AVADH (English also Audh or Oudh), an ancient cultural and administrative region lying between the Himalayas and the Ganges in North India, named after Ayodhyā, the setting of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. By the 700s/1300s, Avadh proper had become a province of all the major Islamic dynasties in India (except the Šarqī sultanate of Jaunpur, which controlled only the eastern half of it). What may be called Greater Avadh emerged as an autonomous political system in the process of Mughal decline in the 12th/18th century, expanding to more than twice its original size under the rule of Nīšāpūrī sayyeds. In 1189/1775 it was almost as large as the modern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Throughout seven centuries of Muslim domination in North India, Avadh remained a fertile area in which military and administrative elites from Iran and Transoxiana could settle and develop the legal, intellectual, and religious activities of their qaṣabas. The best known of these settlements is Belgrām, in Hardōī district near the Ganges in southwest Avadh, which has produced a number of remarkable men such as the poet in Persian and Arabic ʿAbd-al-Jalīl Belgrāmī (fl. 1071-1138/1660-1725), the author in Persian and Arabic Āzād Belgrāmī (fl. 1116-1200/1704-86), and the historian Belgrāmī, author of Sawāneḥ-e Akbarī.

On the opposite side of Hardōī district lies the isolated qaṣaba of Gopāmaw, which contains the ruins of numerous ḵānaqāhs, madrasas, tombs, and inns, bearing testimony to earlier cultural activities.

Nine miles west of Lucknow lies Kākorī which for many generations has been the home of eminent scholars of theology, law, and literature; some families have a 600 year-long tradition of scholarly activities. In Lucknow itself, a relatively small settlement until the late 12th/18th century and the home of Turkic immigrants who came during the Delhi Sultanate, scholarly training has been uninterrupted since high Mughal times.

It was with the decline of Delhi in the early 1700s that Avadh came into its own as the main source of literary, artistic, and religious patronage in North India. Its rulers, called nawabs, were Iranian Shiʿites from Nīšāpūr, who not only encouraged the existing Persian-language belle-lettrist activity to shift from Delhi, but also invited, and received, a steady stream of scholars, poets, jurists, architects, and painters from Iran. Although Urdu was at this time becoming more widely used both for artistic expression and for everyday speech, Persian remained the medium of government, academic instruction, high culture, and the court language until the mid-13th/19th century. The best Urdu poets produced dīvāns in Persian, often under a different pen-name from that used in their Urdu composition, competing with the Iranian immigrants who criticized the relatively ornate sabk-e hendī, or “Indian style.”

A primary source of patronage and encouragement was, naturally, the nawabi family itself. Šojāʿ-al-dawla (r. 1754-75), though primarily interested in military affairs, nevertheless supported the cultural and scholarly activity at his capital in Fayżābād. There jurists at his court, Sayyed Sarīʿ-al-dīn, Mollā ʿAṭāʾallāh, and Mawlawī Majīd, were famous well beyond Avadh’s borders, and two Hindu historians, Haṛčaran Dās and the Marāthā Kāšī Rāj, wrote polished Persian narratives of his important reign. One court physician, Ḥakīm Ṣādeq Moḥammad Moʿālej Khan, was also a scholar of Hadith and feqh.

Several poets in Persian at Šojāʿ’s court, or supported by his Mughal in-laws, deserve mention: Serāj-al-dīn ʿAlī Khan Ārzū who received a monthly allowance of Rs. 300 (30 pounds sterling) from the nawab’s treasury; Rāe Sarap Singh Khatrī Dīvāna and Mīrzā Moḥammad Fāḵer Makīn, both refugees from Delhi; Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Reżā b. ʿAbdallāh Matīn Eṣfahānī, himself the author of a 5,000-verse dīvān and sometime tutor to Dīvāna, spent decades wandering around India in search of a Sufi master, until he found Sayyed Moḥammad ʿĀref Neʿmatallāhī of the Qāderīya selsela (who received a stipend granted by Šojāʿ’s uncle, the nawab Ṣafdar Jang) in Lucknow. An interesting bilingual poet was the Belgrāmi aristocrat, Moḥammad-ʿĀref Jān, who wrote in Persian as ʿĀref, and in Hindi as Jān; he was a close friend to Āzād, and studied Sanskrit as well as Arabic.

Early in Āṣaf-al-dawla’s reign (1775-97), the realm changed from a military patronage state to a partially demilitarized protectorate under the subsidiary alliance with the English East India Company. By controlling Avadh’s foreign policy, border security, and army, the British guaranteed the survival of the regime against external and internal enemies, while in effect depriving it of all but cultural and internal administrative activity. Lucknow, Āṣaf’s new capital, became as a consequence the major source of patronage in all of North India, a haven for writers and artists fleeing unsettled conditions elsewhere. Although Urdu was strengthening its hold on the public imagination, partly due to a reaction against the growing attacks on sabk-e hendī by Iranians, Persian retained a large following and remained the supreme test of literary accomplishment.

