Growing Ulama Political Authority
Of all Awadh's rulers, Amjad ‘Ali Shah (1842-47), who came to the throne on his father's death, took legalist, Usuli Shi‘ism most seriously. His pious admiration for the mujtahids led him to bestow on them increasing responsi-
bilities of a governmental nature, integrating them as never before into the Awadh state. In contrast to the common image of the Shi‘i mujtahids as hostile to secular government, the Awadh ulama accepted offers of government posts and government monies with alacrity. Indeed, few if any major Shi‘i ulama remained outside the structure of government patronage and religious institution building in the 1840s. They appear to have seen the very willingness of a secular government to act in a proclerical manner as evidence of its justness and the rightness of cooperating with it.
The young monarch tempered his own pattern of life, that of an Indo-Muslim king, with Shi‘i piety. He maintained a harem of four hundred concubines and four wives, but avoided the scandals and adultery that echoed in his predecessors' palaces. So scrupulous about the use of state funds that he did not say his daily prayers in clothes bought by the government treasury, he took instead a stipend from his mother with which to purchase his own vestments. The tall, corpulent ruler with "a nose of extraordinary size" claimed on his coins to be the Shadow of God on earth. Even he, however, did not altogether eschew the life of an Awadh notable, indulging in such forbidden pastimes as listening to songs and music, and spending a great deal of his time in the harem. He entirely lacked the horror the clergy felt at representational art, ordering all the buildings in Lucknow painted white or in colors and covered with scenes of Indian life.
Amjad ‘Ali Shah demonstrated a legendary deference to the Usuli mujtahids, illustrating the way in which the clergy had been able to influence members of the ruling class. He suggested a seal for Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi, whom he called the "sultan of the ulama," which referred to him as the "object of the faith of Amjad ‘Ali Shah." Sayyid Muhammad, feeling that the king had gone too far, demurred and asked that the phrase be altered to "object of the bounties." The monarch used to visit the chief mujtahid's mansion with humility.
At the powerful cleric's instance, the king ordered that the many taverns and hashish shops in Lucknow be closed down and that the narcotics crops be destroyed. He ordained that houses of male prostitution, which had proliferated in the capital, be put out of business. The male prostitutes, most of them transvestites, were arrested and banished from the city, except those who gave up their saris and agreed to have their locks shorn. Some notable patrons of the notorious Pomegranate Seed brothel wrote Sayyid Muhammad asking that he drop by, in a brash attempt to save the establishment. He
stiffly responded that if they read the formula for repentance, gave up taking the place of women, and grew beards, he would be glad to accept the invitation.
Amjad ‘Ali Shah appointed Sayyid Muhammad Nasirabadi as the head of the excise department, an announcement that the government would no longer seek to profit from the sale of forbidden liquors and would attempt instead to abolish the substances subject to the tax. The all-out assault on the rip-roaring style of life of Lucknow's boisterous denizens met strong resistance and ultimately failed. The wits of the city found endless material for their satirical doggerel, taking revenge for the Usuli establishment's attempt to interfere in their amusements. One wag wrote:
Whoever drinks no wine, believers, he will burn in hell;
The excise to the Heavenly bartender's lover fell.
The attack on hashish or bhang stores and taverns also had an economic motive, since Sayyid Muhammad resented Hindu dominance of Awadh's commerce. He wished to initiate a state-sponsored Muslim boycott of Hindu shops. Some Muslims founded stores with much effort, but the king's plans in this regard fell short of realization.