City Monument – Sunheri Masjid, Near Red Fort
A lesser known monument
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Three domes, two minars. That’s the Jama Masjid, the Old Delhi centrepiece.
Three domes, two minars. This is the Sunheri Masjid. It is similar to the famous mosque, but is tinier, and not a centrepiece of the surroundings. The adjacent Red Fort ramparts claim all the oohs and aahs. Even so, this Mughal-era monument — commissioned by Qudsiya Begum, emperor Muhammed Shah Rangila’s wife — is intensely pickled in its distinct character.
Gazing upon the domes from the mosque’s sprawling courtyard instantly strikes an intimacy with the stone edifice. Its grandness has no icy aloofness. The adjacent neem trees are taller than the minars. The mosque’s interiors have the warmth of a home. This afternoon, a taak, or arched niche scooped into a wall, is filled with books, presumably copies of the Quran. A small ceiling fan, the kind clamped on the roof of train compartments, is attached to the mihrab, towards which the worshippers pray. A large clock is nailed immediately above; the thin second hand is moving silently and jerkily. A Godrej almirah is standing on one side. On the other side, a choohe dani to catch the rats is lying beside a stack of rolled-up carpets—torn rotis are lying inside the mouse trap. One of the elements in the mosque is rarely seen. A wooden cabinet on the wall is composed of a series of slits, each stacked with a thin book. “Each of these contains a part of the Quran,” explains a bearded man, who calls himself a khadim, a mosque caretaker. “There are 30 parts,” he says.
The walls of the mosque are ochre coloured. But this paint has peeled off in one of the three chambers, revealing a most dream-like shade of blue. The khadim identifies this blue as the building’s original colour.
Now a man enters the mosque and lies down on the floor. One of his hands is holding onto a tasbih of green prayer beads, and the other is holding a mobile phone.
Outside, a great crowd of people is walking towards the Red Fort. Barely anyone is glancing towards the Sunheri Masjid.
A thing of beauty