bada-imambara

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The Bara Imambara is a famous monument of Lucknow with historical, cultural and heritage importance. Bara Imambara was built in 1784 by the then Nawab of Awadh, Asaf -ud-Daula. It is for this reason that it is often known as Asafia Imambara. The structure was built as a part of a relief project for a major famine that took place in the year 1784. The chronicles of History maintain that the famine continued for over a decade and the construction of the building continued for this time.

The architecture of the complex reflects the maturation of ornamented Mughal design, namely the Badshahi Mosque – 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, and often the whole complex, may be referred to as the Bhulbhulaya. Known as a popular attraction, it is possibly the only existing maze in India and came about unintentionally to support the weight of the building which is constructed on marshy land. Asaf-ud-Daula also erected the 18 meter (59 foot) high Rumi Darwaza, just outside. This portal, embellished with lavish decorations, was the Imambara’s west facing entrance.

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 sanctum of Imambara consists of a large vaulted central chamber containing the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula. The hall that is 170 feet long and 55 feet wide stands 50 feet from the ground. It is interesting to note that it has no beams or girders supporting the ceiling. In fact Bara Imambara is one of the largest arched constructions of its kind in the world.

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.This dense, dark maze called the ‘bhul bhulaiya’ is a network of more than 1000 labyrinthine passages, some of which have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. The maze is to be explored only with the help of an “approved” guide if one wants a tour of the secret labyrinth without getting lost. It is possibly the only existing maze in India and came about unintentionally to support the weight of the building, constructed on marshy land.

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.