July 06, 2012

Sunehri Masjid (Chandni Chowk), New Delhi

In AD 1739, the Persian emperor Nadir Shah invaded India in order to plunder the magnificent wealth of the floundering Mughal Empire. Although the Mughal army was crushed & all forts & public utilities handed over to the invading army by the then emperor Muhammad Shah, in the absence of proper governance & policing & fuelled by several rumours regarding his assassination, Nadir Shah faced a rioting by the local population of Old Delhi/Shahjanabad. Several of his soldiers were killed, many mutilated. As retaliation, he ordered qatle-aam (massacre) of the local citizens on March 22, 1739 & within a spell of 6 hours his soldiers slaughtered a staggering 20,000 men, women & children in the city. It is unbelievable that such a large population can be killed within such a short duration. However, several of the eye-witness accounts & contemporary chronicles affirm the aforesaid figures. The Tazkira, an account by Anand Ram Mukhlis, recounts the horrible day “Here and there some opposition was offered, but in most places people were butchered unrelentingly The Persians laid violent hands on everything & everybody. For a long time, streets remained strewn with corpses, as the walks of a garden with dead leaves & flowers. The town was reduced to ashes.”

This part of history becomes important in the context of the aptly named Sunehri Masjid ("Golden Mosque"), located on the central Chandni Chowk street of Old Delhi as it was from the ramparts of this mosque that Nadir Shah displayed his unsheathed sword as a signal to commence the slaughter & witnessed the entire scene unfold in the next 6 hours. Not to be confused with another mosque of the same name located near the Delhi Gate of Red Fort (refer Pixelated Memories - Red Fort), this beautiful mosque was constructed by Roshan-ud-daula, a Mughal nobleman during the reign of Muhammad Shah, in the year 1721.

The mosque as seen from the roof of Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib

Situated right next to Gurudwara Sis Ganj, the mosque, seldom visited now, presents a picture of loneliness. Its three large, grey-painted wooden doors remain locked most of the time & are opened only at the time of Namaaz. The 3 golden domes that surmount the mosque have rusted & become blackened over the time. The arches around the doors are decorated with floral plaster work & the walls appear to be whitewashed recently. However that too was done carelessly & one notices the irregularities on the surface of the wall. The white pillars too are decorated with green floral symbols near the base. Niches in the walls contain prayer books & oil lamps. Cheap clocks cover the wall. The eaves ("chajja") are marked by profuse metal latticework ("jali")

Minimalistic ornamentation

A railing interspersed with miniature domes marks the courtyard. In sharp contrast to the glistening domes of Sis Ganj, the domes of this mosque, with their broken, tilted finials lie in a sorry state. Reached by climbing a small flight of narrow stairs, the mosque lies forgotten & uncared for despite its impeccable history. Lacking the large courtyards & gardens & overshadowed by the surrounding buildings, the mosque is easily ignored & mistaken to be a part of the Sis Ganj complex, yet stands silent witness to events of the past, mostly gory, & has seen the lanes & by lanes of Old Delhi getting choked in time & retaining their look & structure since time immemorial. I too did not know it was an altogether different structure until I read about it while studying Delhi’s history.

A picture of contrasts - The miniature dome of the mosque vs. the glistening domes of the gurudwara

As I roamed around in the heated up marble courtyard of the mosque, a caretaker arrived, stunned to see a visitor, salaamed me & sat in a corner next to the stairs leading to the roof. A lady looked down from the roof & shrank back on seeing me. The caretaker too left in order to see her upstairs. Maybe they were related. A wife or a sister perhaps. Left alone in the quiet atmosphere of the mosque, the shouts & car honks from the nearby heavily-congested Bhai Mati Das Chowk drowned by the silence of this place, I just sat on one of the prayer rugs to observe the sparsely decorated arches (& also to escape the fiercely heated up marble floor - one is required to take off their footwear near the staircase one climbed up from). Downstairs, business went on as usual for the vendors selling flowers, reading materials & eatables.

The relatively more elaborate side arch

Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk Station
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
How to reach: As you exit the metro station, walk straight till you reach a temple, a small street near the temple exits to the Chandni Chowk Street (just follow the crowd, they would enter a very narrow lane). Sunehri Masjid is located on the street towards the left of the narrow lane you just exited, next to Gurudwara Sis Ganj.
Time required for sight seeing: 30 minutes
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