AskDefine | Define nawab

Dictionary Definition

nawab n : a governor in India during the Mogual empire [syn: nabob]

Extensive Definition

A Nawab (Urdu: نواب, Hindi: नवाब) was originally the subedar (provincial governor) or viceroy of a subah (province) or region of the Mughal empire. It became a high title for Muslim nobles.


The term is Urdu, borrowed via Persian from the Arabic being the honorific plural of naib i.e. 'deputy'. In some areas, especially Bengal, the term is pronounced Nabob. This later variation has entered the English and other foreign languages, see below.
The title Nawab is basically derived from the title of the four nayab (deputies) of 12th and last Imam (Imam-e-zamana) of the Shia sect. That is why most Shia rulers have called them Nawab instead of Sultan or King.
The term Nawab is often used to refer to any Muslim ruler in north India while the term Nizam is preferred for their counterparts in south India. This is technically imprecise, as the title was also awarded to others but not applied to every Muslim ruler. With the decline of that empire the title, and the powers that went with it, became hereditary in the ruling families in the various provinces.
Under later British rule, Nawabs continued to rule various princely states of Awadh, Amb, Bahawalpur, Baoni, Banganapalle, Bhopal, Cambay, Jaora, Junagadh, Kalabagh, Kurnool, Kurwai, Palanpur, Pataudi, Rampur, Sachin and Tonk. Other former rulers bearing the title, such as the Nawabs of Bengal, had been dispossessed by the British or others by the time the Mughal dynasty finally ended in 1857.
The style for a Nawab's queen is Begum or Nawabzada. Most of the Nawab dynasties were male primogenitures, although several ruling Begums of Bhopal and Ruchka Begum of TikaitGanj, near Lucknow were a notable exception.
Before the incorporation of India into the British Empire, Nawabs ruled the kingdoms of Awadh (or Oudh, encouraged by the British to shed the Mughal suzereignty and assume the imperial style of Badshah), Bengal, Arcot and Bhopal.
A few of the Muslim rulers who were tributary to the Mughal emperors used other titles; the first Nizam of Hyderabad was given the alternative title Nizam-ul-Mulk, usually translated as Governor of the Mughal kingdom.
Families ruling when acceding to Pakistan (including present Bangladesh)
Former dynasties which became political pensioners

Other Nawabs

Personal Nawabs

The title nawab was also awarded as a personal distinction by the paramount power, similarly to a British peerage, to persons and families who never ruled a princely state. The term nawab got widest currency in the nineteenth century. In order to motivate the Bengal ruling classes to participate in the community services the Auckland administration (1836-1842) had introduced a system of conferring honorific titles on the philanthropic and socially leading people. For the Muslim elite various Mughal-type titles were introduced, including Nawab. Among the noted British creations of this type were Nawab Khwaja Abdul Ghani (1813-1896), Nawab Abdool Luteef (1828-1893), Nawab Faizunnesa Choudhurani (1834-1904), Nawab Ali Chowdhury (1863-1929), Nawab Syed Shamsul Huda (1862-1922) and Nawab Sirajul Islam (1848-1923). The 'Nawab' title was normally awarded to those influential people who already had some connection in land control and the title was attached to the name of the concerned estate or village, such as the Dhaka Nawab Family (seated at Ahsan Manzil), not to be confused with the earlier Naib Nazims of Dhaka which had been pensioned off in 1793). There also were the Nawabs of Dhanbari (Tangail), Nawabs of Ratanpur (Comilla), and such others.

Nawab as a court rank

  • At the court of Persia's Shahanshahs of the imperial Qajar dynasty, precedence for non-members of the dynasty was organised in eight protocollary classes, generally coupled to various offices and qualities; the highest of these, styled nawab, was usually reserved for minor princes, while the six next classes (Shakhs-i-Awwal, Janab, Amir or Khan, 'Ali Jah Muqarrab, 'Ali Jah, 'Ali Sha'an) were awarded to various ministers, officers, commanders, Muslim clergy and so on, the eight and lowest, 'Ali Qadir, even to guild masters and the like.
  • Nawab was also the rank title—again not an office—of a much lower class of Muslim nobles—in fact retainers—at the court of the Nisam of Hyderabad and Berar State, ranking only above Khan bahadur and Khan, but under (in ascending order) Jang, Daula, Mulk, Umara and Jah; the equivalent for Hindu courtiers was Raja Bahadur.

Derived titles


This style, adding the Persian suffix -zada which means son (or other male descendants; see other cases in Prince), (etymo)logically fits a Nawab's sons, but in actual practice various dynasties established other customs.
For example in Bahawalpur only the Nawab's Heir Apparent used Nawabzada before his personal name, then Khan Abassi, finally Wali Ahad Bahadur (an enhancement of Wali Ehed), while the other sons of the ruling Nawab used the style Sahibzada before the personal name and only Khan Abassi behind.
Elsewhere, rulers who were not styled nawab yet awarded a title nawabzada.


In colloquial usage in English (since 1612), adopted in other Western languages, the corrupted form nabob refers to commoners: a merchant-leader of high social status and wealth. During the 18th century in particular, it was widely used as a disparaging description of British merchants who, having made a fortune in India, returned to Britain and aspired to be recognised as having the higher social status that their new wealth would enable them to maintain. It can also be used metaphorically for people who have a grandiose style or manner of speech, as in Spiro Agnew's famous dismissal of the press as "nattering nabobs of negativism".


A corrupted form of the English Nabob, which in itself is a corruption of the Indian Nawab. Noun representing a person who has a negative disposition or one who tends to disagree with everything. Example of usage "Of course you can do it, just ignore the naybobs".


Naib, a local leader in some parts of Ottoman Empire and eastern Caucasus (e.g. during Caucasian Imamate).

Sources and references

nawab in Bulgarian: Набаб
nawab in German: Nawab
nawab in Spanish: Nawab
nawab in French: Nawab ( Prince souverain indien )
nawab in Italian: Nababbo
nawab in Dutch: Nawab
nawab in Japanese: ネイボッブ
nawab in Polish: Nabab
nawab in Portuguese: Nababo
nawab in Russian: Набоб
nawab in Swedish: Nawab
nawab in Ukrainian: Набоб
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