Bada Imambara

A Shia congregation hall which is used for mourning and remembrance during Muharram. Signup for full VR Experience. Book a holiday package to Bada Imambara.

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Bada Imambara

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Bada Imambara

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Location

Machchhi Bhavan, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh - 226003, India

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BARA IMAMBARA

Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, is a treasure of architectural heritage. The city famous for its Nawabi tehjeeb (a cultured and extremely polite form of etiquettes) flourished under the rule of the Nawabs who originally hailing from Naishapur in Iran brought along them their culture, fashion and architectural tastes which influenced the city to a great extent. It was Asaf-ud-Daula the fourth Nawab of Awadh who changed the Awadh capital form Faizabad to Lucknow and contributed to the city’s rise. The province of Awadh suffered severe famine in 1784 and rich and poor alike faced devastating consequences. To mitigate the effects of the famine Asaf-ud-Daula came up with a plan to generate employment for the suffering population. He commissioned the construction of the Bara Imambara – a congregation hall for Shia Muslims. The architect, Khifayatullah was chosen through a competition for the congregation hall and hailed from Delhi. To make the construction last for long the common folk would build during the day and the rich would destroy it in the night. Both groups were paid for their efforts. The Nawab’s generous measures even led to the popular saying, “Jisko na de maula, usko de Asaf-ud-Daula” (He who doesn’t receive from the lord, will receive from Asaf-ud-Daula).

 Bara Imambara (Image: Wikipedia)

The Imambara complex is accessed through a gate that leads to a square courtyard with a circular garden and to a consecutive gate. Beyond the second gate lies a large open garden with paths leading to the structures in the complex. The Shahi Baoli is to the left of the garden and to the right lies the Asafi Mosque. Facing the gate is the Bara Imambara, also called the Asafi Imambara, on the opposite side of the garden. The gate themselves have three arched openings and are decorated with twin fish motifs, the royal insignia of the Nawabs of Awadh.

The Shahi Baoli, a stepwell, was constructed to provide water for the construction of the Imambara. The baoli’s water level is believed to be connected with the river Gomti. According to legend, a map to a treasure and its key lie at the floor of the baoli. The waters of the Baoli reflect the scene at the gate providing view to the people inside its chambers. The steps lead to an octagonal well. The baoli has seven floors of which four are underground and are connected through stairs. 

 Asafi Mosque (Image: Wikipedia)

The imposing Asafi mosque is still in use today and is closed to non-Muslims. Huge linear steps lead to the giant structure of the mosque. Scalloped arches lead inside the mosque with the central being the largest. The mosque has three large domes each of which is topped by an inverted lotus with a brass finial. The central dome imposes over the other two on the sides. Two lofty intricate minarets frame the whole building.

Beside the Asafi mosque occupying a place of prominence in the complex lies the Bara Imambara which has become a sort of identity for Lucknow. The façade has multiple scalloped arches which lead to the halls inside. It has a distinct style with no dominating domes or minarets. But a large number of small domes rest above arched openings that line the edge of the roof, with slightly larger ones breaking the linear arrangement at intervals. The Imambara is 50m long and 16 m wide and reaches a height of 15m and has one of the largest vaulted halls without supporting beams or pillars. The arched doors windows and corridors support the weight of the structure. There are nine chambers inside with different roof heights. The large central one houses the tombs of Asaf-Ud-Daulla and the architect Khifayatullah. The supporting corridors above the vaulted ceiling builds up a maze with 489 identical doorways, maneuvering through which it’s easy to get lost. This labyrinth with its dark and narrow corridors is popularly called the Bhool Bhulaiya literally meaning maze. The corridors create an acoustic effect that makes sound originating from any corner to reach the whole area. 

 Interior of the Bara Imambara

The orientation of the building was kept in the direction of air flow to maintain a high volume in the hall. This supported the vault on the inside by creating an air support. The interiors of the imambara are cool and provides relief from the sun. This is achieved by a system of double walls. The outer and inner walls are separated by a slim staircase. This cavity traps air and prevent the transfer of heat to the inside.

The buildings within the complex are made of bricks covered with stucco. The binding material was made of natural materials like urad dal, sheera (molasses), farez (a natural gum like substance) mixed with the surkhi or broken pieces of bricks and lime. The bricks and plaster was locally available and provided a cheaper alternative to the stone used by the Mughals. The use of stucco has enabled the articulation of the surface with fine details like floral motifs and decorations on the arches and domes. 

Today the Imambara stands as a testimonial to the impressive Nawabi architecture raised through brick and plaster.  The monuments built within the Imambara complex represented the aspirations of the Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. He wanted to make Lucknow a city which could rival the architectural glory of the Mughals. The Imambara complex with time became a synonym for the Awadhi architecture patronized by the Nawabs.

Glossary

Imambara – a Shia congregation hall which is used for mourning and remembrance during Muharram. Hussain Ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was killed in the Battle of Karbala by the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I in 680 AD. To commemorate his martyrdom, Shias observe religious and mourning ceremonies on the day of Ashur. An Imambara is different from a mosque as it is mainly for these gatherings for Muharram. It is also called as a Hussainia or Ashurkhana.

 

 

    

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