Jama Masjid: Commissioned by the Guy Behind Taj Mahal
Three years before the Taj Mahal came into completion, Shah Jahan—the fifth Mughal emperor of India—laid the foundation stone for the building of Jama Masjid in Delhi, India’s largest mosque. Pretty busy guy, I must say, considering how he was occupied in creating two great structures at the same time.
He originally named this the Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa, a fancy Persian name that means mosque commanding a view of the world. Built of alternating vertical strips of red sandstone and white marble, the cost of construction was estimated to be `1 million; this was during the time when the daily wages of a mason and a laborer were 2 paisa and 1 paisa respectively. Not included in the cost are the stones and other construction material that was gifted by other nobles and nawabs.
The first Imam of Jama Masjid was Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari, from Bukhara (Uzbekistan). Bukhara was the centre of great learning and arts of that time. Experts from all fields got concentrated there, so naturally that’s where Shah Jahan searched for an imam. He sent a letter to the king of Bukhara, who highly suggested Syed Abdul Ghafoor. The imam led his first congregational prayers in 1656, an Eid prayer attended by Emperor Shahjahan with all his ministers, retinue, courtiers, and the inhabitants of Delhi.
Thereafter the Emperor bestowed Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari with the robe and the accolades, then announced his appointment to the high office of Imamat-e-Uzma, and conferred upon him the title of Shahi Imam.
The mosque has the capacity to hold as many as 25,000 devotees, and is most crowded during the Friday’s afternoon prayer. It is said that the walls of the mosque were tilted at a certain angle so that at the time of an earthquake, the walls do not collapse in the courtyard but outwards.
If you look closely in the picture below, taken from the steps of the masjid, you’ll see the domes of the Red Fort. During construction, special care was taken to maintain the level of the pulpit of the mosque above that of the royal throne (chaired by the emperor) in the Red Fort.
They say that the mosque also houses several relics in a closet in the north gate, including an antique copy of the Qur’an written on deer skin, but we don’t see it. I blame Delhi’s summer. With the sun mercilessly beating upon us, it takes great effort to climb up the broad flight of steps to the mosque’s entrance, let alone search for an ancient relic that’s probably not allowed to be viewed by the public. And I think, why did these Mughal emperors love such high and asthma-inducing steps?
I suggest bringing a bag with you to keep your footwear in because you’re not allowed to wear them inside. Leave your shoes outside and there’s a chance of them getting lost or stolen. You’ll find a boy sitting on top of the steps in front of a pile of shoes and slippers; he’ll keep an eye on your footwear for a fee.
Also, wear modest clothes. This means no shorts, mini skirts, and sleeveless tops. I see white guys wrapped in lungis and women wearing loose cotton dresses on top of their sleeveless tops.
Visitors are basically allowed into the masjid from dawn to dusk, except during prayer times. Some say there’s an additional fee for a camera, but I am able to bring mine without paying. There’s no fee to visit the mosque.