Chota Imambara: Glittering Palace of Lights in Lucknow

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Uttar Pradesh | 68

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”.

The Nawabi Palace of Lights - Chota Imambara in Lucknow
The Nawabi Palace of Lights – Chota Imambara in Lucknow

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. However, while I loved what I saw, I could not finish seeing all in that one visit. I returned a year later to revisit this place and finish all that I missed the first time. I am sure that by the end of this post, you too, will know why you need to add this to your list of Lucknow attractions – maybe not once but twice and more.

History of the Chota Imambara

Not a palace but a religious landmark
Not a palace but a religious landmark

Though this place looks like a palace, the Hussainabad Imambara or the Chota Imambara is anything but that. Built by the third Nawab of Lucknow –  Nawab Muhammad 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 Hussainabad Gateway of Chota Imambara
The Hussainabad Gateway of Chota Imambara
The arches of the The Hussainabad Gateway in the palace of lights
The arches of the The Hussainabad Gateway in the palace of lights

The grand gateway of Chota Imambara is referred to as the Hussainabad Gateway. It also, functioned as a Naubat Khana or the place of reception. Huge drums were beaten to announce the arrival of the royalty. At gala reception also, had an orchestra playing, especially during important functions.

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.

The wind vane at Chota Imambara

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 windvane 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 lightning conductor that absorbs the current and passes it safely down to the bronze statues which are an earthing device. :-). Fascinating right?


The central line of fountains and hanging bridge of the Char bagh styled gardens of Chota Imambara
The central line of fountains and hanging bridge of the Char bagh styled gardens of 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 Bathhouse of Chota Imambara

The changing area in the Hamam
The changing area in the Hamam

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 Bathhouse, 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 bathtub in the Hamam of Chota Imambara
The bathtub in the Hamam of Chota Imambara

The Dual Taj Mahals at Chota Imambara

The mini Taj at Chota Imambara, Lucknow
The mini Taj at Chota Imambara, Lucknow

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

The Jewel in the Night - Chota Imambara
The Jewel in the Night – 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. During the first visit, the Imambara sparkled under the yellow lights but during the 2nd visit, the yellow glow was replaced by the silvery sheen of white lights. Personally, I loved the golden glow that you can see in these pictures – not that the silvery effect was not beautiful.

Chota Imambara - one of the places to visit in Lucknow
Chota Imambara – one of the places to visit in Lucknow

The exteriors shone in that yellow light while the exquisite arches added the typical Islamic touch to this monument. Adding its Farsi touch to the palace of lights are the lovely tombs along the walls and in the center. What seems like intricate designs over the arches is actually Islamic calligraphy – basically various verses from the Quran. There are five doorways to the main congregation hall inside this building. This number of doors is significant in the Shia Muslim religion for it indicates the Holy Five or the Panjetan. You can spend a while enjoying the minute details around these doorways but eventually, when you step inside, your senses will be taken over with the treasures within.

The Congregation hall of Chota Imambara

The Azakhana within the Congregration hall
The Azakhana within the Congregration hall

There are three basic sections within the main building of the Imambara Hussainabad Mubarak (the official name of the Chota Imambara).  The main hallway called Azakhana will take your breath with its colorful chandeliers that supposedly came from Belgium. Gilded mirrors, stunning lamps and more antiquities from Europe add to the glamour of this hallway.

Close up of one Chandelier
Close up of one Chandelier
Belgian Lamp
Belgian Lamp

Standing crystal lamps, colorful glassware and old clocks keep fighting for your attention. And while I was overwhelmed, I am glad to have spared a glimpse at the Nawab Mohammed Ali’s crown. Quite an exquisite masterpiece that is adorned with gems of various shapes and sizes.

Antique clock from Paris in the Azakhana
Antique clock from Paris in the Azakhana
Crown of the Nawab in the Chota Imambara
Crown of the Nawab in the Chota Imambara
Tomb of the Nawab
Tomb of the Nawab

The same hall also, has the tombs of the Nawab and his mother. The caretaker who had appointed himself as a guide, also, pointed to various frames containing Islamic verses. Though he attempted to tell me the significance of those frames, my limited knowledge of the Islamic religion failed to make me understand it all. However, it was evident that they were a major part of their culture.

The Tazia at the Chota Imambara
The Tazia at the Chota Imambara

The two smaller chambers in the Chota Imambara were homes for the Tazias. These are religious objects that are worshipped and taken out during the Muharrum festival. They are either sunk into a river or buried in the ground. A new one takes its place in the hall till the next festival. I am not sure why there were two of these but they were both lovely.

The Zarih in the Shehnasheen

One of these halls was called Shehnasheen and had this raised platform to represent the Zarih – yet another significant object of Islam. Normally, photography is not permitted here but our caretaker/ guard cum guide allowed us to get a quick snap of the structure. Maybe coz it was closing time and he wanted to please someone before the day ended. Either way, am grateful to him for having spent a fair bit of time helping us make sense of the museum within this hall.

