Delhi’s Begumpur Masjid roof collapse not recent: ASI counters William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple had on September 13 shared a photo of the Begumpur Masjid on microblogging platform Twitter and called it an instance of ASI’s neglect, triggering a conservation appeal by many people, including Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti
A photo of Delhi’s Begumpur Masjid from 1988, shared by Archaeological Survey of India. (Sourced)
A photo of Delhi’s Begumpur Masjid from 1988, shared by Archaeological Survey of India. (Sourced)
Updated on Sep 17, 2021 05:57 AM IST
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BySadia Akhtar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Thursday contested historian and author William Dalrymple’s claim that portions of the roof of the 14th-century Begumpur Masjid have collapsed recently due to rain. The premier heritage body shared visual evidence from the 1980s to show that the roof was damaged even then.

Dalrymple had on September 13 shared a photo of the Begumpur Masjid on microblogging platform Twitter and called it an instance of ASI’s neglect, triggering a conservation appeal by many people, including Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti.

But ASI officials produced an archival image of the mosque from 1988 to claim that the damages aren’t recent. “No recent collapses have taken place in Begumpur Mosque. ASI categorically denies it,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.

ASI also rejected the charge that it has neglected the monument and said it has been carrying out conservation and repair work at the mosque for the past few months. “Several support pillars have been erected and buttress walls are also being built to neutralise the foundation settlement and prevent any collapse. Boundaries are being strengthened and water is being channelled away from the foundation. The debris that is strewn around is also being removed,” the ASI official added.

When HT contacted Dalrymple on Thursday for his reaction on ASI’s rebuttal, he said he last visited the site in January last year and at that time, he had seen portions of the roof collapse towards the right end of the mihrab (alcove that points towards the direction of Mecca) and debris on the floor. At that time, he said, ASI had closed entry to the roof.

“As a regular visitor to the mosque in pre-pandemic times, I was horrified to see the recent damage to one of Delhi’s major monuments, and the fact that the roof galleries that were once open had been blocked off, but could see no evidence of an attempt at restoration,” he said.

A photo of Delhi’s Begumpur Masjid from August this year that historian William Dalrymple tweeted on September 13. (Sourced)
A photo of Delhi’s Begumpur Masjid from August this year that historian William Dalrymple tweeted on September 13. (Sourced)

He added that the photograph he had tweeted was clicked by someone who had been working on the site and documenting the damage that the mosque had sustained. He said that the photograph suggested that the roof’s condition had deteriorated since his last visit.

“From the photograph, it seems that the roof that was beginning to collapse has continued to deteriorate. A monument is like a necklace. Once it begins to fall apart, all the pieces begin to disintegrate. Linked domes like the ones here are particularly vulnerable,” said the author of popular books like the City of Djinns and The Last Mughal.

He criticised ASI’s decision of restricting entry to the mosque’s roof. “One of the greatest medieval monuments in South Asia is being allowed to perish. Grass is growing on the premises and the roof has not been restored. The ASI has blocked entry to the roof, presumably because the roof might collapse.” he said.

Begumpur Masjid is one of the seven mosques said to have been built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah, the prime minister of Feroze Shah Tughlaq (AD 1351-88). The single-storied mosque stands on a raised plinth and consists of 24 arched openings with the central one being the highest. The central arch consists of a pair of tapering monuments typical of Tughlaq architecture.

Dalrymple said that the mosque deserves better treatment. “This is not some minor monument. It was the Jama Masjid of Tughlaq Delhi and one of the largest mosques of medieval Delhi. It’s a mystery to me how such a significant monument had been left unattended. In any other country of the world, people would have been selling tickets for such a monument. There would have been a museum on site. Tour buses and recreations of the monument would have been popular,” he said, adding that there was a great potential for it to become a major hub of tourism and it deserved treatment on the same lines as the Red Fort.

Historian and author Rana Safvi who visited the mosque recently said that it was a monument of neglect and despair and in need of maintenance. “When I visited the mosque on September 13, I found that the majestic courtyard was partially covered by grass. This neglect of the 14th-century mosque is tragic,” said Safvi.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022