Khairabad Imambara: A Tailor’s Legacy

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    Just how much did the Nawab of Awadh pay his tailor? Clearly, a little too much, for after he retired, Nawab Nasiruddin Haider (1827-1837) used his savings to build, not a palatial home for himself, but three of the most exquisite monuments in the land. The royal tailor, known as Makka Darzee, sponsored an imambara (congregation hall), a Qadam Rasool (Shrine of the Holy Footprint) and a mosque in his hometown, Khairabad. You can visit these even today.

    The historic town of Khairabad, 88 km from Lucknow, in the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh, continues to observe the traditions of the former princely state by commemorating important events of the Awadh state. At one time, it was believed to be the largest subah or province of Awadh, Khairabad is home to some fabulous buildings of the Nawabi era, albeit quietly surrendering to the elements and to time, among them the ‘Makka Darzee Imambara’.

    Legend has it that the town was founded by Maharaja Chita in 1005 CE. It was later governed by a Kayasth family and became a capital city under the Mughals. After the decline of the Mughals, Khairabad fell to the Nawabs, who dressed it up in their gorgeous, signature architecture.

    But the town would not have had its three showpiece monuments had Nawab Nasiruddin Haider (1827-37), the second Badshah of Awadh, not overpaid his tailor. Nasiruddin Haider ruled Awadh during the colonial era and he was obsessed with the European way of life. He adopted many Western practices, wined and dined with his European friends, and most importantly, loved to dress up in Western wear.

    But there was only one man in the entire kingdom who could satisfy the Nawab’s sartorial tastes – Makka Darzee of Khairabad. The tailor had picked up the art of sewing European designer wear from five English friends of the King, and he knew just how valuable he was to the Nawab. Not only did he charge obscene sums for the clothes he stitched, he also took hefty sums for the royal embellishments required for the robes and suits that he happily made for his master. Most importantly, he was enabling the Nawab’s fantasy.

    Many in the royal court called it extortion but Nawab Nasiruddin Haider had no qualms paying his tailor what he demanded so that his wardrobe could compete with that of the crème-de-la-crème of European society. Soon enough, Makka Darzee earned powerful enemies, who were jealous of his exalted status. After all, he was just a tailor, wasn’t he? So what if he could sew frock coats, waist coats, jabot shirts and fashionable trousers?

    With resentment building, Makka Darzee was eventually asked to leave the royal court and he returned to his town, Khairabad. But his was no quiet retirement. He soon got busy building elegant monuments in Khairabad such as the imambara, Qadam Rasool and mosque. Just like Makka Darzee’s cotton and linen creations, the monuments he built too were magnificent. They are some of the finest works of Awadhi architecture, replete with ornate embellishments made of stucco plaster.

    While designing the Makka Darzee Imambara, the retired tailor-made excellent use of his artistic skills and aesthetic sensibilities. The ground level of the complex is architecturally unique and is a departure from the beautiful but orthodox Awadhi architecture. Inside, it has a small, high-walled enclosure with a pointed arch and exuberant decoration and an entrance gateway.

    The imambara is divided into three chambers, each one adjacent to the next. Its roof has an interesting design, as on its borders, it is flat but raised in the center. The interior of the structure is equally beautiful and richly decorated. There is a series of foliated arches on the main facade, each of which is accompanied by sets of three small, round-headed arches.

    In order to save this building, a local Sufi scholar and heritage enthusiast, Syed Moin Alvi is trying to draw attention to this 19th-century monument. Sadly, both the imambara and the Qadam Rasool are in ruin, the imambara having been taken over by encroachers.

    The continued negligence for the Imambara complex also fails to acknowledge or respect the services of the royal tailor Makka Darzee, who is also buried inside the sacred complex. Some locals in the past have undertaken the task, but are struggling to meet the upkeep costs involved which badly requires some professional help, but sadly again this 19th-century monument hasn’t even made it to the ASI list, slowly drowning amidst negligence and apathy.

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