07 December 2012

Tarikh-ul-Islam Mosque, Delhi



This post is part of series about Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, Delhi. The integrated post about the complex and the structures within can be accessed from here – Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex.

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Worth knowing before commencing this article – When the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), via Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958, notified monuments/religious shrines as national and “preserved” heritage, it was agreed upon that those religious structures that were still in use for prayers at the time of notification shall maintain status quo and be administered by the respective religious/denominational authorities (Hindu/Sikh temple managing committees, Wakf Boards etc) while being restored/conserved for future generations by ASI or State archaeology departments. In no circumstances were permissions to be granted in future for prayers to be conducted in structures that were abandoned and/or not in use at the time of notification.

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"Masjidon main maulvi khutbe sunate hi rahe, Mandiron mein brahman ashlok gatey hi rahey
Ik na ik dar par jabeen-i-shouq ghisti hi rahi, Aadamiyat zulm ki chakki mein pisti hi rahi
Rahbari jaari rahi, paighambari jaari rahi, Deen ke parde mein jang-i-zargari jaari rahi"

("The mullah, the pundit and their ceaseless sermon, Man bowed before each but did he learn
The great messiahs came claiming divinity, Their religions ruses for plunder turn by turn")

 – Asraar ul-Haq Majaaz, "Khwaab-i-Sahar" (1939)

Physically, the decrepit Tarikh-ul-Islam Mosque stands pretty close to the colossal Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque within Qutb Complex, but figuratively speaking, it is far from it – far in terms of size and grandeur, also far in terms of antiquity, and farthest when it comes to popularity among tourists and history seekers. But undeniably it is most distant with regards to the attention the two adjacent located mosques get from ASI and other competent authorities. Perhaps as a proof of this stepmother treatment, even the sandstone plaque that ASI has put up outside this unassuming structure doesn’t mention its name or elaborate on its features, but passingly makes mention of it and christens it with a vague, very general nomenclature – “Mughal Mosque”. As far as my knowledge goes, Mughal Dynasty officially ruled India from AD 1526-1857 and during the said period not just Emperors and their direct families, but also members of regal lesser family lines, court officials, military generals, affluent dervishes and even powerful slaves, commissioned several mosques throughout the country. Had the higher-ups within ASI deigned to properly classify this particular (and several other) mosque and provided some information about its constuction, it would have been possible to place it somewhere historically and imagine what it must have been like once. But then the ASI would probably squarely delegate the blame on Wakf Board of India under whose care the mosque falls.


Forgotten heritage - Tarikh-ul-Islam Mosque


But while ASI might actually forget this medieval structure, the communal forces that forever threaten to rip this country apart never leave a stone upturned to lay their diabolical claim on religious properties of another community. The mosque is in news all of a sudden (again unlike its older sibling, the mighty Quwwat Mosque, which has never been out of news) and that too because of wrong interpretation of historical records and legislative rules. A number of fiercely intolerant Hindu groups such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal claim that the Quwwat mosque should be handed over to them since it has been built on the remains of Hindu and Jain temples – they have been trying to gain entry to the mosque in order to place idols of Hindu deities and perform prayers. The said groups have had this inspiration from the fact that pre-existing statues of Hindu deities that once formed the carved pillars and sculptures within these temples were disfigured and used in the construction of Quwwat Mosque. Also, since both the Quwwat and Tarikh mosques exist in immediate vicinity of each other, these groups believe that they are part of the same super-structure and are apparently miffed that the Govt. has allowed Muslims to pray at the Tarikh Mosque and placed it in the hands of the Wakf Board. Now where have we heard that before? Words like “Babri” and “demolished” ring in my ears. The sudden excitement confounds me, since the mosques are centuries old!! This scuffle has been going on for quite some time now, and Maulana Sher Muhammad, the imam (preacher) officiating at Tarikh-ul-Islam Mosque even proceeded to write articles about the issue in the Muslim bi-monthly newsletter “Milli Gazette”, which can be accessed here – Milligazette.com - Another 'Babri' in the making and Milligazette.com - Masjid Quwwatul Islam. Mr. Sher Muhammad claims to be supported by priests of nearby renowned Hindu temples such as Chattarpur who too do not want another bout of religious bickering and political exploitation. Several members of VHP have been arrested in association with this mischief and the police has been forced to resort to cordoning off the entire Qutb complex, a renowned World Heritage Site, as and when the situation demands.


