Zareena Begum, Awadh’s last royal singer, dies at 88

Zareena lived at Hatha Khuda Baksh area in Old Fatehganj in Lucknow. An old harmonium, a tabla and some old pages and diaries with lyrics in Urdu were her companions in her final days.
Zareena Begum not only performed at court but also across the country.(HT Photo)
Zareena Begum not only performed at court but also across the country.(HT Photo)
Updated on May 12, 2018 11:01 PM IST
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Lucknow, Hindustan Times | By

Zareena Begum -- a disciple of Begum Akhtar and the last singer of the Awadh courts -- died on Saturday after a prolonged illness. She was 88.

Zareena lived at Hatha Khuda Baksh area in Old Fatehganj in Lucknow. An old harmonium, a tabla and some old pages and diaries with lyrics in Urdu were her companions in her final days.

Manjari Chaturvedi, a leading exponent of Indian classical dance, said, “I had performed with her about 20 years’ ago and again met her when she was not keeping well. When I asked her if I could do something for her, she simply said she wanted to perform on stage once again in a Banarsi saree.”

Chaturvedi, who runs a foundation to support singers who are unable to earn a livelihood, made Zareena’s wish come true by organising hera performance in New Delhi.

Zareena not only performed at court but also across the country. She performed in Varanasi, Rampur, Kolkata, Moradabad, Delhi and other places. The singer spent a good part of her life in the courts of Rampur and was a regular performer at Lucknow’s Sultanat Manzil and Sheesh Mehal — the abodes of the nawabs of Awadh.

The nawabs of Rampur were so fond of Zareena that they would invite her months before weddings in their family. Zareena would live with the begums of the courts and was offered all the luxuries and comfort of the royals, Chaturvedi said.

She was served food in gold and silver plates, many of which were later gifted to her by the begums. The begums would also give Zareena their gold bangles, necklaces and a lot more, she said.

In an interview to HT sometime back, Zareena had said: “Humne vo sunehre din dekhe hain jo aaj khwab malum hote…vo begumon ki tarah ka rehen sehen, heere zavaharat..rupya, paisa, aesho aaram—Zareena ke paas sab kuch tha …. (I have seen the golden days that seem like a dream today. The lifestyle of an empress, money, luxury --- Zareena had it all).”

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