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Delhiwale: Monument for a vilified emperor

Public Interest: The tiny Moti Masjid nestled inside the Red Fort, is not open to visitors and hidden from prying eyes

delhi Updated: Jul 03, 2017 10:08 IST
The white marble mosque inside the Red Fort is considered so fragile that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) keeps it closed to visitors.(Mayank Austen Soofi)

History hasn’t been sympathetic to the sixth Mughal emperor. His name has become so intolerable that two years ago Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road was renamed after India’s eleventh president.

The capital is dotted with Mughal monuments but it is rare to come across any built by Aurangzeb, who left the city permanently in 1679 for military campaigns in the Deccan.

Not many are aware that the city owes one of its most exquisite monuments to him.

Although Moti Masjid, or the Pearl Mosque, lies inside the Red Fort, not many Delhiwallas have seen it.

The white marble mosque is considered so fragile that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) keeps it closed to visitors, lest they deface it with their typical ‘A loves B’ type of graffiti. We were once allowed inside with special permission.

The mosque is as white as ice. It is small — just 40 by 55 feet. The onion-shaped domes were originally gilded with copper. The small prayer hall feels intimate despite its extravagant marble inlays. The roof and arches are rich with carvings.

Built by Aurangzeb’s father, Shahjahan, the Red Fort palace complex originally had no mosque. The emperor would go to the grand Jama Masjid.

The pious Aurangzeb thought it convenient to build a private mosque close to his living quarters within the fort’s walls, just next to the hamams (Baths). The construction began in 1659 and the mosque was ready in five years.

Author Audrey Truschke, in her new book on Aurangzeb, talks of the need for a fresh narrative that can pierce the shroud of myth around the emperor.

Visiting the mosque may be a good place to start.

First Published: May 25, 2017 10:13 IST