The Bada Imambada is a large complex with 3 main structures – the first structure on the right is the Asifi Masjid (mosque), the central structure is the Imambada and the structure on the left is the Shahi Baori or the Royal stepwell. Read about the Royal Step well here
This mosque was completed before the Imambada. The architect of the mosque was same as the architect of the Imambada – Kifayatulla. In terms of space the mosque is large and is approached through a flight of steps.
Structurally and composition wise this mosque looks similar to the Mughal mosques and is a deviation from the Awadhi or Nawabi style of mosques. The architect Kifayatullah was a product of Mughal school of architecture and this could be the reason of similarities. The difference lies in the material used –in place of sandstone and marble, one would find the use of local Lakhori bricks and local plastering material with exquisite art of Gajkari (local lime or chunaa stucco art) in the Asifi Masjid. Transformation of simple materials into a masterpiece.
This mosque is constructed on column and arch foundation. We would not be able to give details of the interiors of the mosque as the entry is prohibited. A board just above the steps clearly informs that Non Namazis (people who don’t offer namaz) are prohibited to enter inside the mosque. We respect the religious sentiments that are clearly and intelligently worded on this board.
The mosque historically has been the only mosque where the Friday prayers for Shia sect are done.
This mosque like many other places in Lucknow has seen atrocities of the British army after the revolt of 1857. The British army captured this and used it for storing arms and ammunition. The entire Bada Imambada complex was confiscated by the Britishers from 1857-1884. They tried damaging the foundation of the mosque, by building a water channel adjacent to the west wall of the mosque and slowly draining the water into the foundation. Thankfully the architecture was sturdier (as the architect was master at his crafts unlike the Britishers with perennial superiority complex during the Colonial Era). Dragging huge guns damaged the floor. It’s only in 1884 (almost 27 year later) that after repeated representations by Shia Religious Leader Syed Mohammed Ibrahim the British government declared the same as government property, vacated it and allowed offering of Namaaz at the mosque and observance of religious activities of Moharaam etc at Bada Imambada.
The British did a great damage to this heritage area but couldn’t damage the soul of the area. It was for that reason that we are still able to enjoy this engineering and architectural marvel.
Another interesting story connected with Asifi masjid is that Nawab Mohammad Ali Shah (3rd king of Oudh 1837-1842) constructed Jama Masjid a mosque bigger than Asifi mosque and ordered the Shia sect to offer the Friday Namaz only at Jama Masjid and not Asifi mosque. But as fate would have it, the Asifi Masjid or Mosque regained its lost glory in 1884.