Certain values attached to religious monuments are peculiar
to them and to them alone. Three of these values,
which may be called spiritual, aesthetic and cultural, are
of particular importance, because each one affects the ways
in which religious monuments can be explained an interpreted
to those who wish to see or understand them.
The Imambara is an Indian institution more popular with the
Shias who assemble here during
Muharram, the first month of
the Islamic Calendar. Unlike a mosque, there is no set
pattern for an Imambara. Its style, architecture and
unity varies with local cultural influence. In south
India, for instance, it is called an Ashurkhana.
As soon as the moon of Muharram is sighted, Shias abandon
their festivities and prepare for the Azadari (a period of
mourning for two months and eight days) by attiring
themselves in black. They assemble at the Imambaras
for Majlis (congregations) where Marsiya (elegies) on the
tragic martyrdom of Imam Hasan and Imam Hussain, upon them
be peace, are recited
in prose and poetry.
The month of Muharram revives the memory of the battle of
Karbala fought between the forces of Yazid and
upon him be peace.
The succession of Yazid as the Khalifa of the Muslims was
challenged by Imam Hussain, who refused to submit to his
authority, which would be tantamount to acquiescence in the
abominations let loose during his reign. Yazid on the
other hand demanded bayat (total submission). Imam
Hussain, upon him be peace, with his band of 72 fought to the bitter end.
Finally the Imam,was slaughtered and his head, transfixed on
a spear, was carried to Damascus.
Shias in particular perform Matam (beating their chest),
recite Marsiyas and shed their blood by inflicting knife
wounds. Processions are taken out with Tazias (huge bamboo
structures decorated with paper and tinsel representing Imam
Hussain’s mausoleum) and Alams (replicas of the ensign of
Imam Hussian, upon him
be peace, during the battle of Karbala). Taimur is
believed to be the founder of the Tazia ceremony. As a
devotion to Imam Hussian,
upon him be peace, he erected the first Tazia and
carried it on his military pursuits. Gradually the
Mughals, though they were not Shias, perfected and promoted
The pivotal point for the Muharram activities is the
Imambara. Literally “enclosure of the Imams”. In
India Imambaras or Ashurkhanas are more prominent in places
patronized by the Shias. The earliest kingdom to
declare Shiaism as state religion was Bijapur, followed by
the Qutb Shahis of Golconda. The ancestors of Wajid
Ali Shah or the rulers of Lucknow and some of the nawabs of
Bengal were devoted Shias who observed Muharram with due
Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of Hyderabad, was a
keen composer of Marsiyas in Deccani urdu. Alams
during the Qutb Shahi rule were made out of gold and silver
with jewels studded in them. As they symbolised the
martyrs of Karbala, upon
them be peace, royal privileges like armed escorts,
naqqarkhana and chattar were accorded to them.
remains of the numerous Ashurkhanas that once dotted the
Deccani Kingdom. One of the best preserved is the
Badshahi Ashurkhana, not far from Hyderabad’s world-famous
monument Charminar. It was erected soon after the
completion of Charminar in 1592. This Ashurkhana has
an impressive height and is noted for its profusion of
Chinese tiles. Once it boasted of 14 gold Alams and
10,000 lamps that spoke of the grandeur of the Sultan.
With the fall of the Qutb Shahis, the Alams vanished and so
did the countless lamps. In fact, the Ashurkhana was
converted into a prison camp by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
However, during the Asaf Jahi period efforts were made to
revive the glory by introducing new Alams and European
Most of the Ashurkhanas of Hyderabad are gifted with proud
historic Alams or some piece of memorabilia.. Koh-e-Moula Ali on the hillocks of Secunderabad is reputed
for its Nishan (hand impression of Hazrat Ali, upon
him be peace); others have
preserved the historic swords, fragments of the armour cap,
etc. One such proud possession is Hazrat Fatima’s,
(upon her be peace) chaddor. The box in which this relic is kept bears the
seal of several emperors. Hazrat Fatima, upon her be peace, was
daughter of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, and one of the Alams in
Hyderabad was made out of the wood from the wood from the
bed on which her funerary bath was performed.
Oudh was another Nawabi kingdom with Lucknow as the capital
where numerous Imambaras mushroomed under different nawabs.
There hardly used to be any mohalla in Lucknow that did not
boast of a couple of Imambaras. The three best known
Imambaras of the city - the Asafi or Bara Imambara in the
old city, the Chota Imambara in Hussainabad and the Shah
Najaf Imambara near Hazratganj - are famous for their
architectural beauty and European chandeliers.
