Taj-ul-Masajid, an architectural wonder in Bhopal built by a woman | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Taj-ul-Masajid, an architectural wonder in Bhopal built by a woman

ByRiddhi Doshi
Jun 15, 2024 05:55 PM IST

Bhopal’s 153-year-old Taj-ul-Masajid or Jama Masjid where thousands gather every Eid to offer prayers is an architectural wonder that was built by a woman

In Madhya Pradesh’s Bhopal, a city ruled by Muslim nawabs and begums since 1722 until India’s independence, Eid is celebrated with much fanfare. At the heart of the revelry is the 153-year-old Taj-ul-Masjid also known as the Jama Masjid.

Spread across a built-up area of 4,30,000 square feet, Taj-ul-Masajid is known to accommodate as many as 90,000 people in its courtyard. (Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya) PREMIUM
Spread across a built-up area of 4,30,000 square feet, Taj-ul-Masajid is known to accommodate as many as 90,000 people in its courtyard. (Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya)

Spread across a built-up area of 4,30,000 square feet, the mosque is known to accommodate as many as 90,000 people in its courtyard. Given its scale, the Taj-ul-Masajid is considered the largest mosque in India, even bigger than the Jama Masjid in Delhi, which is said to accommodate 25,000 people in its courtyard.

Bhopal’s Taj-ul-Masajid or the crown of mosques has three domes, 12 pillars, two minarets and 120 rooms. It was a project of no patriarchal ruler, but Bhopal’s third begum, Shahjahan.

“For me, that’s what makes the mosque built by my ancestors so special,” said Faiz Rashid, director of Jehan Numa Hotels in Madhya Pradesh and the descendent of the begums. “It’s amazing how thousands of people continue to visit the mosque, pray in it and regard it as an architectural marvel even a century and a half after it was envisioned and built by a female ruler,” he added.

The Taj-ul-Masajid was planned as an Idgah, an open-air enclosure reserved for Eid prayers (Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya)
The Taj-ul-Masajid was planned as an Idgah, an open-air enclosure reserved for Eid prayers (Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya)

It is believed that after Shahjahan Begum’s second marriage to Maulvi Sayad Sidiq Hussain in 1871, she became more religious and harboured the dream of building the largest mosque in India. She even started following the purdah system, which her grandmother Qudsia Begum had given up as the first woman ruler of Bhopal around 1819 when her husband Nazar Muhammad Khan died in a freak accident. Qudsia’s younger brother, eight-year-old Faujdar Muhammad, unintentionally killed her husband, the Nawab while playing with a gun.

It was then that the 107-year rule of begums began in Bhopal. They built libraries, schools, colleges, hospitals, guest houses, women’s clubs and palaces during their reign. But the most important were the mosques. “For they followed in the footsteps of Mughal emperors to establish themselves as guardians and promoters of Islam,” says Ajay Singh Chauhan, a government-certified guide in Bhopal. Qudsiya Begum built Jami Masjid in 1833 and her daughter Sikandar Begum built Moti Masjid in 1847, but none were as grand as the third begum, Shahjahan’s Taj-ul Masjid on which she spent a whopping 1.6 million back then. A sum of 600,000 was also spent on crystal flooring made to order in the UK. But it never made it to the mosque as its polished surface reflected devotees’ images, which was not acceptable.

The Taj-ul-Masajid was planned as an Idgah, an open-air enclosure reserved for Eid prayers in a new suburb named Bhopal Shahjahanabad in honour of Shahjahan Begum. Hence, even today, the mosque’s main gate, facing east, is opened only twice a year during Meethi and Bakri Eid. On other days, people enter and exit it from the other two gates. The mosque was part of the new palace complex built by the begum, which included her Taj Mahal palace with hundreds of rooms and flanked by three water bodies, Munshi Hussain Talab, Noor Mahal Talab and Motia Talab. Back then these ponds were the mosque’s ablution areas. Today, it has four tanks within the complex.

The Taj-ul-Masajid constructed in the Indo-Islamic architecture style borrows heavily from the design of Mughal masjids((Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya))
The Taj-ul-Masajid constructed in the Indo-Islamic architecture style borrows heavily from the design of Mughal masjids((Abhijeet Gupta/Goutam Chourasiya))

The masjid constructed in the Indo-Islamic architecture style borrows heavily from the design of Mughal masjids. The eastern entrance consists of a two-storeyed arch inspired by the Buland Darwaza in Fatehpur Sikri. Also, its overall design is similar to the Jama Masjid in New Delhi and the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, with smaller entrances at the north and south, in addition to the main entryway leading to a central courtyard.

Bhopal’s Jama Masjid was built on top of a hill with tall minarets so it could be seen from far away. It was placed on a high plinth reached by a series of steps. It was constructed with marbled, red sandstone and divided into three bays — two sets of three archways flanking a large central arch, which is covered by muqarnas (An Islamic, star-like design).

The mezzanine floor has a long balcony with arched windows facing the courtyard. The three white domes atop the mosque also have their own square balcony which can be entered from the dome’s drum. The parapet of each balcony is a row of multifoil forms and features a small, decorative pavilion and dome at each corner. The base of each dome is ringed with petal motifs and a mosaic of broken blue tiles arranged in a hexagonal, honeycomb pattern.

The two minarets on either side of the prayer hall are octagonal. They have four balconies and are topped by a small white dome. Several windows are placed at irregular intervals, with false windows carved in mid-relief in between, creating a pattern of arches wrapped around each minaret. These minarets were the first in the region to be built using reinforced concrete, a material generally associated with modern architecture, encased in a pink sandstone façade, says history professor Amita Singh from Bhopal.

The complex also has 120 rooms, which are the classrooms and accommodation of the 500 to 600 boys studying in the Madrasa here. They are not just taught the Quran but also other subjects such as maths, science, and geography among others.

The main prayer hall has twelve pillars made of sandstone, carved in ornate arabesque and floral designs. Multifoil arches form vaults with internal, unadorned domes that are not visible from the outside.

Devotees offer prayers on the occasion of the Eid-Ul-Fitr, at Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal on April 11, 2024.(ANI FILE PHOTO)
Devotees offer prayers on the occasion of the Eid-Ul-Fitr, at Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal on April 11, 2024.(ANI FILE PHOTO)

The most unique feature of the mosque, however, is its two zenana (female) galleries at the north and south ends of the mezzanine floor. The female section is a rarity in mosques around the world as very few mosques accommodate women. That said, women are not allowed to offer Eid prayers here. At the Taj-ul-Masajid, it can be entered via jaali doorways on the ground floor inside the main hall.

While the mosque’s construction began under Nawab Begum Shahjahan, it could not be completed during her lifetime owing to a lack of funds and her involvement in several other architectural projects. It remained under construction throughout the reign of her daughter Nawab Begum Sultan Jahan (1901 to 1926). The final phase of construction was initiated in 1971 by Allama Mohammad Imran Khan Nadwi Azhari and Maulana Sayed Hashmat Ali Khan of Bhopal and was finally completed in 1985.

“Years later, even today, seeing thousands of worshippers, all dressed in white offer Eid prayers together in perfect synchrony is a magical experience,” says Chauhan.

Catch every big hit, every wicket with Crickit, a one stop destination for Live Scores, Match Stats, Infographics & much more. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Budget 2024, Weather Today along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, July 17, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On