21 June 2011

Glimpses of the City of Nawabs

This is my first visit to the amazing city of Lucknow - famed for its courtly manners, beautiful gardens, poetry, music, and fine cuisine - over the next couple of days besides soaking in as much of the city's culture I'll be exploring its spectacular (but strangely under-appreciated) architecture. 

In this post I'll concentrate on the architecture of the old city (the architecture patronized by the Nawabs) starting with the most iconic buildings/complexes and then moving to the inner city area 

The first four images are of the Rumi Darwaza (aka Turkish gate named so as its design is based on a gateway in the city of Istanbul)

The Rumi Darwaza forms a gateway to the impressive Bara Imambara complex which comprises of : the large Asfi mosque, the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula - aka the Bhulbhulayah (the labyrinth)-, the Bowli and two imposing gateways lead to the main hall.
The Asfi mosque is probably the largest mosque in the city and sits to the west of the large square. It's orientation to Mecca introduces an interesting skew to the overall composition of the complex - this is beautifully articulated at the grand stairs leading up to the high plinth of the mosque as it negotiates the shift in axis.
Inside is quiet stark with minimal ornamentation.
The structure furthest away from the  gateway is the main Imambara building. It consists of a large vaulted central chamber containing the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula. This is clearly one of the most popular sights of the city because of its famous three-dimensional labyrinth that exists between the huge arched roof and the main hall below, and often the whole complex may be referred to as the Bhulbhulayah. It is possibly the only existing maze in India and came about unintentionally to support the weight of the building, constructed on marshy land.
Personally I don't think it's labyrinthine at all - its only the darkness and scale of the space that's slightly disorienting - its extremely symmetrical and if you have any sense of orientation it's impossible to get lost or fall to your dead as per the local myths popularized by the scavenging guides waiting just outside the entrance of this structure.
Sadly if you want to get to the roof of this structure you will have to put up with their nonsense and pay them almost whatever they feel like charging as tourists are not allowed to venture thru the labyrinth on their own, but the view of the complex from the roof is totally worth it - don't miss it!
The last of the structures inside the complex worth paying attention to is the Bowli (which translates to step well).
Besides being the main source of water for the complex was also supposedly used as a hiding place during troubled times - although I don't think it was designed keeping that in mind as the guide insisted.

Next I visited the Chhota Imambara, also known as Hussainabad Imambara. It was built by Muhammad Ali Shah, The third Nawab of Avadh in 1838 to serve as his own mausoleum. The main complex is entered from an interesting market square that is reminiscent of the Serai structures along the ancient caravan routes.

Imambara compound there are four structures -  the furthest being the main tomb structure of Muhammad Ali Shah

and the two identical structures mirrored on either side of the main structure are designed as mini replicas of the Taj Mahal and are gilded white dome and several turrets and minarets – these structures are tombs of other members of Muhammad Ali Shah’s family.
The last structure is the tiny Mosque which like the mosque in the Bara Imambara introduces a skewed built mass into the plan.

The next few snaps are of Sa'adat Ali Khan’s Tomb complex.

Two large tombs in the complex honor the Nawab and his wife Begum Khurshidzadi.

Moving on … this the massive - Jama Masjid of Lucknow, built in the year 1423.

 It is built entirely with yellow sandstone and is known for its intricate style of design and architecture.
Here’s a few photos of its interiors that are intricately designed and ornamented with carvings that are said to have been inspired from Hindu and Jain culture.
..the next few snaps are of the main gates to enter the Kaiser Bagh (Emperor's Garden), which is a complex at the heart of Lucknow and includes several buildings and 2 Charbaghs and was constructed under the order of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who envisioned the place as a paradise. 

The two identical gates themselves are known as Lakhi gates, named after their price—one Lakh rupees.
One of the main building within this complex is known today as the Safed Baradari (historically it was the Baradari of Kaiser Bagh).

It is today used as a place of celebration where the elite of the city solemnize marriages and hold receptions.

Ironically the building was built by the last Nawab of Awadh as a 'palace of mourning' and was named Qasr-ul-Aza for observing azadaari (mourning) for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his followers at Karbala!

And to end here is a few random shots that capture an array of residential buildings in the older parts of the city.

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