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Begampuri Mosque of Mohammad Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD)

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  • ymalaiya
    Mosque with a heart Geetanjali Krishna Published : January 31, 2004 My grandmother heard from her grandmother, who probably heard from hers, that many of our
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2004
      Mosque with a heart

      Geetanjali Krishna
      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
      exactly that.

      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:

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