It just might disappear behind the canopy!


What the VHP and its vitriolic band of followers do not grasp is that it is not the Tarikh Mosque that was built by demolishing Hindu temples, but the adjoining Quwwat Mosque!! Qutubuddin Aibak, the slave and army commander of Muhammad Ghuri (and later the first Muslim Sultan of India), fell 27 temples of Hindu and Jain denominations to construct his magnum Quwwat/Qutb Mosque. The same is also recounted in one of the inscriptions installed in the mosque walls since the time of Qutubuddin. The translation reads –

“This Jami Masjid (Quwwat Mosque) built in the months of the year 587 (hijri) by the Amir, the great, the glorious commander of the Army, Qutub-ud-daula wad-din, the amir-ul-umara Aibeg, the slave of the Sultan, may God strengthen his helpers! The materials of 27 idol temples, on each of which 2,000,000 Deliwal coins had been spent were used in (construction of) this mosque.”

No prayers are offered at the Quwwat mosque since it fell into disuse and apparent ruin during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Khilji (ruled 1296-1316 AD) following the shift of capital from nearby medieval fortress of Lal Kot to the newly built Siri Fort. Lal Kot was the first city of Delhi as we know it and its ruins are situated quite close to the Qutb Complex. The Tarikh mosque, the bone of confused, misguided contention where prayers are still offered and never ceased to be offered, came up much, much later – in fact, guessing from its dilapidated condition and lack of ornamentation, one might contend that it was in all probability commissioned by some late-Mughal (18-19th century) administrative official or court noble. It is worth noting that in late 18th century, Mehrauli (the first city of Delhi, the area where both the Qutb complex and Lal Kot, and several other structures of historic interest are located) made a resurgence as the favored abode and summer retreat of Mughal rulers and English East India Company colonialist officials. Several later Mughal rulers too are buried in Mehrauli and there also are a few small palaces, tombs, pleasure pavilions and settlements. There is no particular reason why prayers shouldn’t be offered at the Tarikh Mosque since it has been in use since its inception and is not a disputed property, unlike the controversial Quwwat Mosque.


Locked forever!!


Located behind the souvenir and sales department of Qutb complex, Tarikh mosque is the least visited structure in the enormous complex (there wasn't a single visitor, except a few devout coming to offer prayers, for the entire time I was roaming about the complex). It felt odd to be the only person clicking photographs of this dilapidated structure, though that is actually what I wish for when photographing monuments since people tend to walk in the frame and spoil the composition. A few men, possibly the caretakers and gardeners who tend the Mughal Serai-Garden sub-complex opposite (refer Pixelated Memories - Mughal Serai), sat gossiping in a shady corner. The mosque presents a picture of desolation and dilapidation against the ever-growing, picturesque trees that grow in its small courtyard. Hiding the mosque from the eyes of curious onlookers, these greens grow in abundance and would have offered their produce to visitors had they not been so rare. Even rarer are consideration and funds for the mosque's conservation. It survives in a rather sorry state, its three onion domes blackened with time, its exteriors cracking and the two minarets that stand at the ends of its facade appearing like they are going to fall apart. The wooden entrance door that faces the walkway leading to the more-distinguished structures within the complex remains perennially locked now, its hinges topped by what appears like earthen ware to me. An alternate entrance that faces the facade of the mosque, but is a detour from the designated pathways, is presently the entry point.

The three domes stand over the three arched entrances of the poor mosque. It is easy to imagine that once stucco medallions and floral/geometric designs must have covered these arches and the rest of the exteriors. Alas, none of it ever existed. All you see is the small-flower like ornamental pendant over the central arch, varied patterns around the arches and curves and contours underneath. Leave alone precious gems and precisely-carved inscriptions, not even marble or stone ever covered these rubble walls which are cracked from the brunt of the various storms the mosque might have seen. No wonder it is quite easy to ignore its mere existence!


