Among the many historic structures that adorn the state of West Bengal, which speak of its rich heritage, culture and architectural grandeur that it once held, Hooghly Imambara is one of them. An experience in itself, the Imambara with its majestically long corridors, its massive clock and the splendid architecture of its main prayer hall, serves as a reminder to the erstwhile but fading magnificence that walked through its lanes. Built in the early 19th Century, the Hooghly Imambara is open to people from all faiths.
The Imambara is a Shia Muslim congregation hall wherein all commemoration ceremonies of the community take place. The occasion of Muharram marks a major event for the Shia Muslim community and at Hooghly Imambara, the rituals match to that of Karbala in Iraq, including the mourning hours. This makes the Hooghly Imambara different from all other places.
The seventh day of Muharram sees several thousand devotees belonging to all religions flock to Hooghly to take part in the prayer rituals; however, everyone offers their prayers in their own respective ways.
It is recommended to carry your own food or snacks since there aren’t any eateries or restaurants in the nearby area.
History of Hooghly Imambara
The humble beginning that the Hooghly Imambara had, started with the Persian salt merchant, Mohammad Aga Motahar, who, with his well-earned money, decided to settle down with his family and several servants in the Chinsurha.
The building that he built was just a single storied structure where he lived with his family and his servants. However, the home that was built by Mohammad Aga Motahar where he had decided to spend the rest of his life, did not quite suit him and in 1717, he decided to dedicate the building in the name of ‘Allah’ and renamed the building as ‘Nazargah Hossein’.
Later, during the year 1735, his son-in-law, Mirza Saleh-ud-din worked on further extensions to the building and named the new extension Tazia Khana (a place where tazias are kept). This old building no longer exists and the new Imambara that we see today was built over the ruins of this structure.
The new and elaborate Imambara that we see today was built by Haji Muhammad Mohsin, a religious and pious man, and one of Bengal’s greatest philanthropists, related to Mohammad Aga Motahar through his daughter, Mannujan Khanam and inherited her entire fortune and the zamindaari since she was childless. The wealth that he received from Mannujan Khanam added to his own fortune which was vast as he was a merchant himself.
Haji Mohsin was already known for his philanthropic deeds he had carried out between 1776- 77 during the great Bengal famine by establishing many langarkhanas to feed the people and had also donated a substantial amount of his money towards the famine relief fund.
Muhammad Mohsin donated his entire property and money to charity. He formed a trust, and, in his will, he had mentioned clear directions as to how his wealth was to be used and distributed between spends on religious festivals, paying government revenues, repairing cemeteries and old imambara buildings, payments of pensions, and payment of the mutawallis (trustees) of the charitable trust. He also directed that a portion of his funds be used to build the present day Imambara which would be a deed towards the local Muslim community.
After his death in 1812, the construction of the Imamabara went into dispute due to internal conflicts among the mutawallis until the government took over the trust and the then Governor- General, Lord Auckland appointed Syed Keramat Ali as the new trustee and handed him the responsibility to build the Imambara. The construction finally began in 1841 and took 20 years to be completed. The Imambara building was built for a humongous sum of INR 2,17,413.
Sayed Keramat Ali had handed over the authority of the Imambara to Maulavi Sayed Ashraf Uddin, the eldest son of Nawab Amir Ali just before his death in 1875.
Although Haji Mohsin had funded quite a few educational institutes in Bengal and in Bangladesh, his legacy is lived through the magnificent Imambara building in Hooghly.
Image Gallery of Hooghly Imambara Kolkata
Architecture of Hooghly Imambara
1. The Massive Clock Tower: The grand structure of Imambara is a two-storied building with a massive doorway with tall twin towers that leads to a huge open courtyard. The twin towers are joined by a central clock tower with a giant clock manufactured in England by Black and Murray Company of London and Calcutta, the same company that manufactured the Big Ben of London.
The clock was purchased at a cost of INR 11,721 in 1852. The clock is a two- faced clock with two dials and can be seen from both outside the building and from the courtyard on the inside. The time written on the clock dials is in Eastern-Arabic-Indic numerical script.
The clock needs winding for half an hour once every week and it requires two people to carry the key since it weighs 20 kgs. There are three bells of different sizes that chime at different intervals, the largest one weighing 3200 kgs, the medium bell weighs around 1600 kgs and the smallest one weighs 1200 kgs. The two smaller bells chime at 15-minute intervals whereas the largest bell chimes every hour. The bells are placed just above the central unit.
Each of the twin towers is 150 feet high and has 152 spiral steps that lead to the clock tower gallery and each tower has demarcations for separate accesses for men and women, southern tower for men and the northern tower is for women.
