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Ghazi ad-Din Rafa`at ad-Dowla

Jah Shah

Mohammed Wajed ‘Ali Shah


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Awadh was a very fertile and prosperous province of northern India (modern Uttar Pradesh) with a very high density of population. The name Awadh is derived from the word Ayodhya, capital of Lord Rama, the legendary king and hero of the Ramayana epic. Awadh was an important province of the Mughal empire. In 1720, Saadat Khan, an adventurer and merchant was appointed as a Subhedar (Governor) by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. In 1732 his successor established a hereditary polity under Mughal sovereignty in Awadh. Gradually Awadh became an independent kingdom as the power of the Mughals diminished. The opulence in the courts of the Nawabs (kings of Awadh) and their prosperity were noticed by the British East India Company. This resulted in their direct interference in internal political matters of Awadh. In 1815, Marquis Hastings of the East India Company persuaded the then ruling Nawab to become an independent king which he did on 8 of October 1819.


English armies had defeated the Nawab of Awadh already in the battle of Buxor in 1764 and this started a long process of ceding territories, signing unfavourable treaties and eventually complete loss of power. Wajid Ali Shah was the last Nawab of Awadh. In 1856, his kingdom was annexed by Dalhousie, Governor General of the East India Company on the grounds of internal misrule. It was in Awadh where the first great revolt of Indian Independence started in 1857 AD.


Rulers of Awadh

Borhan al-Molk Mir Mohammad Amin Musawi Sa`adat `Ali Khan I


Abu´l Mansur Mohammad Moqim Khan


Jalal ad-Din Shoja` ad-Dowla


Jalal ad-Din Shoja` ad-Dowla Haydar


Asaf ad-Dowla Amani


Mirza Wazir `Ali Khan


Yamin ad-Dowla Nazem al-Molk  Sa`adat `Ali Khan II Bahadur


Ghazi ad-Din Rafa`at ad-Dowla


Naser ad-Din Haydar Solayman (Jah Shah)


Mo`in ad-Din Abu´l-Fath Mohammad (Ali Shah)


Naser ad-Dowla Amjad `Ali Thorayya (Jah Shah)


Naser ad-Din `Abd al-Mansur (Mohammad Wajed `Ali Shah)



The rulers of Awadh bore the title of Nawab. From 1819 they bore the title of Padshah-e Awadh, Shah-e Zaman.[1]




No emblems symbolizing the state, the ruler or the empire from the time of the early Nawabs of Awadh are known. On portraits of them they are sumptuously dressed in Indian styled attires with headdresses of different kinds.

As there seem not to be any pictures of the campaigns of the Nawabs against the British and other enemies, we also do not know anything about the standards and banners used and consequently nothing about the military symbolism, heraldry, of Awadh..

Royal symbols in the western sense of the word appeared in Awadh from the beginning of the nineteenth century. It seems that they were for a large part designed by a British artist called Robert Home, who was responsable for the design of the coronation robes in 1819. [2] He was thoroughly inspired by the European Empire style of the time. Nevertheless, the royal achievements incorporate many Indian and Buddhist symbols, put together in a way borrowed from European heraldry.


The achievement of Awadh in its most extended form, as illustrated above is:


Emblem: A katar point downwards between two matsya (fishes).

Supporters: Two tigers with banners.

Crown: A sun radiant, charged with an imperial crown and a triple necklace, upheld by two angels (dewa) with fans (morchhal).

Crest: A royal umbrella

Garland: An anchor per pale and a garland of flowers entwining a listel. [3]






The central symbol consists of twin fishes (matsya), a buddhist symbol meaning freedom from restraint and the life-giving properties of water. They also symbolize the Jamuna and the Indus, the main rivers of India.


In the context of Awadh they are the emblem of the mahi muratib = the Order of the Fish (“fish dignity” in Persian and Arabic), an honorary badge or dignity, shaped like a fish (supposedly Labeo rohita in Moghul India). Said to signify youth, bravery, perseverance and strength. Shaped like a a golden fish on a pole or as two golden fish hanging from a bow. Reputedly founded by Khusru Parviz, King of Persia (A.D. 591-628), and thence passed to the Moghul Emperors of Delhi and to the Court of Awadh.


The Kutar is the symbol of armed authority.

This emblem is supported by two tigers, each keeping a banner. This banner is forked and shows a golden fish on a red field. It is the symbol of the army. The tigers are symbols of a king (in Buddhist symbolism: - of wild animals), “worthy and courageous supreme commander of the army”. As a result, the Nawab of Awadh is represented here as having a rank equal to a Raja (king) and not to a Maharaja (high king) for which the insignia was a lion. The lion would fit the Padshah-e Awadh after 1819, as a Padshah was the Persian equivalent of Maharaja.


