Memorable Labyrinth of Bara Imambara, Lucknow – A photo essay

Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh, India, is synonymous with the Bada (Bara) Imambara and the Chota Imambara.

As a Hyderabadi, I always found a connection between the city of Nawabs-Lucknow and the City of Nizams-Hyderabad. From architecture to the cuisine, there is more than one similarity between these two places. During our three and half years stay in Lucknow, we managed to visit the Imambaras just once and that too for a mere 3-4 hours inside the Bada Imambara complex! Hope to re-discover and explore more of the Imambara sometime soon in the near future.

Disclaimer: The photographs were shot in an old camera by me almost 8 years back. Hence the resolution may not be of high quality. I have tried to showcase some recent photographs of the place to appreciate the restoration work done by the authorities on this monument over the years.

Memorable Labyrinth of Bada Imambara, Lucknow

Honestly, before this trip to the Bada Imambara, we hadn’t heard or were aware of the meaning of an ‘Imambara’.It is only during the trip that we got to know about the importance and relevance of an Imambara. Before we embark on this photo essay, I thought of clarifying two main aspects of the Imambara in Lucknow.

1. Is Imambara a mosque?

The answer is a big ‘No’. An Imambara is a place for conducting ceremonies by the Shia community of Muslims. The Bada Imambara complex of Lucknow consists of two floors of the Imambara, the bhool-bhulaiyya (a labyrinth of corridors in which people get lost), the bhoali (step-well) and a mosque.

2. Who built the Bada Imambara at Lucknow?

This complex was built under the rule of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, The Nawab of Awadh, in 1785 to provide employment to the local people during the famine of 1785. He is the same Nawab who shifted the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow. The architect of this marvel was Kifayatullah, who is rumoured to be the cousin of the architect of the TajMahal!

Here are some lasting impressions of our Bada Imambara trip put together on this photo journey:

The Ornate entrance of the complex welcoming the guests


There are seven arched openings (doorways) in the Imambara to usher the guests inside. The huge doorways give an inkling of how large the inside hall would be, to the visitors.

The architecturally rich entry to the Imambara

The central hall is flanked on either side by the Chinese and the Indian Halls respectively.


The canopy under which lies the grave of Nawab Asaf-Ud Daula in the central hall

The hall is said to be decorated with stucco work adorning the walls- made of Lakhauri bricks. It consists of interiors and walls made of  a mixture  of lime and mortar without the help of any wood or metal (as told by our guide)


The interiors of the main hall


A peep through the windows


The halls are adorned with intricately carved chattris and parapets

After a tedious climb of forty-four (or forty-five)  steep steps, we reached the first level of the Imambara. The corridors were poorly lit and there were ‘Paan-Stains’ everywhere. (A gentle reminder- this was in 2010!)

A Request to Tourists: Please keep our monuments and public places neat and clean.

Let us be more responsible.

A view of the hall from the first floor

Our guide took us through narrow passages and showed us how the faintest of sound or whisper gets amplified even at 40-50 meters away. To demonstrate this, he walked to the fag end of the tunnel and tore a piece of paper, then lit a match-stick and the sounds of both the actions were clearly audible to us.

A view from the First floor

The Amazing Labyrinth

Next, we headed to the Bhool-Bhulaiyya, a labyrinth of corridors. The guide challenged that it was impossible to find our way out of it. However, being good navigators we easily did find our exit.  But I am sure, it would have confused the intruders in those times which must have been the purpose of building such a maze!

Recommended: Please tag along with a guide to zigzag through these passages!

The symmetrically arched corridors

Breathtaking views from the rooftop

From the labyrinth, we were lead to the terrace which was flat surfaced.I recollected that this Imambara, unlike the other Mughal monuments, did not have any domes.

The labyrinth of corridors and passages is said to have around 489 doorways that are identical.

Source of all this information, being – our friendly guide!

We were told that some of the passages lead to tunnels, following which – people used to safely land inside the city of Allahabad Faizabad and even Delhi. All these tunnels are now sealed by the authorities.

A mesmerising view of the city, the river Gomti and the other tombs!

Asafi Mosque

The Mosque is beautiful with lengthy linear steps and intricate minarets and carvings. It is not open to Non-Muslims, though.

Trivia :

The entrance served as a location for a famous scene in the Sunny Deol starrer ‘Gadar-Ek Prem Katha’ (a popular Bollywood movie)

Shahi Baouli

This baouli is not in use any longer but served as a source of drinking water during the times of the Nawabs. The guide told us that one of the Dewans had killed himself here to save the Royal Treasury…this sounded eerie….

It being a cloudy day and as it was getting dark inside the step-well ..we bid a good-bye to our guide as well as the complex.

Parting Shots

I am sure with the latest shift in Government’s focus on Tourism and preservation of Heritage Sites and Monuments, these structures would have got a face-lift! I am wanting to visit Lucknow again, very soon.

The Imambara complex is indeed worth a visit to dwell and explore some fascinating stories and architecture. Of course, for breathtaking views of the city too!

Hope you enjoyed reading about this amazing complex housing the Labyrinth!

Till our next flight to a different location, keep reading and learning about new places and stories …Ciao!

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  1. is it true that you can be heard on other side of walls inside bhool bhulaiya?

  2. Very beautifully written. It brought Lucknow alive in my eyes. Would love to visit the bara imam bara and chota imambara in the city of nawabs

  3. Lucknow is a place that I really want to visit … have been to Hyderabad and loved it… You’ve captured the Imambara so well…

    1. Much thanks Sabeeka 🙂

  4. I loved seeing the pictures, I belong to Lucknow!

  5. […] was composing the blog post on the mesmerizing Bhool Bhulaiyya of Lucknow, yesterday, and was reminded of our trek across the Singing Hills in Chamba. The path […]

  6. Lucknow is on my must visit list. I had no idea that Imambara is NOT a mosque. Great pics, as usual 🙂

  7. Our country is so full of rich heritage. I can relate to your love for Lucknow being from Hyderabad, since I also have my roots in Andhra.

  8. Loved the photo tour. Never been to Lucknow, putting it on my to-visit list.

  9. the Imambara, Bhoolbhulaiya were so wonderful in Lucknow, though i visited long time back. I also loved the food.

  10. Disha says:

    Lucknow – my home! Your post made me nostalgic. I could remember all my trips to Imambara. Do visit again. 🙂

  11. The pictures are stunning.

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