
It is significant that where new styles arose in Lucknow modern critics see them as manifestations of rebellion against the traditional status quo.
While unable to maintain control over patronage of the arts because of the reversal in circumstances which it suffered at the time, Delhi could still withhold sanction of Lakhnavi artistic efforts by refusing to recognise them as successful, and so could wield the modicum of power it held by virtue of historical precedent.
In light of these consequences of Lakhnavi patronage, one can appreciate why some of the emigre poets and artists reacted to Lucknow with ambivalence. Dihlavis often resisted any identification with their new home, vociferously disdaining Lakhnavi ways.
The nobles of Delhi could not help but perceive Lucknow and its citizenry as provincial upstarts. To pretend that this new city could replace their beloved and once magnificent Delhi as the centre of Mughal culture was to add insult to the injury of having been forced to flee. Dihlavi ‚migr‚s therefore set themselves apart from Lakhnavi manners and customs in every conceivable way, and their distinctions naturally extended to the realm of poetry as well.
In the middle decades of the nineteenth century Delhi's court culture began to re-emerge within the walls of the Red Fort, under the auspices of the Mughal heir-apparent, who was also the popular poet Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862). Surrounded by the very gifted poets Momin Khan Momin (1800-1851), Shaikh Ibrahim Zauq (1789-1854), and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869), Bahadur Shah was able to sponsor the Mughal Empire's and Delhi's cultural swan song. Later generations of Dihlavis, bolstered by this final flurry of literary achievement, began to seek ways to reclaim for themselves the paramount place in Urdu culture. This reclamation required a diminishing of the position which Lucknow had built up over the preceding half-century, and was brought about by something of a campaign to discredit Lucknow in the annals of Urdu literary criticism.
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