June 21, 2014

Moti Masjid, Mehrauli, Delhi

“The Urs of Khuld Manzil (Bahadur Shah I) is celebrated on the 23rd day of Muharram-ul-Ihram. His grave is situated beside the grave of Hazrat Qutb-ul-Aqtab (Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki). His Begum, Mihr Parwar, with the help of Hayat Khan Nazir, starts the arrangements for the decoration of lamps [at the grave] a month in advance. Chandeliers of all kinds are hung and the artisans from the royal house come and give the lamps the shape of tree which when lighted put to shame both the Cyprus and the boxwood trees. When the place is fully lighted, it dazzles like sunlight and overshadows the moon. The sun realizing its unimportance sets and does not show its face before dawn. The towers of lamps throw lights as high as the sky. The bungalows in every lane shine as bright as the Valley of Tur.

Hand in hand, the lovers roam the streets while the debauched and the drunken, unmindful of the mushatsib (police officers), revel in all kinds of perversities. Groups of winsome lads and novices violate the faith of the believers through their unappreciated acts which are sufficient to shake the very roots of piety. There are beautiful faces as far as the eye can see. All around prevails a world of impiety and immorality in different hues. The whores and lads entice more and more people to this atmosphere of lasciviousness. Nobles can be seen in every nook and corner, while the singers, qawwals, and beggars outnumber even the flies and the mosquitoes. In short, both the nobles and the plebeians quench the thirst of their lust here. But however, it is in one’s welfare and prudence to ignore these immodesties” 
– Dargah Quli Khan, "Muraqqa-i-Dehli"

Pearlesque - Shah Alam Bahadur Shah I's Moti Masjid

Prompted by the requirement to impress upon his subjects, through the patronization of majestic architecture, his assertion of power and rule, but reined in by the depleting financial reserves that were a legacy of the numerous territorial wars initiated by his father in the flanking regions of his empire, the authoritative Mughal Emperor Shah Alam Bahadur Shah I conceived and commissioned in Mehrauli a beautiful little white marble mosque closely modeled on his father’s private mosque within the breathtaking Red Fort palace – both regal mosques were christened “Moti Masjid” (“Pearl Mosque”) due to the shimmering pearlesque marble ornamentation, but the choice of nomenclature significantly helped underline the continuation of the regal lineage and influential spiritual authority. The selection of location was also natural – his predecessors were devotees of the venerable saint Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer (Rajasthan) but Bahadur Shah I couldn’t pay obeisance to the former’s hallowed tomb because of fierce political disturbances in different parts of his vast territory and also because the area between Delhi and Rajasthan was being gradually subjugated and controlled by terrible Jat brigands – the sacred dargah (tomb complex) of Hazrat Chishti’s spiritual successor, Hazrat Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, was the obvious alternative for regal pilgrimages that were meant to be the means of establishing his political and religious sovereignty (refer Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Bakhtiyar Kaki's Dargah). The private mosque, situated immediately next to one of the entrances of the dargah complex, is seated on a high platform and consists of a single large chamber accessed through three arched entrances (but the staircase for the central entrance is missing). The rectangular chamber is surmounted by three bulbous onion domes which are further outlined by well-defined floral finials – the strikingly flawless curves of the domes and the neat beauty of the finials testimony the unparalleled skill of the craftsmen who chiseled the marble in such striking manner so as to give even this small structure a regal touch.

Domes and towers - View from the terrace of the adjacent Zafar Mahal palace. The three pink-white onion domes are of the mosque while the larger dome surmounted by the golden finial is the tomb of Hazrat Kaki. The massive tower in the background is also part of the dargah complex.

The central entrance is set in a larger rectangular embossment projecting from the mosque’s front fa├žade and flanked on either side by a slender pillar that appears to have been neatly severed near the top. Two additional wings, also composed entirely of marble, exist on either side of the mosque and rectangular entrances mark their presence on the exterior, but inside these are in continuation with the prayer chamber and the only feature distinguishing them is that the connecting wall is pierced by rectangular openings instead of the cusped arched openings that connect the rest of the prayer chamber to its segments. The ornamentation, both on the outside and inside, is elegantly minimal – in fact the only embossment seen on the entire exterior surface is in the form of small marble flowers marking the apex of each of the entrance arches. A line of kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation), dexterously sculpted and defined as fine adornment, runs along the roof but appears to be broken in certain places, either by preference or as a result of later damage cannot be judged. The marble interiors of the domes are chiseled to imitate floral medallions encompassing the entire concave surface and supported by numerous ornamental inverted triangular brackets while the floor is uniformly lined with extremely thin black marble strips to generate a pleasingly ornamental pattern of numerous rectangular prayer mat outlines. Two massive and extremely thick columns emerge from the corners of the enclosure at the junction of the mosque compound and the dargah complex and lend a solid, masculine character to the otherwise fine yet dwarfish mosque; one of these colossal columns is anchored to the crumbling rubble walls and has to be perpetually supported by external scaffoldings to prevent it from collapsing. Fixed below a line of elaborately sculpted inverted floral motifs in the walls of the enclosure surrounding the mosque are rusted iron rings that must have once supported the luxurious red awnings with their gold and silver brocades while the emperor was present at the mosque. 

