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About Lucknow
Bara Imambara¤ The Legendary Tale
History has very little to say about the founders or the first settlers of Lucknow. According to a popular legend, Lord Ramchandra of Ayodhya, the hero of the famous epic Ramayana, gifted the territory of Lucknow to his devoted brother Lakshman after his victory over the demon king Ravana. The original name of Lucknow is thus believed to be Lakshmanpur or Lakhanpur. Yet another story suggests that this city was a gift to the holy sages of this region by Lord Yudhishtar’s grandson.

The story of Lucknow, as we know today, begins in 1732 when Saadat Khan, a Persian adventurer, originally from Khurasan in Persia, was honoured by the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah, and was made Nizam or governor of the province of Avadh and later the Nawab. In 1740, the Nawab was called Wazir, which means Chief Minister – hence he was given the title Nawab Wazir. In practice from Saadat Khan onwards, titles have been hereditary, inheritors of which were responsible for shaping the history of Lucknow.

¤ Lucknow Flourished Under The Regime of Asaf-ud-Daulah 
Nawab Saadat Khan was succeeded by his nephew and son-in-law, Safdar Jung in 1814. It was his grandson Asaf-ud-Daulah, the fourth Nawab, who transferred the seat of the Awadh government to Lucknow in 1775, to distance himself from his imperious mother in Faizabad. Thereon ushered a new era.
In the eight intense decades that followed (i.e.1775 –1856), Lucknow prospered and grew into a sophisticated and picturesque city with parks, palaces, gardens and imposing architectural monuments. The Nawab’s patronage of music and arts attracted poets, artists, and musicians to Lucknow in large numbers. During these eventful years, Lucknow became one of the most celebrated centers of opulence, dance, poetry and scholarship.

¤ Bara Imambara 
Asaf-ud-Daulah was also an inveterate builder of monuments. Driven with an ambition to discover the glory of the past and present and surpass them in magnificence and splendor, the numerous buildings built by Asaf-ud-Duala, like the Bara Imambara built in 1784, the testify to his architectural zeal.

This is indeed a monumental feat considering the fact that it once boasted the largest vaulted hall in the world, with a 50 feet high roof, spanning an area of 162 feet and a height 53 feet in the absence of a single beam! After all, as per the Nawab’s directive, his architecture was to be original in conception with no influence of any existing structure or design.

The galleries and corridors within the great Imambara form a complicated and intricate labyrinth (bhool-bhuliya) through which at times it is difficult to find your way. Its terrace provides a fine view of the Lucknow city. During one of his visits to the site, the pleasing aroma of food being cooked in giant ovens attracted the Nawab. It is here when he discovered the Dum process of cooking, wherein the food is cooked slowly in its own steam, which lends a unique aroma and flavor to the food. Impressed with the process, he ordered the royal kitchen to practice the same method of cooking.

¤ Rumi Darwaza or The Turkish Gate
Towards the west of the Imambara is the Rumi Darwaza or the Turkish Gate built by Asaf-ud-Duala between the years 1784 to 1786. The 60 feet high gateway stands as an equally grand entrance to the great hall. During the Nawabi era, a huge lantern placed atop the Rumi Darwaza would light up the pathway, while jets of water gushed from the numerous fountains created on the rim of the gateway.

Rumi Darwaza While on one hand the Nawabs had achieved a certain degree of independence from the Moghuls in Delhi, they surrendered their hold over the years as allies to the British who were there in the form of the East India Company based in Calcutta. Asaf-ud-Duala’s son, Wazir Ali took over the throne after his father’s death in 1798. After four months of misrule and bad behavior, the British removed Wajid Ali from the throne in 1798, who had by then acquired enough powers to manipulate the events of Awadh. Sadat Ali Khan, Asaf-ud-Daula’s brother, was offered the throne, who during his 16 years of reign, earned himself a reputation of being an able administrator and the most sagacious Nawab that Lucknow had ever known.

¤ British Residency
Unlike his predecessor, Sadat Ali proved to be a great builder who introduced a large number of architectural styles. One of his best-known monuments is the Residency, which was built in 1800 for the British Resident.
Today it stands desolate as a mute witness to the Mutiny of 1857 when it was almost completely destroyed. Despite its numerous scars, this monument retains till today its original charm that almost recreates the history associated with it and is a stark reminder of the numerous sieges during the Mutiny. Among the long list of grand palaces commissioned by Sadat Ali the Moti Mahal, Dilkusha Palace, Hayat Baksh, Chattar Manzil, Khusheed Manzil and Lal Baradari, deserves a visit.

