Unfortunately for a self proclaimed ‘Lucknow Lover’, it took me 28 long years to visit the famous Asafi Imambara, popularly known as “Bara Imambara” in the city of Awadh (Lucknow). It tops the list of the must visit places of Lucknow.
On a relatively cooler Sunday, I planned of delving and savoring the scrumptious and mouthwatering dishes of the Chowk – celebrated for its Lassi, Malai, Chaat, infact what not! I can bet that Lucknawi Chaat here is the best in the world (yes , I actually mean it!). My husband (a first time visitor to the city) and my father tagged along. We were on our way to Chowk to satiate my taste buds when I heard my husband uttering ”Papa, is this the famous Imambara?” I shook my head for I knew that my father, an archaeological lover won’t leave this opportunity to scout another (a millionth time! He ensures that our every guest visits it!). I elbowed my husband out of anger and adamantly told Papa that I am not going to get tanned seeing a mosque. But as usual, he dint pay heed to any of my tantrums and quickly went inside with my husband following suit.
Once we were inside, it was actually fascinating. My father was explaining the history behind the monument. Bara Imambara was built by Asaf-ud-Daula, Nawab of Awadh, in a year of devastating famine to provide his people with employment opportunity. A large portrait on the wall along with his history was placed to enlight the visitors. It is an engineering architectural wonder of its age as the arched central hall containing the tomb of the emperor has no beams or girders or pillars to support it. It houses a mosque, bhool-bhulaiya (labyrinth) and a bowli (well) which attracts lots of tourists. My father was rational in availing the services of a seasoned guide Asif, who showed us around the entire structure iterating the history and popular beliefs behind it. The bowli, said to be connected to river Gomti, was made in such a way that reflection of anyone sneaking inside unannounced would be immediately captured. We actually tested it. Imambara was built in such a way that no enemy could enter without coming in the notice of the soldiers and the walls of the passages eavesdropped. We tried the famous ‘match test’ where Asif lighted a matchstick and we were able to hear it even from 200 metres. The low passages were thoroughly dark, intriguing and evoked a sense of fear. He said that as per legends, treasure troves were hidden in these secret pathways leading to underground tunnels for the emperor and his family to escape in case of invasions. Many people have reportedly gone missing while exploring it (I am not that crazy).
It was very agonizing to see how some ignorant people could insanely indulge in scribbling and spitting on walls and showing disrespect to this royal opulence.
Asif then escorted us to the labyrinth and as custom, challenged us to get out of it on our own. We were in a group of ten and still no one had any inkling. All the routes looked alike and we twice reached the same spot from where we started. The dungeons were so dark that I was holding my husband’s hand tighter than ever before (By the way, I am bad at memorizing ways, no romance intended!). Everyone tried but all in vain. Finally, Asif came to our rescue after the allotted 10 minutes and after scored of twists and turns, we finally found our way out. We also traversed through the terraces to catch the scenic panorama of my beautiful city from the top which was enthralling and breathtaking (panting due to high rising stairs was also a reason!)
We couldn’t visit the Chota Imambara and the mosque due to paucity of time.
But after visiting this royal heritage with all its grandeur, massiveness and unbelievable architecture, I was forced to ponder over the causes that people like me don’t feel enthusiastic about to explore this part of our magnificent history. The reasons could be ignorance, lack of cleanliness and poor maintenance.
Thus, here is a small effort from my end to give this majestic monument of our culture rich city what it truly deserves: limelight and true appreciation.