The Mughals’ tiara

The composed symbol upheld by two angels (dewas, hindu goddesses) is the symbol of the Mughal who was the suzerein of  the nawabs of Awadh. In the symbol the sun is the emblem of the Mughal Empire, the crown is the Imperial tiara and represents the Mughal himself. [4]


The angels generally symbolize the heavenly mandate of the ruler and thus legitimate his power (“By the Grace of God / Heaven”)


The necklace is the symbol of the exalted rank of the Mughal. A very old example of such a necklace can be seen on the throne of Tutankhamen (1334-‘25 BC) where it is the mark of distinction if the Viceroy of Numidia. Such necklaces were also worn by mediaeval Indian kings, often represented as gods. Always of precious stones or pearls, they were common amongst 19th century royalty of India.


The umbrella is the symbol of spiritual leadership, be it in this case, of the Mughal or of the nawab.


The Crown of Oudh


The crown of Oudh consists of a 12-pointed diadem covered with diamonds and with a big ruby in the middle. On the central point is a plume and the crown is lined with a high red velvet cap.


About the Crown of Oud is reported: [5]


The crown was a rarity in modern India; among Hindus as well as Muslims the turban was the royal headgear of choice. Ancient Hindu kings had worn multi-peaked crowns (mukut), and tinsel or pith versions of these continue to be used today in weddings and in dramatizations of Hindu epics. Elaborate crowns were also worn by some of the last Mughal emperors and the rulers of the successor states, especially Muslim ones, but these towering confections seem to have symbolized weakness, not power. Drawing heavily on foreign influence, they represented a last, futile protest against their wearers’ loss of power to the European interlopers.

The fate of one dynasty’s experiment with crowns illustrates the point. In 1819 the East India Company granted the nawabs of Oudh (Awadh) permission to style themselves as independent rulers - ‘padshah’ or emperor in the eyes of Oudh; ‘king’in the eyes of the British. Oudh was a large, wealthy state in the centre of north India; it was surrounded on three sides by British territory and had been greedily eyed by successive British governors. Its then ruler, Ghazi al-Din Haydar (r.1814-27), was an extravagant, self-glorifying man who, as a result of his lax administration, was poorly placed to stave off further British incursions into his state. 


Portraits of the first  two kings of Oudh, showing the crown of Oudh. [6]


Overestimating the power that would accompany his new status, he welcomed his elevation to ‘king’ as proof that he was no longer subordinate to the faded authority of the Mughal emperor. It was a link the British were happy to sever too. In an explicit break with Indian tradition, Ghazi al-Din Haydar had himself publicly crowned, an act that required him first to appear bareheaded before his subjects. This is a state which Indians associate with humility, penitence, and submission - not royal power. For the occasion, in addition to his new crown, he wore an ermine-trimmed cape and a ceremonial chain. All were unmistakably European in inspiration, and drew on designs provided by a British artist, Robert Home (1752-1834), who was court painter at Oudh in the 1810s and 20s. [7]



Regal (?) crown (ca. 1875) presented to Edward VII by the Taluqdars of  Oudh.

(© Royal Palaces, Residences and Art Collections) [8]


Neither the kings nor their crowns were to last. In 1856 the British annexed Oudh on the grounds that it was poorly governed. Thereafter no Indian prince was allowed to call himself ‘king’, or adopt anything resembling an ‘arched’ or ‘imperial’ crown. The landlords of Oudh nevertheless risked a poignant reminder of their past when they presented the Prince of Wales with a gem-studded ‘regal crown’ in 1876. [9]



Yamin ad-Dowla Nazem al-Molk  Sa`adat `Ali Khan II Bahadur



At the beginning of the 19th century, in the time of Sa’adat Ali Khan II, the achievement was:


Emblem: A kutar per pale, point upwards between two fishes saliant.

Crown: The crown of the nawab

Supporters: Two tigers, each holding a pennon.


Tympanon above a door in Barowen Palace, 18th-19th c.

Detail from: Nawab Ghazi ud-din Haidar of Awadh entertaining Lord and Lady Moira.

Lucknow, c. 1814. (British Library)[10]


Ghazi ad-Din Rafa’at ad Dowla



The achievement was continued by his successors:

Medal of Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haidar of Awadh.

Lucknow, c. 1818. Cast and struck gold. British Museum, donated by Henry van der Bergh.


The achievement can also be seen on a golden mohur, minted 1820. [11] It is:



Emblem: A lotus-flower surrounded by the twin fish matsya, in chief a katar per pale, point upwards.

