Yes they do if you hear them intently. I could feel it during my recent visit to Bara Imambara (BI), Bhool-Bhulaiyaa (BB) and the tall Rumi Darwaza (RD) while doing a book on Lucknow. The tourist guide took me around these signature monuments and believe me, it was sheer delight. He coaxed me to listen to what the monuments hummed and conveyed while standing tall and tanned under the strong summer sun. Truly, it is indeed, ‘a mirror and reflection of the civilization of its times.’
BI, BB and RD were constructed by the then Nawab-Ruler of Lucknow Asaf-ud-Daulah (AUD) in 1784 about whom, it is said: ‘Jis ko na de Maulah usko de Asaf-ud-Daulah.’ (AUD grants benevolence even to those, whom Almighty denies- a catchphrase in the honor of the local ruler). AUD imbibed the ethos and spirit of Awadh and converted it into grand edifices catapulting into iconic monuments around which these civilizations flourished.
He decided to build the BI for Azadari (mourning). To provide relief to his poor subjects who were reeling under severe famine in 1783-84. The construction provided employment to nearly twenty two thousand people at a time. But his concern did not rest there. To encourage men folk of respectable families who felt embarrassed working during the day, fearing they will be recognized as labourers in daylight. The Nawab directed that the construction work be continued even after sunset, and throughout the night, when men could work in darkness without being recognized. Many, people who worked in the night were unskilled. Work done by them was sub-standard, which was demolished during the day and re-built by skilled workers next day. Though, this arrangement caused a lot of wastage, AUD put forth some remarkable points relevant to mankind by weaving a fabric of social security system for the society.
Even today, BI conveys the tale of pain, human suffering and so, is dear to all, as forefathers of many may have participated in this project cutting across religion and strata of the society. AUD had shifted his capital from Faizabad-Ayodhya (twin cities) to Lucknow therefore Ram-Raj was not unknown to him.
The main hall of the Imambara 50×16 meters, is 15 meters tall without any central pillars or columns supporting it. Is said to be the world’s largest ‘arched room’ without pillars as if conveying it is possible for a society to exist and survive with each other’s support alone as Hindu-Muslims do in Lucknow like the arched room.
Within the Imambara AUD had also carved the labyrinth … the ‘BB’ which is three storeyed. It has 489 similar looking galleries without doors, where one can roam endlessly for hours. But by roaming endlessly you don’t reach your destination. To reach your destination you require proper direction. It conveys.
The narrow lanes of BB were carved to confuse enemy intruders during invasions. Only the King and a few knew the way out just as your Guru or the Almighty knows the way out in troubled times and keeping the enemy confused is a robust strategy even today.
These constricted lanes can make anyone feel lost as you sometimes feel lost in life. The passages, some of which have dead-ends exhort us to keep moving in life even during hardships and not to fear dead ends, for it will dissolve in front of your endurance.
Flights of steps go up-and-down like a sinusoidal curve. It is steep, dark and narrow. Where even the sound of a lighted match stick, amplifies and seems to travel through the length of the corridor, and the lit-up effect illuminates, right up to the other end of the corridor. Signifying, don’t worry there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
There are a series of closed narrow passages in the form of an intricate network, that connects them to sets of staircases that suddenly change direction, going up or down just to confuse any person. Only, one correct combination of the passage and staircase when negotiated correctly leads you to the roof top. In a manner hinting, that perfection requires precision. Like a combination lock, where only one correct combination of passage and stairs together can take you to the top.
So, even real life is like a combination lock. Where all combinations need to work. You cannot reach the top of BB without the help of a guide. Who is trained to perfection to take you up. As, also, in the journey of life the Almighty holds your hand and takes you through and through. Next,
The grand Rumi Darwaza (RD) standing 60 feet-tall, was also part of relief operations during the famine. It is devoid of wood and iron and outright a novelty, of its times. When viewed from the West, it looks like a huge Mehraab- a grand gateway. East is even prettier … resembling a Mexican hat. The three gates absorb all: the fast, medium and the slow moving traffic, symbolic of the trait of absorption in human life. Born tall, lives tall and looks prettier from wide angles. The tough, rough and the dainty mix of personality that human beings need to imbibe.
AUD’s caliber possessed the sponge to absorb the ethos of the masses and convert it into these everlasting golden scripts of brick and mortar. Try it out yourself. As and when you go close to these monuments they shear off your existing nub of thoughts and fill you with some gentle self-introspection which only helps you in re-determining your values. They say values of mankind rarely change, even over a lifetime.
In the flux and flow of life. If someone, were to ask me to describe Awadh of 1784, I would simply tell him to go and see a movie produced in that era or read a book published around that time. But sad, movies were not invented then and books were not too prevalent. And, so, my request to him would be to go and visit BI, BB and RD.
I now never miss an opportunity to visit old monuments and spend some quality time there as each monument has something to tell you.
By Kamlesh Tripathi