Of Incredible India: Asaf-ud-Daula & Bada Imam Bara of Lucknow

Unmatched Heritage, proud legacy, splendid stories, indigenous craft, envious art & architecture & delicious food – India is all that & more & this is precisely why India is incredible.

In this series, we will bring the untold stories from the nooks and corners of the country, waiting to be heard. Stories from the forgotten past that when revisited still ring a bell & leave you wanting more.

In this episode, we bring you the civil engineering wonder: Bada Imam Bara of Lucknow.

नज़रें झुकी तो पैमाने बने
दिल टूटे तो मैख़ाने बने
कुछ तो जरुर ख़ास है आप में
हम यूँ ही नहीं आपके दीवाने बने


The ever-loved Asaf-ud-Daula:

Above lines were fondly written somewhere in the 18th century by the Nawab of Oudh, Asaf-ud-Daula. It was very unlikely of Nawaabs to indulge in poetry themselves in those days. That was the time of British rule in India & most rulers of princely Indian states were busy in amassing wealth, expanding their boundaries or gaining favours with the British. At that time, the poet by heart, artist by soul & the Nawaab by title, Asaf-ud-Daula took the reins of the state of Oudh in his hands after the demise of his father, Shuja-ud-Daula & began a journey that was going to be fondly remembered in future.

With a heavy heart, he began discharging his royal duties. The kind hearted man he was, he soon became popular. It’s being said that Oudh was undergoing a tough time financially at that time so much so that even the (supposedly) rich didn’t have much to meet their necessities let alone the luxuries.

To salvage  the situation, he began constructing a building which was neither a mosque nor a mausoleum. During the day, the common man labored to construct the walls. However, on every fourth night, the upper class gathered to demolish the ‘till constructed’ structure & got paid at the end of it. Soon, the common man sang in his appreciation & it was widely said that Jisko na de Moula, usko de Asaf-ud-Doula.

”जिसको न दे मौला, उसको दे आसफउद्दौला”

To contest the Mughal architecture, Asaf-ud-Daula built many monuments and architectural structures in Lucknow after shifting its capital from Faizabad to there. As a result, Imam Bara was born. Incidentally, Imam Bara also happens to be the structure that was built by the common man during the day & demolished by the rich at night.

Bada Imam Bara:

The construction of Bada Imam Bara was a trophy that was won by a competitive process. This trophy after a long, arduous competition went to an architect from Delhi, Kifayatullah.

Main hall, Bada Imambara of Lucknow @Life on Weekends
Main hall, Bada Imambara of Lucknow @Life on Weekends

What began as a measure to provide people with employment opportunities came out to be a wonderful marvel that leave you surprised when you visit it.

The complex houses a stepped well, a mosque, many gardens and this magical structure that is Bada Imam Bara.

Why is it magical? Well, get a load of this: there are 1024 ways of reaching the terrace of the building from the main hall but only one to come back. 

The terrace of Bada Imambara of Lucknow @Life on Weekends
The terrace of Bada Imambara of Lucknow @Life on Weekends

There’s also a labyrinth created by eight chambers surrounding the main hall. This labyrinth or Bhool Bulaiya is probably one of its own kind of maze in India. The maze is interconnected with passages that has 489 identical doorways.

The labyrinth of Bada Imam bars of Lucknow @Life on Weekends
The labyrinth of Bada Imam bars of Lucknow @Life on Weekends

And this doesn’t end here. The main hall of Bada Imam Bara is 16*15 metres tall but has no beams supporting its ceiling. This here is one of the largest arched constructions of its own kind in the world.

Main hall of Bara Imambara, Lucknow @Life on Weekends
Main hall of Bara Imambara, Lucknow @Life on Weekends Main hall of Bara Imambara, Lucknow @Life on Weekends

And they lie in unison

Asaf-ud-Daula spent a fortune in building Imam Bara and continued to spend money on its upkeep and maintainenace year after year. And in the end, he rested inside the main hall of the Bara. The architect, Kifayatullah, who shaped nawaab’s dreams & brought them to reality, also stay buried inside the hall, next to Asaf-ud-Daula.

And they all lie together leaving us a memory of the times that Lucknow once saw.







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