ASI begins repair work on Jama Masjid
The iconic old Delhi monument finally gets help.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has finally started repairing the cracks in the central dome of the iconic Jama Masjid, the 362-year-old mosque in the heart of old Delhi, officials involved with the restoration work said on Wednesday.
A team from the ASI, the national watchdog of heritage monuments, has started preparing the traditional lime mortar that was used in the buildings during the Mughal period between the 16th and 19th centuries. The agency has also created pits at the site for lime slacking, where it will remain soaked for at least two weeks. The work to fill up the cracks is scheduled to begin in the third week of February, the officials said.
The ASI’s action stems from a ground report in the Hindustan Times on December 14, 2017 that revealed that the Jama Masjid was in an urgent need of repair because parts of its facade and internal structure were crumbling (see box).
“Though the mosque is not protected by ASI, the agency will do the required job,” Mahesh Sharma, the Union minister of culture and tourism said.
The Delhi Wakf Board (DWB), the original custodian of the mosque, had expressed its inability to carry out the repair work because of lack of funds and expertise.
As HT had reported in December, portions of the eaves of all four chhattris (dome-shaped pavilions) of the mosque had started chipping. Several marble finials on the smaller domes on the northern and southern gates had fallen, and the large pinnacle on the central dome had tilted. The Shahi Imam of the Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, said he had written to the Prime Minister’s office and the ASI in 2016, seeking help for repair.
A day after the HT report, teams from the ASI, the DWB, the divisional commissioner’s office, and the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) had inspected the damage.
A senior official involved in the restoration said the work at Jama Masjid would speed up after Republic Day. “More raw materials will be sent to the site after January 26. Construction workers will first put scaffolding around the central dome, which has major fracture signs. Hopefully, the masonry work will commence within a month,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
To maintain the original look while strengthening the building, the mortar ingredients will include surkhi (ground red brick), bel giri (wood apple), gud (jaggery), gaund (gum), urad dal (white lentil), and batasha (sugar candy), another official said.
According to Tariq Bukhari, general secretary of the Jama Masjid Advisory Council (JMAC), which manages the mosque’s daily affairs, the central dome of the principal prayer hall is the worst affected, with white seepage marks clearly visible on it. Rampant water leakage has developed cracks in the main bulbous domes that are further eroding the monument’s structural integrity. The seepage has peeled layers of sandstone and plaster from some of the walls and loosened some of the intricate parapet carvings.
The ASI had been maintaining and restoring the structure under a special arrangement since 1956. It last worked on the mosque in 2007, when the missing inlay work and the internal water system were restored.
The construction of the Jama Masjid, originally named ‘Masjid-i Jahan Numa’, started in 1648 as the centerpiece of Shahjahanabad. It took six years to build and cost R10 lakh at the time.
The masjid is visited by an average of 5,000 tourists and 1,000 worshippers every day.