If the Bara Imambara in Lucknow was about the brilliance of the dark, twisted passages of the crypt – Bhool Bhulaiya, then visiting its younger cousin was all about a glittering jewel of the night. The Chota Imambara did not pale in comparison to its giant predecessor. It, in fact, shone brilliantly in the depths of the night. A quick visit to this heritage monument was enough for me to justify why the Chota Imambara has been termed as the “Nawabi Palace of Lights”.
In my earlier post on my adventure through the Bhool Bhulaiya, I had mentioned that I was up for two choices at the end of that visit – one to visit the step well within Bara Imambara and the other to get to the Chota Imambara. I do regret not visiting the step well but I think it would have been a bigger one not seeing the Chota Imambara. And you will soon know why.
History of the Chota Imambara
Though this place looks like a palace, the Hussainabad Imambara or the Chota Imambara is anything but that. Built by Nawab Muhammed Ali Shah in 1838, this was meant to be a religious monument for the Shia Muslims. Besides being the place of the congregation during Muharram, it also houses the Tazia. Tazia is a representation of the graves of their religious leader and is carried in the Muharram procession after an elaborate decoration. However, that is not all that is to the Chota Imambara. This place is also, the resting place of its patron Nawab and his family.
The Hussainabad Gateway of Chota Imambara
The grand gateway of Chota Imambara is referred to as the Hussainabad Gateway. One look at these gates and there is no doubt how grand the insides are going to be. The Persian architecture is so evident in the arches and etching of this gateway. Two huge bronze statues greet you after you walk through the grand entrance, whose purpose is to look more than just beautiful. Confused? Hang on – as I explain.
If you look through the main entrance in the first picture of theHussainabad Gateway as it glittered even its reflection, Chota Imambara, you will see a metal arch in the center with a wind wane like above. I bet you think it is a bird. And if you are, I am going to have this sadistic pleasure of correcting you just as my guide had with me. For one, that is not a bird, it is the Nawabi symbol of fish. 2nd, this wind vane is a dual purpose instrument. One, of course, tells you the wind direction while the second is related to my earlier remark on the bronze statues at the gate being more than a pretty face.
The wind wane is made of lightening conductor that absorbs the current and passes it safely down to the bronze statues which are an earthing device. :-). Fascinating right?
Charbagh within the Chota Imambara
The Persian architecture continues in the form of the Char Bagh layout of the gardens here. I had explained this earlier in my post on the Humayun’s tomb and another place that you can see this is the Taj Mahal. The beautiful fountains in the garden are said to get water straight from Gomti river in Lucknow and while that is all lovely, the most charming bit that I found here was the bridge. It was kind of romantic, straight from those Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn movies. Sadly, the bridge was locked at that hour and I could not get my moment of glory on it.
Hamam or the Royal Bath house of Chota Imambara
It was almost closing time that we managed to reach the Chota Imambara and hence, this tour was one whirlwind. The first that we explored was the Royal Bath house, near the Hussainabad Gateway as it glittered even its reflection, Chota Imambara. The Hamam was quite a well-designed bath house with separate areas for dressing up, massage, hot baths and cold baths. Our guide passionately explained the complex system of how the water was heated and kept insulated so that it was ready for the Nawab when he was. It was equally fascinating to discover the drainage system that started with the bathtub but continued across the whole building.
The Dual Taj Mahals at Chota Imambara
Right next to the Hamam, on either side of the central fountains were 2 identical mini Taj monuments. Designed after the original Taj Mahal, one was the resting place of Princess Zeenat, the daughter of Nawab Muhammed Ali Shah and her husband. The one opposite to that was built as a symmetrical monument but served as a treasury of the Nawab.
The main building of Chota Imambara
It was the past dusk when we finally, walked to the main building of Chota Imambara. For me, that was perfect timing for it was easy to figure why a Russian Prince called this building as the Kremlin of India and why it was popularly called the Palace of lights. Illuminated, this building glistened against the night sky – pretty much like how a jewel would sparkle in the light.
People were leaving as we entered the building and while I would have loved to sit there and snap every masterpiece, I just had to forget about the camera and capture it all in my mind. The entire hallway takes away your breath with its colorful chandeliers that supposedly came from Belgium. Gilded mirrors, stunning lamps and more antiquities from Europe further decorated the hallway. And while I was overwhelmed, it was hard to miss a glimpse at the Nawab’s crown. Somewhere in this quick tour, I also, managed ti wander into the other chambers where the Tazia and the tombs of the Nawab & his mother are kept.
We were chased in and then chased out for it was time for the resting to rest again. Wanting to stay on more was not an option for we were literally the last people out. Reluctantly, we left but not without that last view – of the Hussainabad Gateway, lighting up the dark pool with its reflection.
I know that this visit of mine was incomplete but then it was just perfect, for there was no better time to see the Palace of lights than in the evening.If life gives me a chance, I would want to visit again to see what I had missed but even when I do, one evening here would definitely be on the cards.
- Lucknow city is well connected to the rest of India by rail, road and air.
- Click here to get the Chota Imambara on your mobile. You can reach this place by autorickshaw or taxi when in Lucknow. There are plenty of buses too, that stop here.
- The best time to visit Lucknow is winters – October to February when it is not too hot. However, it is quite chilly then, so warm clothes are advised.
- The Chota Imambara is open from 5 am to 6 pm every day. I would recommend visiting it around 5 pm so that you can see it illuminated.
- You can use the same ticket that you have purchased at the Bara Imambara to visit the Chota Imambara. The ticket details can be found here in the travel tips section.
- The two monuments are just around 1.5 kms from each other. You can either walk the way or take a horse carriage. Along the stretch are several other sights that will interest you but more on those in the next post.
- There are plenty of shops and restaurants around this monument for you to try out. Public restrooms are available at the complex.
- Photography is allowed everywhere except for the chamber where the Tazia is kept.
- Though we did not pay for the guide, we did tip him a minimum for helping us out.
- You will need to leave your footwear outside when entering the main complex of Chota Imambara.