Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'

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Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'

The Chota Imambara was built by the third Nawab of Lucknow, Muhammad Ali Shah, in the year 1838. For those who don't know, an Imambara is a place of congregation of Shia Muslims, and in Lucknow these also house the Tazias built during Muharram.

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Inside Chota Imambara
Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Chota Imambara from outside
Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Chandeliers inside the Imambara

Lucknow has tens of public Imambaras, but two areas expecially famous - the Bara (big) Imambara and the Chota (small) Imambara. Bara Imambara is an absolutely stunning piece of architecture unlike any in the world, and has become not just the pride, but also the symbol of Lucknow's Nawabi heritage. It's an honour it completely deserves, but the place has become so famous that the Chota Imambara is unfortunately forgotten and only a fraction of visitors even make a visit here. I feel the only way to change this is by sharing the delicately stunning beauty of Chota Imambara and showcase our to the world :)

The actual name for Chota Imambara is Hussainabad Imambara, but most know it by its colloquial name. The complex not only consists of the Imambara, but has many other places to see as well. Let's see what these are:

Naubat Khana: a large and beautiful ceremonial gate welcomes you to the Imambara complex. It's painted yellow on the outside and white front the inside, just like most of the complex, and really sets the expectations high.

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Gate to Chota Imambara

Chota Imambara: the meeting hall is the principal building here and is located in the central position. It has a large open hall filled with chandeliers imported mainly from Belgium. The Nawab was certainly rich and it shows - there is a wall clock from Paris, the Crown replica is studded with precious gems from all over, and the opulence is simply unmatched.

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Beautiful walls of the Imambara
Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Inside the Chota Imambara
Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
More chandeliers...
Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Belgian glasswork...

During the annual Muharram procession, Shia Muslim families make Tazia which are then taken out in a street procession and later buried. In some cities these are immersed like in Ahmedabad, but in North India they area often buried. Some of the most important ones are kept bets on display and buried the next year. A caretaker is around and can tell you more about the place, though it's difficult to know where the history stops and legends begin. The stories are interesting nevertheless.

The chandeliers here used to be lit up and works fill the entire space with glittering light. This is why the British called it the 'Palace of Lights', though it was certainly not a palace or a place to live.

Mausoleum of the King and his mother: the Imambara building is flanked on the two sides by two white buildings which look a lot like mini Taj Mahal. These are actually the mausoleums for the King and his mother and the design was actually inspired by the iconic Taj Mahal.

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Mausoleum of the king

It wasn't uncommon back then to plan your own mausoleum while you were still alive to make sure your resting place would be comfortable. The Mughals did it, and so did the Nawabs.

Mosque: just as you enter the complex on the left is a small and very beautiful white mosque. If you compare any of these with the Bara Imambara, the scale is much smaller, yet the detailing in work is not second to and in the neighbourhood.

Hammam: right after the entrance on the left is the Shahi Hammam - the royal Bath. India had a lot of influence from the Turkish and Persian civilizations, and perhaps this also came with them. With the kings, the hammams also disappeared and I have never really seen a public bath in India (this wasn't public for sure, and meant for the royal family only).

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
Caretaker of the Imambara

Satkhanda: outside the Imambara there is another very unique looking building, which looks unfinished. On further investigation I found it was an unfinished watch tower which was originally meant to be seven storeys high. However when the King, Ali Shah, died it was abandoned with only three storeys in place.

If you are visit the Imambara, it's also worthwhile to make a short trip the nearby Jama Masjid. Though for non-Muslims the interiors are not accessible, but the stunning facade certainly makes up for it :)

To reach:

You can easily drive up to here, though parking might be a difficult. If you are already at Bara Imambara, just walk to the Chota Imambara Road take a rickshaw. I directly came here from my hotel in the cab - both Ola and Uber have good service in Lucknow now.

Chota Imambara - the stunning Nawabi 'Palace of lights'
On the main road outside the Imambara

 


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Siddhartha Joshi
Last Updated : Jan 15,2021
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