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Lucknow Culture

Lucknow, the ‘City of Nawabs’ and the ‘Shiraz-i-Hind’ is the potpourri of imposing historical edifices, resplendent gardens, grandiloquent Nawabi lifestyle, extremely sophisticated and civilized mannerism, mouth watering traditional Nawabi and Mughal culinary, the world famous Chikankari, excellence in various aesthetic fields including performing arts (dance & drama), Urdu Literature, Poetry, music, eminent legacy, regal demeanor and an exceptional composite of tradition and modernism. Flourished under the patronage of the Nawabs of Awadh commended for their lavish, luxurious and impressive lifestyle, their love and understanding for various domains of art and culture and the encouragement received from them which played an important role in Lucknow’s development as the Multicultural axel of Northern India, the present day Lucknow is appropriately called the real crux of Northern Indian art, culture, religion, mannerism, cuisine and lifestyle.
The people of Lucknow are noted for their incomparable hospitality, courtesy and chivalry who are extremely soft spoken and friendly and treat their guests like God. They embody the highest degree of affability, etiquette and refinement and maintain their own polished style of doing every smallest thing. Even the most trivial act of rolling the paan leaves and putting it into mouth or handing it over to someone is performed with the greatest level of ceremony and savoir faire. No wonder Lucknow is popular for its ‘Lucknowi Tehzeeb’ which indicates the most elegant mannerism of Lucknow like ‘Pehle Aap’ (after you). The citizens of Lucknow still hold on to their culture, traditions and customs and maintain the elaborate and cultivated Nawabi lifestyle. Lucknow City, brimming with regal medieval buildings still withholds its old world glamour.
Language and Poetry: Hindi and Urdu are the two most used tongues of Lucknow. The Hindi spoken in this part of India (Lucknowi Hindi) is considered to be the most beautiful, refined and gentle form of language while the Urdu of Lucknow is believed to be the sweetest tongue ever heard anywhere in the country. Lucknow has been a home to Mirza Ghalib, Mir Anees, Mirza Dabeer and several other legendary poets and has made its mark as a thriving center of Urdu poetry. The Marsiyas composed by Mir Anees and Mirza Dabeer are still recited during the Muharram festival in Majalis and Azadari events. Lucknow hosts maximum of the poetic events organized in India when eminent poets from all over the world alight at Lucknow to participate and showcase their talent. Some of the worth mentioning contemporary poets from Lucknow include Kazim Jarwali, Sarwar Nawab Sarwar, Arif Lucknowi, Nawab Baqar Ali Khan, Nayyar Majidi, Surror Lucknowi, Shauq Lucknowi, Sharib Kausar Alavi, etc.
Ram Prasad Bismil; one of the greatest revolutionaries and martyrs of India’s Freedom Struggle was specially influenced by Lucknowi culture and referred to it several times in his verses. Many celebrated Urdu poets and writers such as Mohsin Kakorvi, Khumar Barabankvi, Josh Malihabadi, Majaz, etc were based in and around Lucknow. Recently in the year 2008 a novel titled ‘Recalcitrance’ was released to commemorate the 150th anniversary of 1857 Mutiny, which happens to be the first English novel written by any Lucknowi taking the 1857 rebellion as its subject matter.
Lucknow has also achieved distinction in the fields of performing arts including dance, drama and music, which were greatly upheld and promoted by the Lucknowi Nawabs. One of the Classical Indian dance forms ‘Kathak’ originated from Lucknow and was patronized by the last Nawab of Awadh; Wajid Ali Shah. Today the Kathak tradition has been kept alive by Birju Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj, Acchchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and others. Lucknow is also the hometown of Begum Akhtar; a preeminent Ghazal singer and one of the pioneers of Ghazal who took this beautiful form of poetry to such great heights. Lucknow is also the proud home to several other luminous music stars of India namely Talat Mehmood, Naushad Ali, Anup Jalota and Baba Sehgal. Lucknow’s nightlife comprises a traditional event named ‘Mushaira’ at its center wherein poetry recitation is undertaken and the audience soaks itself in the most appeasing and at the same time invigorating ‘Rasa’ of poetry.
Lucknow also hosts numerous eminent academies of performing arts viz. The Bhatkande Music Institute University, Bhartendu Academy of Dramatic Arts (Bhartendu Natya Academy), a Theatre Training Institute (an autonomous organization and deemed university functioning under the Ministry of Culture), etc.
The cuisine of Lucknow is characterized with exclusive Nawabi and Mughalai style and the most famous dishes of Lucknow include Tunday Kebabs, Galawati Kebabs, Kakori Kebabs, Shami Kebabs, Patili-ke-Kebabs, Boti Kebabs, Ghutwa Kebabs, Seekh Kebabs, Biryanis, kormas, kaliya, zarda, naan, kulchas, roomali rotis, warqi parathas, sheermal, nahari, sultani dal, raita, shahi paneer, koftah, Paan, saffron flavored Kashmiri Tea, etc. Lucknow is acclaimed for its traditional embroidery called ‘Chikankari’ which is available in all kinds of clothes including salwar suits, saris, kurtas, bed sheets, covers and so on. Tourists who pay a visit to Lucknow make it a point to buy the Chikankari Clothes, Jadau jewellery, Jhumkas, metal ornamentation, antique Paandan, Khaasdan and other knick knacks.
Muharram: Lucknow has been an epitome of the Shia culture in India and all the communities residing at Lucknow including the Hindus observe Muharram in the memory of Imam Husain who laid his life at the Battle of Karbala fourteen hundred years ago. The Majalise processions, also known as ‘Azadari’ and other processions namely ‘Shahi Zarih’, ‘Alam-e-Ashura’, ‘Chup Tazia’ and ‘Jaloos-e-Mehndi’ are taken out in Lucknow on the day of Muharram to commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Husain.
Lucknow in films and modern culture: Lucknow has proclaimed a significant influence on the Hindi film industry. A number of script writers, musicians and lyricists of Bollywood including Majrooh Sultanpuri, Naushad Ali, Bhagwati Charan Verma, Kaifi Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Ikram Akhtar, Ali Raza, Amritlal Nagar, Wajahat Mirza, K. P. Saxena, Ali Sardar Jafri, etc are from Lucknow. Additionally, several famous Hindi movies such as Junoon, Umrao Jaan, Gaman, Shatranj Ke Khiladi, Shakespeare Wallah, Anwar, Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, Tanu Weds Manu, Ladies v/s Ricky Bahel, etc were filmed in Lucknow.