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The Imam Bargahs of Lucknow
Imam Bargahs are actually replicas of tombs dedicated to The Holy Prophet Muhammad & his family members (Peace be on them) & centre for mourning of the Shia Muslims established for commemoration of the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain (A.S.) the son of Imam Ali (A.S.) & Sayedah Fatima (A.S.) the daughter of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on them), that was made by him on 10th Maharram 61 A.H. (10th Oct 680 A.D.) at Karbala in present day Iraq.
There are several Imam Bargahs (also called Barras) in Lucknow, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Lucknow was the capital of the Nawabs of Awadh & was, & still is, a centre for Islamic learning in India. Lucknow is also famous for its Imam Bargahs, its majestic buildings reminiscent of the Nawabi era, its “Chikan” , a type of exquisite needlework on clothings, its music (a separate class of Indian classical music ), its “kathak” style of classical dance & its exquisite cuisine.
There are a number of Imam Bargahs (or Barras, as they are called here) in Lucknow, but the most important ones are :
1) Barra (=Greater) Imam barga; 2) Chhota (=Smaller) Imam Bargah &
2) Shah Najaf (=King of Najaf) Imam Bargah.
1) The Barra Imam Bargah :
Located at Chowk area of old Lucknow & constructed in 1784 by Nawab Asad-ud-Daula as a part of his philanthropic work to provide employment to the famine-ravaged people of Awadh, this complex of several imposing structures is simply awe-inspiring. The complex contains the huge Asafi mosque, the Bhulbhulaiya or labyrinth, the summer palace & the Shahi Bauli (Royal well). The architecture of the Barra Imam Bargah is of the last puritan Indo-Islamic style without any trace of European influence. Inside, there is a huge (170 feetX55 feet) arched chamber containing the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula which is one of the largest arched architecture in the world. The Bhulbhulaiya is a complex maze of labyrinth constructed in several tires , often inside the walls of the aforesaid chamber. The labyrinth is so convoluted & complex that it is nearly impossible to pass through it without the local guides.
The Shahi Bauli or Royal well is a huge step-well, constructed in such a way that there are several chambers inside which provided cool environment during the hot seasons.
2) Chhota Imam Bargah :
It is also known as the Hussainabad Imam Bargah. Located about 1 km from the Barra Imam Bargah, this beautiful building-complex is constructed in the traditional “Charbag” style of Mughal architecture. Inside the Imam Bargah, there is a small but beautiful mosque on the right, the Shahi Hamam (The Royal Bathroom) on the left, the Maqbara of Princess Nasim Banu( a beautiful white mausoleum with domes & turrets) on the right , another domed building opposite to the Maqbara (constructed to balance the view) & the main building with several domes & minaret’s.
Outside the Chhota Imam Bargah, about 500 metres away is a tall tower called “Satkhand Minar” (Seven storied tower) which has actually 4 stories only. Inside the Chhota Imam Bargah is the tombs of Muhammad Ali Shah & his family members.
3) Shah Najaf Imam Bargah
This rather less known Imam Bargah is situated at the heart of the city of Lucknow on the bank of Gomati river. Shah Najaf was the other name of Imam Ali(A.S.) , the son-in-law of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be on him & his progeny). This Imam Bargah is constructed in 1825 A.D. in the memory of Shah Najaf by Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider to serve as his own mausoleum. It is a beautiful white domed structure with exquisite geometric & floral motifs. Inside, there are the tombs of Ghazi & his queens. This place, which is known to possess divine grace, is frequented by locals of all religions to get blessings & cure from all sorts of ailments. Unlike the two other more popular Imam Bargahs which are teeming with camera-toting tourists, this place is really calm & serene & provides tranquility to the visitors.