Delhi: Jama Masjid (Masjid Jahannuma)

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Delhi: Jama Masjid (Masjid Jahannuma) in AD 1902

Extracted from:

Delhi: Past And Present

By H. C. Fanshawe, C.S.I.

Bengal Civil Service, Retired;

Late Chief Secretary To The Punjab Government,

And Commissioner Of The Delhi Division

John Murray, London. I9o2.

NOTE: While reading please keep in mind that all articles in this series have been scanned from a book. Therefore, footnotes have got inserted into the main text of the article, interrupting the flow. Readers who spot these footnotes gone astray might like to shift them to the correct place.

Secondly, kindly ignore all references to page numbers, because they refer to the physical, printed book.


From near the Sonahri mosque a road affording beautiful views of the building leads west to the Jama Masjid, named, but practically never known as, the Masjid Jahannuma, built in 1648-50. The Khas Bazar, which was the original approach to it from the fort, had a ten-sided “chauk” in the middle, corresponding to the octagonal space in front of the Begam Serai of the Chandni Chauk. The Jama Masjid should be visited with the morning sun shining on it, and, if possible, under the full moon, which gives a lovely softness to the facade and domes: it is specially beautiful when it can be seen of a morning with a bank of dark clouds behind it. Mr Fergusson writes of it as follows :—

The Jama Masjid at Delhi is not unlike the Moti Masjid of Agra in plan, though built on a very much larger scale and adorned with two noble minarets, which are wanting in the Agra example; while from the somewhat capricious admixture of red sandstone with white marble, it is far from possessing the same elegance and purity of effect.

It is, however, one of the few mosques, either in India or elsewhere, hat is designed to produce a pleasing effect externally. . . . 1 It is raised on a lofty basement, and its three gateways, combined with the four angle towers and the frontispiece and domes of the mosque itself, make up a design where all the parts are pleasingly subordinated to one another, but at the same time produce a whole of great variety and elegance. Its principal gateway cannot he compared with that at Fatehpur Sikri; but it is a noble portal, and from its smaller dimensions more in harmony with the objects by which it is surrounded.

It is not a little singular, looking at the magnificent mosque which Akbar built in his palace at Fatehpur Sikri, and the Moti Masjid, with which Shah Jahan adorned the palace at Agra, that he should have provided no place of worship in his palace at Delhi. The little Moti Masjid that is now found there was added by Aurangzeb, and though pretty enough in itself, is very small, only sixty feet square over all, and utterly unworthy of such a palace.

There is no place of prayer within the palace walls, of the time of Shah Jahan, nor, apparently, any intention of providing one. The Jama Masjid was so near, and so apparently part of the same design, that it seems to have heen considered sufficient to supply this apparently anomalous deficiency.2 It is interesting to read in continuation of this the opinion of one who had no trained architectural eye, but had all the instincts of an artist, Dr François Bernier.

I grant that this building is not constructed according to those rules of architecture which we seem to think ought to be implicitly followed; yet I can perceive no fault that offends the taste; every part appears well contrived, properly executed, and correctly proportioned. . . . With the exception of the three great domes and the numerous turrets which are all of white marble, the mosque is of red colour, as if built with large slabs of red marble.

[1 The external effect has been unconsciously enhanced by the clearances of 1857. The lofty basement is built round an outcrop of Aravalli rock, as the Mosque of Omar is built over the so-called rock of Abraham in Jerusalem.—H. C. F. 2 The Moti Masjid of the Agra Fort was constructed last of all the buildings there, and was finished after the Jama Masjid of Delhi, its date being 1647-54. The Jama Masjid of Delhi was built two years after the palace was completed. It is said to have cost ten lakhs of rupees.— H. C. F.]

Tavernier has left us a description of how the Emperor Aurangzeb used to proceed to the mosque on Fridays, in a palanquin, with one son mounted on horseback at his side, and all the nobles of the court on foot. Four elephants with standards and four with howdahs headed the procession, and a bodyguard of 500-600 pikemen and 300-400 matchlock men accompanied it. If the king rode on horseback the nobles again walked on foot, but if he went on an elephant they accompanied hint on horses. The following prayer (Khutba) for the king and his people offered at public worship will probably be read with interest :—

O Lord! Do thou grant honour to the faith of Islam and to the professors of that faith through the perpetual power and majesty of thy Slave the Sultan, the son of the Sultan, the Emperor (Khákán), the son of the Emperor, the Ruler of the two Continents, and the Master of the two Seas, the Gházi (the conqueror), the Mujáhid (the warrior in the cause of God), the Emperor Abul Muzaffar Shahabuddin Muhammad Sháh Jahán Gházi. (May God perpetuate his dominions and empire.) O Lord! defend him and his armies: Be thou his Guardian, his Helper and his Defender. Give his sword the power to slay the rebellious and the wicked. O Lord who directest the affairs of this world and of the world to come, destroy the infidels and the innovators and the idolaters. O Lord give peace and rest to all cities of the Musalmans, and appoint protection, safety and health for us and for thy servants, the pilgrims, the gházis, and all Musalmans travelling by sea or land.

