Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow

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Bara Imambara is a testament to a historical city’s time, pride, and joy where history Does not belong to us; we belong to them- pretty well said by Hans-Georg Gadamer. And Lucknow translates the author’s lines beautifully. I was standing on the balcony enjoying the morning breeze when our Airbnb owner sent breakfast for us. It was delicious Gobhi Ke Parathe with curd & pickle and a steaming cup of coffee. I had a hearty breakfast on my last day in Lucknow.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow

Today, I explored Bara Immabara—one of the beautiful Mughal architecture, a rightful triumph. It is an ode to engineering with a bizarre labyrinth of narrow winding passageways running through the upper floor of the monument- called the Bhool Bhulaiya.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow

I entered the Imambara and realised the construction was a mix of Gothic, Rajput, and Mughal architectural elements—a pure engineering brilliance beyond comparison done by Hafiz Kifayat Ullah. The last prominent project that does not employ iron or other European design components. It is one of the most significant arched structures in the world. It stands over 15 meters tall with no beams supporting the ceiling and measures 50 X 16 meters wide. Thats Outstanding!

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Second Gateway to Imambara

Imambara is primarily used by the Shia sect of Muslims during Muharram as a sacred place of worship and was built by Asaf-Ud-Daulah during the 1784 famine to employ the people. It took over 14 years to complete the construction, which used 20000 people. It is a masterpiece that results from Nawab’s love and devotion for his people. While pondering around, I realised the Bara Imambara complex has two levels of entrances- one a few lawns, the Shahi Baoli and the Asifi Mosque, and the other the Main Imambara Building.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
The primary complex of Imambara

Upon entering, I first visited Shahi Baoli or the Royal Step-well. Initially, the Baoli was dug to serve as a reservoir during the construction of Bara Imambara. But it later became a perennial water source because of its underground linkage with the nearby Gomti River. This Sahi Baoli also served as Shahi Mehmaan Khana (Royal Guest House), and the construction of the Baoli was completed in 1784.

However, only a tiny portion of the Shahi Baoli exists today as an open staircase with a double-arched gate leading to the well below. Surrounding the staircases are five-storied structures interconnected by corridors, giving a gallery-like shape. It’s believed below the ground level, two more stories exist, which are inaccessible now. The well is deep (~163 ft) and has water even today, but it’s covered with algae.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Entrance to Sahi Baoli

Interestingly, the Baoli lies on the eastern side of Bara Imambara, where the officials would stand in the inner Eastern chamber of the well. It was done to watch to keep track of visitors. The architecture was so expertly crafted that their reflections would fall on the water as people moved around. Amazing right?

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Circular Architecture of Baoli

Further, I moved to Asafi Mosque, which lies northwest of the Bara Imambara. It is one of the most attractive and picturesque monuments built before the Bara Imambara. The pinnacle of Mughal construction- a three-domed mosque with octagonal minarets elevated to 153 ft. It has two large prayer halls with eleven arched doors at their facades.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Asafi Mosque

I could not enter the mosque as a board just outside stating that “Non-Muslims are not allowed inside”. Hence, I admired it from the outside. However, the Britishers used the Bara Imambara and the mosque to store guns, canons, and gunpowder from 1857 to 1884. The namaaz re-started at the mosque towards the end of the 19th century.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Indo-Islamic Architecture

I go further towards the Bada Imambara, which has nine halls inside, a large central hall. Interestingly, the entire weight of the monument is balanced upon the arched doors, windows and corridors. The absence of woodwork, metal beams, or support wires in the whole structure can be viewed in the interior galleries. Moreover, the large central hall contains the tomb of Asaf-ud-daulah too.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Interconnected halls of Imambara

Lakhauri bricks and lime plaster were used to build the Imambara. The roof is supported only by interlocking bricks. These assembled blocks stand erect without any pillars. The world here stands on an archway with no pivotal support that defies the logic of gravity. I was awestruck by the architectural design. 

