Friday, July 3, 2015

Architecture of Lucknow - What is an Imambara?

- By Aishwarya Javalgekar

There are many famous mosques and tombs in India, known for their splendorous architecture and intricate carvings. But an Imambara is different from a mosque, and may not necessarily hold the Friday Prayer. It is also different from a mausoleum, though it might contain tombs. 

An Imambara is a congregation hall built for Shia ceremonies, especially those which take place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. Hussain Ibn Ali, the third Imam of Shia Muslims was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. Shia Muslims gather in imambaras every year to mourn his death on the tenth day of Muharram. 

There are several majestic Imambaras in Lucknow, that embody the the city's royal history and rich heritage. Two of the most popular ones are Bada Imambara and Chota Imambara. The Shah Najaf and Sibtainabad Imambaras are also historically important.

Bada Imambara
One of the most popular sites in Lucknow, it is admired worldwide for its architectural design and grandeur. It was built by Nawab Asaf-ud Daulah, so it is also called Asifi Imambara. 
Bada Imambara (Picture Credits: Wikimedia Commons)
The entire structure is made of special Lakhanui bricks and lime plaster. No wood or metal has been used. The main hall of this complex is considered to be the largest vault chamber in the world. It is the largest hall in Asia without any external support from wood, iron or stone beams. The acoustics of the hall are such that one can even hear the strike of a matchstick across the length of the hall!

Chota Imambara
Also called Husainabad Imambara, it was built by Mohammad Ali Shah Bahadur, the Nawab of Awadh, between 1837 and 1842. This stately structure contains the tombs of the Nawab, his mother, and many other family members.  It is a blend of Indo-Islamic and Persian styles, and has a beautiful gilded dome. The walls are decorated with Arabic calligraphy. The Chota Imambara complex also has a shahi hamam (royal Turkish bath).
"Palace of lights" - Chota Imambara lit up during festivals (Picture Credits:

 To know more about the other two Imambaras, read Part II of this article. 

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