Three flights of steps and three doorways lead to the interior, the steps and the gate on the eastern side being extremely fine; the great doors of this gate were never opened in old times except for the king, and are opened now only for Royalty, for the Viceroy, and for the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. The exterior of the building is built wholly of red sandstone, and the open arcades present a very beautiful appearance above the high red walls of the basement.

The interior courtyard measures nearly 400 feet each way, and the roofed western portion, 260 feet by 90 feet.1 The effect of the arcades and the views seen through them from inside the court are both unique and charming. The view of the Fort and the Delhi Gate of it from the arcade on either side of the great centre door should be specially observed, and no one should fail to look from outside at the splendid wall of red sandstone, unhappily rather spoilt by the shops, at the back of the mosque.

The front of the western covered hall of the mosque containing the pulpit and kiblagah, or prayer niche, pointing towards Mecca, is decorated with white marble panels, set in black frames of the same material; above it rise the three fine white marble domes, relieved by black vertical bands, and from the corners soar the two red sandstone minarets softened by white marble inlay.

The marble panels on the front of the mosque simply recite the history of its construction — guides assert unblushingly that they contain the whole Koran!—the centre one bearing only the words, “Ya Hádi” (“Ah the Guide”). In the centre of the court is a tank for the necessary ablutions of worshippers before prayers : in the northwest corner was once a railed-off space, where in the dream of a devotee the Prophet appeared to him, and in a room in the north-east corridor are some relics of the Prophet.

The minarets are reached by a staircase in the south gate, and thence over the roof of the arcade of the courtyard to their base: the view of the city obtained from the top of them is very extensive and curious. The pulpit in front of the principal bay of the facade was given to the mosque in 1829, in order that all persons in the court might be able to hear the preachers.

The mosque being the Royal Cathedral Mosque of India, is under the management of a committee appointed by Government, subject to the control of the Deputy-Commissioner of the District. It was repaired by Government at considerable cost some seventy or eighty years back, and has recently been again well and successfully restored, under the supervision of Government, by means of a gift of Rs. 100,000, made by the Nawab of Rampur, and a smaller donation by the Nawab of Bhawalpur. Previous to 1857 a school and a hospital — the Dar-ul- Baka and the Dar-ush-Shafa—stood in the two spaces at the back corner of the mosque; these are now about to be again occupied by a Primary School for the boys of Delhi, and the Empress Victoria Memorial Hospital for Women.

[1 The regulations of the mosque, approved by authority, provide that the shoes of European visitors should be covered when entering the roofed western portion, where covers are provided. Visitors to the mosque during the hours of prayer will naturally remain in the background on the east side.]

Delhi: Jama Masjid

Keeping the faith

Professor Mushirul Hasan, Dawn, March 11, 2007) Dawn

Professor Mushirul Hasan pays tribute to an achitectural extravaganza.

A coffee-table book about Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

About 500 metres west of the Red Fort stands an enduring monument to Shah Jahan’s passion — the Jama Masjid, an extraordinary specimen of architectural extravaganza built during the years 1650-1656. On its completion, it symbolised the high point in Mughal architecture. The following description is useful:

The Jumma Masjid stands upon a rocky eminence at the back of the Chandni Chouk .... “The little hill upon which it stands was originally a high conical point of rock; but no undertaking being too great for the architects of the days in which it was built, the upper part of the rock was cut away, and made serviceable in filling in below; and thus a large table surface was obtained, upon which the foundation of the present building was laid. This was executed in the year 1632 [sic], by order of Shah Jahan, then reigning, and the mosque itself, so deservedly admired by all, for its exquisite symmetry, is said to have been the emperor’s own design ... ” (Bacon, 1998)

Take one of the three pyramidal flights of steps on the east, north or south leading up to the main courtyard that has a large marble tank. Here the devout wash before offering their prayer. Once you mingle with them you realise why the great mosque has become a spiritual oasis.

The grandfather of Maulvi Zakaullah, the historian at the Delhi College, died in sijda performing the namaz. His family believed that Allah had blessed him and ensured his place in paradise. “Mir Mahdi,” wrote Mirza Ghalib in solemnity, “have you forgotten my accustomed ways? Have I ever once missed listening to the recitation of the Quran at the Jama Masjid during the blessed month of Ramzan? How could I stay in Rampur during Ramzan?”

More generally, Muhammad Iqbal describes the impact of azaan in the following lines:

Suddenly rose the prayer-call, And overflowed heaven’s lake; That summons at which even Cold hearts of mountains quake.

Again, the glory and splendour of the Masjid beckons — from sunrise to sunset — the faithful to unite in congregation and reinforces Iqbal’s assertion that the slave and master perform the namaz under the same roof.

