June 04, 2012

Jama Masjid, New Delhi


Jama Masjid, the Friday congregational mosque built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan, is one of the most visited & most beautiful monuments in the entire Delhi. Located in the narrow lanes of Old Delhi/Chandni Chowk, the sheer size & grandeur of the mosque is a contrast to the streets & houses around it. Having visited Chandni Chowk several times in the past, I had a deep-seated wish to visit this monument & bask in its brilliant architecture & see its sky-piercing minarets up close. So when my sisters Saloni & Shruti suggested a visit to Chandni Chowk, I thought of it as a great opportunity to visit this royal mosque. Every time I had been to the Chandni Chowk area, I could not visit Jama Masjid due to one reason or the other, & had to be content with seeing the mosque from far away & in one case, from the back of it & imagining what it would be like from inside. But as I have now realized, the photos do no justice to this magnificent mosque.


The Jama Masjid


As one nears the mosque, the incredible size is enough to make you gush with amazement, however what you see from outside is not even a fraction of what lies in store for you in the complex grounds. 3 imposing entry gates, located on the north, south & east of the central prayer hall provide access to the complex grounds. The gates are themselves located on high ground & each is reached after climbing a high flight of wide stairs.

Before entering you are advised to read the rules that need to be observed inside. You are required to dress properly, failing which the caretakers would provide you with gowns to wear. This holds for both men & women, but is applied more often to women. The entry is free to all, irrespective of religion, caste or sex. However during the time of Namaz or other religious ceremonies, this “open to all” rule is repealed. As it happened, we reached at the time of afternoon Namaz & being non-Muslims, we were denied entry to the complex & told to wait for 45min. So one needs to time their visit properly, or wait for the Namaz to be over.


Close up of one of the entrance gates


A board put up on the gates states that one needs to buy a ticket worth Rs 300 for photography. However nobody was buying those tickets (I did not even see any official vendor selling them, it seemed that the rule was being enforced only by some young lads, 1-2 standing on each gate) & as I noticed inside, everyone was taking photographs too without any qualms, or paying any fees.


The view from the chaotic market place around the mosque


Once inside the great beauty & even greater number of people sleeping in the complex ground & prayer hall shocked me. I still don’t understand why people were being allowed to squatter & sleep in this national monument. I have seen people finding an asylum in places of worship throughout the country, but here I was more stunned since the people were sleeping in the courtyards & the wall alcoves even during the day time.

As we moved inside the main grounds, the first thing one observes (besides the mosque itself) is a cluster of people sitting around a square pool in the center of the courtyard. The water from the pool is used for ritual washing before praying inside the mosque. Since one is supposed to take off their shoes before entering the premises, our feet were burning as a result of walking on the heated up marble & the pool provided a relief where although we did not wash our feet for fear of offending the religious sensibilities of the Muslims present, we walked on the small puddles of water that dripped from the Namazis & even that was enough to cheer us up. The courtyard is around 75mX66m, large enough to accommodate 25,000 people, making Jama Masjid the largest mosque in the country. In front of the pool is a raised platform called Dikka. The mosque is so big that a second cleric (Muatllawi), used to stand on the Dikka and repeat the Ayats said by the the chief cleric (Imam) to the devotees who were unable to hear him. Taking pictures of the prayer hall & surrounding gates we spent a lot of time in the courtyard & I was even stopped by a guy asking me for my photography ticket. However after arguing about whether the other people taking photographs bought tickets or not, he let me go. One can simply say that they entered from the other gate & nobody on that gate said anything about a ticket. Once done with the photography there, we reached the prayer hall.


Enchanting!!


In 1650 Shah Jahan laid the foundation of this mosque, then known as “Masjid-i-Jahanuma” (“mosque commanding view of the world”), and it was completed in 1656. The mosque has three striped domes and two huge striped minarets (41m high) on either side (they don't look as imposing in pictures as they do in real life). The architect of this magnificent mosque was Ustad Khalil & around 6,000 artists worked on its construction, using only red sandstone & white marble. The entire complex stands on a high pedestal called the Bho Jhala hill & is a testimony to their prowess. During construction, special care was taken to maintain the level of the pulpit of the mosque above that of the royal throne (chaired by the emperor) in the Red Fort. A princely sum of Rs 1,000,000 was spent on the construction of Jama Masjid under the supervision of Saadullah Khan, Shah Jahan’s Minister-in-Charge of construction. Many nobles and nawabs of that era gifted stones and other construction material to the emperor for the mosque’s construction, which therefore are not included in its cost. The total area covered by this mosque is approx. 1200 square meters & running around in the complex as I did will get you tired very soon. Carrying a water bottle (or 2-3; you will need them) would be a good idea. Also one would do good to stay on the thin carpets/jute mats that are spread on the ground to provide pathways for the visitors to walk on. However if you intend to take photographs, you can’t stay on these routes as they constrict your view to a limited angle. Also as I observed, the ropes were torn to pieces at places, & more often than not, filled with stones that hurt your feet. It’s better to instead wear 2 pairs of socks as a moderator for the fiery heat. Better still, visit the place in winters or early morning.

The central hall is large, & once again a large number of people were sleeping or just sitting in groups inside the hall. Somehow it just stole the appeal of the mosque for me.


Lets sleep here - In the central prayer chamber


Since both my sisters were by now tired of running around with me (they hate photography & would rather sit in some shady corner than go around in sultry heat), I left them together to sit in the hall while I went around. The calligraphy on the walls of the hall is impressive. The Jama Masjid is covered with intricate carvings and has verses inscribed from the holy Quran.