The central courtyard inside the building has a rectangular tank with small fountains on 4 sides and one large fountain in the center, which is believed to be connected to the river via underground channel. The double-storied building that surrounds the courtyard has long corridors lined by several rooms, some of which are now used for official purposes and others are used as classrooms for the madrasa students.
2. The Zari Dalan: The east end of the building is called Zari Dalan or the main prayer hall which boasts of spectacular interiors radiating its architectural grandeur and beauty. This part of the building is the standing proof of the magnificence and glory that the Imambara once was.
The marble floor of the Zari Dalan is black and white checkered floor which gives a calming effect. The interior walls are decorated with beautiful calligraphy of Islamic teachings from the Hadith, the dictums of Prophet Hazrat Mohammad. The exterior of the walls is also decorated with Islamic calligraphy that reads the verses from the Quran.
The windows and skylight are made from coloured glass which give a beautiful effect to the light entering the room. The interior of Zari Dalan is decorated with splendid Belgian glass lanterns and chandeliers hanging from the roof. There are many rare books on Hadith preserved here. The seven starred throne of the Imam is placed at an elevated platform from where he delivers his sermons. The separate seating area for women is arranged on either side of the balconies.
There are five elegant tazias kept inside the Zari Dalan. These tazias are in memory of Prophet Mohammad, Bibi Sayedah Fatima, Hazrat Ali (A.S), Imam Hussain (A.S) and Imam Hasan (A.S).
3. The Sun Dial: Once you come out from the Zari Dalan and take left, the lane leads to the backyard of the building and straight to the Hooghly River. Here, at the end of the lane is the famous Sun Dial of Hooghly Imambara. The Sun Dial is fixed on a concrete table, is still a functional one and indicates the exact time.
4. The Last Will and Trust Deed of Haji Mohammad Mohsin: The upper walls on the exterior of the Imambara building that faces the Hooghly River are embossed with the towleatnama or the trust deed of Haji Mohammad Mohsin in both Persian and English.
Entry Fee and Timings of Hooghly Imambara
Timings: The Imambara remains open between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM every day except on days during the religious festivals or related functions.
Entry Fee: The entry fee is INR 10 per person.
Best Time to visit Hooghly Imambara
The Imambara can be visited all year around, but it is recommended to avoid your visit during monsoon due to the extensive rains which might dampen and shorten your visit.
How to Reach Hooghly Imambara
The Hooghly Imambara is located 60 kilometers from Kolkata and is easily accessible by both road and train. You may take a bus or book a cab from top car rental companies in Kolkata.
By Road: You could either book a cab from Kolkata or self-drive. You need to take the GT Road and follow the map when you enter more inner alleys. There is a paid parking facility near the Imambara.
By Train: The nearest railway station is Bandel Junction, which is well connected with both Howrah and Naihati stations. There are several local trains that frequent from Bandel Railway Station and Naihati Railway Station towards Hooghly. Get down at Hooghly station and hire an auto- rickshaw which would drop you to Imambara. You may also hire an auto-rickshaw or cab from Bandel Station directly.
If you are someone who likes to explore places off the beaten tracks, you may also get a boat ride from Bandel Church to Imambara on the Hooghly River.
Places to visit near Hooghly Imambara
1. Susanna Anna Maria Tomb: The tomb is of the prominent Dutch Lady, Susanna Anna Maria Yeats who owned vast properties in what was then the Dutch settlement. The tomb is in Ayesh Baag, Chinsurah.
2. Bandel Church: The formal name of the church is ‘The Basilica of Holy Rosary’ but is commonly called Bandel church due to its location in Bandel. The church is the one of the oldest Christian churches in West Bengal and is among the only 23 Basilica Churches in India, and serves as the reminder of Portuguese settlement in Bengal.
3. Mayurpankhi Ghat: This park is located on the riverbank, very near to Bandel church. The entry fee is INR 10 per person and visitors can take an hour- long boat ride in the river for INR 100.
4. Dutch Cemetery: Located in Chinsurah, the Dutch cemetery has, in total, 45 graves and is among the oldest cemeteries.
5. Naihati Goala Para Park small park meant for family recreation and picnics. There are a lot of options for children to play around. Opens at 10:00 AM
6. Aqua Marina It is a water theme park situated approximately 3.8 kilometers from the Imambara. The entry fee is between INR 150- 200 per person.
7. Swapno Bithi Park: A small park mostly frequented by morning walkers and joggers. You can visit the park if you are a nature lover as the park is lined by huge trees.
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