Monday, 15 February 2016

Alamgir Masjid: Aurangzeb's Personal Mosque, Aurangabad

The Alamgir Masjid of Aurangabad in the Indian state of Maharashtra, also known as the Shahi Masjid (Royal Mosque), is the personal mosque of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Surprisingly not many people seem to be aware of this, even though this is one of the most important Mughal era monuments of the city. My friends in a popular Aurangabad radio station didn’t know about and neither did my chauffeur Anand who had lived in the city all his life. The only reason I found the mosque was because I was looking for it, because I had read about it in Pushkar Sohoni’s book.

 

THE EMPEROR AND THE CITY

Photograph from 1868, by Henry Mack Nepean
In the winter of 1618, Mughal Emperor Jahangir was making his way back to Agra from Gujarat after putting down Malik Ambar’s attempt to revive the Ahmadnagar kingship. In his train was Prince Khurram, who would later ascend the throne as Emperor Shah Jahan. Accompanying Prince Khurram was his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum who would later come to be known as Mumtaz Mahal. She was then heavily pregnant, and on the night preceding Sunday, 24th October (or the night of 15th Ziqada by the Hijri calendar), a boy was born while the royal procession had halted at the little village of Dohad. The boy was christened Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb. A keen and intelligent child, he would master the Qur’an at an early age and his fame spread far and wide when as a child of only fourteen, he fearlessly faced down a fighting elephant. At sixteen, he would lead the Mughal army as supreme commander against the rebellious Bundelkhand chief, Jhujar Singh. When the rebellion had finally been put down and Bundelkhand and Golkonda subdued, Aurangzeb would be made Viceroy of the Deccan on the 14th of July, 1636. He chose as his capital, the little village of Khadki, near the fort of Daulatabad. Khadki had been substantially developed under the leadership of Malik Ambar. Under her new master, she rapidly grew in size and splendour and came to be known as Aurangabad – the city of Aurangzeb. When he eventually killed his brothers Murad Baksh and Dara Shikoh, chased a third brother Shah Shuja out of the country and confined his father to the Fort of Agra to ascend the Mughal throne on the 6th of June, 1659, he would take the name Alamgir, meaning “world seizer”.

Photograph of the Alamgir Masjid from the 1880's by pioneering Indian photographer, Lala Deen Dayal

HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE OF THE ALAMGIR MOSQUE

Around 1681-82, Aurangzeb had moved his court to Aurangabad, using it as a base for his military campaigns in the Deccan. The Alamgir Mosque was built in 1693 and was part of the royal palace complex located on a ridge to the North of the city. In Google Maps, it is labelled as "Kali Masjid". I believe "Kali" here is a corruption of Qila, and this is a colloquial way of referring to the "Fort's Mosque". Architecturally it conforms to other Mughal royal mosques. The prayer hall has three bays and is capped by three onion shaped domes. The central dome is built on a higher drum. All three domes have ornamental ribs and are capped by the inverted lotus finial seen so commonly in old mosques in India. At the edges of the prayer hall are two minarets. Above the central bay is a cornice shaped like a Bangla roof. It is called a “Bangla roof” because of its similarity to the curved roofs of Hindu temples in Bengal, particularly the terracotta temples, from where it probably originated.

 
What is striking, and may be somewhat disappointing for some visitors is the overall modest appearance of the mosque. Two things need to be kept in mind here. First, that this was a mosque meant for the personal use of the emperor only, and was not for a large congregation. Second, Emperor Aurangzeb had a reputation for austerity. He was a deeply pious Muslim who had no love for the arts, especially not for music and poetry, and preferred to live without much ostentation. The reasons may have been somewhat practical as well, since the Taj Mahal, constructed by the Emperor’s father, Shah Jahan, cost just a little over a billion US dollars in present day terms, inflation adjusted, which must have put a sizeable dent in the royal treasury. A noticeable departure from austerity was the Bibi Ka Maqbara, which was built during Aurangzeb’s lifetime and may have been financed by him.

