City Monument – Aurangzeb’s Moti Masjid, Red Fort
Aurangzeb’s gift to history.
[Text and photos by Maynak Austen Soofi]
One of the most ornate Mughal-era monuments in Delhi, it was built by Emperor Aurangzeb.
Although Moti Masjid, or the Pearl Mosque, lies inside the Red Fort, not many Delhiwallas have seen it. The beauty of 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 vandalism. The ASI, however, as a rare gesture of kindness, unlocked the doors to provide an exclusive access to The Delhi Walla.
The mosque is as white as ice. It is very small, just 40 by 55 feet. The domes are shaped like onions; they were originally gilded with copper. The small prayer-hall feels intimate despite its ostentatiousness. Everything here is of marble. Each marble musulla (prayer carpet) on the floor is decorated with a double outline of black and mustard-yellow polished limestone. The inlay artwork of three floral shoots are the only hint of colour in the mosque. 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 in the heart of his capital to offer prayers. 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.
In her classic book, The Red Fort, Delhi, travel author Louise Nicholson herself went ornate while describing the mosque:
“Every detail is painstakingly worked on—each marble musalla is outlined in black marble; trompe l’oeil bowls of fruits and floral cartouches surround the entrance; the central pool had pietra dura inlay; fine yellow and black stripes outline the steps upto the sanctuary; bold, almost baroque, blossoms and piers with herringbone stripes break up the walls; slender minarets pierce the skyline. In the Inner Sancturm, every inch of wall and ceiling is carved, and the prayer spaces of the floor even have pietra dura inlay. The Moti Masjid takes Mughal refinement to a degree only possible on this small scale.”
This is Aurangzeb at the height of his sophistication.
The mosque of pearls