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Primary Hall

The interior is beautifully decorated with stucco work, Chattris, and parapets. It is distinctive because its roof is constructed with rice husk ash. The intricately crafted floral motifs, domes painted on walls, false arches, columns and ceiling artists speak volumes of 18th-century architecture.

My last place to visit was Bhool Bhulaiya, famous for its fantastic maze. It is a network of interconnected passages with around a thousand similar-looking doors creating a labyrinth. There are nearly 1,000 passages and 489 identical doors. Some of these passages take you to the windows and some of them to the roof; however, most of them end up nowhere, causing a hell of confusion. Moreover, the labyrinth owns 1024 entrances with just two exits.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Hollow Passage of Bhul Bhulaiya

I decided to take a guide for the tour and ended up climbing 108 steep stairs to reach the rooftop. There are many concepts around the Bhool Bhulaiya. First, it is a by-product of the large central hall construction of the Bara Imambara. The labyrinth has no column or beam; the roof and part of the side walls were made hollow, leading to this maze-like structure.

Bhul Bhulaiya

 The astounding features of Bhool Bhulaiya, such as beamless construction, Labyrinthine passages, astonishingly identical stairways, winding hallways, rooftop balconies, and doors, can make you dizzy. The view of the entire complex from the top is incredible. Another exciting fact that was believed was treasures stored inside Bara Imambara’s walls, the Bhool Bhulaiya, and the tunnels. There used to be a map showing the way to the glory. But the map and key were thrown into the well of Shahi Baoli treasure keeper, Mool Chand Rastogi, who later committed suicide. 

Roof Top

I did not realise it was almost 2 hours at Imambara; I quickly rushed out for my Chikankari expedition. A traditional embroidery work of Chikan is now a world-famous textile decoration style. Emperor Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan, introduced Chikan work in the early 17th century. Traditional Chikan is a delicate & artfully done hand embroidery. And I was able to buy authentic Chikankari dress material.


After my purchase, I went to Saadat Ali Khan’s and Khurshid Zadi’s tombs. The 6th emperor of Awadh, Saadat Ali Khan, ruled Awadh from 1798 to 1814. And Begum Khurshid Jadi was the favourite Begum of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan.

Bara Imambara :A testament to a historical city Lucknow
Khurshid Zadi’s tombs.

The tombs were erected by his son Ghazi-Ud-Din Haider. Moreover, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan was buried at his son Ghazi-ud-Din Haider’s residence, which was demolished to build the tomb at Khas Bazaar (later known as Qaiser Bagh).

Begum Khurshid Jadi Tomb

As I entered, I saw the complex was well maintained, with Saadat Ali Khan’s tomb on one side and his wife, Khurshid Zadi. Saadat Ali Khan’s tomb floor is chequered with black and white marble squares. The mausoleum has a sizeable hemispherical dome fluted with narrow, regular ribbings. A large Guldasta (inverted flower vase) adorns the top of the crown with a gilded finial. 

Rectangular verandahs flank the hall on its four sides with arched doorways that open towards the exterior—built with Lakhauri bricks and chunam (specially formulated lime mortar).

Interior construction

Embellished and decorated with delicate stucco mouldings and patterns, both tombs are excellent specimens of the Indo-Islamic style of architecture. 

Indo Islamic artistry

I took a few pictures of the exterior and bribed the caretaker for photos inside the tomb. At last, my friend reached the tom with Makkan Malai, & it was time to bid goodbye to Lucknow, with a promise to return soon for Mouth-watering food, Tahzeeb, history, and Chikakari.

How to Reach

By Air

The city has the nearest Lucknow Airport, 14km from the city centre. Hire a cab from the airport to reach the desired destination. 

By Rail 

The city railhead is well connected with all major cities of India. The Lucknow railway station at Charbagh is the central railway station. One can hire a cab, auto or bus to reach the desired destination. 

By Road

The city of Lucknow is well connected with major highways like NH25, NH28 and NH56. State and private buses are available from Varanasi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Agra, Jhansi, Delhi and other nearby cities. These buses ply at regular intervals. However, one can also book a cab or self-drive to Lucknow.


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