Awed by Sharqi ar­chi­tec­ture

In Jaun­pur’s Atala Masjid, Jama Masjid and Lal Dar­waza

The Hindu - - COLUMNWIDTH - Rana Safvi

In 1359, Sul­tan Firoz Shah Tugh­laq stopped at a place called Za­farabad on the river Ganga on his way to cam­paign against the Ilyas Shahi rulers of Lakhnauti in Ben­gal. Za­farabad was a strate­gic point on the road to Ben­gal and the Delhi Sul­tans had long been fight­ing with the rulers of Lakhnauti. This prob­a­bly prompted the Sul­tan, a pro­lific builder, to think of build­ing a new city near Za­farabad. The city was built on the river Gomti and was named Jaun­pur after the Sul­tan’s cousin and pre­de­ces­sor, Jauna Khan, who had ruled as Sul­tan Mo­ham­mad bin Tugh­laq.

In the con­fu­sion caused in the Delhi Sul­tanate by Timur’s in­va­sion, Ma­lik Sar­war, a (eu­nuch) who had been ap­pointed the gover­nor of Jaun­pur in 1394, with the ti­tle of Ma­likus Sharq (ruler of the east), de­clared in­de­pen­dence. Thus was laid the foun­da­tion of the Sharqi king­dom. When he died in 1399, he left a vastly ex­panded em­pire to his adopted son, Ma­lik Mubarak Qaran­fal, who ruled as Mubarak Shah.

Mubarak Shah’s reign was short­lived and he was suc­ceeded by his brother Ibrahim Shah, un­der whom Jaun­pur rose in such im­por­tance that it was known as Shi­raz-e-Hind. Shi­raz was renowned in the world as the cul­tural cap­i­tal of Per­sia and was one of the most im­por­tant and fa­mous me­dieval cities. Sul­tan Sikan­dar Lodi fi­nally put an end to the Sharqi dy­nasty after he con­quered it in 1479.

A unique style of art and ar­chi­tec­ture de­vel­oped in Jaun­pur. The Sul­tans


were pa­trons of learn­ing and art. My ma­ter­nal fam­ily be­longs to Jaun­pur dis­trict and I have vis­ited our an­ces­tral vil­lage sev­eral times. But I have some­how never gone on an ar­chi­tec­tural tour un­til re­cently, when I when to visit my sis­ter, Farah Naqvi.

Three mosques

The main fea­ture of Sharqi mosques is the huge rec­tan­gu­lar py­lon (gate­way) with arches. Through these arches, we en­tered the three main mosques in Jaun­pur: Atala Masjid, Jama masjid and Lal Dar­waza. They are made of stone and have fine carv­ing and lat­tice­work. Un­like the Delhi mosques of the same pe­riod, there are no minarets. The mosques at Jaun­pur have clois­ters for women to pray. In fact, in the Jama Masjid, the old­est in the area, when I asked the per­son in charge if I could pray there, he re­sponded: “What else are mosques for if not to pray and take Al­lah’s name?” After be­ing awestruck by the majesty of the Atala Masjid and Jama Masjid, we vis­ited Lal Dar­waza, where a sem­i­nary func­tions.

We were tired, but when my host and guide asked me if I wanted to visit Jhan­jhari mosque, I was in­trigued by the name and im­me­di­ately agreed. We set off on foot to­wards the mosque as the roads were too nar­row. Farm­land and trees hid the mosque, but since the lo­cals had as­sured us that it was there, we traipsed on the mud road. At a bend we were greeted by an ex­quis­ite stone screen after which the mosque is named (jhan­jhiri means screen). The mosque is on a high mound, but not much re­mains apart from this screen.

De­stroyed by Sikan­dar Lodi

Sul­tan Ibrahim Shah built this mosque for a saint, Saiyed Sadr-e-Ja­han Aj­mali. Ac­cord­ing to the 1889 Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia book,

it was prob­a­bly built by the same ar­chi­tect who built the Atala Masjid and must have been ex­tremely beau­ti­ful be­fore Sul­tan Sikan­dar Lodi de­stroyed many of its mosques and sec­u­lar build­ings. Sikan­der Lodi broke parts of the walls of the mosque court, the stones used for other build­ings and, ac­cord­ing to the ASI, also the great bridge, which is an­other fa­mous Jaun­pur land­mark.

The mosque was also rav­aged by floods as it is near the river. All that is left is the cen­tral façade with the ex­quis­ite screen flanked by carved vous­soirs and its in­scrip­tions. Un­like the other mosques where the py­lon is rec­tan­gu­lar and the arch set in­side it, here the arch soars up­wards with­out re­stric­tion.

This ar­chi­tec­tural gem in the mid­dle of fields is worth a visit, for it sym­bol­ises Sharqi ar­chi­tec­ture at its best.

of Jaun­pur, The Sharqi Ar­chi­tec­ture

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