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Umrao Jaan Ada
Author Mirza Hadi Ruswa
Original title Umrāʾo Jān Adā
Country British India
Language Urdu
Genre Novel
Publication date
Published in English

Umrao Jaan Ada (Urdu: امراؤ جان ادا‎) is an Urdu novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa (1857–1931), first published in 1899.[1] It is considered the first Urdu novel by many[2] and tells the story of a courtesan and poet by the same name from 19th century Lucknow, as recounted by her to the author.

History and theme[edit]

According to the novel, the story of Umrao Jaan was recounted by her to the author, when he happened to meet her during a mushaira (poetry gathering) in Lucknow.[3] On listening to her couplets, the author along with Munshi Ahmad, a novel and poetry enthusiast present at the gathering, convince Umrao Jaan to share her life story with them. The novel is written in first person as a memoir.[4] The book was first published by Munshi Gulab Singh and Sons Press, Lucknow in 1899.[1]

The novel is known for its elaborate portrayal of mid-19th century Lucknow, its decadent society, and also describes the moral hypocrisy of the patriarchal system of the times, where Umrao Jaan also becomes the symbol of a nation that had long attracted many suitors who were only looking to exploit her.[2]

The existence of Umrao Jaan Ada is disputed among scholars as there are few mentions of her outside of Ruswa's book. She does appear in his earlier unfinished novel Afshai Raz, but is very different from the cultured character in Umrao Jaan Ada. The existence of an Uttar Pradesh dacoit named Fazal Ali is recorded, and there are British documents that mention the claims of a courtesan named Azizan Bai who stated that she was taught by Umrao Jaan.[5]

Plot summary[edit]

Umarao Jaan is born as Amiran (Urdu: اميرن‎) to a modest family in Faizabad. After the criminal Dilawar Khan is released from jail he decides to get revenge as her father testified against him in court. Khan kidnaps Amiran and decides to sell her in Lucknow. She is imprisoned with another girl, Ram Dai, but the two are separated when Dilawar Khan takes her to Lucknow. There she is sold for 150 rupees to Khanum Jaan, the head tawaif of a kotha. She is renamed Umrao and begins to study classical music and dance. Together with the other apprentice tawaif and Gauhar Mirza, the mischievous illegitimate son of a local Nawab, she is taught to read and write in both Urdu and Persian. As Umrao grows up, she is surrounded by a culture of luxury, music and poetry. She eventually gains her first client, (earning her the suffix of jaan) but prefers the impoverished Gauhar Mirza, her friend.

Umrao Jaan attracts the handsome and wealthy Nawab Sultan. The couple fall in love, but after a jealous customer tries to start a fight with Nawab Sultan, he shoots him and the jealous customer Zabardast Khan dies. He no longer comes to the kotha and Umrao Jaan must meet him secretly, by the help of Gauhar Mirza. As Umrao Jaan continues to see Nawab Sultan and also serve other clients, she supports Gauhar Mirza with her earnings. A new client, the mysterious Faiz Ali, showers Umrao Jaan with jewels and gold, but warns her not to tell anyone about his gifts. When he invites her to travel to Farrukhabad, Khanum Jaan refuses so Umrao Jaan must run away. On the way to Farrukhabad, they are attacked by soldiers and Umrao Jaan discovers that Faiz is a dacoit and all of his gifts have been stolen goods. Faiz Ali escapes with his brother Fazl Ali and she is imprisoned, but luckily one of the tawaif from Khanum Jaan's kotha is in the service of the Raja whose soldiers arrested her so Umrao Jaan is freed. As soon as she leaves the Raja's court, Faiz Ali finds her and gets her to come with him. He is soon captured and Umrao Jaan, reluctant to return to Khanum Jaan, sets up as a tawaif in Kanpur. While she is performing in the house of a kindly Begum, armed bandits led by Fazl Ali try to rob the house, but leave when they see that Umrao Jaan is there. Then Gauhar Mirza comes to Kanpur and she decides to return to the kotha.

Umrao Jaan performs at the court of Wajid Ali Shah until the Siege of Lucknow forces her to flee the city for Faizabad. There she finds her mother, but is threatened by her brother who considers her a disgrace and believes she would be better off dead. Devastated, Umrao Jaan returns to Lucknow now that the mutiny is over. She meets the Begum from Kanpur again in Lucknow and discovers that she is actually Ram Dai. By a strange twist of fate Ram Dai was sold to the mother of Nawab Sultan and the two are now married. Another ghost of Umrao Jaan's past is put to rest when Dilawar Khan is arrested and hung for robbery. With her earnings and the gold that Faiz Ali gave her, she is able to live comfortably and eventually retires from her life as a tawaif.

