The Rumi Darwaza symbolises the historical architecture of Lucknow. For its unique architectural design, it has earned fame throughout the world. Though built with the soft local material, the architecture of this portal is no less impressive than any other large building of historical significance. In 1775, Lucknow was the seat of power under the rule of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. In 1784 he laid the foundations of Rumi Darwaza and the Imambara and completed their construction by 1786. An idea of the expenditure on these constructions may be had from the amount then spent on this project. It cost rupees one crore, when thirty seers of wheat was available for merely a rupee. Ironically however, the construction of Rumi Darwaza and the other building was taken up as part of a large project to provide relief to the then famine-stricken people of Avadh. The Nawab could have distributed food grains in famine relief, but it was unacceptable to the people who preferred death to begging or accepting the dole. lt’s said that all classes of society contributed to the construction of the Rumi Darwaza. The ordinary people worked during the day and the nobles in the night for bare subsistence, or to supplement their incomes. Thus this portal was instrumental in providing employment to about 22 thousand persons during the famine. The architectural design of the world famous Imambara and Rumi Darwaza built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was a creation of an architect named Kifayatulla. The beauty of these constructions lies in the distribution of stresses and strains of the lunar half-dome of Rumi Darwaza and the heavy roof of Imambara through an unparalleled feat of architecture. Besides, this miracle has been achieved merely with the help of Lakhori bricks and brown lime as construction materials. In none of these structures iron or wood has been used. Thus, these historical buildings have become permanent memorials to the architectural ingenuity of Asaf-ud-Daula and Kifayatulla.
However, there are other precedence in history to the architecture similar to Rumi Darwaza. Legends link its design to an ancient portal of Constantinople. Perhaps on this account it was also known as Kustuntunia in the 19th century. Some British historians state that the portal at the sublime port in Istanbul had an identical design. It was, however, not corroborated by British tourists of that time. The possibility of existence of a portal prior to 1453 A.D., however, cannot be ruled out.
In his famous book entitled ‘Private life of an Eastern King’, Nighton narrates that the portal of the court of Turkey’s Sultan was similar to Rumi Darwaza. Following this, some European historians still call it the ‘Turkish Gate.’ The Indian historian and head of ‘Punarlekhan Sansthan’, Shri Purushottam Nagesh Oak has published his researches in a book entitled ‘Lucknow ke Imambare Hindu Rajmahal Hain’. In this book he calls the portal ‘Ramdwar’, which according to him subsequently came to be known as ‘Rumi Darwaza’. Once, while laying the drainage underneath this portal, a stone slab with typical Hindu architectural engravings was exposed. As this slab formed the foundation of the portal, it was not considered safe to remove it for historical studies. Even if we regard the Rumi Gate as architecture of the Nawabi period, it is difficult to reconcile it with the numerous archaeological finds of Hindu culture being discovered in the adjoining areas now and then.
The historical buildings of Lucknow are unlike those of Mughul period which show a distinct imprint of Indo-Sarcenic culture. The various historical buildings have their own distinct design in art and style. Gothic art made its appearance in this city during Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula’s rule and had a distinct impact on later Indo-Italian buildings. Nevertheless, though the Rumi Darwaza, is an insignia of foreign influence (like the Roman script) it has now become part and parcel of Indian art.
Rumi Darwaza is 60 feet in height. Its uppermost part consists of an eight-faceted chatari, which is approachable by a staircase. On the western side, the design of the portal is like a ‘Tripolia’ while from the east it appears like the Panch Mahal (five stoyeyed palace) . On either side of the portal there is an airy three-storeyed ‘arkota’ with eight-faceted un-domed, ‘Burjeez’ (domes) on the ends. The Rumi Darwaza presents a unique combination of Hindu-Muslim architecture. As a matter of fact the portal is conch-shaped with its ‘mehrabs’ (wall-niche which is semicircular usually found in a mosque) bent like a bow. The outer ‘mehrab’ is decorated with serpent-hood figures which may also be considered as representing a bunch of lotus flowers. These two symbols are traditional cultural insignia of ancient Avadh. In this context it may be mentioned that the founder-builder of this city was Lakshmana, an incarnation of Snake God. The famous ‘Janmejay Nag Yagya’ is also linked with this city. The Bhars and Rajputs had regarded the lotus flower as their main auspicious symbol. Interspersed within the serpent-hood figures are figures of rows of lotuses. On either side of the portal small ‘Chatris’ are built with a base of lotus flower. The inner mehrab, however, is a traditionally Moghul Shahjehani mehrab decorated with floral patterns but here again the ends show a lotus in full bloom. Under the large mehrab are Iranian niches and geometrical designs. The structure of Rumi Darwaza though built in the 18th century was in fact copied time and again in later constructions.
On the rear of the Rumi Darwaza, there was an enclosure within which the British soldiers killed during the uprising of 1857 were buried. Amongst these, are tombs of sergeant Lawrence Verg and Governor Morton. A tombstone also bears inscriptions about some children killed during this uprising.
Source : Lucknow Monuments, Yogesh Praveen