Begampuri Mosque of Mohammad Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD)
- Mosque with a heart
Published : January 31, 2004
"My grandmother heard from her grandmother, who probably heard from
hers, that many of our ancestors in Begumpur lived inside this
"We would've too, if the government had let us," said Fareeda, who
lived in the nearby slum, as she showed me around the Begumpur
Mosque. Through a mammoth gate, we entered a courtyard large enough
to play football in in fact, a group of local boys was doing
It was flanked on all sides by cupolas, and even though many had
fallen down over the years, the effect was magnificent. "You know,
this is almost as large as the Jama Masjid," said Fareeda, looking
moodily at what she probably saw as real estate going waste.
"Can you imagine how many people it could shelter? My ancestors
probably lived here to protect themselves from bandits and soldiers,"
she gestured to the huge gate at the entrance of the monument, "but
today, it has no utility.
The government does not let us (or anybody else, for that matter)
live here, tourists don't know about it, or aren't interested in it
only birds and mongooses inhabit it!"
Fareeda's family had actually lived in the mosque years ago, till the
Archeological Survey of India declared it protected and cleared it of
encroachers. It was probably built by Mohammad Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD)
when he built the city of Jahanpanah.
The mosque, built for large congregations like the Old Delhi Jama
Masjid, is one of the finest buildings attributed to the maverick
king, and measures 307 ft by 295 ft.
Historical texts tell us that in its time, it was an important social
centre of the city of Jahapanah, and had within it, a madrassa and a
treasury. Sadly, few people even in Delhi, know of its existence and
so this impressively austere monument features nowhere on the tourist
map of Delhi.
Walking around, we also saw the ASI's efforts to restore the mosque
to its original splendour they stood out like sore thumbs and were
impossible to miss. In some cupolas which were most damaged, we saw
ugly exposed-brick pillars in total disharmony with the beautiful
patina of the original stone.
A man reading the newspaper near one such ham-handed restoration
effort turned out to be the chowkidar appointed by ASI. "They make
these renovations when there are funds, and stop when the money runs
out," said he, adding that the present restoration work had stalled
about fifteen days ago.
He was tolerant of the footballers, maybe unaware of the damage that
they could potentially cause. "I try to keep the encroachers out,"
said he nobly, looking at the raucous family living on the mosque
premises, "but what to do? They just don't listen."
We climbed to the rooftop, past the soot-blackened cupola ceilings
embellished with the ugly graffiti that most Indian monuments seem to
have, and found ourselves in a calm island surrounded by South
Delhi's urban sprawl.
A huge hall of sorts had been reduced to rubble on one end, now
awaiting the ASI's healing touch. An infant lay swaddled in dirty
rags near the steps below, while its mother sat combing her
daughter's straw-like hair.
In spite of ASI's brick pillars and the obvious lack of tourist
traffic, the Begumpur Mosque had a profound sense of atmosphere. "The
holy mosque has a big heart," said Fareeda, "it has sheltered people
whenever required, for centuries."
I looked regretfully at the lonely beauty of its lines, marred by the
new brickwork, and began to see Fareeda's view. Maybe the old mosque
would be better off if its portals were once again opened to
Begumpur's homeless. It would certainly be less sacrilegious than
ASI's new pillars.
For more on Begampuri mosque see: