Monday, 8 April 2013

this is on the architectural wonder of the Jamali Kamali mosque in Delhi (Deccan Herald, March 2011)

Architectural splendour

Juanita Kakoty
Heritage beat
A winter walking tour of ‘Heritage Delhi’ is incomplete without Jamali Kamali Mosque in the itinerary.
Extraordinary : Snapshots of the Jamali Kamali Mosque in Delhi. PHOTO COURTESY: ‘JAMALI KAMALI’ BY KAREN CHASELocated in the Mehrauli Archaelogical Park, the product of a massive excavation and restoration project by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the mosque presents exciting sights and experiences for tour enthusiasts who drag themselves out in cold mornings for a romance in the fog and, hopefully, warm winter sun. After all, there is natural charm and architectural wonder at plenty to get high.

The Jamali Kamali Mosque was constructed around 1528-29 and was completed during Humayun’s reign (1530-1540 AD). It documents remarkably well the evolution of architecture in Delhi — a preferred stronghold for almost all dynasties that ruled North India. “Jamali, who lived through the late Sultanate to early Mughal period, was a fairly influential Sufi saint and poet of his time whose mausoleum was built during his lifetime by disciples,” points out renowned scholar on Delhi’s monuments, conservationist and filmmaker Sohail Hashmi. The mausoleum, in a courtyard adjacent to the mosque, stands testimony to the poet in the saint, displaying his verses in between patterns along the ceiling.  

The Jamali Kamali Mosque is first among equals in many ways. It has blended architectural nuances from across cultures and times, and has even come up with unique first-ever compositions. Hashmi cites, to give an example, “The aesthetics of a protruding forward central arch, much larger than the other arches, appeared for the first time at the Jamali Kamali Mosque. On both sides of the central arch, there is the beginning of pillarates that imitate the fluted pattern of the Qutub Minar minarets (commissioned by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, Qutb-ud-din-Aibak).”

“Again, in another instance of first-ever, the Rajasthani jharoka (protruding hanging balcony) appears for the first time in Delhi over here. It has then been repeated at the Old Fort, the Jama Masjid, and subsequently in a whole lot of other buildings.” A gallery with hanging balconies runs the entire length of the mosque at the back, through which one could climb up to the terrace. The north and south edges of the prayer hall have little openings into these hanging balconies behind the mosque. 

The mosque is renowned for its vibrant visual patterns, created primarily with Delhi Quartz (grey stone) — the stone of the Aravallis, where the Mehrauli Archaeological Park is situated. The other coloured stones used in the making of these patterns are red sandstone, yellow sandstone, marble and black stone. “Coloured stones were first used at Jamali Kamali and then at the Old Fort mosque to create exquisite visual patterns,” reveals Hashmi. 

To add to yet another first, “The mausoleum ceiling is decorated with delicate stucco work combined with glaze tiles; a combination not to be seen anywhere else in Delhi. 

Elsewhere, there is stone upon stone work or painted stucco work; but no stucco with glaze tiles. These marvelous designs were produced in a unique manner. Patterns were first stenciled into thick layers of plaster before it dried, and then painted red and indigo. Geometric shapes were then carved into the stucco work and filled in with glaze tiles (mostly blue and yellow in colour). The stucco part of the ceiling was then painted red and indigo.” 

The architecture of the Jamali Kamali Mosque brings out, besides visual delights, evidence of the historical period in which it was constructed. To quote Hashmi, from his brilliant narration about the place’s historical and architectural evolution, “A striking feature that bears evidence to the period of construction is the appearance of the Star of David or ‘Daud’ — a trend that began with Humayun and ended 75 years later with Akbar’s reign.

The Star of David appears in a whole lot of buildings during this period; for example, the Old Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Adam Khan’s Tomb and the Jamali Kamali Mosque.” This trend could have been fanned by Humayun’s preoccupation with astronomy; or could be due to the fact that David (or ‘Daud’) is venerated equally by Jews, Christians and Muslims. 

Another feature to look out for is the appearance of lotus along with the Star of David — true for both Adam Khan’s Tomb and the Jamali Kamali Mosque. “This is just another instance to prove that there is nothing like pure Islamic architecture or Hindu architecture,” says Hashmi. “There are Rajasthani hanging balconies in structures constructed by Muslim patrons, just as there are lotus designs and Star of David appearing together. Therefore, what defines architecture is not rigidity but evolution and dialogue that happens across cultures.” 

And architectural wonder is intrinsic to the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, where anything concrete is from the times of the first Muslim capital in India (Slave Dynasty-Mamluk) to the last (Mughals). It is populated with old ruins and monuments — mosques, baolis (wells with steps around, leading to the water) and mausoleums — which present a cross-cultural and historical dialogue in architecture that has shaped the very nuances of ‘Heritage Delhi’. Like the Jamali Kamali Mosque in one quiet corner of the Park, regaling the occasional visitor.

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