The Wazu Khana of the Alamgir Masjid

Alamgir Masjid's Mihrab
Through the central bay, in the Western wall is the mosque’s mihrab. A mihrab is a small niche in the wall of the mosque, usually semi-circular, which indicates the Qibla, that is the direction of Mecca, which Muslims must face when praying. Large mihrabs also perform an acoustic function, magnifying the voice of the Imam as well as keeping him ahead of the rest of the Jamaat, or congregation. The Wazu Khana of the Alamgir Mosque must be a fairly recent addition since it does not show up in photographs of the mosque from the 19th Century. Wazu is a kind of ablution or ritual cleansing that Muslims perform before prayers, and a Wazu Khana normally consists of a water body, often an indoor pool, with seats around the edges. The marble seats around the Wazu Khana bear some signs of regular use. A corrugated, transparent, green plastic cover has been added over the Wazu Khana and it casts a beautiful green hue over the entire area. Several rooms on the Northern side of the mosque accommodate members of the Dar-Ul-Amaan Trust who have taken over the mosque and operate it at present. When I walked in early in the morning I found Bappa and his friends preparing for prayer. They had come to Aurangabad all the way from Howrah.

The stone slab, purportedly Aurangzeb's seat

On the western edge of the Wazu Khana, surrounded by a metal railing, is a square slab of stone. This once formed a seat on which, legend has it, Emperor Aurangzeb would himself sit and make copies of the Qur’an. As a child, Aurangzeb was known to have exceptional handwriting. He wrote Arabic in a “vigorous and masterly Naksh hand”. Copies he made of the Qur’an were presented to Mecca and Medina. Another copy is preserved at the tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya near Delhi. The copies he made in later life, along with caps that he stitched were sold and the money thus earned was used to purchase the land needed for his burial, in Khuldabad, in the Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin Shirazi.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS AROUND THE ALAMGIR MOSQUE

 
The Alamgir Mosque is located in an area called Himayat Bagh. Immediately to the North of the mosque is another small mosque, which I found under renovation in the winter of 2015. Locals informed me that this was another royal mosque which was meant for the ladies of the royal family. To the rear of the mosque is a large open space which is used by local kids as a playground. A road leads further west from there. Walk 500 feet down this road and you will come upon the last remaining ruins of Aurangzeb’s citadel, Qil’a-Ark. The palace was used for many years by the Government School of Art which eventually abandoned the building because of its lack of fitness. The entire palace is in an extremely dilapidated state now and may be risky to enter.

The "Ladies Mosque" near Alamgir Masjid
Another road leads to the East of the mosque. About 500 feet down this road, is a large gate, one of many in Aurangabad, which is called the city of gates. I could not find any specific name for this gate, nor could I find a date of construction. But since it is part of the city’s old wall, it seems likely that this was one of the old entrances to Aurangabad. Another 200 feet down the road and a turn to the right or South will bring you to the Dr Rafeeq Zakaria Marg, the metalled main road. To your right, or West, will be the large gate known as Rangeen Darwaza. To your left or East, will be the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum, which houses many artefacts, coins and weapons from various periods of Aurangabad’s past. If you are interested in history, the museum is well worth your time.

The gate near Alamgir Masjid. I did not manage to discover its name.

NOTES FOR VISITORS TO THE ALAMGIR MOSQUE

There is no entry fee for the Alamgir Mosque, and there are no restrictions on photography. However, do not try to enter and take photographs during a prayer, or Namaaz, as many may find your presence intrusive. Shoes must be taken off before entering the mosque. Women are only permitted inside the mosque when there are no men inside. To avoid misunderstandings, ask for permission from the members of the Dar-Ul-Amaan Trust. Inside a mosque, you must be dressed modestly. Even for men, that means shorts are an absolute no-no. Do not smoke, eat or drink while inside. Members of the trust may ask you about why you are there. Answer them politely and honestly. Remember, this is not a very popular monument with tourists, so the caretakers will naturally be surprised that you are there. But they are happy to have visitors, and more than happy to show them around. If you are carrying a large camera, be prepared for a lot of good-natured curiosity. Here’s the link to the Alamgir Mosque in Google Maps.

Bappa doing "wazu", ritual ablutions before prayer.

- by Deepanjan Ghosh


MORE STORIES FROM AURANGABAD



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • My thanks to my friend Sohel and the people of the Dar-Ul-Amaan Trust. If you do visit the Alamgir Masjid, and meet Sohel, tell him Deep from Calcutta says “assalam aleikum”.
  • Old photographs of Alamgir Mosque courtesy British Library. Used without permission, fair use, non-commercial.


SOURCES

Sohoni, Pushkar – Aurangabad with Dulatabad, Khuldabad and Ahmadnagar
Michell, George/Zebrowski, Mark – Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, Vol. 1
Bilgrami, Syed Hossain/ Willmott C. - Historical and Descriptive Sketch of His Highness the Nizam’s Dominions – Volume II
Sarkar, Sir Jadunath – History of Aurangzib Volume I & II
Post a Comment