The Nawab Wazirs of Lucknow, dissatisfied with their present titles, wanted to be called Kings, which at the time only the Emperors of Delhi were entitled to have. In 1819, Gazi-ud-Din, son and successor of Sadat Ali was made the fist king.

Gazi-ud-Din was a generous ruler, a good monarch who paid due attention to administration and justice. He was responsible for building and public works of all kinds. His buildings include the Mubarak Mahal, Shah Manzil and the Hazari Bagh, in which he introduced to the society of Lucknow, the sport of animal combats for the first time.

¤ Shah Najaf Imambara
Gazi-ud-Din’s most outstanding building is the Shah Najaf Imambara where he is entombed together with his three wives. The Imambara is a huge masonry structure with a large dome. The wise Nawab gave the British a large sum of money for its embellishment and maintenance. Under the terms of agreement, this mausoleum is well cared for and is in excellent condition even today.
British Residency
¤ Tarunvali Kothi
Ironically, the proclamation of kingship coincided with a period of almost complete dependence on the British. The title of King neither improved the administrative capabilities of the rulers nor their morale. The second King Nasir-ud-Din Haider, son and successor of Gazi-ud-Din, was so effeminate that he often spoke and dressed like a female. His only contribution in the field of architecture was the construction of Tarunvali Kothi, an archeological center, which was equipped with sophisticated instruments and entrusted to the care of a British astronomer.

¤ Muhammad Ali's Imambara
The British crowned the third king of Awadh, Muhammad Ali who was the second son of Nawab Wazir Sadat Ali, in 1837 at a ripe old age of 63. Muhammad Ali was just and popular ruler under whom Lucknow once again regained its splendor for a brief spell. Interested in building activities, he built his own Imambara as well as the Juma Masjid. The Imambara, left incomplete by Muhammad Ali, was later completed by Begum Mallika Jehan of the Royal family. Between the Imambara and the gateway is a large courtyard with a rectangular raised tank spanned by a bridge.

Within the Imambara is the burial place of the king while his daughter and son-in-law are buried on one side of the courtyard. The Imambara is noted for its golden dome, exquisite chandeliers, huge mirrors, silver mimbar, colourful interiors and delicate calligraphy on its arched entrance.

¤ Juma Masjid
The Juma Masjid, with its two minarets and three domes is yet another delightful place to visit in Lucknow. An interesting building built by Muhammed Ali Shah is the Baradari, also known as the Picture Gallery, which houses the portraits of the erstwhile, Nawabs and Kings of Awadh.
Here one can admire the marvelous costumes and jewellery that the nobles a adorned themselves with. A patient of chronic rheumatism, Muhammad Ali died in 1842 and left behind a number of incomplete monuments, which would have honored him as the greatest builders amongst all Awadh Kings.

The Sat Khanda (or seven slices) was an edifice planned to resemble the minaret of Babylon with each of its storeys superimposed on the other -the top of which was to provide one of the finest views of Lucknow. Not far from the picture gallery is yet another marvel, the Clock Tower which is said to be the largest in India. This was however completed in seven years at the cost of more than a lakh of rupees- an enormous amount at the time!

¤ Qaiser Bagh Palace
Muhammed Ali was succeeded by his son, Wajid Ali Shah in 1837 who was also the last of the rulers to ascend the throne. A poet, singer and a great patron of arts, his pursuit of personal pleasure left little time for looking into administrative responsibilities. This led to the British annexation of Awadh. Wajid Ali Shah’s single contribution to Lucknow was the Qaiser Bagh Palace built in 1850, which he wanted to be promoted as the eighth wonder of the world!

¤ La Martiniere-A Funerary Monument
The architectural skyline of Lucknow remains incomplete without the mention of La Martiniere-a funerary monument. Built at the end of the 18th century, it is said be the largest in Asia and houses the coffin of its builder, French Major General Claude Martim. Martim had come to India as a penniless soldier but gradually his luck and labor fetched him a fortune big enough to lend a princely amount of 250,000 pounds to the Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah! La Martiniere is today a school of great repute.

¤ Lucknow’s Cultural History Remains Unrivaled
In almost all forms of art and entertainment, Lucknow developed its own variety, be it poetry, music, dance, story telling, fashion, animal combats and gastronomy. The Dastarkhans of the Lucknow courts are still proverbial. In fact the master chefs excelled in their talents to such a great extent that they are believed to have received salaries more than that of the Prime Minister himself!

In this period alone, there were more poets that in any other part of the country. Subsequently the Mughal monarchy was battling for its survival and in their sinking empire, had no time for patronising creative talent. This led to the influx of several artists to Lucknow where they received considerable patronage. Cultural refinement was thus, not just confined to the courts but thrived even on the streets and by-lanes of this ancient and historical city.