City Monument – Jama Masjid’s Stairs, Old Delhi
New wine in old bottle.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It isn’t every day or even every 100 years that something new makes its appearance at historic Jama Masjid mosque.
The recent addition of metal railings along the sweeping flights of stairs does alter the aesthetics at this signature monument of Mughal-era Delhi. Even so: the railings without question serve their intended purpose, as an elderly worshipper now clutches them for support.
The metal installations initially looked very out of place, but, as a local trader suggests, “people like me with knee problems can now get in and out of the mosque far more easily.” Mohammed Karimuddin adds that he always tries to perform all his five prayers daily in the ancient mosque which first opened its doors in 1648.
The stone staircases themselves have always played important role in the bustling life of the Walled City. They constitute one of the few open spaces in Old Delhi that’s accessible for absolutely everybody—Muslim and non-Muslim alike. These stairs are also believed to be the site where the traditional story-telling art of Dastangoi truly came into own.
It’s said that Sufi saint Sarmad Shahid, after his beheading, simply walked up these same stairs carrying his own head, and then climbed to heaven. More down to earth: kebab sellers were evidently permitted to skew their own delicious offerings, right on the stone steps, until a few years ago.
The new railings are already merging so intimately with daily life that’s it’s well-nigh impossible to imagine the staircases without them.
The evolving aesthetics