India has witnessed the rule of various kingdoms and dynasties, some stayed for a while and some existed for centuries. One such rule is that of The Nawabs of Arcot, who ruled the Carnatic region. When Mughals ruled most of the parts of north India, the southern most states of India – Tamil Nadu and Kerala still remained unconquered. There were several smaller kingdoms in the extreme south which never gave way for Mughals. These rulers were mostly native to their region.
The kingdom of Arcot was formed by the Mughal emperor – Aurangazeb during 1690, when he faced heavy competition from the Maratha kingdom at the south. The rising smaller kingdoms of the south hindered the expanding kingdom of North. When Maratha rulers were defeated at the battle, Aurangazeb appointed his helpers as the rulers of the Carnatic region. Arcot was the capital, which is very close to the current capital of Tamil Nadu – Chennai. Zulfikhar Khan was the first Nawab of Arcot and he ruled from 1690 to 1703.
The Nawabs of Arcot were known for their generosity and trust. Ruling a region of Hindu majority, they ensured communal harmony among the followers of two major religions of India – Hinduism and Islam.
When the British entered India with business ambitions, they saw the country as a land of opportunities to grow their economy. But, as the years progressed, they had to take rid of their French and Portuguese counterpart to establish their roots firmly. Furthermore, they involved themselves in the political issues of native rulers. The fight for suggestion and other internal affairs of local rulers weakened their kingdom, making it easy for British to gain control. The British East India company soon shifted its focus from trade to power.
Though the above concept suits several native kingdoms, it suits best in the case of Nawabs of Arcot. When they were busy fighting over the successor of throne, British intervened and placed Muhammad Ali Wallajah on the throne in. Thereafter, the British began to gain control over the region slowly.
Around 1857, the Mughal empire came to an end with Bahadhur Shah II. The last independent nawab of Arcot was Ghulam Muhammad Ghose Khan, after whom the kingdom was conquered by the British. The family’s heir of throne was given the title of “prince of Arcot”. However the royal family continue to enjoy a high status in the country till date.
Though Arcot was the capital, many buildings in Chennai are linked with the history of Arcot Nawabs. Chepauk has some parts of a palace belonging to the family once upon a time. After the decline of the Carnatic empire, British took control of the region and the palace was bought by them. Wallajah road is named after the famous nawab and Saidapet is another name linked with nawab Saadatullah Khan. The Wallajah big mosque at Triplicane was built by the nawabs of Arcot during 1795. This is one of the notable structures from the period of Arcot nawabs. Several other buildings are now government offices and parts of Madras university. Amir Mahal at Royapettah is the present official residence of the current prince of Arcot, Muhammad Abdul Ali.
When the nawabs of Arcot handed over their territory to the British East India company, Queen Victoria promised a tax-free pension and a royal family status. Even after gaining independence, the family continues to enjoy a high status in the state according to the constitution of India.
The reign of the nawabs of Arcot is an important piece of history, which explains the effort of Mughals to gain control over south India and the eventual capture of the same by the British.
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