Glory of Imambara
Bara Imambara is an imambara complex in Lucknow, India, built by Asaf-ud-daulah, Nawab of Lucknow, in 1784. It is also called the Asafi Imambara. Bara means big, and an imambara is a shrine built by Shia Muslims for the purpose of Azadari. The Bara Imambara is among the grandest buildings of Lucknow.
About the Bada Imambara:
The Bara Imambara is a large complex, which houses a mosque, courtyards, gateways and a ‘bawali’ or step-well used as a summer palace. The entrance hall of Imambara is quite huge, streching in an area of 900 sq mt, and said to be largest hall in world without without any external support of wood, iron, or stone beams. The great hall is approached through two magnificent triple-arched gateways. The ceiling of this columnless hall is more than 15-meter high. The hall is one of the largest of its kind in the world . The roof has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder. Hence, it is viewed as a unique achievement of architecture. The building, which consists of three huge halls, has an amazing maze of corridors hidden in between its walls that are about 20 feet thick. A unique thing about the building is that the main gate, also called as Rumi Darwaja, is visible from all the windows and galleries of the main hall. This was done to ensure a good protection against any enemy intrusion.
History of Imambara:
The Imambara was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784, as a relief measure following a famine during last few years. According to legends, the king ordered construction of a wall here, which was demolished every evening. The construction continued for months, as a part of providing employment to the famine struck citizens of his state. In return, the labors recieved money and food for their family. Designer of this compound was Kifayat-ullah, a relative of designer of Taj Mahal. The structure has a clear impact of Mughal, Rajput style with some Gothic influence. The Bara Imambara is an interesting building. It is neither a mosque, nor a mausoleum, but a huge building having interesting elements within it. The construction of the halls and the use of vaults show a strong Islamic influence. The main entrance gate, Rumi Darwaja, a huge 60-feet-high door was also built by Asaf-ud-Daula. It is also called the ‘Turkish Darwaza,’ it is the entrance to the Bara Imambara.
The complex also includes the large Asfi mosque, the bhulbhulayah (the labyrinth), and bowli, a step well with running water. Two imposing gateways lead to the main hall.
The Bara Imambara was built in 1783, a year of a devastating famine, and one of Asaf-ud-Daula’s objectives in embarking on this grandiose project was to provide employment for people in the region. According to reports, the famine continued for over a decade and the construction of the building continued for this time. It is said that ordinary people used to work in the day building up the edifice, while noblemen and other elite were called at night to break down all the structure raised, as they were incapable of doing anything else, according to a chronicle of the period. This see-saw efforts continued till the famine period was over. It was a project that preceded a Keynesian like intervention for employment generation.
A major attraction, Bhul Bhulaiya, is also a part of this huge structure. Bhul 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. One should always take a Guide to explore Bhul Bhulaiya. The Bhul Bhulaiya was constructed to confuse any enemy intruder. The narrow lanes of the labyrinth can make anyone feel lost. The king and other few only knew the way out.
The architecture of the complex reflects the maturation of ornamented Mughal design – it is one of the last major projects not incorporating any European elements or the use of iron. The main imambara consists of a large vaulted central chamber containing the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula. At 50 by 16 meters and over 15 meters tall, it has no beams supporting the ceiling, and is one of the largest such arched constructions in the world. There are eight surrounding chambers built to different roof heights, permitting the space above these to be reconstructed as a three-dimensional labyrinth with passages interconnecting with each other through 489 identical doorways. This part of the building, known as is a popular attraction, and often the whole complex may be referred to as the bhulbhulayah. It is possibly the only existing maze in India and came about unintenionally to support the weight of the building, constructed on marshy land.
The design of the Imambara was obtained through a competitive process. The winner was an architect Kifayatullah, who also lies buried in the main hall of the Imambara. It is another unique aspect of the building where the sponsor and the architect lie buried besides each other.
There is also a blocked (tunnel) passageway which, according to legends, leads through a mile-long underground passage to a location near the Gomti river. Other passages are rumoured to lead to Faizabad (the former seat of power of the Nawabs), Allahabad and even to Delhi. They exist but have been sealed after a period of long disuse as well as fears over the disappearance of people who had purportedly gone missing, while exploring.
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