Saturday, 27 August 2011

Bara Imambara, Lucknow: Pictures Of An Architectural Marvel

This post is dedicated to one of the most beautiful monuments of LucknowBara Imambara, also known as Asfi Imambara after the name of its creator Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula. Lucknow is called the City of Nawabs, and true to its name, it has been a center for art and culture in North India for centuries. The people are also royal in true sense - their language is pure, they are lovers of good things in life- art, music and food and are generally a happy bunch; proud of their past, looking into the future. Now how can I say all these things with authority? I can, because I've known many of them very closely. Wonderful and righteous people! But the discussion about living beings some other time, this post is about a 227 year old piece of history that doesn't breathe but is very much alive!

I've been to Lucknow many times and have also lived there for short periods but never looked into the history this place has to offer. I believe you don't always have the time, priority or maturity to rise over your own petty issues and look at the other side of life. It is with time and experience, that you learn to observe and appreciate the fine nuances of life. 

So it happened, that after a long time, I was again in Lucknow. This time for my best friend's marriage. We were a group of friends and had one full day for a tour of city. Spirits were obviously high! We decided to start with Bara Imambara and visit the nearby places like Chawk and Chhota Imambara, however we were so consumed with first place itself that we had to cut short the time for others. Between performing my duties as the official photographer of the group and clicking all sorts of lovely (and awkward!) single and couple pictures, I did manage to sneak in some shots of interest. Here goes...

There are two magnificent triple-arched gateways to enter the premises. Move inside and the first impressive structure that you see on your right side is the Asfi Mosque. This mosque is still is use but only muslims are allowed to enter it. I clicked some shots from distance. Later noticed that there was an interesting reflection in the glass of the lamp. 

Bara Imambara: Asfi Mosque

Moving ahead, there is huge courtyard, which leads you into Imambara's central hall. Standing here, look back. You can see the side view of the Asfi mosque and marvel at the beautiful golden color of the structure.

Asfi Masque: Side View

The courtyard allows you to peek through the windows into the halls and you can look at the gateways on the other side. It feels like, on one side are you, standing in the present and the other side is the time gone by. 

Peek-a-boo with History

The most interesting feature of the structure is Bhul Bhulaiya on the upper floor. It is a complex maze or labyrinth of similar looking, dark passages hidden inside the walls of the structure. These passages or corridors are interconnected to each other through 489 identical doorways. Some of these passages have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. These were constructed to confuse the visitors and it is a real challenge to come out of these passages without being lost. One can actually reach to the terrace of the building through these passages. We could try it on own own but given that we all were accompanied by our wives, whatever sense of adventure we had suddenly vanished and we silently hired a guide. We entered Bhul Bhulaiya to witness the most amazing display of lights and shadow in the corridors. 

Bhul Bhulaiya Corridors

The corridors of Bhul Bhulaiya are a treat for photographers who find symmetry and pattern appealing. In addition to great symmetry and patterns, the rugged texture of walls, when lit by natural light, adds that WOW appeal to the pictures. Sample this shot, which coincidentally, is my most favorite photo of this trip. 

Light, Shade, History

Following aimlessly the guide through various corridors, you'll suddenly end up in the balcony of this enormous sized hall. This is the central hall. It is one of the largest of its kind in the world without any external support of wood, iron, or stone beams. The roof, which is said to be 16 feet thick, with a weight of nearly 20,000 tons, has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder. Astonishing!!! No wonder that it is considered to be a unique achievement in the field of architecture. Another very famous and interesting fact associated with the hall - the acoustics of the hall are such that you can even hear the strike of a matchstick across the length of the hall. This hall houses the graves of both the creator, Asaf-ud-Daula, and the designer, Kifayat-ullah, of this monument. Another interesting and unique fact!

Bara Imambara: The Central Hall

Leaving the hall, you enter another doorway following the guide and are once again lost in the darkness and confusion of passages. At some places in corridors, it is complete dark and you move ahead only by feeling the walls on your sides. 

Interesting Corridors of Bhul Bhulaiya

While at some other places, you find beautifully lit junctures like the one below. In the shot, don't miss the Indian way of graffiti on the walls- few of us don't ever miss leaving our personalized expressions on the places we visit! 

Beautiful Descent of Sunlight

While passing through the corridors, you get to see the Asfi Mosque in all its splendor. I particularly liked this frame from where the tombs of mosque were visible.

