Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh , India- is synonymous with the Imambaras.
I am a Hyderabadi and I always found a connect between the city of Nawabs-Lucknow and City of Nizams-Hyderabad. From the architecture to the cuisines, there is always a similarity between the two places.On our city trip of Lucknow in August 2010, we spent atleast 3-4 hours inside the Bada Imambara complex.
Is Imambara a mosque?
The answer is No! An Imambara is a place for conducting ceremonies by the Shia community of Muslims. The Bada Imambara complex of Lucknow consists of two-floors of the Imambara, the bhool-bhulaiyya (a labyrinth of corridors in which people get lost) , the bhoali (step-well) and a Mosque.
Who built this structure?
This complex was built under the rule of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, The Nawab of Awadh, in 1784 to provide employment to the local people during the famine of 1785. He is the same Nawab who shifted the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow.The architect of this marvel was Kifayatullah who is rumoured to be the cousin of the architect of the TajMahal !
Here are the lasting impressions of the same put together in this photo journey:
There are seven arched openings (doorways) in the Imambara to usher in the guests, that give an inkling of how large the inside hall would be.
The central hall is flanked on either sides by the Chinese and the Indian Halls respectively.
The hall is said to be decorated with stucco work adorning the walls- made of Lakhauri bricks.It consists of interiors and walls made of a mixture of lime and mortar without the help of any wood or metal (as told by our guide)
After a tedious climb of forty four (or forty five) steep steps, we reached the first level of the Imambara. The corridors were not well lit and there were ‘Paan-Stains’ everywhere. (A gentle reminder- this was in 2010!)
A Request to Tourists : Please keep our monuments and public places Neat and Clean.
Let us be more responsible.
Our guide took us through narrow passages and showed us how -the faintest of sound or whisper gets amplified even at 40-50 meters away.To demonstrate this, he walked to the fag end of the tunnel and tore a piece of paper , then lit a match-stick and the sounds of both the actions were clearly audible to us.
The Amazing Labyrinth
Next we headed to the Bhool-Bhulaiyya , a labyrinth of corridors.The guide challenged that it was impossible to find our way out of it.However , being good navigators we easily did find our exit. But I am sure , it would have confused the intruders in those times which must have been the purpose of building such a maze!
Recommended : Please tag along a guide to zig zag through these passages!
Breathtaking views from the roof top
From here we were lead to the terrace which was flat surfaced.I recollected that this Imambara unlike other Mughal monuments did not have any domes.
The labyrinth of corridors and passages is said to have around 489 doorways that are identical.
Source of all this information, being – our friendly guide!
We were told that some of the passages lead to tunnels, following which – people used to safely land inside the city of Allahabad Faizabad and even Delhi. All these tunnels are now sealed by the authorities.
The Mosque is beautiful with lengthy linear steps and intricate minarets and carvings. It is not open to Non-Muslims, though.
The entrance served as a location for a famous scene in the Sunny Deol starrer ‘Gadar-Ek Prem Katha’ (a popular Bollywood movie)
This baouli is not in use any longer but served as a source of drinking water during the times of the Nawabs. The guide told us that one of the Dewans had killed himself here to save the Royal Treasury…this sounded eerie….
It being a cloudy day and as it was getting dark inside the step-well ..we bid a good-bye to our guide as well as the complex.
I am sure with the latest shift of Government’s focus on Tourism and preserving Heritage Sites and Monuments, these structures would have got a face-lift! I am wanting to visit Lucknow again, very soon.
The Imambara complex is indeed worth a visit to seep in- fascinating stories and architecture. Of course, for breathtaking views of the city too!
Hope you enjoyed reading about this amazing complex housing the Labyrinth!
Till our next flight to a different location , keep reading and learning about new places and stories …Ciao !