Nawab Wazir of Oudh

Water colour in style of Zoffany
Reign 1775–1797
Coronation 26 January 1775
Full name Muhammad Yahiya Meerza Amani ASIF-UD-DAULAH
Titles Nawab Wazir al-Mamalik
Khan Bahadur
Adan Muqaam[nt 1]
Born 23 September 1748 (1748-09-23)
Died 21 September 1797 (1797-09-22)
Place of death Lucknow
Buried Bara Imambara, Lucknow
Predecessor Shuja-ud-Daula
Successor Wazir Ali Khan
Offspring Wazir Ali Khan
Royal House Nishapuri
Father Shuja-ud-Daula
Mother Umat uz-Zohra Begum Sahiba

Asaf-Ud-Daula (Hindi: आसफ़ उद दौला, Urdu: آصف الدولہ) (b. 23 September 1748 – d. 21 September 1797) was the nawab wazir of Oudh from 26 January 1775 to 21 September 1797,[1] and the son of Shuja-ud-Dowlah, his mother and grandmother being the begums of Oudh, whose spoliation formed one of the chief counts in the charges against Warren Hastings.



A contemporary chronicler describes the person of Asafuddaula as follows: [nt 2]

"His features bore a general resemblance to his father's. The upper part of his body was rather long, but the lower part from waist downwards was very short. From his childhood he was obese; his fat ears, neck and double chin were one fleshy mass. His fingers and palm were short and plump. From his boyhood he was addicted to frivolities and his natural inclinations and attachments were for low, ill-born and base-minded associates. He used to laugh unseasonably, fling derisive abuse at others and desire derisive abuse in return. He delighted in meaningless amusements and was immensely pleased with anyone who indulged in filthy language; and the more obscene the conversation was in any company the better he was pleased."

John Bristow, Resident in Oudh when Asafuddaula ascended the masnad, wrote of him: [nt 3]

"His Excellency is juvenile in his amusements, volatile, injudicious in the choice of his confidants, and so familiar in his conversation as to throw aside the sovereign and admit his favourites to a freedom destructive to all subordination and a cause for the inattention paid by them to his commands. He frequently passes whole days in dissipation and is of late much given to liquor, for I have known him to make himself and his favourites and even his menial servants indecently drunk. By this mode of passing his time he can have little leisure for business and indeed he hardly attends to any excepting when I wait upon him on the Company's affairs, and then I am generally referred to his minister, to whom and other favourites he confides the entire charge of this government."

Antoine Polier - Orientalist Hassan Resa Khan background Nawab Salar Jung Claude Martin - Soldier and polymath Nawab Wazir of Oudh Colonel John Mordaunt Col. Mordaunt's cockfighter Ozias Humphrey - Painter Cockfighting John Wombwell - East India Co. accountant Mr Orr Mr. Robert Gregory Lieutenant Golding - East India Co. Engineer Seated figure Unknown Zoffany - the artist Cockfighter Mr Gregory's cockfighter Use a cursor to explore or click for larger image
Colonel Mordaunt's cockfight by Johann Zoffany - Some can be identified by moving the cursor over the painting.[2]Use a cursor to explore

Shujauddaula had made all possible effort to make his eldest son and heir-apparent in every way a worthy successor to himself. The best of tutors were engaged to impart princely qualities to Asafuddaula, but all that he added to his native generosity was skill in archery. Of his generosity tales are still heard in Lucknow and elsewhere in Oudh, and shopkeepers in Lucknow even today open their shops with his name on their lips. Perhaps some vanity was mixed with his generosity, and many a foreign adventurer made fortunes by playing upon this trait of his character. He readily bought from them worthless tinsels for lakhs of rupees and when reprimanded by his ministers, confessed that he did so with his eyes open, but how could he refuse one who had taken the trouble of travelling all the way to Oudh having heard of his generosity![citation needed]

When of marriageable age, Asafuddaula was married to the daughter of Imtiazuddaula, a nobleman who wielded considerable influence in the Court of the Emperor at Delhi. But the nawab preferred young men, and the marriage never seems to have been consummated.[nt 4]

Reign as nawab

Asafuddaula became nawab at the age of 26, on the death of his father, Shujauddaula, on 28 January 1775.[nt 5][3]

When Shuja-ud-Daulah died he left two million pounds sterling buried in the vaults of the zenana. The widow and mother of the deceased prince claimed the whole of this treasure under the terms of a will which was never produced. When Warren Hastings pressed the nawab for the payment of debt due to the British East India Company, he obtained from his mother a loan of 26 lakh (2.6 million) rupees, for which he gave her a jagir (land) of four times the value; of subsequently obtained 30 lakh (3 million) more in return for a full acquittal, and the recognition of her jagirs without interference for life by the Company. These jagirs were afterwards confiscated on the ground of the begum's complicity in the rising of Chai Singh, which was attested by documentary evidence, as the evidence now available seems to show that Warren Hastings did his best throughout to rescue the nawab from his own incapacity, and was inclined to be lenient to the begums.