Asfi Mosque Tombs

Finally, through many narrow allys and staircases, you emerge on the terrace and get to see the breathtaking view of the Lucknow city. After another long photo session on the terrace, we moved down and proceeded to another attraction in the complex - the baoli. Baoli is five-storied step-well, with the first two stories being above water and the rest being under water. The one thing that stroked me most about it was the beautiful color of the walls.

Another attraction: Five Storied Baoli

The source of water for this baoli is said to be the Gomti river. The maintenance of the water was poor as I could see an entire ladder lying in it!

Baoli: Another View

While I was busy clicking pictures, I overheard a guide telling a group of visitors about this special spot in baoli. He revealed that the gate of the baoli and one window were so perfectly aligned that by standing behind that particular window, a person could see anyone entering into the baoli. This was used to monitor the gate of baoli. I didn't waste time and clicked one shot as souvenir!

Baoli:  The window from where one can monitor the entrance

When we left Imambara, it left a wealth of memories for me. Some of them in form of pictures.

Historic cities have a lot of character imbibed in them, which can, to a certain extent, be felt through pictures. However, one has to be there to 'truly' experience it. I hope these pictures will encourage the traveller in you to get up and visit this wonderful city. And mind you, I've only touched the tip of the iceberg, there is much more to see and do in Lucknow.

Ok then, bye for now and if you liked the post, don't forget to leave your comments. I'm waiting...


  1. Darpan, its really intersting to watch this foto more specially for me that..while we along you have taken the sanps...and i found that I have missed lot of glimpses which u captured here. Moreover, i found may be its difficult to experience them there due to vastness , rather I have found much depth in the photographs and then relating with site and consequences ...i find once again need ot be there...

  2. Darpan.. kudos for the great camera work.. I've visited Bara Imambara more than once, but the views you've posted here are so beautiful, I don't have words to express my fascination here.. Great work.. you are really wasting your life in this IT industry.. You should rather be a photographer and take this as a full time profession..

  3. As ur name reflects so ur passion..nice shot taken from different angels..picture quality credit must b given to me model no;)i love the city, visited the place, like the way u describe it here..ur love with life n camera makes it more interesting.

  4. Darpan, Hats off to u :) The way you play with your camera and explaination of each snap just loved it. May God bless u and keep posting.....

  5. Exquisite photography and brilliant description..... wonderful photo blog.

  6. Hey Darpan - great job, very impressive
    Keep it up :)

    From Anu Sarkar

  7. @Rudra, Its always nice to pause, look back and relive the beautiful moments you had. I do it. And recommend it :)

  8. @Sumit Sir, Praise coming from a thoughtful person like you is even more special. I'm delighted! And regarding joining it as a full time profession, we'll see about that :)

  9. @Moni,Thanks for taking out the time to go through the post. I've mentioned about camera at the bottom of the page. Do visit for more.

  10. @Nisha, Well, it isn't possible without your wonderful support. After all, a woman makes a man :)

  11. @Jay Jani, Hey Jay, thank you for liking the blog. Keep coming for more, I bet you won't be disappointed :)

  12. @Anu Sarkar, Thanks Ma'am for the appreciation. Sandeep also visited the blog and encouraged me to write more. Incidentally, he found my writing more interesting than my photography ;-)

  13. Great to know the -- in depth from this blog.This will really help for my forward steps to be taken.
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  14. Dear Darpan, some really nice pictures of the medieval buildings of Lucknow. My favorites are the Bhul Bhuliyaa corridor with the light patterns (as is yours!) and the picture of the Asfi Mosque which is nicely framed by the window which has symetry with the shape of the mosque dome.

    Came here through the India ruins group on Flickr where I saw your post.


  15. great pics
    renewed my past when i did my MBBS and used to roam in the bara
    following your post
    you can follow me back...

  16. Thanks for the info and pictures are beautiful :)
    Bara Imambara is definitely one of the main and must visit travel destinations in Lucknow, an exemplary architectural example. But one should also explore other places to visit in Lucknow.

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  18. Can anyone please tell me what the mirrors in the mosque mean? They stand against the walls,with candles beneath...very symbolic...

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  20. The whole landmark is worked in red sandstone which was brought from the zones of Rajasthan.
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