Gomti River: A Witness to Lucknow’s Glorious Past and Present

Witness to Lucknow’s Glorious Past and Present

The Gomti river, which flows through the city of Lucknow, is not just a water body, but a living testimony to the rich cultural and historical heritage of the city. The river has seen the rise and fall of many dynasties, the splendor and decadence of the nawabs, the struggle and resistance of the freedom fighters, and the development and transformation of the modern city. Along its banks, one can find many monuments, gardens, bridges, and landmarks that reflect the diverse and vibrant character of Lucknow.

The Gateway to the Old City

The Gomti river was the historic entry point to the old city of Lucknow, which was founded by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1775. He shifted the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow and built the Asafi Masjid, the first grand building on the banks of the river. The masjid was part of the Bada Imambara complex, which also included a labyrinth, a stepwell, and a courtyard. The Bada Imambara is one of the largest buildings in the old city and overlooks the river. It is said that a well situated in the centre of the stepwell had the same water level as the Gomti till a few years ago, when construction along the banks stopped the base flows to this well.

The old city extended for about four miles along the river in the early 19th century. The river witnessed the insatiable grandeur of the Lakshman Tila as well as Lucknow’s turbulent passage through power struggles between the Awadh and the British. The riverfront had beautiful monuments, temples and orchards with spectacular gateways often leading to well-maintained gardens. One such gateway was the Rumi Gate, which led to the old city from the east. The gate was named after the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi and was adorned with intricate carvings and calligraphy.

Witness to Lucknow’s Glorious Past and Present

The Bridge Between Two Worlds

The Gomti river also served as a bridge between the old and new Lucknow, which had different spatial and cultural identities. The new Lucknow was developed by the British after they annexed Awadh in 1856 and suppressed the revolt of 1857. The new city was centered east of the Gomti with three major extensions – Chowk in the west, Aminabad towards the south, and Hazratganj to the east. The new city had wide roads, colonial buildings, churches, and parks that contrasted with the narrow lanes, oriental architecture, mosques, and bazaars of the old city.

The first bridge across the Gomti was built by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan in 1800. It was called Saadat Ali Khan Bridge or Monkey Bridge because of its arched shape. The bridge connected Aminabad with Qaiserbagh, where the nawab had his palace. The bridge was later replaced by a new iron bridge in 1862 by Sir James Outram, who was a British general during the revolt of 1857. The bridge was named after him as Outram Bridge or Hardinge Bridge. It is still functional today and is one of the oldest bridges in India.

Another important bridge across the Gomti was built by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in 1852. It was called Wajid Ali Shah Bridge or Loha Ka Pul because it was made of iron. The bridge connected Hazratganj with Kaiserbagh and was part of Wajid Ali Shah’s dream project to create a garden city along the river. The bridge was destroyed by the British during the revolt of 1857 and was rebuilt in 1865 by Sir Henry Lawrence, who was a British administrator in Lucknow. The bridge was named after him as Lawrence Bridge or Iron Bridge.

The Link to Iraq’s Euphrates River

The Gomti river also has a connection to Iraq’s Euphrates River, which is one of the four rivers mentioned in the Quran. The connection dates back to 1780 when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula donated Rs 5 lakh to build a canal that would bring water from the Euphrates to Najaf, a holy city for Shia Muslims. The canal was called Hindiya Canal or Indian Canal because it was funded by an Indian ruler through a Persian business firm owned by Haji Karbala Muhammad Tehrani.

The nawabs continued to contribute for maintenance and desilting of this canal till 1856 when Awadh was annexed by the British. In 1816, Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider built an imambara on the banks of Gomti that was inspired by Hazrat Ali’s tomb and mosque in Najaf. The imambara was called Shahnajaf Imambara or Najaf-e-Ashraf Imambara because it resembled Najaf, the city of Ali. The imambara has a dome, a minaret, and a garden that overlooks the river.

The Source of Water Supply and Irrigation

The Gomti river also served as a source of water supply and irrigation for the city and its surrounding areas. The first waterworks in Lucknow was constructed in 1894 by the British near the Gomti barrage. The barrage was built in 1870 to regulate the flow of the river and prevent flooding. The waterworks supplied filtered water to the city through pipes and standposts. The waterworks was later upgraded and expanded in 1938 and 1954.

The Gomti river also provided irrigation facilities to farmers in Hardoi, Unnao, and Lucknow districts. The Ghazi-ud-din Haider canal was constructed in 1822 by Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider to divert water from the Gomti near Mohanlalganj. The canal was 80 miles long and had several branches and distributaries. The canal was later renovated and extended by the British in 1874 and 1905.

The Challenge of Conservation and Restoration

The Gomti river, which once flowed with grace and glory, is now facing the challenge of conservation and restoration. The river’s course has changed over the years due to natural and human factors. Many lakes and ponds that were connected to the river have been lost due to rapid urban development. The river’s water quality has deteriorated due to pollution from domestic, industrial, and agricultural sources. The river’s ecology has been affected by encroachment, deforestation, sand mining, and overexploitation.

The government and civil society have taken several initiatives to revive the Gomti river and its heritage. Some of these initiatives include the Gomti Action Plan, the Gomti Riverfront Development Project, the Gomti Heritage Walk, and the Gomti Bachao Abhiyan. These initiatives aim to improve the river’s water quality, enhance its aesthetic appeal, promote its cultural significance, and involve the public in its conservation.

The Gomti river is not just a water body, but a living testimony to the rich cultural and historical heritage of Lucknow. It is important to value and preserve this heritage for the city’s future.

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