TheThe Hussainabad Gateway as it glittered even its reflection in the pools of Chota Imambara
The Hussainabad Gateway – the Naubat Khana as it glittered even its reflection, Chota Imambara

We were chased out. 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.

By now, you know why I visited this place not once but twice. If life gives me a chance, I would want to still visit it over. Maybe it is just the beauty of the place, or maybe it is this feeling of being able to sift through more treasures to find another nugget. Whatever the case being, I am sure you guys are noting the Chota Imambara down in your list of Lucknow attractions.

Chota Imambara

Getting here:

  • 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.

Where to stay in Lucknow?

  • Lucknow has plenty of hotels to suit your budget. You can book your Lucknow stay through any of the key websites.
  • There are quite a few hotels close to the Chota Imambara. You can check the reviews and book them through this site.

Travel Tips:

  • 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 km 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. You definitely need to stop by the Rumi Darwaza and the cursed tower – Satkhanda when you are visiting this.
  • 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. If you are as lucky as I was, then the guide or the caretaker will allow you to grab a picture.
  • 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.


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68 Responses

  1. Rachelle Gordon

    The Chota Imambara is so unique-looking and is an architect’s dream! So beautiful. I would love to wander around, taking pictures of every angle!

  2. cassiepearse

    Gosh, that looks like somewhere you could spend days and never be bored and still be seeing new things. I love your photos and hope I can get back to India to visit it soon. Your info section is really useful, thanks.

    • Ami

      It sure is a lovely place and it is best to go in the evening to see it in its full glory. Cheers

  3. Juergen |

    Well, for a long time I was asking myself “where is she? which country?” You explain the history of Chota Imambara very well, but fail to give me any hint of its location. Maybe you’re so long in India that it was ‘crystal clear’ to you… I finally worked it out by looking more closely at the fascinating style of buildings in your beautiful photos.

    • Ami

      Thank you for your lovely comment. I guess being here, it just seems obvious that this is all a part of our heritage. I hope you can visit here and discover it for yourself. Cheers

  4. Samah

    When you travel a lot, you begin to realize you can guess the country or culture of inspiration behind certain architectures, and that’s no different than with the chota imambara, which although in India, possibly didn’t look like a Hindu temple to me. These are stunning architectural photos and I have yet to experience a hamam! Hopefully when I go to Morocco next!

    • Ami

      I think you mean a Muslim monument. As described above, it has a strong Persian connect. Thanks for stopping by

  5. Lisa

    It’s easy to see why they call this place the palace of lights, it’s stunning! I know zero about Indian or Persian architecture, so I’ll admire your photos and your descriptions. A really amazing building, and one with great history too.

  6. Ha

    Now I know why it earns its name – The place of lights. I love the wine vane detail here, it looks really interesting to me. Thanks for the tip to travel in the winter when it’s not too hot. I was in a big trip this summer and I was melting all the way xD, so I would love to explore this place during winter time. I specifically love the architecture so this place is on my bucket list now 🙂

  7. Sandy N Vyjay

    I have never been to Lucknow nor have I actually seen the pictures of Chota Inambara nor read about it. But when I saw your first picture, for some strange reason I was reminded of the Taj, and lo and behold! as I read further, I saw about the Taj Mahal clones!
    This is a lovely and to some extent underrated and unsung monument. I am sure your choosing the Chota Inambara to visit was a great decision.

    • Ami

      It definitely was and especially, luck had me arrive at the best time of the day to see it. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  8. Deni Verklan

    I’ve never even heard of this palace, but I can definitely see why it’s been nicknamed the palace of lights! It’s so interesting to learn that they had even though of a lightening conductor! And that’s a bit strange that the bath house drains into the rest of the house. Hopefully no guests asked for a glass of water after the Nawab bathed 😉 Thanks for the virtual tour!

    • Ami

      I think you misunderstood this one Deni. The bathhouse has a good drainage system but does not really drain into the house. The point I was making was that it was a well marked. In any case, you got that right about the palace of lights being absolutely beautiful. Thanks for stopping by

  9. Martha

    I thought the photos of architecture in your last post were stunning. But these photos are just as stunning, if not more! You have great information in this post and this is definitely on my bucket list now. Thanks!

    • Ami

      Thanks Martha. Now that compliment totally makes my day. Glad you enjoyed the last post as well. Cheers

  10. Dan

    I haven’t yet been to Lucknow, but I enjoyed your photo tour of Chota Imambara. It makes sense to select a few key places in such a large city or the post could be overwhelming. I think the Islamic influences across North India are a real testament to the ebb and flow of religions over the centuries, and I hope that buildings like this, even if they are not part of the dominant religion at this time, are preserved and maintained to allow their historical influence to shine through. Not just in India, but globally.

    • Ami

      Thanks Dan for the lovely comment. Heritage in India is a testament of the multitude of cultures that it has experienced. These tell us the story of our forefathers and truly, hope that these remain as well preserved as they are.

  11. asoulwindow

    You make me want to explore my city by the night. Lovely pictures Ami. I was amused when I saw the mini Taj for the first time. The sheer number of gorgeous chandeliers here is one of the reasons why one should visit it. Lucknow is easily one of the most under rated cities in India.

