01 January 2013

Mohammad Wala Mosque, New Delhi


One of Delhi’s most beautiful mosques lies hidden from the city’s inhabitants. Close to the Siri Sports Complex (which derives its name from another ruined fortress within Delhi, Siri, subject of a future post), stands the elegant Mohammad Wala Mosque. Literally, its name means “the mosque of Mohammad”, but figuratively, the mosque belongs to no one. The citizens of the city have abandoned it, the Govt. has forgotten it & the large retinue of sportsmen, students & coaches who daily come to the adjoining Sports Complex & Museum ignore it. & yet, left to itself, this magnificent mosque of unknown vintage fends for itself. Perhaps the Govt. is responsible for its present state – after all they were the ones who cordoned it off with fences & iron gates, but then what were they to do?? This mosque is a preserved monument, restored to its pristine state, & if the Govt. can’t earn revenue from it, they can’t let it fall into the hands of vandals & encroachers either. Or perhaps the people of the city – the ones who scribble their names on the walls of these monuments, who smudge paints & graffiti on the fine designs of these structures & especially those who either destroy entire monuments or surgically cleave them to make way for apartments & residential buildings – nightmare for the Govt. agencies responsible for monument upkeep, responsible for it. All in all, this is a precarious situation – all this tussle has held this mosque away from the eyes of the city people (the non-destructive kind). 


The Mohammad Wala Masjid


It is not known who built this mosque, though the architecture is definitely from the Lodi period. The Lodi dynasty ruled over Delhi from AD 1451-1526, more than a century after Sultan Alauddin Khilji built the Siri Fort. The Lodis, in the short span of time they ruled Delhi, faced numerous battles, court intrigues & rebellions by the nobles, before being routed out by Babur (the guy who established the three-century long Mughal rule). The Lodhis did not have any time or resources to build new palaces &/or fortress complexes & had to be content with ruling from the existing power centres in Delhi. But they built a number of tombs, mosques associated with tomb complexes as well as small, independent mosques. The Mohammadi Wala Mosque is an example of mosque associated to a tomb complex. Also it was built right next to the moat that encircled Siri Fort, perhaps at one time it lay just outside the city walls. There is no way of telling since portions of the Siri Fort were either destroyed by subsequent rulers, buried unknowingly when the Asiad Games (1982) Village was built nearby, or encroached upon by locals. The fortress exists only as wall portions & intermittent bastions peeking out in the urban jungle that Delhi has manifested into. Today there is no deep stream flowing within the moat that passed next to the Mohammadi Wala Mosque, nor the soldiers keep watch anymore. The area has been levelled & thorny bushes & tall grass cover the area around the mosque. Vibrantly coloured butterflies & insects flow around in the wilderness. A stretch of the fort’s wall (or what remains of it) runs close to the mosque complex, the bastions have been destroyed & the wall itself is not more than two metres high, at places even lower. Red sandstone plaques installed by Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.) detail the mosque’s history & also the site map since the ruins of Siri’s walls & bastion stretch alongside the mosque complex. A few of these plaques are already broken & crumbling to pieces. The mosque complex is enclosed by a rubble wall, the entrance is built of grey Delhi quartzite stone & red sandstone (you too can easily identify these things if you travel as much as I do!!). The iron door affixed to the complex entrance is ajar & unyielding, the half-open doors can’t be made to move in any direction. 


Entrance to the Mosque Complex


As soon as one enters the complex’s stone gateway, one feels impressed at the beauty & magnificence of the mosque. The mosque glints in the harsh sunlight. It once boasted of a large garden & an associated enclosed courtyard. Today the garden is taken over by wilderness, gnarled trees spread their branches along, grass & flowers battle for their existence & nourishment with wild vegetation. In a corner opposite the complex entrance is another smaller entrance, this one is locked & even otherwise gives way to the tall thorny bushes. A few graves lie in the garden, most of them submerged under the sea of this unwanted vegetation. The ones that are visible lie crumbled, shattered by plant roots & falling branches. Here & there can be seen huge mounds of soil & debris. Stones hinder the path, stacks of soft grass slow down one’s progress. It’s a wonder who left them here. 


Afterlife hindered??


The cemented courtyard adjacent to the mosque is empty, a few iron grilles that were meant to barricade the mosques passageways are stacked in one corner. Despite being abandoned, the mosque stands virtually unharmed in any way. Perhaps it has been very recently repaired & restored. But there were no labourers around – the entire place is deserted as if after a holocaust. & the ornamentation alcoves in its walls too are filled with spidery silk & remains of animal waste. The fa├žade of the rectangular mosque, with its three arched entrances & protruding chajja (eaves) looks impressive. The entrances are all equal in size, but the central arch is set in a considerably taller niche. Locked iron doors prevent entry from either of the two side arches, the central door is again struck ajar – one has to squeeze through it to enter the medium-sized mosque. 


The peace & the solitude!!


