My loyalties have begun to get divided. Until August,last year,living in different countries abroad for all of 29 years, I still felt rooted to my home town, Allahabad. The fact that I was born, brought up there, that I had my parents (not any more),my sister, brothers and their homes there and that I visited (and stayed put) every time we came on home leave only reinforced this feeling.
However,from September,last year, we came to Lucknow to start the process of settling into my husband’s grandfather’s house. Lucknow is my husband’s home town and has been one place where he has been the most comfortable-most himself. I have been regaled by stories of his school, La Martiniere, about his home and assorted personalities of Lucknow. Year after year I have visited and consumed the delicacies of Lucknow like the Tundey kabab and Makkhan-malai. And now, if I have started inviting relatives and friends over to Lucknow and to our house(even though we have cement and plaster everywhere),surely, I tell myself, it is Lucknow that I belong to as well.
While going through some folders in our computer I discovered one, marked by my husband, in typical fashion, with underscores and dates in the reverse-like this- ResComp_pic_20120208! This sort of title has never failed to mystify- though it unravelled some of his photographs of Lucknow- among them photographs of the Bara Imambara with the Asafi Masjid(mosque).
They are shots of a beautiful complex of monuments that I thought I should share with you.To those of you far away -it will give you an idea of what parts of Lucknow are like, and indeed what most of Lucknow was like at the time of the nawabs.
Here is a view of the complex that houses the Imambara(a place for Shia Muslims to gather and mourn the death of Imam Hussein,the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad),the Asafi mosque, a baoli or step well used as a source for water while constructing these buildings and a guest house which was destroyed by the British after the Indian uprising.
In the foreground is the mosque. To the right is the wall of the main entrance and in the distance, in the middle, is the rear of the ornate Rumi Darwaza or Rumi Gate-in the past the western entrance to the complex-
These structures were built in 1785 by the Nawab of Awadh(Lucknow)Asaf-ud-Daula. That year Awadh was badly hit by famine so the nawab, interestingly, decided upon building this complex to create jobs for his people in exchange of food. It is said that ordinary folk laboured in the day time while the nobility worked at night so they couldn’t be identified-being seen doing hard labour was considered embarrassing. It is supposed to have cost Rupees one crore-an enormous sum of money !
Also,I did a bit of home work, it was the last Mughal monument not using British/European elements in its architecture or using iron in its construction–rather incorporating both Rajput and Mughal styles.
Steps running the length of the building lead to the front hall of the imambara-
Which leads to the enormous, ornate main hall. It has no pillars or beams to support its roof. It is supposed to be one of the largest unsupported halls in the world. The wonderful architect of the complex was Kifayatullah, from Delhi, who won the chance to design this in a competition.
It is here that Shia muslims of Lucknow still gather to mourn during Muharram.
After the uprising in 1857, and the defeat of Indians, the British converted this complex into a fortress and used this hall as an armoury.
The basement houses the grave of Asaf-ud-Daula.
A staircase with arched windows-elegant in their simplicity-leads to the upper storey-
The beautiful windows of the staircase-
The upper storey- the Bhulbhulaiyya or labyrinth-a fascinating maze with interconnecting passages and 489 identical doorways-actually a structure built to support the roof-
The outer side of the labyrinth-
The roof on top-
A view of the present gate to the complex-
Finally a stunning view of ‘Teelewali masjid'(mosque on a mound)from the imambara-in the early morning winter sun-
We visit this complex once in a while and take in the beautiful views around.
If you haven’t already done so you must watch a film from 1977, Shatranj ke Khilari(Chess Players), by film director Satyajit Ray. You will get to enjoy views of Lucknow, the finesse of life in the time of the nawabs,understand the sadness of the situation that the nawabs found themselves in as the British started taking over, and watch what is most definitely a wonderful film.
I wonder if you liked these photographs..and the imambara…
I have just finished uploading pictures of my sister’s home in Allahabad. You will find it in my next article–soon.
Hope you have a very nice weekend !
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