Sibtainabad Imambara

(Detailed write-up on Sibtainabad Imambara, also known as Maqbara)

Sibtainabad Imambara in Hazratgunj is usually referred to as maqbara or Tomb of Amjad Ali Shah, the 5th king of Oudh.

Most accounts attribute the construction of this Imambara to King Amjad Ali Shah, who desired to be buried at this place on his death. The gazetteer also mentions him to have ‘built his own Mausoleum at Hazratgunj’. However some writers attribute the construction of the Mausoleum to Amjad Ali Shah’s son and successor to the throne, Wajid Ali Shah. The reason for this misinformation appears to be the investment of seven lakh rupees by King Wajid Ali Shah with the British government in the form of a perpetual loan (for its interest/profit to be used) for expenses of the late King, Amjad Ali Shah’s Mausoleum. Several writers mention the allocation of a sum of ten lakh for the maqbara of Amjad Ali Shah by Wajid Ali Shah and say that this allocation was made with the first formal order issued by the new King, on the day of his coronation. This heavy amount appears to be utilized for the profuse decoration of the interiors of the Imambara with the chandeliers and costly fittings and for additional constructions of four large portals, two each, on the front and back formed with the double enclosures (one within the other) built around the Imambara / Maqbara.

The place where the Imambara is built was earlier owned by Mirza Medho Khan, who was the eldest son of Mirza Khurram Bakht, a prince of Delhi. He was a cavalry commander during the reign of King Ghazi-ud-Din Haider, with 2000 sawars under his controls.

The main hall of the Imambara Sibtainabad is flanked by two compartments on either side. It is reached by a flight of steps that lead to a stone that abuts the platform placed in front of the five arched doorways of the main hall. The interiors of the Imambara are embellished with the stucco decorations and tastefully coloured floral designs. The grave of Amjad Ali Shah actually lies in the vault which is reached through a trapdoor placed in the front hall. A son and a wife of Wajid Ali Shah who expired during his reign are also buried in the Imambara.

Sibtainabad Imambara is mentioned in several British accounts of fighting between March 12 and 14, when the final attempt for the recapture of the city was made by British forces in 1858. Lang’s journal and Russell’s diary give the details of attacks on Imambara and plunder and looting by soldiers that followed the breaching of the wall of the Imambara at two places.

The building has little architectural beauty. It is a single rectangular chamber approached by a fine flight of steps. At the top of them a stone tank abuts on to a stone terrace for ablutions of the faithful.

Shabby doors fitted with broken panes of glass afford a glimpse or the interior now furnished with little but cobwebs. Once this was lavishly lined with silken carpets, wonderful chandeliers and priceless art treasures, but during the troubles of 1857 the local hooligans could not withstand the attractions of loot. They striped the Imambara of everything of value, beneath a trap-door in the centre of the floor a few steps lead to the vault where the King’s body lies, forgotten and forsaken.

On March 12 and 13, 1858, after the Begum Kothi had been taken, the British troops pushed on to Amjad Ali Shah’s tomb from which they drove their enemies with the help of a couple of batteries of guns, which made two breaches in the south-eastern wall of the Imambara enclosure. Two companies of the 10th foot and about a hundred men of the ferozepore Sikhs formed a storming party. Feeble resistance was offered and the troops pressed on to an outlying of the Kaiser Bagh Palaces.

When Oudh became quiet this Imambara was used as an English church until 1860 when Christ Church was completed. Lord canning during his second visit to Lucknow attended divine service in the building.

During the colonial rule the Imambara came under the control of Nawab Sultan Bahadur, a descendant of the Royal family, who continued to organize majlis and mourning rituals during Muharram and other occasions at the Imambara. Somehow, thereafter it was handed to the Civic Improvement Trust for upkeep and maintenance. The Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.) list of ‘protected monuments’ in Lucknow district mention Amjad Ali Shah’s mausoleum notified in 1919, but official correspondence indicates its being taken over under the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904 and 1927. There is a letter endorsed on May 18, 1927 by the Deputy Commissioner of Lucknow to the superintendent, Archaeological Survey, Muhammadan and British Monuments, Northern Circle, Agra, wherein thanks of the government are conveyed ‘to Nawab Sultan Bahadur for his offer to make over the tomb of Amjad Ali Shah at Hazrat gunj, Lucknow, as a gift and to contribute a sum of Rs. 50/- per mensem towards the maintenance’. It also informs that the offer has been accepted by the government.

During Colonial rule, the outer enclosure of the Imambara was destroyed for constructing shops and the inner enclosure was given for dwelling on rent which the specific condition that no alterations will be made. Most of them residing there now are Anglo Indians and Christians who have inherited their tenancy right from parents or relatives. After independence, some parts of the main structure of Imambara were given to refugees from Pakistan for their temporary stay and a furniture workshop was started there by one of them. Later one of these portions, when it was vacant, also came to be occupied by the office of the Census Department. However, with its persistent and unrelenting efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India has finally succeeded in getting these portions of the main Imambara structure evacuated some years back. There was also an illegal attempt to sell the tenanted portions of the gateway and inner boundaries as flats (40 nos.) to their occupiers in 2000 by the Lucknow development Authority and an advertisement was published by it in this connection. The matter was highlighted in a newspaper report of esteemed English daily and was also immediately followed up by the A.S.I. their timely intervention succeeded in cancellation of the prohibited and illegal sale of the monument by the authorities who should have actually protected it.

Some years back the A.S.I. started the restoration of the main Imambara structure and its main hall which is richly ornamented with painted stucco decorations. To prevent encroachment, the main portion of the Imambara and a land just in front of it has been enclosed with iron grilled fencing. These efforts have recently been made by A.S.I. are commendable.

However, the fact remains that encroachments has prevailed in most parts of the Imambara complex and gateways for nearly a century and alterations and changes have adversely affected the archaeological status of the original monument to a very large extent. It is for this reason that it is being treated here as a ‘lost’ monument, though part of the complex which includes the main hall is protected by the Archaeological survey of India (A.S.I.) as a living monument where majlis continues to be held during Muharram and other times of the year.

Lost Monuments of Lucknow – Sayed Anwer Abbas
Historic Lucknow – Sidney Hay