Awadhi SOJOURN
Outlook Traveller|November 2020
Going past the names, dates and battles, SIMRRAN GILL finds herself lost in the regal shades of Lucknow
SIMRRAN GILL

I PRESSED MY EAR FIRMLY against the wall and tried hard to focus. Amid multiple echoing voices, I tried to make out the one taking my name. My guide, Taqi Mirza, a resident of Awadh; as he likes to call it, had assured me that he would whisper my name against the wall on one end and I’ll hear it from the other. Despite several noisy tourist groups adding to the cacophony, I remained undeterred. After all, I had spent half a day getting drenched in Lucknow’s torrential rains to make it to the famed Bara Imambara. I heard a whisper finally. But much to my dismay, it wasn’t my name. As I walked through the labyrinth, trying to figure my way out, Mirza popped up. And upon asking, he blamed the motley crowd and rather amusingly continued to tell stories from the past in his thick Awadhi accent.

I wasn’t sure whether one could hear the name from within the walls or not. But I definitely knew that I couldn’t have weaved my way out of the maze had it not been for him. It has over a thousand passages—1024—if Mirza is to be believed. I was told that the whole purpose of this monumental maze was to confuse and delay the invaders.

Built-in 1784 by Asaf-ud-Daula, the fourth Nawab of Awadh, various myths surround the Bara Imambara. Erected as a famine relief project, it is said that construction workers built the structure during the day, which was demolished on orders from the Nawab at dusk, only to be rebuilt the next day.

The seemingly straight façade gradually and gracefully gives way to the labyrinth which offers great views of the sprawling city of Lucknow from various levels. Characterised by a massive central hall, Mughal-inspired windows, and a large dome built without any external support, the structure is now used for religious gatherings. Within the premises, the Asafi Mosque and the Shahi Baoli also find a home on either side.

If not for tactful construction and some buried secrets, the majestic dome would have been destined to doom. Forget a cement or brick base, it is rice husk that keeps the dome erect, aided by the labyrinth which reduces the weight of the ceiling, hollowing it out.

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