Indian mosques: From vandalism to architectural marvels

New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) India's earliest mosques were often built on material pillaged from Hindu and Jain shrines but before long Islamic rulers injected their stamp of architectural excellence.

In the process, the Indian subcontinent, mainly India, have come to house several mosques that are counted among the best in the world. And these include Delhi's 17th-century Jama Masjid, constructed by Mughal emperor Shahjahan.

The story of the Indian mosques, along with those of mosques across the world, is summarized in Razia Grover's eye-catching coffee table book 'Mosques' (Lustre Press, Roli Books).

The first mosque in present day India came up courtesy Turkish slave turned ruler Qutub ud-din Aibak who raised the Quwwat ul-Islam (Power of Islam) mosque in AD 1193 within south Delhi's fortified city of Qila Rai Pithora.

Planning for the mosque was easy, but the task of building it proved difficult due to lack of artisans and masons.

'Thus, right at the inception of Islamic building activity in India, a joint venture between the Hindu builders and Islamic overseers became inevitable,' the book says.

'In India, because of the need for speedy construction of the first congregational mosque, the warriors of the faith had perforce to look for building materials in the temple destroyed in their iconoclastic zeal.

'These had been assembled out of meticulously cut structural elements such as beams, columns and lintels and put together without mortar… They were easy to dismantle but profusely carved with images of the pantheon of Hindu deities…

'Moreover, the existing foundations of the Hindu sanctuary were made use of, with the western verandah being enlarged into a more spacious pillared hall.'

Similar vandalism also took place outside Delhi.

Of the Jami Mosque at Daulatabad and the Deval Mosque at Bodhan, while the former 'was produced entirely with materials from temples in its vicinity, the one at Bodhan was merely a Jaina temple converted to a mosque through a few structural additions made to it'.

The author says since the mosques in southern India (Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda) were not built around live and thriving centres of Hindu culture, 'so the spoil in the form of ready made Hindu building materials were not easily available in fashioning new structures'.

Another of the earliest mosques in northern India was the Atala Mosque, built in 1408. 'Its name derives from a temple to the goddess Atala Devi, which stood on the site and was destroyed to make way for the mosque.'

But as time passed, the Mughal rulers used original building materials for their grand Islamic shrines.

The book describes Delhi's Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, as 'an appropriate climax to a tradition of mosque building that began with the Quwwat-ul-Islam, about 500 years earlier, and saw the erection of subsequent mosques of a uniquely Indian character'.

The Jama Masjid, the author says, 'is an architecturally lucid composition that has an air of grandeur more spectacular than any of its predecessors'.

© 2006 Indo-Asian News Service

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