The beauty is in the simplicity


The interiors, painted in funky, bright colors, are a different scene altogether!! While the walls alternate between pink and white, the mihrab (western wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca and is faced by the devout while offering prayers) is slightly orange-ish. The paintwork appears to be pretty thick – I cannot fathom who got the brilliant idea of coloring a time-worn mosque with such shades and what were the authorities doing when such a travesty was taking place?! There isn’t much to observe inside – the arched triple-chamber is highly symmetrical, but lacking in ornamentation of any form. A window opens up towards the Qutb complex, one can spot tourists heading towards the majestic Quwwat mosque. Sadly, they all missed out this delightful, little gem.


I don't know what to make of these colors!


Outside again, I contemplate the mosque's fate while sitting on a bench placed by ASI close to the publication counter. Even the benches have their back to the structure which has survived the furies of time and nature, only to be threatened by men hell-bent on felling it to serve their own purposes. Who is to be pitied more, I wonder.


If the world is God's, the colors too are..


Location: Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Open: Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket and Qutb Minar stations are equidistant.
How to reach: Taxis, buses and autos can be availed from different parts of the city. Avail a bus/auto from the metro station (approx. 2 km either).
Entrance fees: Indians: Rs 10; Foreigners: Rs 250; Free for children up to 15 years of age.
Photography charges: Nil
Video charges: Rs 25
Time required for sightseeing: 30 min
Facilities available: Wheelchair access, Audio guides.
Relevant Links -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Mughal Serai
  2. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

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Worth considering after reading this article – Doesn’t our country have enough problems already? Aren’t we already fighting against and killing our own countrymen for one reason or another? I take pride in being an atheist and while I chide Hindu fundamentalists for raking up such issues in the name of safeguarding Hindu interests, I also stand against the Muslim demands of allowing prayers and religious gatherings in mosques like Qila-i-Kuhna (Old Fort), Moti Masjid (Red Fort), Khair-ul-Manazil (Shergarh), Jamali-Kamali and Rajon ki Baoli (Mehrauli Archaeological Park both). Also I would advise Maulana Muhammad not to distort historical facts in his articles – the Quwwat Mosque was built by demolishing temples. Qutubddin’s inscription and the records of his chronicler Hasan Nizami note the same. What's the point of denying history or accusing ASI authorities of spreading malicious falsehoods when they state that idols were recovered in excavations at the complex or that the pillars were pillaged from destroyed temples when the proof is there for all to see? Shouldn’t we be making bonds and breaking taboos, rather than making barriers and breaking heritage buildings?

7 comments:

  1. I love the photographs! Nice description too!!

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  2. Perhaps "We, The People" should be modified to "We, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Parsis..& so on". Sometimes I think no matter what we do, our countrymen are never going to learn :(

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  3. Urvashi SrivastavaSeptember 09, 2014

    Very Unfortunate . . . there are many more pressing needs and issues all around us but we are selective even while choosing what issues and problems to resolve . . .

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  4. Vikramjit Singh RoopraiSeptember 09, 2014

    Wow
    What a wonderful writeup. I loved it. So deep and profound. It is unfortunate what we are doing with our society. I wish we could remove all these religion & caste motivated fights

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  5. Jayshree ShuklaSeptember 09, 2014

    Thank you, Sahil, for the wonderful work you do. It is sad and distressing to see mindless vandalism destroying the precious heritage of our country. And it is people like you and Vikramjit who are doing invaluable work in preserving it. Keep it going, guys :)

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  6. I really enjoy your commentary , photography and enthusiasm for Delhi's lesser known monuments of antiquity. One day I fear they will all disappear except for the big ticket tourist spots which the ASI make some money out of .I have seen many of these sites which are off the tourist trail. They are interesting and absorbing to investigate each time I come to Delhi. It is unfortunate that many have become public toilets and gathering places for miscreants and vandals.

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