Minimalistic! - Closer view at the decorative and architectural features of the mosque exteriors

Considering the sanctity accorded to the hallowed vicinity of Hazrat Kaki’s dargah, when Bahadur Shah I passed away at the end of his short and tempestuous five-year reign (1707-12 AD), he was buried by his wife Bibi Mihr Parwar in a graceful white marble tomb open to the sky (“muhajjar”) immediately adjacent the mosque. The muhajjar is located within the premises of Zafar Mahal (subject of a later post) on a considerably higher land segment such that its top is just slightly lower than the mosque’s roof – a few steps away from the muhajjar, an arched entrance leading to a short narrow staircase provides access to the mosque enclosure. The construction of the exquisite muhajjar was guided by financial reasons as well as the religious belief that graves should be exposed to rain and dew as a mark of humility towards the creator. Seated on a slight platform, the rectangular tomb is enclosed by marble panels and intricate lattice screens (“jaali”) and adorned with ornamental fluted columns depicted emerging from lotus flowers and culminating into acanthus flower motifs. Also buried adjacent to Bahadur Shah I in the same muhajjar were later Emperors Shah Alam II (ruled AD 1759-1806) and Akbar Shah II (ruled AD 1806-37). The brothers Rafi-ud-Darjat (ruled February-June 1719) and Rafi-ud-Daulah (ruled June-September 1719) were also laid to eternal rest just outside the muhajjar along one of its shorter sides – though their nominal reigns were brief and unheralded, they were accorded the honor on account of their being supported by the powerful nobility.

Regal cemetery - The rectangular enclosure where several members of the Mughal royal family are interred

Bahadur Shah II “Zafar”, the last Mughal Emperor (ruled AD 1837-57) also wished to be buried within the prestigious muhajjar and even earmarked a patch of grassy tract as his final resting place but his desire was never fulfilled since the British East India “trading” Company arrested and exiled him to Myanmar following the 1857 War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny of which he was the proclaimed leader-instigator. Zafar was left lamenting his situation thus –

“Lagta nahin hai jee mera ujare dayar mein, Kiski bani hai alam-e-na paayedar mein
Bulbul ko paasbaan se na saiyyad se gila, Qismat mein kaid likhi thi fasal-e-bahar mein
Keh do in hassraton se kahin or ja basen, Itni jagah kahan hai dil-e-daghdar mein
Ik shaakh-i-gul pe baith ke bulbul hai shadmaan, Kaante bicha diye hai dil-e-laalazaar mein
Umar-e-daraz maang ke laye the char din, Do aarzu mein kat gye do intezaar me
Din zindagi ke khatam hue sham ho gyi, Faila ke paon soyenge kunj-e-mazaar me 
Kitna hi badnaseeb hai Zafar, dafan ke liye, Do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein”

(“I am lonely in the city, barren and dead, But who has prospered in this transitory world?
The nightingale complains about neither the guardian nor the hunter,
Fate had decreed imprisonment during the harvest of spring
Tell these longings to go dwell elsewhere, What space is there for them in this besmirched heart?
Sitting on a branch of flowers the nightingale rejoices, It has strewn thorns in the garden of my heart
A long life I besought, received four days, Two passed in desire, two in waiting.
Life comes to an end, dusk approaches, I shall sleep, legs outstretched, in my tomb
How wretched is Zafar! For his burial not even two yards of land were to be had in the land of his beloved.”)

Mosque interiors

As mentioned in the “Muraqqa-e-Dehli”, Bahadur Shah I’s “Urs” (death anniversary of revered Sufi saints – many of the later Emperors were well-versed with Sufi philosophy and accepted spiritual disciples) used to be celebrated with much grandeur and festivities till the advent of British colonial rule. Bahadur Shah II’s Urs is still celebrated in Myanmar, though at a very subdued scale.
Location: Adjacent to Hazrat Kaki's dargah, Mehrauli
Nearest Metro Station: Qutb Minar
Nearest Bus stop: Mehrauli Terminal
How to reach: Walk from the bus terminal to the dargah complex (approx. 10 min away) or take an auto from Qutb Minar/Saket metro stations (charges approx Rs 40). The mosque is located towards the back of the complex but is accessible only from within the adjacent palace Zafar Mahal located besides it.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Advisory: Since the dargah complex and the mosque are religious shrines, it is advisable to be properly dressed, especially for women. Both men and women visitors are required to cover their heads with handkerchiefs/skullcaps/dupattas.
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