ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design
ItalyIndia design

39. Indian Mosques

A man in white is praying in front of big window in a mosque. On the right the text: Masjid Yatra

Indian mosques are architectural witnesses of the cultural meeting and clash between the native Hinduism and the imported Islam.
Islam landed in India through caravanserais and mercantile ships, was exalted by many invading armies and celebrated by the songs of the mystics, the Sufis.
Today Islam is an integral part of the country: Indian people have accepted many Islam aspects (for example, in arts think about lancets or domes) and many Indian aspects have been assimilated by Muslims.
A journey through the most significant mosques of India will teach you about the lively, harsh and enriching co-existence of two cultures… Other than charming you with beautiful monuments.


The first mosques of the Sultans
The most ancient mosques in India (Quwwat-ul-Islam and Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra) were built around the beginning of XII. When you visit them, you don’t feel like you are visiting a Muslim place of worship. In fact, you can see plenty of  Hindu motifs. The architectural planning doesn’t look “Muslim” at all.
Delhi was just conquered by an Afghan sultan (1192) that preferred to leave the government to one of his Turkish servant: Qutubuddin Aibak. Aibak had only few men to face an overwhelming amount of Hindus, had no artisans nor bricklayers – and was eager to show the population his greatness while many Muslim refugees were seeking shelter in his land, escaping from the tremendous Mongols ruled by Genghis Khan.  So Aibak decided to adapt old Hindu temples, transforming them into mosques.
Delhi’s Quwwat-ul-Islam was built from the ruins of 27 pre-existing temples by Hindu artisans, who were more inclined to use their voluptuous and sensuous style than the geometrical and precise Islam architectural style.
Ajmer’s Adhai-Ka-Johmpra was formerly a Sanskrit school built in 1153 (one of the oldest temple there!) with the addition of some stone gathered from villages around.
NOTE: Both of this mosques are archaeological sites, accessible by men and women.


Religion and Business
In Kerala, keralites claim, there is the most ancient mosque built in India, a wooden mosque built in 628 AD, the result of the tolerance of the local rulers and mutual economic interests.
Even before the foundation of Islam, many Arabian merchants harbored in Malabar, charmed by the spices and the quality of wood, perfect for ships. Muslim merchants were welcome guests in India, and they were allowed to build warehouses and places of worship.
Almost nothing remains of the ancient wooden structure of the Cheraman Juma mosque, near Kudungallur, lost in many restorations and addictions in the Persian fashion that is actually changing the aspect of many keralese mosques.
To enjoy good-old-fashioned mosques, similar to Hindu temples and very nice examples of artistic synrectism, go to Kozhikode (Calicut). In the Kuttichira’s quarter, around a big green-watered tank, are preserved four wooden mosques. Mishkal Masjid is the oldest one, built by the Yemenite merchant Mishkal. Partially destroyed by a fire started by Portuguese in 1510.
NOTE: Women’s admittance is often denied. If you want to visit the mosque area, please be aware that you need to be properly dressed.


Imperial Mosques
With the Mughal era, the merge between Indian and Persian art achieves perfection. Akbar, the emperor, a great and tolerant ruler, made the integration easier, socially and artistically speaking.
Agra and Delhi’s great mosques are perfect examples of what we are talking about.
Friday’s mosque, Jami Masjid of Fatehpur Sikri (Agra) is part of an architectural complex along with Salim Chisti Tomb, in finely decorated white marble, and Buland Darwasa, built to celebrate the Gujarat’s conquest.
Delhi’s Great Mosque is just as beautiful. Built by emperor Shah Jahan who, once built the Taj Mahal for her lost wife, to drive away the solitude decided to project and build Delhi’s seventh city – and great part of it was demolished by Englishmen.

NOTE: Admittance allowed, but not during prayer times. Be sure to keep your head, your shoulders and your legs well covered.


Dargah, where faiths melt
Along with the merchants and the armies, with Islam arrived also Sufism, a philosophy that aims for the divine and proclaims harmony between men. The saints’ tombs, the dargah, became renowned place of worship – attended by Indians of every religion.
In Mumbai there’s the Hali Haj, a mosque and a mausoleum inside the metropolis. A rich muslim renounced to material pleasures, became a saint and died afterwards, during his pilgrimage to Mecca. The mosque and the tomb were built in his honor in 1431. Since then, it is said that he protects the shores of the town, and there is plenty of people that come to worship him.
Dargah of Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, in Ajmer (Rajasthan) is the center of the religious syncretism. This place is popular since the Mughal’s. Humayum (Akbar’s father) built the tomb. The little white mosque was made by Shah Jahan, and the doors were a gift of the nizam of Hydebarad in XVIII.
In 2007 a terroristic attack greatly damaged the harmony of the place. Today there are still many people visiting, but the security staff blocks and carefully checks everyone. Don’t be discouraged by people asking for your money and, if you can, stay until the evening. You might hea the qawwal, the prayers to the Lord.
NOTE: No admittance restrictions. Keep your shoulders and legs covered and, in Ajmer, be sure to cover your head as well.


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