Crown: A five-pointed crown.

Supporters: Two tigers with banners reguardant standing on a listel.


The lotus is, apart from the buddhist meaning,  the symbol of (enlightened) administration.


Naser ad-Dowla Amjad ‘Ali Thorayya (Jah Shah)




This crown is the central symbol of an emblem that appears on coins minted in the reign of Amjad Ali Shah. It is:


Emblem: A fish naiant to the sinister and the crown of Awadh in chief.

Crest: The royal umbrella of Awadh.

Garland: Two swords, points upwards.


This may have been the emblem of the Royal Army of Awadh.

Silver Rupee with emblem of the Royal Army of Awadh, 1842.  [12]


Mohammed Wajed ´Ali Shah



A last achievement of the Padshah’s of Awadh dates from the reign of Mohammad Wajed ‘Ali Shah. It can be found in a manuscript made for the king in which he is portrayed in his royal robes, wearing the royal crown and sitting on his throne. [13]

The royal achievement is:


Arms: An Indian shield with four knobs.

Crown: The royal crown of Awadh upheld by the

Supporters: Two winged mermaids with morchhals (fans) and royal pennons.

Crest: The Royal umbrella, topped by a bird.

Compartment: Two swords and a listel.


There is also a smaller version of these arms which might be called the ‘royal emblem’. This consists of a crowned vase (kulasa, dhana kumbha) and the umbrella.


The kulasa is the symbol of longevity and the fulfilment of higher aspirations.




We may notice that the twin fish (matsya) and the angels (dewa) have merged into the winged mermaids.


Coloured version of the royal achievement of Awadh.

On the frame of a photo of the begum, 1855ca.. [14]


Achievement of Awadh at the gate of the Mausoleum of the Nawabs of Oudh

at Sibtainabad Imambara, Matiaburj - Calcutta, India. (Wikipedia)



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© Hubert de Vries 2009-07-31. Updated 2010-01-20; 2012-04-25; 2020-03-10



[1] See Royal Ark: India.

[2] Robert Home (1752-1834). Painter at the court of Awadh in the tens and twenties of the 19th century. Designer of the crown and the coronation robes of Awadh. Michael H. Fisher, A Clash of Cultures: Awadh, the British, and the Mughals (London, 1988), pp. 129-41. Besides portraits of the kings of Oudh, ‘redolent of youth and radiant with diamonds’, Home is known to have superintended the making of furniture, howdahs, carriages, and plate for Ghazi al-Din Haydar and his successor, Nasir al-Din Haydar. His designs were flamboyant sometimes grotesque, and wove together traditional Indian symbols, such as the fish and elephants which were common in Oudh’s royal art, with elements of European classical mythology. See Sir E. Cotton, ‘Robert Home’, Bengal Past and Present, XXXV (1928), 1-24; Linda York Leach, Paintings from India (London 1998), p. 190

[3] This achievement is documented by some websites but its authenticity I think,  is not free from doubt as none of them gives its source or dates.

[4] The Mughals’ tiara as depicted on “Emperor Bahadur Shah II enthroned”. The Knellington Collection. Harvard Univ. Art. Mus’s Cambridge Mass.  Generally the Mughal was represented by a sun charged with his portrait.

[5] Prior, Katherine & John Adamson: Maharaja’s Jewels. Paris, 2000. Pp.176-77.

[6] Retrieved from: http://www.4dw.net/royalark/India4/oudh.htm

[7] See note 2.

[8] www.royalcollection.org.uk/eGallery/object.as...

[9] W. Griggs & George Birdwood, Catalogue of the Collection of Indian Arms and objects of Art presented by the Princes and Nobles of India to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, ….in 1875-76. (London 1901), no 19.

[10] In: Maharaja. Thje splendour of India’s Royal Courts. V&A Museum, 2009. P. 197. The picture of the medal below: p. 29

[11]Ghazi ud-Din Haider 1814/1819-1827 AD (1234-1243 AH) Gold Mohur, Broad Flan Weight: 10.72 gms Minted in 1235 AH (1820 AD), Regnal Year 5 Minted at Lucknow (Dar-ul-Saltanat) Reference: K 170.1 Scarce

[12] Amjad Ali Shah 1842-1847 AD (1258 -1263 AH) Silver Rupee Weight: 10.8 gms Minted in 1258 AH (1842 AD), Regnal Year 1 Minted at Lucknow (Dar-ul-Saltanat) Reference: KM#336

[13] The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

[14] An upper-class Shi‘i woman of Awadh: Nawab Raj Begam Sahibah. Born c. 1832, wife of Vajid ‘Ali Shah.  About 1855. Courtesy of the British Library.


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