Towards the beginning of Asafuddaula's rule, men of learning and art avoided Lucknow because Asafuddaula had no regard for such people [nt 6] and gathered round the Begums' and their eunuchs' court at Fyzabad, but later on Asafuddaula took greater interest in such people and induced most of them to attach themselves to his Court at Lucknow, [nt 7]

The Muharram. Asaf-Ud-Dowlah, listening at night to the maulvi reading from the scriptures, c.1795

Faiz Bakhsh makes repeated references to the nawab's indifference to civil and military affairs and to his lack of ambition. Shujauddaula died in the month of Shaban. Four months after came the Muharram mourning and taziadari was observed by Asafuddaula at Fyzabad. After that he spent four or five months on the banks of the Ghagra in the sand and dust without any reason, and he did not evince the slightest inclination to undertake the discipline of the troops or civil administration, to know the leading military officers or inspect the maneuvers of the regiments, to examine the ammunition and equipment of tho artillery or hear the items of negligence in reports. In all these Shuja-ud-daula had been unremittingly employed. [nt 8]

Asafuddaula left the entire work of administration in the hands of Mukhtaruddaula. In 1776 there occurred a serious mutiny among the nawab's regulars at Fyzabad, and although the nawab's and the English intelligencers had dispatched to the sarkar full accounts of the outrages and disturbances during two days and nights, the nawab was so indifferent to public affairs that he remained uninformed.[nt 9] After Mukhtaruddaula 's death, Asafuddaula found a new minister in the person of Haidar Beg Khan in whose hands he left all power and authority. Faiz Bakhsh tells of an amusing incident which brings out the difference between Asafuddaula and his father. Referring to Asafuddaula's practice of annually visiting the hill resort of Bitul, he says, [nt 10]

"Shujauddaula had once proposed to go to the foot of the hills. The people of the hills, knowing that he was an intrepid soldier and had an army and artillery, and fearing that he might become acquainted with the mountain paths and annex their country, became greatly alarmed, and they opened an embankment which confined the water in a certain place, and let it flow, so that his tents could not be pitched. He turned back quickly.

The mountaineers, however, knew that Asafuddaula did not trouble himself about his dominions, that he had readily given up Benares, a rich province [to the British], and this was a gauge of his greed for territory, so they freely allowed him access."

Shifting the Capital

In 1775 he moved the capital of Oudh from Faizabad to Lucknow and built various monuments in and around Lucknow, including the Bara Imambara.

Architectural and other contribution

Nawab Asaf-ud-Dowlah is considered the architect general of Lucknow. With the ambition to outshine the splendour of Mughal architecture, he built a number of monuments and developed the city of Lucknow into an architectural marvel. Several of the buildings survive today, including the famed Asafi Imambara which attracts tourists even today, and the Qaisar Bagh area of downtown Lucknow where thousands live in resurrected buildings.

The Asafi Imambara is a famed vaulted structure surrounded by beautiful gardens, which the Nawab started as a charitable project to generate employment during the famine of 1784. In that famine even the nobles were reduced to penury. It is said that Nawab Asaf employed over 20,000 people for the project (including commoners and noblemen), which was neither a masjid nor a mousoleum (contrary to the popular contemporary norms of buildings). The Nawab's sensitivity towards preserving the reputation of the upper class is demonstrated in the story of the construction of Imambara. During daytime, common citizens employed on the project would construct the building. On the night of every fourth day, the noble and upper class people were employed in secret to demolish the structure built, an effort for which they received payment. Thus their dignity was preserved.

The Nawab became so famous for his generosity that it is still a well-known saying in Lucknow that "he who does not receive (livelihood) from the Lord, will receive it from Asaf-ud-Dowlah" (Jisko de na Moula, usko de Asaf-ud-Doula).

