7 Nawabi Kothis of Lucknow with tales of treachery and opulence

Lucknow is home to some of the most iconic Kothis or palatial houses built for the Nawabs and their courtiers. From being designed on the lines of England’s Greenwich Observatory to being used as a hunting residence, every Kothi has a unique story

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Kothi Farhat Bakhsh on the banks of Gomti River was completed in 1781

Kothi Farhat Baksh on the banks of Gomti River was completed in 1781

Lucknow is well-known for its Awadhi cuisine, tehzeeb (culture), the grandeur of its Nawabs and for being home to some of the finest crafts including the Chikankari embroidery. The capital of Uttar Pradesh also hosts some of the most renowned architectural marvels like the Bada Imambara and its Bhool Bhulaiyaa, British Residency and Kaiserbagh Palace among others.

One of the lesser-known elements of its architecture is the grand kothis built by the royal families of yore. 

Kothis were large palatial residences with high ceilings, large rooms, lawns and gardens and belonged to the Nawab and people in his close circle like the Chief Minister (Wazir) and other officials. 

The history of Lucknow goes back to 1723 when Nawab Saadat Khan Burhan-ul-Mulk (also Nawab Sadat Ali Khan), the founder of the Nawabi dynasty, came to the city. It started growing after Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab wazir of Oudh, moved his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow in 1775. 

Most of the city’s grand kothis were constructed about 200 years ago. Nawab Sadat Ali Khan admired European architecture and lifestyle and employed engineers to implement that style in his Kothis and their gardens. 

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Later, Major General Claude Martin, a Frenchman who settled in Lucknow, in alliance with Nawab Asaf Ud Daula constructed buildings with European influence in the city. Two of the most iconic Kothis of General Claude are the Asafi Kothi and the Bibiyapur Kothi. These Kothis are two-storied with lawns, sprawling courtyards, and plain walls, and have some elements of Gothic architecture that was prevalent in Europe from the late 12th to the 18th centuries.

Here are seven iconic Kothis from the City of Nawabs and each has a tale of its own:

1. Tara Kothi

Also called the Taron Wali Kothi (mansion of stars), it was commissioned in 1832 by the King of Oudh Nasir-ud-Din Haidar Shah. He had a strong belief in astrology and astronomy.

He ordered that the Kothi be made on the lines of England’s Greenwich Observatory. However, he was poisoned to death in July 1837 when the Kothi was not yet complete.

The work was finished in 1841 when Mohammad Ali Shah took over. He appointed Colonel Richard Wilcox, a Royal Astronomer, for the observatory. The Kothi contained several latest astronomical gadgets of that time including many types of telescopes, magnetometers, barometers and other machines. 

Tara wali kothi old
Old picture of Tara Wali Kothi. Pic: Wikipedia 
new tara wali kothi
Tara Kothi is now the head office of State Bank of India in Uttar Pradesh. Pic: Flickr

The Kothi’s design followed the neo-classical style of architecture and was simple. A small circular room with a hemispherical dome on top of the Kothi was used for astronomy. Tara Kothi is now the head office of State Bank of India (SBI) in Uttar Pradesh.

2. Kothi Hayat Baksh

Designed by Major General Claude Martin it was built by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan in the 1790s.

Kothi Hayat Baksh is now the Raj Bhavan of Lucknow.

A masterpiece in the city’s architectural landscape, it is a two-storied structure with huge lawns and greenery. Kothi Hayat Baksh largely has the elements of European architecture with high-roofed verandahs. The arches of the Deewan Khana are decorated with floral motifs and painted in golden colour. The walls are green and golden and the only Indian element in architecture is the Raj Darbar inside the Kothi.

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Despite the opulence and expenditure on Kothi Hyat Baksh, the place was never used either by the Nawab or his family members. The Kothi on the eastern side of Lucknow was quite a distance away from Chhattar Manzil and Kothi Daulat Sarai Sultani where the royals preferred to stay.

Major General Claude Martin made this building his residence and it also had all the arrangements for his security guards and his armory. With the passage of time, it changed many hands and was used by many British officers. It was also the residence of Major Johnshore Bank, who was the Chief Commissioner of the Awadh.

raj bhavan lucknow kothi
Kothi Hayat Baksh is now the Raj Bhavan of Lucknow. Pic: Uttar Pradesh Raj Bhavan

In the year 1830, during Badshah Nasrudeen Haider's rule, Colonel Roberts resided in this Kothi. During the 1857 mutiny in Lucknow, the freedom fighters attacked Kothi Hayat Baksh but it did not suffer much damage. It also served as the Headquarters for the British Army under the leadership of Brigadier Russell.

After Awadh was annexed by the British, they made additions to the Kothi. In 1873, Sir George Cooper added lawns, fountains and rooms to the structure.

The building also got a ballroom in 1907 and it now serves as the dining hall in the Raj Bhavan. 

After Independence, it became the residence of the Governor and came to be known as the Raj Bhavan of Lucknow. The first Governor of Uttar Pradesh, who resided in the Kothi after it was renamed the Raj Bhavan was Sarojini Naidu. She suffered a heart attack in April 1948 in the Kothi and passed away.

