Imāmbāra (Hindi: इमामबाड़ा; Urdu: امام باڑہ) or Imambargah (Urdu: امام بارگاه) is a congregation hall in India where Shi'ites Muslims gathered together to have religious commemoration ceremonies in Muharram. It is customary for Shi'ites to decorate Imambaras. Sometimes they make a fire outside the Imambara in order to remember the tyranny enemies of Imam al-Husayn (a) opposed to Ahl al-Bayt (a) as they set their tents on fire. Then they walk on hot coals barefooted as a part of mourning ceremonies. Nawab Safdar Jung, the ruler of Oudh state established the first Imambara. The "Asaf al-Dawla Imambara" in Lucknow is regarded as the most notable Imambara in India.
Imambara is also called monastery or Husayniyya and Ashurkhana in southern region of India. Nawab Safdar Jung (d. 1167/1753-4), the ruler of the Indian state of Oudh, built a place for the first time to hold mourning ceremonies of Muharram which can be regarded as the first Imambara.
After building the Imambara by Asaf al-Dawla in 1198/1783-4, the number of Imambara buildings raised. Later Imambaras were built as a mausoleum of grand figures. It was regarded as a good deed to spend money in preparing expenses for building Imambaras among Shi'ite Indian Muslims, similar to Iranian culture.
In mourning ceremonies it was customary to decorate the Imambara as Al-Shushtari (d. 1220/1805-6) stated that the Imambara of Asaf al-Dawla was decorated with candles, lights, mirrors, and pieces of jewelry. Sometimes they make a fire outside of Imambara in a hole to remember the tyranny exposed by the enemies of Imam al-Husayn (a) to Ahl al-Bayt (a); as they set their tents on fire. They also walk on fiery coals barefooted as a part of their traditions. In contrary to Imambaras like Asaf al-Dawla, not all the Imambaras have a special part for women which is dedicated only to women at special times.
There are decorated small rooms as a symbol of Imam al-Husayn's (a) coffin which are regarded significantly important in such mourning ceremonies in Imambara. The coffin is called Ta'ziya in India. Imambara also has a permanent mausoleum (a symbolic grave) which is called Karbala. Different groups of people go to Imambara while they are mourning and holding 'alam (عَلَم, flag) and they have Ta'ziya on their shoulders.
Architecture of Imambara
The construction of Imambaras did not follow the same architectural traditions. However, they have some features which represent recent architectural methods of Gurkani (Timurid) era. Such features are clearly noticeable in Imambara of Lucknow.
Asaf al-Dawla Imambara is the most notable Imambara which includes a mosque, courtyards and gates. It is among the most important historic landmarks of Lucknow. This place consists of Imambara, the grand mosque of Lucknow with three domes in the main courtyard. The main hall has a dome of 16 to 49 meters and there are two porches on both sides. Its roof is made of brick and cement.
Imambara of Hussainabad is smaller than Imambara of Asaf al-Dawla. It was built hundred years after the latter one. The builder of Hussainabad Imambara is buried there as well. It has magnificent decorations but the structure of its roof is not as strong.
Shah Najaf Imambara in Lucknow has the mausoleum of its builder as well. Mourning ceremonies are held in this Imambara and just like other Imambaras, it is a multi-purpose construction.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from امام باره in Farsi WikiShia.