One of his many acts of generosity was the digging of a canal known as Nahar-i-Asafi in Najaf Ashraf, where the Imam Ali's tomb is, at a cost of about 7 lakhs of rupees.[nt 11]


The nawab died of dropsy on 21 September 1797 (28 Rabi I, 1212 A.H.) at the age of 48[nt 12]/51[nt 13] in Lucknow and is buried at Bara Imambara, Lucknow. [nt 14]

His durbar

Chief minister (Diwan)

  • Mukhtaruddaula Murtaza Khan (In office from 28 January 1775 to March 1776 (7 Safar 1190 A.H.))[nt 15]
  • Muhammad Ilich Khan (In office from March 1776 to August 1776)[nt 16]
  • Hasan Raza Khan (In office from August 1776 to June 1796)[nt 17]
  • Jhao Lal (In office from June 1796 to early 1797)[nt 18]
  • Almas All Khan (In office for a day, 1797)[nt 19]
  • Tafazzul Hussain Khan (In office from early 1797 to 1800)[nt 20]

Assistant Minster to Chief Minister

  • Haidar Beg Khan (In office from August 1776 to 5 June 1792 )[nt 21]
  • Raja Tikait Rai (In office from June 1792 to June 1796)[nt 22]

Other durbaris

It will suffice to mention here only the names of some of the lesser personalities in the nawab's durbar who during the period under review had had a share in the government of Oudh. They were :[nt 23]

  • Surat Singh,
  • Raja Jagannath,
  • Hulas Rai,
  • Buchhraj,
  • Tahsin Ali Khan,
  • Balakram,
  • Bhagwan Das,
  • Dhanpat Rai,
  • Bhawani Mahra,
  • Zainulabdin,
  • Mirza Hasan,
  • Mehdi Ali,
  • Govindram,
  • Ratan Chand,
  • Abu Talib, etc.

They possessed varying degrees of ability and power, the two not always proportionate to each other because they were employed either haphazardly or deliberately with corrupt intentions.[3]



Preceded by
Jalal ad-Din Shoja` ad-Dowla Haydar
Nawab Wazir al-Mamalik of Oudh
Jan 26 1775 – Sep 21 1797
Succeeded by
Mirza Wazir `Ali Khan



  1. ^ title after death
  2. ^ B.3.C. 26 Feb. 1776, Bristow to Board, 12 Feb,
  3. ^ B.3.C. 26 Feb. 1776, Bristow to Board, 12 Feb,
  4. ^ The testimony of Faiz Bakhsh and Bristow might have been dismissed as exaggerated, as it has been the tendency of one school to do, on the ground that they belonged to a hostile group of critics. Bristow is known to have aspired to wield unfettered authority in Oudh, for which he was recalled by Warren Hastings, and it was in his interest to present the nawab in the worst possible light. Faiz Bakhsh was patronized by the "Begam of Oudh", Asafuddaula's mother and grandmother, who were not well-disposed towards the nawab. But there is overwhelming evidence corroborating these critics. See especially Kamaluddin Haidar, Sanxmihat-i-SaJatin-i-Awadh f. 25; Ghulam Ali, Imad-us-Sa'adat 137 ; Abu Talib, Tafzih*ul-Qhafilin (Tr. by W. Hoey) 37-9, 46-50, 91-4, 98-106, 115.
  5. ^ Faiz Bakhsh, Tarikh-i-FaraMakhsh (Tr. by W. Hoey) 12.
  6. ^ Faiz Bakhsh op. cit. 229.
  7. ^ Faiz Bakhsh op. cit. 231
  8. ^ Faiz Bakhsh op. cit. 22
  9. ^ Faiz Bakhsh op. cit. 36
  10. ^ Faiz Bakhsh op. cit. 232
  11. ^ Lord Valentia, Travels I 15ti.
  12. ^ according to Gregorian calculation
  13. ^ according to Hijri calculation
  14. ^ Ghulam Ali, op. cit. 158 ; Faiz Bakhsh, op. cit. 255-6 ; Rai Ratan Chand, Sutian-ut-Tawarikh f. 215-16 ; Kamaluddin Haidar op. cit. f. 27 verso.
  15. ^ Ghulam Ali, op. cit. 130 ; Abu Talib, op cit 19-23 ; Kamaluddin Haidar, op. cit. f. 22.
  16. ^ Faiz Bakhsh, op. cit. 83.
  17. ^ Kamaluddin Haidar, op. cit. f. 24 ; B.P.C. 15 Jun. 1792 Ives to Cornwallis 6 Jun.
  18. ^ Kamaluddin Haidar, op. cit. f. 27 ; Ghulam All, op. cit. 157.
  19. ^ Ratan Chand, op. cit. f. 213.
  20. ^ Kamaluddin Haidar, op. cit. f. 31.
  21. ^ B.P.C. 3 Aug. 1792 Cornwallis to Ives. 61 B.8.C. 10 Apr. 1797 Shore to Speke 5 Apr. 52 Author's italics.
  22. ^ B.P.C. 20 May 1796 Cherry to Shore 21 July 1795.
  23. ^ I have not found many details about them in the chronicles or official documents I have consulted, where they are only casually mentioned.

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