The walls of the mosque are decorated with calligraphy & exquisite patterns


The grand Red Fort stands on the eastern side of the Jama Masjid & can be seen from one of the gates of the mosque. The architecture of the mosque is very scientific. It is said that the walls are built in such an angled manner that if there is an earthquake ever the walls would fall towards the outside.


The patterns & calligraphy in the central niche of the mihrab 


One thing that appealed to me the most was the thought of climbing up one of the minarets. I had always wanted to go up there & see what it looked like. One has to buy a ticket for Rs 30 from a small counter located next to the main hall to go up there. However women are not allowed to go alone to the top of the minaret. The way is from one of the adjacent gates & after climbing the stairs for some 5 minutes, I was amazed as to how much I have to climb. Then there was a glimmer of light & I had reached the first floor of the gate. After some more clicking, I moved towards the base of the minaret, indicated by the jute strips that covered the ground, supposedly to protect one’s feet from heat & stones. Here on the mid-level too, socks are very useful, as the torn strips of jute provide no relief from the burning cement. The domes look awe-inspiring from this point. Standing next to them, one notices how big they are, & their simple design with alternate black & white marble strips makes them look even more beautiful. The artists who created this mosque were creative in their own sense. Even the minarets are decorated with alternate red & white marble strips.


Going high - The mosque as seen from one of the gate's ceiling


Continuing the ascent up the narrow & dark stairs I was breathless & wished the emperor provided some resting space in between (Advice - Claustrophobes would be better off not climbing the minarets). Slots have been provided in the wall for light & air, & now even bulbs have been installed at regular distances. However it is very hard to imagine how people managed in the times of Mughals, in the absence of light bulbs & using lanterns etc. After the tiring climb, I reached the top where a small balcony with windows has been provided to see the view spread out under one’s feet. One can see the entire old city from this point & after climbing up the narrow stairs of the minarets I found that I did well by coming up there as the view was simply breath taking.


My beloved Delhi!!


Even the Red Fort looks much more stunning when seen from this point. The balcony is very small, & barely accommodated the 5 people including me who were standing there. I felt slightly claustrophobic & constantly afraid of falling down, as the floor ended immediately in the center & stairs began. So I stuck to the edges, holding on to the grill (which also move to & fro as you push them – please don’t try pushing them hard, I am sure they will give way).


View from the minaret - the Red Fort, pinnacle of Shahjahan's building prowess


Trying to balance my camera after tying its straps to my wrist, I pushed my hands out of the grills & started clicking when I noticed a guy scribbling on the walls of the balcony. I wanted to shout at him for defacing the monument, but was unable to since I was standing on a thin, lofty section of floor & was afraid of rolling down any time. It is disgusting when people write or spit on the monuments & tarnish the walls with their love stories. It is distasteful, nobody wants to know whom you love & more often than not, the following visitors will be abusing you for spoiling a perfectly beautiful place. The sad part is the guy was a Muslim & the mosque is supposed to be sacred to him. Finishing with my photography, I started the long climb down, this time more slow & grabbing the narrow walls for support.


Keeping an eye


I read that the cabinet in the north gate of the Jama Masjid contains a collection of Muhammad's relics - the Quran written on deerskin, a red beard-hair of the prophet, his sandals and his footprints, implanted in a marble block. However since that time I was not aware of these antiques I did not inquire about their whereabouts. But now that I know, maybe next time when I go there I will go see them too.


Royal entrance - A gate as seen from the minaret


Outside one of the gates of the mosque, a perennial fair ensues everyday - hawkers assemble to peddle carpets, clothes, utensils, kebabs & sweets & thousands of visitors grace the streets. Simply said, the Jama Masjid is a head turner, the iconic architecture of this exquisitely designed monument exuding old world charm & royalty, & it’s location in one of the busiest areas of Delhi, along with its honor of being the last structure built by Shahjahan before being imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra, make this a must visit place for all visitors to the historic city of Delhi. The onion-shaped domes & tall minarets, despite their gigantism exude serenity & harmony, the whole complex is peaceful & makes you want to sit down & spend some more time & think over the larger scheme of things.


Domes!!


Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
Open: All days
Timings: 7am - 6:30pm, Tourists not allowed during prayer times
Entry Fees: Nil
Photography/Videos Charges: Rs 300 (I did not pay this amount)
Time required for sightseeing: 3hrs
Preferable timings: Early morning to avoid the crowds & heat
Requirements: Wear proper clothes, avoid shorts, sleeve-less shirts/tops. Wear good, thick socks. Carry lots of drinking water.
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - Red Fort

4 comments:

  1. the photos this time were amazing, especially the Shahjahanabad one. the description and the activities of the day in the tomb were beautifully expressed. nicely done man.

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    Replies
    1. thanx..I will keep on improving the text in my posts as & when I feel more things need mention. The detailed description of what we did made this post very long, I am trying to find new ways to say the same in least possible words.

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    2. The detailing in the description is very good.covers even minute details abt the structure..the pics are also good.there is quite a resemblance in the architecture of old monuments...old fort,humayun,s tomb and nw jama masjid.

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    3. The Old Fort was built by Mughal emperor Humayun, Humayun's Tomb was built by his wife Hamida Banu Begum & Jama Masjid was built by Shahjahan, who happened to be Humayun's great grandson. All these monuments conform to the Indo-Persian style of architecture, hence some of the similarities of design. Moreover Shahjahan emulated a number of design elements from Humayun's Tomb in the Taj Mahal in Agra..

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