I recently made a short but pleasant trip to Lucknow, a north Indian city with a diverse and varied history of song, dance and political intrigue. Lucknow is also famous for its fine cuisine which developed to please the discerning palates of its luxury loving Nawabs. The rulers, appointed by the Mughal kings of Delhi and Agra were of Iranian origin and the royal chefs developed a class of food that is both rich as well as delicately balanced for high flavor. I wish to share some of the photos I took around the city with our readers. Rather than go into the complicated historical details of the place, I will instead share an essay by Sachin Kalbag about Lucknow's famous foods. The article was published in Mail Today, when the newspaper had been newly launched and its website was not quite user-friendly. It is only accessible to me in the PDF format, I can't therefore provide a link. I am reproducing it in its entirety with the permission of the author. Kalbag refers to some of Lucknow's famous landmarks which also appear in my photo montage.
The pictures here are of buildings commissioned by the Shi'a rulers of Lucknow, dating from the 18th century, designed by Iranian engineers and constructed by Indian laborers, masons and craftsmen. Clearly representing the Muslim architectural style, the beautiful edifices were heavily influenced by the artistic sensibilities of the Indian workers as well as existing local architecture of pre-Islamic era. In fact during that period, given the high traffic of Persian notables to the Mughal courts, the exchange of architectural design and aesthetics most probably flowed in both directions - from Iran to India and back. This notion is supported by the comment by an Iranian friend who saw the Lucknow photos on my Facebook. She doesn't claim any expertise in the area but noted the following from her observations.
These are fascinating, Ruchira! Except for the corridor of the Bhool Bhulaiya and some general impressions of that kind of blending of interior/exterior space like the doggie in the window picture, it's striking how different they are from architecture in Iran of that period, which I suppose says much for the influence of the Indian craftsmen and how the engineers must have been impressed by what they encountered in India. If anything, some of it reminds me more of Qajar period in Iran, slightly later. Perhaps they brought back some ideas from India?
(Click on the Wiki links for the history of the monuments featured below and on the images for enlargement)
Bada Imambada: The larger of the two famous Imambadas (The monument of the Imam) of Lucknow. Built in the mid 18th century by the Shia ruler of Lucknow as a tribute to Imam Hassan, the monument was designed by Iranian engineers and constructed by Indian laborers.
A building across the street with a fish motif (the elephant is live)
Chhota Imambada: The beautiful, delicately designed Chhota Imambara, a monument dedicated to Imam Hussain. It was built in the late 18th century by the ruling Shia dynasty of Lucknow. As with the its larger counterpart, this edifice too was designed by Iranian architects and built by local Indian laborers and masons.
The Residency at Lucknow (a major site of the Sepoy Mutiny, India's first war of independence against British occupation)
The last Nawab of Oudh (Lucknow was its capital), Wajid Ali Shah. The hapless, pleasure loving, apathetic ruler was removed from power and exiled in Calcutta by the British just a year before the Mutiny, in preparation for the take over of Lucknow and the kingdom of Oudh.
Now on to the food of Lucknow.