In Gurugram, a mosque untouched by prejudice
The Qutab Khan Ki Masjid dates back to circa 1550 AD, as per the listing of the Haryana department. However, not much is known about the makers of the mosque.Updated: Jun 07, 2019 15:25 IST
A small detour from Sohna Road leads to Sanp Ki Nangli, a nondescript village in Sohna. The area is peppered with many historical monuments, some of which are under protection, some encroached upon, and some heavily damaged.
Among these monuments is Qutab Khan Ki Masjid, a 16th-century mosque, which stands tall in one corner of an area called Chungi1 in Saini Colony. Despite its towering presence, locating the mosque can be quite a challenge, since it is now overshadowed by newer constructions and houses on the front side. Queries to passers-by may also draw a mixed response, since many people often end up mistaking the mosque for the Lal and Kaala Gumbad that lie further inside the village.
Qutab Khan Ki Masjid, however, is located only a few metres away from the Sohna Road in a small but congested area known as Saini Colony. After a few rounds of the area and talking to multiple people, one finally gets to see the mosque from a narrow non-motorable inner road. The main entrance to the mosque, however, lies inside the colony, and finding one’s way through the labyrinth of narrow streets is a challenge of another sort.
To reach the mosque, one has to walk through cobbled lanes, which are flanked by houses plastered with cow dung cakes. The mosque is located on the backside of one such narrow inner lane, with its view partially blocked by a house to its left and a newly constructed storehouse to its right. Both the structures are constructed on the land that was once a part of the original mosque complex.
The ceiling of the mosque, in fact, extends into the verandah of the house. Migrants from other states, who work as construction labourers at nearby condominiums, live here on rent. The owner of the house, Lal Singh Saini, however, insists that the mosque and the house are separate. “The house is separate from the mosque, and I don’t live there anymore,” he said.
To get a clear view of the mosque, one has to climb its high steps. It’s only after stepping on the verandah that one is able to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the structure, which stands in sharp contrast to the sky-high condominiums visible in the background.
The mosque has three arched openings leading to the interior, with the central opening being higher and broader than the other two. The wall facing the archways houses the Mehrab (a semicircular niche that indicates Qibla or the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca) in red sandstone. A low-arcaded verandah is located at both ends of the structure, enveloping the sides. A dome located at the centre of the structure rests on a high octagonal base.
The monument dates back to circa 155O AD, as per the listing of the state department. However, not much is known about the makers of the mosque. “There is scant information about the mosque in any published material. But, as per the architectural style of the structure, it is a mosque that can be dated back to the early 16th century. The time of construction almost aligns with the Lodi-sultanate period,” said Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director, depart-ment of archaeology and museums. A recent version of the local gazetteer only mentions, “Qutab Khan Ki Masjid, build of variegated local stones with red stones, is now in ruins.”
Both the mosque’s outer and inner facades are adorned with multiple alcoves. Some minor and major cracks, however, can be found in parts. The outer facade of the mosque was also whitewashed by the locals some years back.
“The mosque is made of granite and quartzite stones. It also demonstrates a beautiful combination of red and black stones. Most of these stones were locally available since the area falls under the Aravalli mountain ranges. The arches are also made of coloured stones,” said Bhattacharyya. The courtyard of the mosque has a big neem tree at the centre, along with several other smaller ones on the periphery. The mosque is also a haven for monkeys, who use its premises as a resting place. Moreover, the pavilions of the mosque continue to be used for storing cow dung cakes.
While the mosque has stood the test of time and survived all these years, there have been altercations along communal lines over the ownership of the structure. Until eight or nine years ago, the mosque was being used by locals to host weddings and other community events. Most locals, in fact, don’t identify the structure as a mosque and refer to it as a Gumat (tomb) in the local dialect.
“Muslims wanted to use the structure as a mosque and we wanted a temple here. A conflict ensued, and the panchayat decided to use the place as a community space,” said Bhagwati Saini, 28, who lives exactly opposite the mosque.
Remnants of the conflict can still be found on the mosque, with faint remains of the word “mandir” written in Devanagari still visible on its dome. While most residents know about the conflict, they are unaware about the historicity of the mosque.
“It has stood here since forever. The locals wanted to convert it into a Shiv Mandir a few years back, while the Muslims said it was a mosque. A committee said it would be used as a community space,” said Nirmala Saini, 50, who lives in the vicinity of the mosque.
She added that at least 10-12 marriages had taken place on the verandah of the mosque in recent years. Her 24-year-old daughter, Rajni Saini, said that the place is also visited by curious outsiders and tourists. “Tourists come to see the place and often take photos and videos. Earlier when they used to come, people would chase them away. Now, it is being looked after the government, and officials keep visiting the structure every once in a while,” said Rajni.
As per a Haryana government gazette notification, dated February 26, the monument is now under state’s protection. “We took Qutab Khan Ki Masjid under protection in March. Since then, we have prepared the elevation and restoration plan of the mosque. It’s almost done. We are now sending the proposal to the Public Works Department to survey and measure the area. Post that, the conservation work will start,” said Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director, department of archaeology and museums.
Bhattacharyya added that there was a good tourism potential since the mosque was located in the vicinity of the Lal Gumbad. “The Lal Gumbad is also located in the same area. We are working for the simultaneous conservation of both the structures. A part-time security guard has also been stationed at Qutab Khan Ki Masjid,” she said.
When Hindustan Times visited the mosque, there was no guard at the site. The deputy director of department of archaeology and museums said that the security guard had been assigned a fourhour shift, to begin with. “Currently, the site is guarded for 4 hours on a part-time basis. We are yet to get the entire premises measured. Only after doing that, we can provide the full security and implement the complete conservation plans,” she said. The locals seemed quite pleased with the government’s decision to intervene. “it will be good if the place is cleaned and looked after by the government. It will add to the village’s name,” said Bhagwati Saini.