    • Ami

      This is something that I can agree on Abhinav. Lucknow is a very under-rated city from a perspective of a traveler.

  12. Joanna Davis

    Looking at Chota Imambara is hard to believe that it is not a palace and it was actually built as a religious monument for the Sikh Muslims. Your photos by night are wonderful, you have captured very well the beauty of the place.

  13. Vũ Thanh Hà

    Wow Chota Imambara is so splendid! Especially at night, it looks amazing!!! I desire to go there once in my life cuz these stunning pictures captivate my soul.

  14. Kavita Favelle

    Loving your photos, they really show the beauty and the ornate grandness of the design. Good to learn about some of the cultural, religious and historical significance also.

  15. Hayoung

    What a detailed and interesting article with exquiste photos! I particularly love the travel tips you provide at the end of the post – they’ll be extremely useful if I ever get there! Thanks a lot for sharing your experience – I really look forward to your future posts!

    • Ami

      Thank you for your kind words. Those are really heartening and I do hope that you can visit someday.

  16. Divyakshi

    My gosh. It looks so spectacular in the night. Your shots are stunning Ami!! 🙂 What a delight for a lover for arches and windows! 🙂 The grandeur of the place comes out majestically in your captures!

    • Ami

      I guess somethings happen for the best and I landed here in the evening just to see this. Thanks Divsi for the compliments.

  17. hotrangianthu

    The two huge statues are just so remarkable. How it could stay still in that position for such a long time is way too incredible! The inside design of the building is also amazing. This is truly a palace of lights on earth.

  18. SindhuMurthy

    Lovely location Ami. I love how the Chota Imambara with all the golden lighting stands out as a jewel against the blue sky. I too would definitely love to visit it during dusk to witness the illuminated wonder.

  19. Bhushavali

    First of all, stunning photography! Indeed its a glittering jewel at night.
    Here you’ve given me what I shouldn’t miss when I visit Lucknow.

  20. Elizabeth

    Chota Imambara is quite the palace! I would have found learning about the heating and drainage systems in the bathhouse fascinating as well. It’s always fun to learn those little details. I can’t believe the palace opens so early! I think I would like to visit in the evening to see the palace illuminated.

    • Ami

      Worth while in the evening for truly it lights up your mood. Hope you can visit it soon.

  21. Anda

    Every time I drop by your blog I discover a new beautiful place in India to add to my list. The Nawabi Palace of Lights looks absolutely stunning and seems indeed like a palace. Hard to believe this was meant to be a religious monument.

    • Ami

      Oh yes, it looks nothing less than a palace. Thanks for your lovely comment that made my day.

  22. Eunice Tan

    The architecture is so lavish that it would be difficult to believe that it is not a palace. The interior especially, decorated with all those stunning lights and wares, is just stunning. I think all the wisdom with the heating and all made it even more amazing.

    • Ami

      I am in awe of this place. I thought I would be a little more contained the 2nd time I visited but I still had the same excitement as the first time. It is just so amazing. Hope you can discover it for yourself.

  23. Medha

    I cannot believe I have been to Lucknow and haven’t visited all these amazing places that I’ve been reading about in your blog. Absolutely love how Chota Imambara looks at night, your pictures are gorgeous! The little bridge, lake and Imambara view in the backdrop, which you’ve taken from Charbagh is a magical picture Ami!

    • Ami

      Thank you Medha. I could not stop clicking. It just looked so majestic when it was lit.

  24. Val

    India never stops surprising me… I’ve never been to Lucknow, but your shots of Chota Imambara oozes magic! I love the Persian architectural style and the little bridge on the Gomti river looks so charming. Definitely a place to remember for my next trip to the country 🙂

    • Ami

      I hope you get to it soon and that there are these yellow lights. Am sure you will be dazzled.

  25. Yukti Agrawal

    I have been to Chota Imambara when I was a kid and therefore could not remember it. But this really a jewel in Lucknow’s places to visit. I loved how it glitters in evening and it si really very photogenic. The Azakhana adorned with colorful chandeliers are truly stunning. The Belgian lamps and Clock from Paris are truly adding the beauty and showcases the vintage collection of Lucknowi Nawabs.

    • Ami

      Time to visit again. It is really gorgeous and am sure you will enjoy it more now as an adult.

  26. Annick Lenoir-Peek

    India is a country I have yet to visit and it has so many treasures. I hadn’t heard of Chota Imambara so learning about the history makes a visit even more appealing. There’s so much to see inside that it was a shame that you had to be rushed through. But you did end up with that gorgeous view of the reflection with it all lit up!

    • Ami

      Fate got me back the 2nd time to complete the earlier visit. Though it was still rushed, I loved every bit of it.

  27. Diana

    I can’t say I’ve seen too many places as beautiful as the Chota Imambara. I can definitely see why it’s called the Palace of Lights, and I can only imagine how beautiful and sparkly it looks in person if it already looks this beautiful in photos. Thanks for putting Lucknow on my radar!

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