Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blogging from Lucknow: The Romance of Rumi Darwaza, Bhul Bhulaiyan & Imambadas

Rumi Darwaza, Lucknow

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Once again I was in Lucknow, the City about which poets and litterateurs say that it haunts you more when you are far away from it.

Walking past the historic Rumi Darwaza, which was built in 1780s by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, I was filled with nostalgic memories.

Even if you have seen these structures from your childhood, the splendour of the entire area has an impact every time you pass by these marvels of architecture.

As you walk from Chowk towards the Bada Imambada [also Bara Imambara], the sight of Husainabad Clock Tower or the Ghantaghar, which is the tallest clock tower in the country, strikes you.

With the imposing Rumi Gate in the front, the Bada Imambada and the Bhulbhulaiyan [maze] on the right and the Tile Wali Masjid visible on the other side, anyone would feel impressed by the sheer magnificence of  architectural heritage in this City, which has not been properly publicised internationally.
The entrance to Imambada (left) and Rumi Gate in the front.

Rumi Gate symbolizes Lucknow but it hardly gets the sort of attention which other historical gates like  Hyderabad's Char Minar gets.

Frankly, it is Rumi Gate that fascinates me more, but is it because Lucknow is the City of my birth and I am biased in favour of it!

In the eighties, when one could climb to the top of the darwaza, I often went there and found Yaqub, an interesting man, always enjoying the breeze and the view of Gomti.

Whenever he saw someone, he would get up, share interesting tales about the City and the citizens. He spent nearly 15-18 hrs there. He did nothing else for livelihood. Yaqub was graceful and would happily accept even a rupee or two which visitors happily gave. But then he disappeared later.

A view of the Rumi Gate from the other side.

It was difficult even then to reach the top as staircase had been crumbling and some arches had collapsed.

I didn't have to courage to venture there once again and see the decay.

The Rumi Gate [called Turkish gate also as it was modelled on lines of a structure in Constantinople], the entrance of the historic Old City of Lucknow, has stood proud for over two centuries.

But unrestricted movement of heavy vehicles and traffic that pass through it round the clock has caused tremendous damage to the structure. Sadly there are only half-hearted efforts to preserve the structures.

Much has been written about the architectural beauty of Bada Imambada, the Asafi Masjid on its premises and the world renowned Bhulbhulaiyan that has labyrinthine lanes and symmetrical arches and corridors that confuse the visitor.
Inside bhulbhulaiya

People are bewildered as once inside the building, they fail to find which way leads to the top and how to get to the exit.

The three dimensional maze has nearly 490 identical corridors and passages which flummox the visitors, especially when they take a staircase downwards but find that they have landed on the higher plane.

The bhul-bhulaiyan also has amazing acoustics. A whisper or the sound of tearing a paper is heard loudly across the other corner.

So that there was no room for conspiracies! But conspiracies eventually did take place and the British captured Oudh but that's another story.

There was a similar underground maze which was shut for visitors long ago. It is believed that it was impossible to come out of it without a guide.

And few guides had remained who could successfully take a person in and bring him out without getting lost.

The locked entrances to the lower bhool-bhulaiyan are visible though. It is also rumoured that there was a 'surang' [underground tunnel] that connected the Imambada complex to Faizabad.

With Chhota Imambada and the incomplete Satkhanda tower nearby, this part of Lucknow is truly unrivalled in terms of heritage as it represents the epitome of Indo-Islamic architecture in Awadh.

It is well-known that Asaf-ud-Daula undertook the construction of the Imambada, Rumi Gate and Bhulbhulaiyan to give employment opportunities to people in the times of drought.

Those who were reluctant to do the job of construction labourers, could even work at night, and avoid the embarrassment.

Everything is bound to change. But the change should be steady, not sudden and abrupt as it leads to chaos.

One hears much about erosion of cultural values [tehzib, zabaan] of Awadh, still a lot remains. The structures have also survived the ravages of time and inspite of government apathy.

After independence, the Congress-led governments in Uttar Pradesh showed little interest in conservation of the structures that dated back to the Nawabi past.

Composite culture was a term used more frequently in speeches now but not put in practice on the ground. The tombs of Urdu poets disappeared or were encroached upon.

The great Mir Taqi Mir's grave also fell victim and vanished. After the turbulent 80s that saw the rise of fanaticism in Uttar Pradesh and the after-effects of which were seen in the nineties as well, things cooled down a bit in the last decade.

After Mayawati came to the helm, statues of Dalit icons appeared in Lucknow. It was understandable also, as the neglected icons of history belonging to backward classes like the tribal freedom fighters in other parts of the country were given their due.

Of course, there was criticism also, predictably from the urban class over the expenditure and the changing skyline that showed Dalit assertion.

But it was unlike BJP government that had in its revivalist zeal even changed the name of Begum Hazrat Mahal park.

The park named after the great freedom fighter, was changed to Urmil Vatika.

Despite protests, BJP had refused to budge and the name was restored only when the State government fell.

As the BSP government has now gone beyond its Dalit cultural agenda and went about refurbishing Hazratganj, which has earned government the goodwill of the middle-class, it's time the neglected monuments of Lucknow that need restoration and upkeep should also be taken care of.

Will the Lucknow residents raise a strong voice?