The hookah, said to have originated during the Safavid Dynasty of the Persian Empire, spread to the Middle East and Asia and has now gained extensive popularity in South America, North America, Europe and Africa.
According to some historical narrations, hakeem (physician) Irfan Shaikh, who used to work for Emperor Akbar, is said to have propagated the idea of Hookah in India. Hakeem Irfan Shaikh actually emphasized on the medicinal value of smoking hookah by incorporating a mixture of pudina (mint), ginger, cloves, badam (almond) and other herbs to cure cold and fever.
The concept of medicinal Hookah, propagated during the Mughal rule in India, actually became one of the favorite pastimes of the Nawabs of Awadh. Apart from shatranj (playing chess), patangbazi (kite flying) and patronizing traditional dance and singing, smoking Hookah was one of the favorite amusements of the Nawabs of Lucknow.
Hookah during the Nawabi Era
The Nawabs of Awadh are credited with having beautified the culture of hookah. Various beautiful shapes, designs and varieties of the hookah are said to have originated during the reign of Nawabs in Lucknow. Earthenware hookahs with striking designs were also produced during the rule of Nawabs. These earthenware hookahs were very popular due to their subtle designs.
Pinchvan hookahs were made with a slight extension of the stem portion. Pinchvan hookahs also gained popularity among the people of Lucknow during the Nawabi era. The hookahs were made by experienced karigars (craftsmen) in the most flawless manner, hence their designs were inimitable. The Nawabs of Awadh fashioned the hookah to the level of a beautiful bride.
The Nawabs used to smoke Hookah during extensive conversations over political issues or family matters. They also engaged in smoking hookah while playing shatranj (chess) and while enjoying the traditional Ragas, Nazms, or the Kathak dance in their courtrooms. The hookahs were always one of the indulgences when the Nawabs used to visit the kothas of their courtesans.
The fondness for hookah among the Nawabs is beautifully depicted in the critically acclaimed classic films such as Shatranj ke Khiladi directed by Oscar Winner Satyajit Ray and Umrao Jaan directed by Muzaffar Ali, which went on to win quite a few national and Filmfare awards. A number of old paintings also show the Nawabs with the hookah by their side.
The Current State of Hookah in Lucknow
The popularity of hookah can be gauged in the old areas of Lucknow such as Nazirabad, Akbari Gate and Chowk where people could be seen smoking hookah over lengthy conversations on local and political affairs. Some people in the city smoke hookah with traditional khamira, which is a mixture of rose petals, ripened fruits, tobacco and a variety of condiments. Khamira mixture is very useful for digestion and to keep the bowel movements in check and the therapeutic effects can be best experienced when smoked after dinner.
The traditional colorful assortment of sataks (long pipes), decorated bottleneck bases, and chillums are losing their popularity and charm in Lucknow city with the arrival of many modern hookah bars, restaurants and hotels that have different varieties of hookahs in their menu. Today, popular restaurants and eating joints in the city such as Blue: The Lounge, Mint Lounge and Grill, Spades Lounge, and Cappuccino Blast to name a few are selling different varieties of tobacco-flavored hookahs, also referred to as “Sheesha.” Some of the popular flavored hookahs liked by the younger generation in Lucknow city are mint, strawberry, vanilla, pan rasna, and bubble gum.
Today, separate stalls arranged for hookah can be seen in weddings, engagements and similar ceremonies in Lucknow. Generally, the young generation prefers the flavored hookahs whereas old people smoke traditional hookahs. Hookah, the symbol of royal luxury, has become an intrinsic part of the party circuit in Lucknow.