Monday, 13 December 2010

The Grand and Forgotten: Begumpur Mosque

Location - Begumpur Mosque (click here for the map location)

Co-ordinates - N28 32.350 E77 12.367

Closest Metro Station - Hauz Khas (Yellow Line)

Landmark - Close to Bijaymandal in Begumpur Village

I first saw it from Bijaymandal. From the top of the Octagonal structure atop Bijaymandal, I could see a series of domes arranged along the sides of a square. It was hazy around but that could not hide the size of the place. I was both intrigued and amazed. Immediately, I got down from my vantage point, got to the road and started walking in the direction of the building. A few hundred metres south, the mosque stood on the side of a narrow residential street. There was the quintessential blue ASI board with white text, somewhat rusting. A flight of wide steps led into the mosque. An imposing gate, partly blackened by the weather loomed above the steps. A partly ajar gate made of iron bars led inside. Before I had even walked up the steps, I was sure no one came here. It just had that eerie look which buildings unoccupied for years tend to accumulate.

The entry gate from the West. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Leven
Walking up the steps, I could partly see the huge courtyard and the plastered wall of the main dome of the mosque. As if to accentuate the feeling of loneliness, a solo man was walking in. Beyond was a huge courtyard, vast empty space and no one else.

From the iron bar gate. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Leven
Whatever I had seen from the gate had still not prepared me for the inside. The moment I walked past the gate, the true size of the courtyard hit me. It is huge. I later learnt it is 75 metres X 75 metres. While I am sure there are bigger mosques around (Jama Masjid is sure one of them), I am also sure there is no larger mosque which lies abandoned. The emptiness inside adds to the aura of the place. The one thing conspicuous by its absence is a water tank where people would have washed their hands and feet before getting into the mosque. There is a small structure in one corner which could have served the purpose but it is hard to imagine why the architect of this mosque who had such grand taste in size would make only a 10 feet X 4 feet ditch for that.

The West and North sides with the 'ditch' in the foreground.

The first thing I did inside was to walk all around the courtyard and feel its size. Later, when I walked in along the galleries formed by the domes, the arches under each dome seemed to enhance the dimensions and the depth.

Arches on the South side.
The plain-ness and the absence of intricate carvings did indicate this to be Tughlaq period structure, a fact that was later confirmed as I searched about it on the internet. The distinctive feature of the structure, and I say this for the nth time in this post, is the size. Apart from that, if I am not mistaken, it is also the number, arrangement and placement of domes all around the mosque. Most mosques in Delhi have domes over and on the sides of the mihrab, right above the arches in the main building. In the bigger mosques, the domes number about 5. Here, they would amount to over 50 (56 small ones), not counting the 3 larger ones over each of the entry gates and the largest over the Mihrab. There are 2 theories about the origin of the structure. Said to be definitely from the city of Jahanpanah and built around the same time as the Bijaymandal Palace, it is variously attributed to Khan-i-Jahan Maqbul Tilangani, Prime Minister of Feroz Shah Tughlaq and to Tughlaq himself. The fact that the mosque does not find a mention in Ibn Batuta's otherwise extensive descriptions leads most people to credit it to the Tughlaq ruler himself. That would put the mosque's contruction to somewhere between 1341 (which was when Batuta left Delhi) and 1351 (the year Tughlaq died).

The domes on the West and South. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Leven
7 domes form half of each side. Photo Courtesy: Rachel Leven
Given how old and unused the structure is, it is a wonder that almost all of it is still intact. Except the Eastern half of the West wall, where almost all the domes have collapsed, all the domes are intact. In a way, the collapsed domes are a bonus because thats about the only thing which lends some credence to the age of the mosque. Beyond the collapsed domes is a hall which does not seem to have any entry from the main structure. I climbed over a 5 feet high window into it. Once inside it, I still could not find any entry to it. To date, more than a week after I first visited Begumpur mosque, I am in the dark about it.

Collapsed domes and domes of the unexplained hall.
From all the 3 gates and from next to the main west wall which houses the Mihrab, it is possible to climb up to 2 levels. The mihrab in itself is not too impressive, just a plain wall with an arch facing west and does not boast of any carvings at all. The main structure outside is also a plain faced plastered wall. A very narrow flight of stairs leads up, first to the roof which has the small domes and further upto the main large dome of the mosque. A small platform at one end is the highest vantage point from the mosque.

The plain mihrab on the west wall.
The east wall from atop the main dome.
At one time, long long ago, the mosque perhaps had a connection with Bijaymandal. It would have seen hundreds of devotees everyday kneel in prayer to the call of 'Allah-u-Akbar'. It may also have been a center of commerce with artisans displaying and selling their wares to their patrons. The Sultan himself, his wives and the who's who of his court would have come and paid obesiance here. Today, it lies abandoned. Time has taken away the audience but the size remains for everyone to be seen.

I was so enamoured by the place that when a couple of days later, a few friends wanted to come see this place (after hearing from me), I gladly gave them company. Despite having heard of its size, they were surprised. In the middle of the congested villaged of Begumpur, in the heart of Delhi, where space is at a premium, there is historical real estate lying vacant, unattended and grand. As we walked out of the mosque on my second visit towards Begumpur Village, we were wondering about why Bijaymandal, a few hundred metres away is so littered and shitted on while the mosque is not. While the mosque is not used for prayer, perhaps its erstwhile status discourages people from littering in. Just a score of metres away however, the story is different. Below is what we saw. Present Delhi is as much about trash, filth and smelliness as it is about historical structures and legends. More on this in one of the future posts.

A man walks past some trash as another cleans.


  1. fantastic bro.... you are turning into not just a well travelled guide but even into a historian!! too much depth. very nicely written. didnt know you were in delhi, could have met up - i am heading bk tomorrow morning.

  2. @Gaurav - Thank you! You flatter me!

  3. Dear Asalamualaikum,
    You have given a great Idea to visit these places also during our next visit to Delhi.
    Government can recommend this for its heritage committee to bring under maintenance and bring the place better place for worship again.
    Also Tourism Industry will get boom in this area.
    We have to appreciate you good way of writing, may Allah help you in all your ways of life in helping the community.

    Luqmaan Raja