Umrao Jaan Ada in media[edit]


Over the years the novel has inspired many films both in India and Pakistan. It was made into a Pakistani film in 1972, Umrao Jaan Ada, starring Rani and Shahid and directed by Hasan Tariq,[6] and three Indian films: Mehndi (1958) by director S. M. Yusuf, the 1981 film Umrao Jaan made by Muzaffar Ali[7] and Umrao Jaan (2006) by J. P. Dutta.


The novel was also the theme of a Pakistani television serial, Umrao Jan Ada, aired in 2003.[8] It was directed by Rana Sheikh and the storyline was written by poet Zehra Nigah. The drama serial was Geo TV's first production and is considered to be the most expensive serial ever made in Pakistan. The drama serial featured an all star cast composed of Amina Bano, Bushra Ansari, Atiqa Odho, Sadia Imam, Sonia Rehman, Badar Khalil, Zeba Shehnaz, Ismat Zaidi, Salma Azfer, Humayun Saeed, Adnan Siddiqui, Faisal Qureshi, Imran Abbas, Fahad Mustafa, Shahood Alvi, Adnan Jillani, Saif e Hasan,Ahson Talish, Shakeel, Anwar Iqbal, Shabbir Jan, Mahmood Aslam. And guest appearances by Resham, Meera, Gia Ali and Nighat Chaudhry.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Complete Urdu Text 1899 version
  2. ^ a b Umrao Jaan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa Umrao Jaan at sasw.chass.ncsu.edu
  3. ^ Umrao Jaan Ada by Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa Translation by Khushwant Singh
  4. ^ Various translations of Umrao Jaan Ada Newsline, 2001
  5. ^ Syed Firdaus Ashraf (2 November 2006). "Was Umrao Jaan for real?". Rediff. Retrieved 26 August 2010. 
  6. ^ 1972 films in Pakistan 1972, Pakistan Film Magazine
  7. ^ Umrao Jaan Ada at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ The Courtesans in the Living Room,” ISIM Review, 2005
  9. ^ The courtesan of Lucknow (Umrao Jan Ada), (UNESCO collection of representative works): Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa: Books. Amazon.com (2001-04-21). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  10. ^ The Courtesan and the Indian Novel sscnet.ucla, History/Politics
  11. ^ pakistan magazine Resources and Information. This website is for sale!. newsline.com.pk. Retrieved on 2013-07-18.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umrao_Jaan_Ada — Please support Wikipedia.
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41 news items

Times of India

Times of India
Thu, 26 Jun 2014 23:45:00 -0700

HOUSE-FULL: Sunday evening could not have got better for Lucknowites than this. Umrao, a dramatic adaptation of the book Umrao Jaan Ada was staged in the city, much to the delight of theatre enthusiasts here, who made a timely entry at the venue, and ...

Times of India

Times of India
Sun, 22 Jun 2014 00:37:52 -0700

Ever since Umrao, a theatrical adaptation of Umrao Jaan Ada's life was first staged in Mumbai last summer, Neetu Chandra - who essays the protagonist in the play - has been keen that the play be staged in Lucknow as well. After all, Umrao Jaan belonged ...
Fri, 26 Oct 2012 23:21:35 -0700

A hundred-and-eight years ago, when Murad Ali (pic left) started his humble kabab-parantha shop on Gol Darwaza street, in the middle of old Lucknow's busiest marketplace, it was better known for the mujras and tawaifs at its numerous kothas. He earned ...


Fri, 10 Oct 2014 03:22:29 -0700

The same year, she played the iconic character of courtesan Umrao Jaan Ada in Muzaffar Ali's period piece. Her performance fetched her the National Award. As with Khoobsurat, a remake starring Aishwarya Rai was dismissed as a pale shadow of the ...

Hindustan Times

Hindustan Times
Sat, 04 Oct 2014 04:56:29 -0700

The ground floor exhibition halls of the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi are packed with soon-to-be brides dressed in glitzy outfits, their mothers and mothers-in-law to-be trailing behind them, sifting through the trousseaux on display at one of the many ...

Times of India

Times of India
Tue, 05 Nov 2013 22:12:10 -0800

While comparisons between the play and the film are bound to come up, Neetu is of the view that "since they are two different mediums, comparisons are unjustified." However, she adds, "I relate to the character of Umrao Jaan Ada very closely, there are ...
नवभारत टाइम्स
Tue, 03 Feb 2015 19:22:30 -0800

नजाकत, नफासत और अदाओं का जिक्र छिड़े तो जुबां पर लखनऊ का नाम आ ही जाता है। 'उमरावजान' की अदा हो या फिर 'पाकीजा' की सादगी। 'बहु बेगम' की शाही तस्वीर हो या फिर 'पाल्की' में पलने वाली मोहब्बत, ...

Economic Times

Economic Times
Wed, 18 Feb 2015 20:50:05 -0800

This is based on an Urdu novel called Umrao Jaan Ada written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa, based on the life of a Lucknow courtesan. The film did not do well at the box office, but its songs 'In Ankhone Ki Masti,' and ' Dil Cheez Kya Hai', both of which were ...

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