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Indian Monuments

Bada Imambada 




Built in : 1784
Built by : Nawab Asaf-ud-daula
Location : Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh)

The Bada Imambada is an important tourist attraction of Lucknow. It was 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 Imambada is an interesting building. It is neither a mosque, nor a mausoleum, but a huge building having interesting elements within it. The construction of the halls and the use of vaults show a strong Islamic influence.


When Asaf-ud-daula moved to Lucknow in 1777, he spent huge sums of money on new buildings to outshine the Mughal splendor. The great Imambada, symbol of Lucknow’s fabulous architectural heritage, was built at a time when a great famine raged through the state in 1784. Hundreds of men and women thronged to the city as utter destitute. Even the rich and noble were reduced to beg for food. Asaf-ud-daula hit upon a novel plan to help the poor. He decided to build the great Imambada and employed some 22,000 people to work day and night. One fourth of the day’s work was demolished at night against payment. Thus, there was enough work. The names of the nobles were called out at night for payments to spare them the indignity of working with the masses. Asaf-ud-daula had a charitable disposition almost to a fault. He would have jewels inserted into muskmelons before distribution among the poor.

The Bada Imambada 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 49.4 m and width of 16.2 m. The ceiling is more than 15 m 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. One would fail to find out how this amazing work was accomplished without any recourse to known technology: there are no steel girders or beams to uphold the mammoth ceiling.

An ingenious method was employed for building the roof. This immense building is covered with vaults of very simple forms and still simpler construction, being of rubble or coarse concrete of bricks and mud, and allowed to stand a year or two to set and dry. The centering is then removed and the vault, being in one piece, stands without abutment or thrust, apparently a better and more durable form of roof than the most scientific Gothic vaulting. It is certainly far cheaper and easily made, since it is literally cast on mud, from which may be molded into any shape the fancy of the architect may dictate. The Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur and the massive dome of the Taj Mahal were raised on the same kind of brick and rubble centering.

There are, in fact, three halls under the same roof. The Persian Hall is the central hall simply astonishing in proportions. The two adjoining halls are equally great. The China Hall is square at ground level, becomes octagonal at mid-height, and 16 sided at the top. The India Hall has been fashioned like a watermelon. These are only minor structural variations. The roof, common to these halls, is flat and in one piece. The Persian architect, Kifait-ullah supervised this unique architectural extravaganza. The acoustics are equally marvelous. Even the slightest whisper can be heard at the other corner of the hall. Light a matchstick and you can hear the sound across the length of the hall.

On the top terrace, approached through a narrow flight of steps, is an amazing set of passages designed to confuse the most alert minds—a labyrinth of interconnected passages that seem to lead nowhere. This is called bhul bhulaiya (maze), which adds an element of wonder to the construction. There are about 1,000 narrow passages where the air is trapped for cross ventilation. This labyrinth served the important purpose of supporting the thick walls of the Imambada, which, in turn, bore the brunt of the mammoth roof. A visitor who has dispensed with the services of a guide may find it rather embarrassing to lose his way. The terrace gives a grand view of old Lucknow with numerous mosques and minarets on the horizon.


The mosque within the Imambada courtyard is very elegant and the grand flight of steps leading to its paved floor adds the touch of stateliness so typical of the Nawabs.

The most intriguing structure at the Imambada 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 stories are above water, the rest being perennially under water.

The Bada Imambada of Lucknow is the showpiece of Nawabi architecture and a surviving evidence of the charity of Nawab Asaf-ud-daula who would allow him to be willingly duped by fake orphans. He once happily exchanged a useless rusted sword offered by an old woman for its weight in gold. She had complimented him for having he Midas touch. He proved just that. In yet another instance, he paid one hundred silver coins to a boy as price for a pair of common pigeons. When told of the trick the boy had played on him, Nawab Asaf-ud-daula quietly observed, “You think I didn’t know that?”


It is believed that while the foundations for the Imambada 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. Lucknow has been the seat of some ancient kingdoms long forgotten. Superstition dictated that the unearthed treasure be surrendered to the gods who ruled below the earth. So only a bit of gold was taken and the rest buried forever. The labyrinthine passages on the terrace, some say, are modeled after the secret passages surrounding the treasure that were unearthed.

According to popular belief, there are secret passages in the submerged portions of the baoli, which could lead to treasure below the Imambada. The British had tried to pump out the water but failed to find any clue to the legendary treasure of Lucknow. The keys to the treasure, which also contain the guide map through the labyrinth, were also consigned to watery depths and remained untraced. As unexcavated mounds in the vicinity have occasionally yielded some treasure, these popular myths have gained leverage.


The Bada Imambada is located on the northwestern part of Lucknow near river Gomti. The city is well connected by air with important cities like Delhi, Patna, Calcutta, Varanasi, and Mumbai. It is also linked by rail and road with Delhi, Calcutta, Patna, Varanasi, Kanpur, Agra, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, and Mumbai.



Alchi Charminar Chittaurgarh Fort Jantar Mantar Adlaj Vav
Red Fort Khirki Masjid Churches of Goa Ferozshah Kotla Karla Caves
Agra-fort Bandore Fort City Palace Jaipur Begampuri Masjid Kalinjar Fort
Hawa Mahal Cellular-Jail Meenakshi Temple City Palace Udaipur Fatehpur Sikri
Bijai-Mandal Fort George The Dilwara Temples Bhojeshwar-Temple Mysore Palace
Ellora caves Flora Fountain Chennakeshava Temple Rashtrapati Bhavan Karkala Temple
Akbar-Tomb Qutab Minar Brihadeeswarar-Temple Konark Sun Temple Bada-imambada
Golconda-Fort Amber Palace Palitana Jain Temples Indian Museum Kolkata Victoria Memorial
Ajanta Caves Humayuns Tomb Monolith of Gommateshwara

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