More doors, this time open, are affixed to the entrances on the shorter sides of the mosque. Medallions made of incised plaster cover the mosque’s interiors – not floral medallions as in most other mosques in Delhi, but medallions covered with calligraphic inscriptions & geometric patterns. The mihrab (the wall indicating the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while praying) faces the central arch, & is very simply designed, flanked by alcoves for lighting diyas (earthen lamps). The mihrab’s arch & medallions display more unpretentious calligraphy. Small, perhaps ornamentative, niches form a honey-comb like structure towards the roof. These too are fringed by thin lines of calligraphy. A row of such niches stretch under the dome that rests above the central arch. The interior of the roof is decorated with geometrical patterns, calligraphy & paint bands forming two huge concentric eight-petal stars. Pigeons flutter around, a few swoop down close to my head. Perhaps they too are surprised at the sudden appearance of a visitor. 


& the symmetry!!


Intermittently comes the sound of people chattering & hawkers peddling their wares. Towards the back of the mosque is a street & residential areas. I step out into the adjoining courtyard towards the side of the mosque, there is no one there, but still I feel there is someone nearby. Sound of someone walking comes again & again. Good thing I don’t believe in ghosts & spirits. This courtyard is enclosed by a rubble wall on all four sides, a small opening in the wall leads back to the front garden. Stepping out, I notice that unlike the rest of the old monuments & structures throughout the country, the passageways leading to the mosque’s roof are not grilled here. Perhaps the A.S.I. did not feel the need to bar them since the complex sees so few visitors. I climbed up the narrow staircase, a strange dank smell emanated from the stairs. There were a few alcoves along the walls of the staircase, but this portion seemed to not have been touched during the renovation work (if any took place according to my assumption in the near past). There were spider webs & layers of dust & organic waste smudging the alcoves. I exited the passageway, the severe sunshine again blinding me for a minute. The dome glistened against the blue sky – it was really odd, standing next to a mosque’s dome. I had never before climbed up the mosque. I photographed the dome, the surrounding “gardens” & other compositions.


Its lonely up here..


I could see the road stretch behind the mosque, life seemed to go on undisturbed by my invasion. On the other side, within the larger Siri Fort complex, I could see the fort’s extensive ruined walls extend till as far as I could see. But there was no sign of any life. There ought to be someone here since I could see a water pipe extending along the fort wall. A gardener must be snoozing someone around, the pipe wouldn’t have dragged by itself. I climb down the way I came, again gazing at the mosque & photographing it. 


"To love beauty is to see light" (Victor Hugo)


For more than half an hour, I had the run of the place, photographing it, checking every nook & crevice. I wish all monuments were like that!! But alas, this would not be for long. There have been news reports that the Muslim population of the city led by an organisation called the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind wants all these heritage mosques to be thrown open for prayers. They claim that the Govt. has no right to keep these locked & have taken to forcing their way into these sealed complexes to perform prayers. “Once a mosque, always a mosque”. Although the Heritage & Monuments Notification (1958) states that the national monuments are not to be used for prayers if they were abandoned at the time of Govt. takeover, the A.S.I. along with the National Waqf Board (Custodian of Muslim graveyards, mosques & other religional spaces in the country) & the National Commission for Minorities is looking into the matter. I shudder to think what would be the fate of this serene structure once it is converted to a thoroughfare. Would the gardens give way to residential quarters for the “caretakers”?? Would the walls retain their fine calligraphy?? Or would it be painted over like the mosque in Feroz Shah Kotla or Nizamuddin Dargah?? I hope it would not be painted bright pink & orange like the Tarikh-ul-Islam Mosque in Qutb Complex!! 


Lost & Found


Note – The gate leading inside the cordoned off archaeological complex of which the mosque is a part of is usually kept locked to prevent miscreants & vandals from entering. If such is the case, the keys can be accessed from the A.S.I. custodian in the Children’s Museum across the road. Or you can retrace your steps to enter through a gap in the wire enclosure that encloses the complex as I did. The gap is visible just a few meters from the entrance gate & leads to a portion of Siri walls apparently converted into a small dump yard by the locals. Side step & proceed!!

Location: Siri Fort Complex
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Green Park Station
How to Reach: After getting down at Green Park Metro Station walk/take an auto to Siri Fort Sports Complex. Just before the Complex is the Siri Fort Children's Museum. The archaeological area is opposite the Children's Museum.
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
Relevant Links - 

7 comments:

  1. Very nice article Sahil. I have seen this place getting from rubble to this state. We had a Heritage Photowalk in this area when even the grass was not cut and the paint-job was not complete. Surely this place looks much better now. And the way you explain it is even more beautiful.

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    1. Thank you Vikramjit Sir. Let us hope that the place does not revert to its previous conditions due to lack of maintenance!!

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  2. Nice! like the descriptions.

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  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Rahul :)
      & welcome to "Pixelated Memories"!!

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