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The lonely shrine

Standing in the courtyard of the Begumpuri Mosque, you suffer from a severe sense of disorientation. The silence and stillness is immense, writes Rakhshanda Jalil.

entertainment Updated: Aug 26, 2008 12:48 IST
Rakhshanda Jalil

Standing in the courtyard of the Begumpuri Mosque, you suffer from a severe sense of disorientation. The silence and stillness is immense. It is hard to tell that you are a stone’s throw away from the warren of DDA flats and the typical south Delhi neighbourhood of Sarvodaya Enclave, the avant-garde Mother’s International school and the prestigious IIT.



Its namesake village hides it so completely from the view, making it effectively invisible. All you see from the dusty potholed track that leads up to it are the ubiquitous Xerox/Fax/PCO booths, the sundry small offices, shops, garages, old-fashioned halwai shops with the owner himself sitting beside a huge cauldron and tiered rows of sticky, impossibly colourful sweets, itinerant roadside tailors, cobblers, key-makers and ragtag others plying their trade.



Like most urban villages in Delhi, Begumpuri too, is built in several concentric circles, and as you pierce through each one to reach its heart, in this case the mosque, you can still catch glimpses of village life encircled and hemmed in, though it is in a tight loop of modernity.



There are no road signs leading up to Begumpuri Mosque. You need to stop and ask for directions several times. You are usually met with a shrug or, “Which mosque? There are so many old buildings around here…” till you narrow your search to the village. That is easier. People keep pointing. The track keeps getting narrower. People’s dress sense changes imperceptibly. You begin to see more dhoti-clad men and women with ghunghat.



Here, when you ask for directions to the mosque, not only do they know they are eager to walk beside you and take you along. The blackened walls loom just ahead. You round a corner, climb a flight of steps to enter through an iron gate and a huge eastern gateway that transports you into another world. The Begumpuri Mosque, as it stands today in its vast echoing desolation, is a mute testament to the might of evangelist Islam, the passage of Time and the ravages it can wreak even on the mightiest and grandest.



Built in 1387 AD by Khan-e Jahan Tilangani, the Prime Minister of Firoz Shah Tughlaq, who is said to have built seven mosques in Delhi of similar type. Unlike the smaller and prettier mosques that were built around then, such as the Khirki Mosque, the Begumpuri Mosque is built in the severest no-frills Tughlaq style with no ornamentation and very little use of coloured stone or marble. Two rows of egg-shaped cupolas create a ripple-like effect along its austere plaster-coated walls. The western wall has a huge vaulting arch, its surface blackened with age but impressive nonetheless for its sheer size, its near-colossal massiveness.