Today, there are residential colonies inside the precincts of the Raj Bhavan. The structure now has statues of the Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati rivers along with a pair of leaping fish. 

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3. Bibiyapur Kothi

Built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, Bibiyapur or Bibiapur Kothi has been made using lime mortar and Lakhori bricks.

Also called Lakhauri or Badshahi bricks, these Lakhori bricks are flat, thin, red burnt-clay bricks, and were a popular element of the Mughal architecture during Shah Jahan’s reign.

Located on the right bank of the Gomti River, Bibiyapur Kothi has huge halls with high roof ceilings, spiral staircases and rafters. Beams are made of wood and the structure is adorned with blue coloured tiles that were brought from France. 

bibiyapur kothi
Bibiyapur Kothi old photo (above) and the structure now (below). Pic: Flickr & Wikipedia

It was the Nawab’s country residence from where he went hunting. At its peak, the Kothi has witnessed grand celebrations hosted for the British by the Nawabs. Today, it is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

4. Kothi Darshan Vilas

Located in Kaiserbagh, this Kothi was earlier a part of the Choti Chattar Manzil Palace. Its construction began during the reign of Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider and was completed during the rule of Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider in the year 1837.

Since the palace does not exist anymore, this kothi is now referred to as the Choti Chattar Manzil. Lakhs of rupees were spent on making the structure. 

The three faces of the Kothi are the replica of Kothi Farhat Baksh, Dilkusha Palace, and Musa Bagh while the fourth is a mix of the architectural attributes of these three structures. This has given it the name of Chaurukhi Kothi or the house with four faces. 

darshan vilas kothi
Kothi Darshan Vilas. Pic: Flickr

It once served as the residence of the Begums of the Nawab and was later used as the residence of British engineers. Today, the building houses the Directorate of Medical Health. The structure is in dire need of maintenance with roots of large trees making way through its walls.

5. Kothi Roshan-ud-Daula

This Kothi was built by Mohammad Hussain Khan, the Chief Minister or Wazir of the Nawab Naseer-ud-Din Haider. Mohammad Hussain Khan was also known by his title of Roshan-ud-Daula and that’s why the Kothi got this name.

Built over 150 years ago, the Kothi displays an Indo-French style of architecture, which lends it exquisiteness among the other kothis of that era. It has beautiful minarets and columns, arches and art galleries besides huge rooms, and lawns.

The Kothi was confiscated when Roshan-ud-Daulah was charged with misappropriation of funds. He was fined Rs 20 lakh and imprisoned for treachery. 

The incident took place under the reign of Nawab Naseer-ud-Daulah, son of Nawab Naseer-ud-Din Haider. Roshan-Ud-Daulah, however, took the help of Britishers to get a waiver on the jail term and went to Kanpur where he lived the rest of his life.

kothi roshan ud daula
Roshan-ud-Daulah Kothi. Pic: Dhananjay Srivastava

Roshan-ud-Daulah was much liked by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of the Awadh, who made it the residence of his beloved queen Mashooq Mahal. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah gave the Kothi the name of Qaise Pasand.

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Kothi Roshan-Ud-Daulah was the District Court during British rule and came to be known as Roshan-ud-Daulah Kutchehry (court). The Kothi now houses the District Election Office and the State Archaeology Directorate.

6. Kothi Farhat Baksh

Known as Chattar Manzil now, Kothi Farhat Baksh is also among the masterpieces created by General Claude Martin. The Kothi was built on the banks of the Gomti River and completed in 1781. It was called the Martin Villa. Martin breathed his last in this Kothi in the year 1800.

The structure is unique because two of its storeys are below the ground level. These levels were earlier visible only when the Gomti River was at its lowest and was completely flooded during monsoons.

The Kothi was purchased in an auction by Joseph Queiros for Rs 40, 000 after the death of General Claude Martin. The then Nawab of Awadh, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan, also stayed at the kothi for a brief period when he was recovering from an illness. After recuperating, he bought the Kothi for Rs 50,000 and named it Kothi Farhat Baksh, which means a place with good fortune. 

Kothi farhat baksh
Kothi Farhat Baksh. Pic: Flickr

The Kothi continued to be used by subsequent Nawabs till Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned and sent to Metiabruz, then a suburb of Kolkata.

After Independence, the Kothi Farhat Baksh and the Chattar Manzil were taken over by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and housed the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI). The CDRI has now vacated the premises.

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7. Kothi Dilkusha 

This Kothi on the banks of Gomti River was built for Nawab Saadat Ali Khan in 1805. It follows European architecture and its design was proposed by British diplomat Gore Ouseley. With forests all around, the Kothi was used as a hunting place by the Nawabs and also for outings for women of the royal families.

The design of the Dilkusha Kothi is similar to the Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, England.

Kothi dilkusha
Kothi Dilkusha. Pic: Wikipedia

The Kothi, where once royal women laughed and the Nawabs brought their hunted treasures, is now in poor condition and requires restoration.

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