Wednesday 5 June 2013

The manmade Bhool Bhulaiyaa

Mention Bhool Bhulaiyaa and the immediate reaction is that it is a 2007 Bollywood remake of the English film “The Maze”. The Hindi film starred Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan and others.
The huge house that is shown in the film is in Jaipur and the many passages of the house and the staircases add to a sense of the mystery in the film.
However, India is fortunate to have a real maze, which is also called Bhool Bhulaiyaa. This structure is a Nawabi inspiration and it was built when the province was in the throes of a severe drought. The Nawab employed thousands of labourers to build the Bhool Bhulaiyaa.
One legend about the structure is that as soon as labourers finished construction of a portion of a wall, the Nawab sent away all the labourers from the work spot and had it pulled down so that the labourers would be reemployed in building it afresh.
Another legend associated with the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is that if common men were employed in the morning, noblemen and the landed gentry worked on it during the night. All in all, the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is a superb piece of architecture and it is a harmonious blend of  local, Mughal, Arabic and European architecture.       
A man made wonder, this structure is also well known as the gravity defying palace. This palace has more than a thousand narrow staircases with the stairs going up and down in a confusing manner.
It is this intriguing maze that lends the name Bhool Bhulaiyaa to the structure which comprises of a large mosque, the Bhool Bhulaiyaa or the labyrinth or the maze, a bowli, a step well with running water and two imposing gateways lead to the main hall.
This is the much visited and much admired Bhool Bhulaiyaa of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.
The Bhool Bhulaiyaa is mystifying palace complex commissioned in 1783 by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula of Oudh or Awadh. This called the Bara Imambara and the Bhool Bhulaiyaa is an integral part of it. The Imambara’s central arched hall is almost 50 meters long and about three stories high. What makes this arch all the more astounding is that it has no pillars or beams. No iron is used. This is supposed to be the world’s largest unsupported structure. It contains the vaulted central chamber with the tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula.
The Imambara was designed by Kifayatullah of Delgi and even his tomb is in the main hall of the Imambara.
The main hall of the Imambara was constructed with interlocking brickwork and is  from here that the Bhool Bhuliayaa commences. There are eight surrounding chambers around the central vault and they are built to different roof heights. This allowed the Nawab to use he spaces above them to design the labyrinths with passages and stairs which are interconnected with each other through 489 identical doorways.
This is possibly the only existing maze in India and it today supports almost the entire weight of the building. The only other similar maze, though not as big or as confusing is the tunnels leading from the Ibrahim Rouza mosque or the stairs leading to the whispering gallery in Bijapur. Another similar monument would be the palace of thousand doors, several of them false, in Murshidabad.    
Coming back to Lucknow, this maze has more than 1,000 narrow staircase passages and old timers say that it was meant to prevent any possible intruders from gaining any easy access or easy egress from the building. Since the passages are open, you can roam around them but it is better to hire a guide. If not, follow the ray of sunlight that you can see at the end of the maze and you are sure to come out of  jigsaw.
Since there is an Asifi mosque, the structure is also called Asifi Imambara. There is also a Chotta Imambara nearby, a smaller and beautiful version of the Bara Imambara.
Bara in Urdu means big and Imambara means a shrine. This was built for Shia Muslims for Azadari (Azadari in Lucknow is the  practice during Moharram relating to mourning and commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Imam Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680).  
The construction of the Imambara was completed in 1791 and it was estimated to cost anywhere between half a million to a million rupees. Even after the building was completed, the Nawab spent every year several thousand rupees on its decoration.
There is also a tunnel which leads through a mile-long underground passage to a spot adjacent to the Gomti river. There are several other passages and they are supposed to lead to Faizabad, Allahabad and even to Delhi. These passages have now been sealed.
Take a look at the Imambara and explore its maze. I can assure you, it will be worth your while.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, enjoy reading your articles, I wonder if the story of Bhool Bhulaiyaa..that is to us Kannadigas the excellent movie by Vishnuvardan "Aptha Mitra" actually happened somewhere in south India?