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Its simplicity is magical
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This could be the poor man’s Jama Masjid, that gigantic Old Delhi landmark. Fatehpuri mosque, the Walled City’s third largest, circa 1650, is made of red sandstone but it has no huge domes, no tall minarets. The central dome looks as if it’s made of marble, but it’s lime mortar, actually. No wonder, guidebooks don’t go gaga over the place. Lucy Peck’s Delhi – A Thousand Years of Building dismisses it in 11 lines.
Tucked into one end of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s signature street, Fatehpuri Masjid lacks the flamboyance of its counterpart at the other end – Lal Qila. Instead of being glorious, its history is bloated with drama queen pathos – damaged by the British following the 1857 rebellion, sold to a Hindu banker, returned to Muslims only 20 years later.
The mosque was commissioned by a wife of Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal over the tomb of his favourite queen, Mumtaz Mahal. It was Nawab Fatehpuri Begum, who had this mosque built and the shrine takes its name from her. But if Fatehpuri Masjid were a woman, it would have said, “Nobody loves me, nobody cares.”
Its corridors, walls and three gateways do not inspire awe. No flight of stone steps leads to the courtyard, which in turn cannot offer any spectacular Old Delhi scenes.
Then why should you care?
Because the mosque’s seeming weakness is its strength. In a city where most monuments are too loud, too ‘great’, its simplicity offers a refreshing contrast. It is a touristy getaway with hardly any tourists and no touts.
Come during the twilight hours. Then the sky over the courtyard is pale blue, the moon newborn. The Mecca-facing prayer hall begins to look unearthly against the blue-pink-orange of the last sunrays. Very soon, it would be just a silhouette.
Before the approaching night swallows the shade of the courtyard’s giant gular tree, the muezzin’s call starts echoing from all sides. Devotees stream in from the mosque’s in-house madrassa and from the shops outside. All head first to the vazukhana, the little fish-filled water tank, for the ritual ablution. Then, to the prayer hall.
As the men pray – kneeling, bowing, standing up, kneeling again – the courtyard becomes as quiet as its 21 tombs clustered next to the vazukhana. Calmness descends. Existential banalities are stripped away. Delhi disappears. Removed from the world, you feel closer to your self. Of course, the illusion vanishes the moment you step out into bustling Chandni Chowk. But no worries. There is always the next evening.
Nearest Metro Station Chandni Chowk Best Time Evening
Doorway to quietness
Getting ready for prayers
Calm and limpid
Do you, too, feel Fatehpuri's beauty?
Pray for me, too
The moon is rising
It's God's sky