Ek hi saf mein khare ho gaye Mahmud-o-Ayaz

Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda nawaz

Today, the same Masjid … stands majestically on top of a large hill. It symbolises many things to many people, a site of religious piety and devotion, for example. To some, it is also a vibrant symbol of secular India, a country inhabited by nearly 140 million Muslims whose religious rights are safeguarded by a constitution that is both democratic and secular. When the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer five times a day, scores of people hurriedly walk through the crowded bazaars to take the flight of stairs leading to the spacious courtyard of the Jama Masjid. This is a testimony of living Islam in the Indian environment.

The great mosque has witnessed the changing fortunes of Shahjahanabad, ‘the Sovereign City in Mughal India’ from 1639-1739. It started with the steady decline of the Mughal Empire, followed by its final denouement. Thanks to Lord Lake, the British presence was felt in the early days of the 19th century. Soon, stories of their stranglehold over Aurangzeb’s inept successors began circulating in the bazaars. The anti-British pamphlet plastered on the Jama Masjid — Risala-i Fathai-Islam — offered a flicker of hope to just a handful who sought to oust the ferenghis from Shahjahanabad. But the 1857 uprising burst like a bubble.

Delhi was stormed on September 14, 1857. The minarets of Jama Masjid, a mute witness to the plight of a beleaguered Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal Emperor, saw it all. A few days later, the Masjid itself was taken over. Officers and soldiers clambered up the minaret and “saw the whole city and country like a map below our feet; all Delhi was ours”. They danced about, drank beer and brandy, and lit fire in the mosque. More celebration took place at the home of Colonel Baird Smith. Midnight came, corks popped, fireworks exploded.

From the top of the ridge an officer in the Engineering Corps gazed down at a picturesque city: the red walls and fine gateways of the palace, the splendid Jama Masjid, the red walls with the bastions, the Yamuna with its green banks; “altogether a beautiful and most interesting view”. By October, many of the structures between Lal Qila and the Masjid were razed to the ground to provide the fort a clear field of fire. “Where is Delhi?” Mirza Ghalib anguished. “By God, it is not a city now. It is a camp. It is a cantonment … I tell you without exaggeration,” he told his friend, “that from the Jama Masjid to the Rajghat Gate is a barren wilderness, and if the bricks piled here and there were taken away it would be absolutely bare.” The British seized the Jama Masjid, sold the Fatehpuri Masjid to a banker, and used the Zinat-ul Masjid as a bakery. Mirza Ghalib, living in Gali Qasimjaan, bemoaned:

The walls and doorways of my house are mourning Are as meadows overgrown with grass; Where is the spring, why ask how the autumn looks?

The Jama Masjid remained under British occupation until 1862. To one of his friends, Ghalib reported: “News of the King’s death appeared in Awadh Akhbar, but I’ve not seen it confirmed anywhere ... They say that the Jama Masjid is to be given back. I shouldn’t be surprised if it’s true.” Finally, on December 16, 1862, he informed the same friend, “You seek news of Delhi and Alwar accept my greetings. The Jama Masjid has been returned. On the steps of the Chitli Qabar side, the kabab-sellers have set up shops, and eggs and hens and pigeons are on sale.”

The Masjid would have been levelled to the ground if Lord Palmerton had his way. Some wanted a Christian cathedral to be built in its place. But better sense prevailed. Canning, the British viceroy, urged the prime minister not to ask for anything to be done against the religion of either race. Other officials scotched the proposal to remove the tank of the Jama Masjid for the convenience of the Punjab Infantry, and ordered that the infantry be shifted from the Masjid to the cattlesheds in Daryaganj.

Except for a flurry of activity during the Khilafat movement in the early 1920s, when Swami Shraddhanand spoke from Jama Masjid’s pulpit, an eloquent testimony to Hindu-Muslim amity then, life in and around the mosque remained generally quiet after the 1857 tumult. The British wielded the big stick to drive out the recalcitrant elements and reduced their detractors into submission or willing collaborators. From the 1860s onwards, the winds of the nationalist ferment did not blow across Shahjahanabad, though a few sporadic outbursts caused concern in bureaucratic circles. In general, the imperial progress became smooth and steady. This was exemplified by the state entry of King George V, crowned emperor of India on December 12, 1912. Astride a horse on a perfect winter’s day with a bright sun, blue sky and cool breeze, his procession passed through Red Fort between the stately fort and the gleaming domes of Jama Masjid ...

This elaborate and grand extravaganza turned out to be the last one. As the Indian flag fluttered on the ramparts of the Red Fort, once the site of the trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, the curtain was drawn on the British Empire ...

The Jama Masjid is a sacred Muslim site. It will remain so. ________________________________________ Excerpted with permission from Jama Masjid: Call of the Soul By N.L. Batra Niyogi Books. Available with Oxford University Press, Plot # 38, Sector 15, Korangi Industrial Area, Karachi Tel: 111-693-673

ISBN 81-901936-3-5 161pp. Rs2,460

Professor Mushirul Hasan is vice chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, India.

N.L. Batra works with the Archaeological Survey of India.

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