The Asafi Imambara was undertaken in 1748 with a view to
provide relief to people from a severe famine. The
basement of this Imambara is now closed, as no one is sure
about the utility of the dark rooms where it is easy to get
lost. This Imambara is an architectural feat,
considering the fact that it is the largest vaulted hall in
the world. It requires merit to build a 50-feet high
roof, spanning 162 feet in length and 53 feet in breadth,
without a single beam. In fact, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah
had made it a point that his architecture should be original
in conception. From the terrace at the top one can
have a fine view of the city with a striking skyline. Adjoining the Imambara is the mosque and on the other end
are the tombs of the nawab and of his begum.
Chota Imambara, not far from the Bara Imambara, was the work
play of the third king of Oudh, Nawab Muhammad Ali. 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 and on
the sides of the courtyard are buried his daughter and
son-in-law. This edifice is noted for its golden dome,
calligraphy at the arched entrance, exquisite chandeliers,
huge mirrors, silver pulpit and of course a very colourful
Shah Najaf Imambara entombed the first king of Oudh,
Ghaziuddin Haider, together with his three wives. The
Imambara, resembling the tomb of Imam
Ali, upon him be
peace, at Najf (Iraq), is a huge masonry structure with a large dome having
an equally impressive interior replete with various
chandeliers and mirror work.
On the eastern front there are three grand Imambaras worth
visiting. An extension of the Nawabi Lucknow concluded
at Metiaburj in Calcutta where the last of Nawabs, Wajid Ali
Shah, was laid to rest within the Sibtainabad Imambara built
in 1864. The imposing gateway with double mermaids -
the emblem of the royal family - lies across the busy road.
The building evokes memories of happier times when flowering
plants and fountains almost recreated a mini Lucknow.
Not far from Calcutta is Hoogly where Haji Mohammad
Mohsin’s Imambara is a landmark. Hundreds of
European chandeliers reflecting on the Italian marble speak
for themselves. The inside walls of the Imambara are
profusely worked upon with inscriptions from the Holy Quran.
The sundial and the mighty clock from Black & Murray,
London, have tall tales to tell. One has to climb to
see the three enormous iron bells of the clock together with
a room full of machinery. The spacious courtyard,
gilded doors, water tanks with goldfish add to the beauty of
the scenic Imambara. The backyard wall of this
building is inscribed with the fairly long will (dated 1806
A.D) of Haji Mohammad Mohsin who dedicated this grand
Imambara, besides schools and hospitals, for the needy.
Murshidabad, along the Bangladesh border, houses the
world’s biggest Imambara rebuilt in 1848 at a cost 600,000
Rupees in those times. The new building was erected
when the old one caught fire during a party organized for
the Europeans. In front of the Imambara is the old
Medina, which is filled up to a depth of six feet with earth
brought over from Mecca. The Imambara in its hey days
stocked hundreds of Alams and other relics, besides
chandeliers, lamps, girandoles and other means of
illumination. When the relationship between the nawab
and the English took a bitter turn, the Begums melted their
jewellery to create the new Alams.
The word "Imambara" ( Imam bara) has the same
meaning in India as "Hussaynia" or "
Author: Shahid A. Makhfi
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Hj S. Abidin
Published Date: 4th
Modification Date: January 11th, 2009/14th Muharram, 1430
Publication ID: 02imambarasGrand.
Imambaras of India - Fusion of Faith
Copyright: © Victory News Magazine, 2009
All rights, including copyright, in the content of this
document are owned or controlled for these purposes by Victory
News Magazine. In accessing these web pages, you agree that
you may only download the content for your own personal
non-commercial use. You are not permitted to copy, broadcast,
download, store (in any medium), transmit, show or play in
public, adapt or change in any way the content of this
document for any other
purpose whatsoever without the
prior written permission of Victory News Magazine.
Material may not be copied, reproduced, republished,
downloaded, posted, broadcast or transmitted in any way except
for your own personal non-commercial home use. Any other use
requires the prior written permission of Victory News
You agree not to adapt, alter or create a derivative work from
any of the material contained in this document including its
title or use it for any other purpose other than for your
personal non-commercial use.
Victory News Magazine has taken all reasonable care to ensure
that pages published in this document and site were accurate
at the time of publication or last modification.
sites are by nature experimental or constantly changing. Hence
information published may be for test purposes only, may be
out of date, or may be the personal opinion of the author.
Readers should always verify information with the appropriate
references before relying on it.
The views of the authors of this document do not necessarily
reflect the views of Victory News Magazine. Please read the
Victory News Magazine takes no responsibility for the
consequences of error or for any loss or damage suffered by
readers of any of the information published on any pages in
this document, and such information does not form any basis of
a contract with readers or users of it.
Victory News Magazine.