Lucknow is known for its grace and old charm. The legacy of the imperial splendour of Lucknow, formerly known as Avadh or Oudh, has always fascinated people, all over the world. The Bada Imambara is an important tourist attraction of Lucknow. It is located in the heart of Lucknow and built by the erstwhile Nawab of Lucknow to provide succor to the famine stricken people. Though it began as a charitable project, yet the large halls, vaulted galleries and an intriguing labyrinth of interconnected passages within it make it an amazing edifice.
The Bada Imambara is, in fact, a great hall built at the end of a spectacular courtyard approached through two magnificent triple-arched gateways. This columnless hall has been an architectural marvel since 1784, with the interior length of 49.4m and width of 16.2m. The ceiling is more than 15m high. The hall is Asia’s largest without any external support of wood, iron, or stone beams. What leaves the visitor astonished is the construction of the roof. It is said to be 16 feet thick and weighs nearly 20,000 tons. However, there are no steel girders or beams to uphold the mammoth ceiling. Thus, it is said to be the world’s largest arched room without any pillars.
The Bhool Bhulaiya, which is also part of this huge structure is a network of more than 1000 narrow labyrinthine passages, some of which have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. The amazing maze of corridors is hidden in between its walls that are about 20 feet thick. Legend has it that this maze was created to facilitate the then Nawab’s escape in times of crisis. The king and other few only knew the way out.
The main entrance gate, Rumi Darwaja, a huge 60-feet-high door was also built by Asaf-ud-Daula. Another elegant structure is Asfi Mosque within the Imambara courtyard with a grand flight of steps leading to its paved floor.
The most intriguing structure at the Imambara is the five-storied Baoli (step well), which belong to the pre-Nawabi era. Called the Shahi-Hammam (royal bath), this baoli is connected with the river Gomti. Only the first two storeys are above water, the rest being perennially under water. It is believed that while the foundations for the Imambara were being dug out, structural remains of some ancient habitation became known, and with that a treasure of gold that no one could ever believe. Due to superstition, only a bit of gold was taken and the rest buried forever. According to popular belief, there are secret passages in the submerged portions of the baoli, which could lead to treasure below the Imambara.
The majority of the monument has been maintained well. A committee (Hussainbad Trust) has been designated the responsibility of cleaning inside the Imambara premises. The funds which accumulate from the ticket sales are used to maintain the area. However, certain noticeable problems can be observed. One is the trash that the visitors throw inside the monument’s garden. Some visitors have snacks, plastic wrappers and soft drink bottles which they carelessly dump at the very spot they are sitting at. This can ultimately result in making the monument a garbage heap rather than a symbol of national pride. Thus, more dustbins are required to be placed inside the premises at more frequent intervals. Writings on the walls are also observed in plenty and serve to damage the splendour of the buildings. Policing of the area can help to countercheck this. A compulsory security check to prevent entry of things which can damage the building can also help.
“We cannot leave everything to the government. The common people have a role to play here as well. How can government continuously stop people from dirtying the walls of the monuments by writing on them? Awareness is required to learn and follow the basics of cleanliness. The owners of monuments should also arrange for frequent checking,” seconds Prachi Mathur, a visitor.
“Sweepers and the other cleaning staff that are employed for daily cleaning are doing a satisfactory job,” states D.M. Singh, a Constable posted at the premises. “However, there is a requirement for more toilets within the Imambara grounds because, at present, women and children have to walk some distance outside to find a clean toilet. The only toilet inside the premises is in a bad shape,” he continues. Stricter measures for broader environmental cleanliness are also required. For example, any garbage being dumped at Medical College Crossing, on the upstream banks of the nala that flows behind Bada Imambara, will result in endangering its foundations in the long run.
“No one understands the importance of monuments and a lot needs to be done on that front. There is a shortage of funds and also lack of awareness,” states an Imambara official.
Corporate funding can be an option to help in the maintenance and conservation of the Imambara and other historical monuments at Lucknow. More funds will result in better maintenance of cleanliness, thereby resulting in increased tourism and greater employment opportunities