Shiʿite influence grew immensely from this period. Moḥarram becoming a lavishly sponsored ceremony for all communities, including non-Muslims, as well as a rite of cultural legitimacy for the regime. With it arose the genre, increasingly however in Urdu, of the marṯīa (q.v.) or tragic elegy on the martyrdom at Karbalā of Imam Ḥosayn and his family. Āṣaf supported theologians such as Deldār ʿAlī b. Moḥammad Moʿīn-al-dīn Lakhnavī, whose sermons are preserved in Mawāʿeẓ-e Ḥasanīya, and whose son, Mawlawī Sayyed Moḥammad, founded a madrasa for Shiʿite theology called the Solṭān-al-madāres. To this Mīrzā Bahādōr Mīrzā added the Madrasa-ye mašāʾeḵ al-šarāʿī, also in Lucknow.

The poets of Persian retained their social position throughout the reigns of Āṣaf, his brother Saʿādat ʿAlī Khan (r. 1798-1814), and the latter’s five descendants—who ruled Avadh until its annexation by the British in 1856—yet no author or poet wrote exclusively in Persian.

Until Ḡāleb in the 13th/19th century, Persian was primarily employed in the compilation of taḏkeras or biographical anthologies, dictionaries, compendia of usages and idioms, commentaries, and histories. A plateau in literary creativity in Persian had been reached in the late 12th/18th century, in which writers sought to preserve, compare and evaluate the works of their predecessors, reform their own use of language, and influence the direction of Urdu itself; as a matter of fact, our present knowledge of much Arabic and Turkish as well as Persian poetry owes much to the conserving and evaluative work of this period. At the same time the genre of literary memoirs gained momentum with the Persian Ḏekr-e Mīr of the poet Mīr Moḥammad-Taqī Mīr, known primarily for his Urdu compositions.

The enthusiasm for defining and appreciating Indian Muslims’ classical literary and religious traditions led Qāżī-al-dīn Ḥaydar (r. 1814-27) to found the Maṭbaʿ-e Šāhī or Royal Press in the Dawlat-ḵāna on the Gomtī river. One of its first publications was the Haftqolzom, a seven-volume Persian dictionary compiled under the king’s own supervision. The Tāj al-loḡāt, an Arabic-Persian dictionary in seven large folio volumes, was the result of the work of scholars under the reigns of three successive rulers. In the 1830s publishing expanded greatly as lithography was introduced, and works of classical literary, artistic, and religious importance gained wide acceptance along with more popular tracts and minor works. By the late 1840s there were no fewer than twelve private lithographic publishing houses in Lucknow and Kanpur, which produced over 700 separate works, some of them in more than ten editions. This was especially important for Koran and Hadith studies, which contributed to the social and religious reform movements launched by Indian Muslims, in Avadh and elsewhere. Thus, by mid-century, the political and military importance of the region had been eclipsed by its more lasting achievements in the realms of social awareness, literary conservation, and religious reform.



Mīr Ḡolām ʿAlī Khan Belgrāmī Āzād, Ḵezāna-ye ʿĀmera, wr. 1762-63, Kanpur, 1871.

Bhagvān Dās Hindī, Safīna-ye Hendī, wr. 1804, Patna, 1958.

Bahādōr Singh, Yādgār-e Bahādōrī, wr. 1833, Uttar Pradesh State Archives, Allahabad, fols. 269-71, 273-83, 557a-606b.

Deldār ʿAlī b. Moḥammad Moʿīn-al-dīn Laḵnavī, Mawāʿeẓ-e Ḥasanīya, Asiatic Society of Bengal MS, IV, II, no. 1049.

Haṛčaran Dās, Čahār golzār-e Šojāʿī, wr. 1787, British Museum Or. Ms. 1732.

Harnām Singh Nāmī, Tārīḵ-e Saʿādat-e Jāvīd, wr. 1806, British Museum Or. Ms. 1820, fols. 197-221.

Eṇʿām ʿAlī, Awṣāf al-Āṣaf, wr. 1785, British Museum Or. Ms. 1707; Aligarh Muslim University Library, żamīma fārsī tārīḵ, no. 25, fols. 53a-109b.

Mīr Taqī Mīr, Ḏekr-e Mīr, ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥaqq, Aurangabad, 1928.

Moḥammad Fayż Baḵš, Resāla dar aḥwāl-e zamīndārān-e Kākōrī, wr. ca. 1815, Asiatic Society of Bengal MS, Ivanow catalog of the Curzon Collection, number 87. Ḡolām Hamadānī Moṣḥafī, ʿEqd-e Ṯorayyā, wr. 1784, Aurangabad, 1934.

Solṭān ʿAlī Ḥosaynī Ṣafawī, Maʿdan al-saʿādat, wr. 1804, British Museum Or. Ms. 2057, fols. 123-46; Asiatic Society of Bengal MS, Ivanow catalog number 181, vol. four. Rājā Ratan Singh Zaḵmī, Solṭān al-tawārīḵ, wr. 1842, British Museum Or. Ms. 1876, fols. 1-8b, 112b-273b.

Mawlawī ʿEnāyatallāh, Taḏkera-ye ʿOlamāʾ-e Ferangī Maḥal (in Urdu), Lucknow, 1930.

A. Sprenger, A Catalogue of the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani Manuscripts of the Libraries of the King of Oudh, Calcutta, 1854.

See also C. Collin Davies in EI2 I, pp. 756-58.

Search terms:

 اَوَد، اوده avadh 


(R. B. Barnett)

Originally Published: December 15, 1987

Last Updated: August 17, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 1, pp. 30-32