City Monument – Bagh e Nabiullah Mosque, Hauz Qazi
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The courtyard springs up without warning.
Outside—a dense blab of peoples, sounds, streets and multifarious sensations. Inside—this airy courtyard, utmost silence, and barely anyone.
Bagh e Nabiullah sits in the heart of Old Delhi’s Hauz Qazi Chowk. The mosque is a few steps away from the super-busy Chawri Bazar metro station. Lesser known but immensely beautiful, the monument is impossible to spot from the street. Sandwiched between two shops, the doorway is rarely flapped open to reveal the spaciousness within. A curious visitor must push the door but slightly to be instantly upgraded into an altogether different world. The effect is pleasantly unsettling. It is like walking exhaustedly along a crowded locality, and suddenly being pushed through a disguised portal into a cool cloister of air, space and quietude. This afternoon, the mosque is permeated with an ambiance of secretiveness. As if the milling masses outside have been actively denied the awareness of this extraordinary stillness existing in such close vicinity. A pink bougainvillaea shrub is the only noisy distraction in the courtyard. The rest is all calmness. The pool for ablution is of marble (it is dry). The facing wall has a corroded door of weatherbeaten green. Touching it is like getting physically close to the many cycles of seasons that have given the door its today’s texture.
In one of the small side-chambers, a man is eating his meal of rotis and lauki subzi.
And now the mosque’s imam appears. He is dressed in white. Pacing about the courtyard, the venerable Abul Misbah, 67, informs that the mosque dates from 400 years ago and was commissioned by Maulvi Qazi Nabiullah in what was originally his bagh, garden. “He built the mosque for his private use… it was never meant for the public, that is the reason of its quietness.”
The prayer hall inside is even more silent. It lies withdrawn into a cooling darkness, like a refuge to hibernate, burrowed out from a cave where the warm daylight never reaches. Carved wooden windows adorn the upper portions of the wall. They are shut closed.
On exiting, the brightly lit world welcomes back the dazed visitor with a renewed vigour. Bagh e Nabiullah continues to linger in the memory, but as a place more imagined than actually experienced.