Thursday, 30 October 2014

Lucknow- The magnificent Bara Imambara complex

The magnificient Bara Imambara Complex

Asaf ud Daulah, the Nawab of Oudh was apparently a very popular Nawab. There was a saying in Lucknow during his reign that ‘Jisko na de Moula, usko de Asaf-ud-Doula.’ This meant that if the almighty does not provide for you, Asaf ud Daulah will. 
I was born and brought up in Lucknow but even while staying in Lucknow you do not often visit the historical buildings. I do remember going to the historical buildings of Old Lucknow once or twice as a child but that’s about it.  I did visit Bara Imambara soon after my wedding and now it was time to show my kids this part of history which they are not aware of staying in metropolis like Delhi.

My Children enjoyed the monuments
As you enter the main gate and catch a vision of the entire complex, you are taken by surprise by the magnificence of it all. A creation of Asaf ud Daulah the Imam-Bara & the Rumi-Darwaza (Rumi-Gate) were constructed as a famine relief measure in 1784. It is said that many parts of the structure were built and destroyed many times so that the poor would continue getting employment.

The upper part of Rumi Darwaza as visible from Bara Imambara
Consciously designed by its architect Kifayatullah, the 164 feet long and 52 feet wide building is constructed in brick with high quality limestone. The arched roof of the Imam-Bara, which is built without a single beam, is the largest of its kind in the world.

Deposit your shoes outside and then enter the Bara Imambara from here

Thankfully the awareness about cleanliness is being spread. 

Inside the main hall of Imambara. No pillars. 

The Bhulbhulaiya at Bara Imambara, is a unique labyrinth of intricate balconies and passages, with 489 identical doorways, which give the feeling of being lost. Once you are inside the Bara Imambara, the guide points upwards and tells you that bhulbhulaiya is in the walls of the building. When my daughter asked if it were behind the building, the reply came ‘Nahin baby – bhulbhulaiya in diwaron ke ander hai. (No my child, the bhulbhulaiya is inside the walls). Bhool Bhulaiya is a labyrinth of hundreds of narrow stairway passages, some of which have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. The Bhool Bhulaiya was constructed to confuse any enemy intruder. The narrow lanes of the labyrinth can make anyone feel lost. Only a few knew the way out of this maze. 

The roof top

The structure contains various strategically built hollows in the corridors. The guide would stand hundreds of yards away and whisper something or light a matchstick which you could hear clearly at the other end. There is also a blocked passageway which, according to legends, leads through a mile-long underground passage to a location near the Gomti river. It is also said that there were tunnels inside which led to some nearby towns.

Inside Bhulbhoolia

At the time of entering the complex you are required to buy a camera-ticket for I think Rs 5 if you are carrying a still camera and Rs 20 if you are carrying a video camera. Those guys are not interested in the fact that virtually all cameras and mobile phones have cameras and video cameras built into them. They are very happy to accept Rs 5 and give you a receipt.  Then further on you have to buy entrance ticket for around Rs 50 which includes not only the buildings of this complex but also of Chota Imambara and art gallery and maybe one or 2 more buildings.

The rates for guides are displayed but the guides are clever and they quote you much more as they promise to include other buildings. Having paid humongous amounts in Europe just for entrance charges to mediocre structures, I did not think that paying an extra Rs 100 to the guide would amount to too much for our group. All conditions of guide were accepted by us without a murmur. At the end of it I tipped him as well.

The kids enjoyed the bhool bhoolaiya and wanted to explore more of it but were frustrated with the guide interfering at each step. He would not let them get lost and explore the passages on their own . They thought they would enter it again but once we were down those large steps, better sense prevailed and we moved on to Shahi Baoli.

The Shahi Baoli

The actual Baoli. Now totally dry. 

I thought we will be led to a well or a bath which must be called the Shahi Baoli.
However, I was not aware that one of the most unique buildings that Asaf-ud-Daulah built was the Shahi Baoli. It was constructed around a large well that had been initially dug as a reservoir for storing water for construction work near the Imambara. it turned out to be a perennial source of water, being connected underground with Gomti river.

The entrance to the Baoli. It is a fascinating piece of architecture. 
Asaf-ud-Daulah who had a desire to build unique buildings, ordered it to be built as a guest-house - the Shahi Mehmaan Khana so an entire building came around this well. It is said that Warren Hastings, the Governor General of East India Company, was one of its first distinguished guests. He is said to have remarked 'I am lodged most magnificently and most uncomfortably.' The Nawab was well known for his hospitality so one wonders why Warren Hastings would have been uncomfortable. Others who were the guests of this unique gueshouse have penned praises about the hospitality, construction and the surrounding gardens.

One will need to do more study about its construction and architecture as the Baoli has unique features like the guide explained to us that anyone entering the Baoli building could been spotted clearly by their reflection in water from many vantage points. He did demonstrate this. Very interesting.

Asfi Mosque is part of the complex but we just admired it from outside. Did not go inside. It appeared to be huge and very well constructed. We also wanted to go and have a look at Chotta Imambara so we gave Asfi Masjid a miss for this trip.

Asfi Mosque at Bara Imambara complex


Unknown said...

Thanks for such a wonderful article.

Anonymous said...

It is a remarkable complex. The bhool bhulaiyan of course is very interesting, though I believe now many sections have been closed off, the other parts are also quite grand. Good coverage :-)