Saturday, May 11, 2013

Khirki Masjid

Arches and Pillars in Khirki Masjid, one of the most unusual and atmospheric buildings in Delhi. Constructed during the reign of Firoze Shah Tughlaq, perhaps the Delhi Sultanate's greatest builder, in the 14th century, the building combines design elements from traditional mosques,  Islamic military architecture, and Hindu temples. The result is a mosque like no other.

The Khirki Masjid is bizarre in a number of ways. First off, the vast majority of the world's Mosques are either open air (such the Delhi Jama Masjid), or have huge spacious chambers, so that large congregations can gather. But in the Khirki Masjid, the congregation space is enclosed, with the interior of the building being divided by rows of pillars into a series of narrow arcades, rather after the fashion of many Hindu temples. The Masjid was in fact designed by a recent convert to Islam from Hinduism, which may to certain extent explain it's unorthodox layout. The Masjid is also unusual for its embattled, fortress-like appearance. It certainly does not look like a mosque from the outside, and if I had just stumbled upon it, I would not have guessed that that was the function the building served. Its harsh, rather functional and militaristic style makes the building look more like it was meant to keep people out than to allow them in. 

The south gate, the main entrance way. Here much of the plaster that once coated the outside of the structure has been worn off, revealing the underlying rubble construction...note the signatures carved into the plaster. The mosque is laid out in a large square, with turrets at each corner, and gates in the middle of each side. 

Finding the Mosque is a strange experience in itself. The building is located in the middle of a rapidly expanding urban village, just across the road from Dehli's vast, upscale, Saket Select City Walk shopping mall. The mosque is barely visible from the road, being hidden down narrow lanes of typical Delhi sprawl. You could go past it every day of the month and never notice it. Walking towards it from the nearest metro station, you first pass by a section of shops selling nothing but hanging terracotta garden ornaments, then a  settlement of Pathans, and then a side walk covered with homeless people, and then a long row of pet shops.  The mosque itself is about parallel with the eastern end of the shopping complex across the road.

Inside the mosque, looking towards a window. The name Khirki Masjid literally means something like "Window Mosque," Khirki being another word for window. The arches in this shot are unrestored, the outer covering of plaster having long since worn off. Sometime in the early 2000s, the Archaeological Survey of India made an abortive effort to restore the mosque, though, as with so many restoration attempts, they made the place look worse...The workers were evidently sloppy in their preparation of the plaster that was to be newly applied to the inside of the building. Instead of using the historical recipe, which called for lime mixed with sand, the workers mixed the lime with brick dust, producing plaster that was not only more expensive, but was also a really crappy looking shade of pink...the "restoration" was fortunately stopped before they covered the whole interior of the monument in shitty looking plaster, but the mosque still retains a large number of incongruous pink patches. 

Looking through the many pillars. 

Looking towards the Qibla Wall of the Mosque, roughly in the direction of Mecca. Note the lousy looking pink patches where the columns merge with the bottom of the arches.

A view across one of the mosque's four courtyards. 

Another view towards the Qibla wall. This shot clearly shows both Islamic and Hindu architectural elements. While in the background you can see typically Islamic arches, the columns in the foreground hold up the ceiling with stone beams, which is the arrangement one usually sees in Hindu architecture. 

Thousands of bats, more than I think I've ever seen in one place at one time. This is looking up at the underside of one of the many small domes that are over the congregation space. I took this picture with a flash, which I had learned from previous experience doesn't seem to perturb bats all that much. Note the three bats in mid-flight. Also, notice all the little twinkling pairs of bat eyes caught in the flash.  Not every dome was thus absurdly bat infested, though many were, and the total number of flying mammals in the mosque must have been in the tens of thousands...surly, its not hygienic, and, frankly, it seems to me that the Archaeological survey of India should probably do something to keep the Mosque at least relatively bat free, if only in the interest of hygiene. But I don't mind bats, and they definitely do add to the creepy  atmosphere of a place like Khirki Masjid. And as it stands now, if you can't stand bats, you had better not bother visiting monuments in India. They're quite ubiquitous, the dark, enclosed spaces of old buildings and ruins providing the perfect habitat for them. It makes for filthy floors, though, at least for a Delawarean,  it's just not something you see every day. 

The security guard of the mosque playing cricket with local kids. He evidently draws a salary for protecting the mosque, but all the while I was there, all he did was play cricket. Inside, a couple of rather shady local guys were hanging out. One guy, who looked like he might have been Nepali, wearing flip-flops and shorts, approached me and claimed that he was a guide with the Archaeological Survey of India. His eyes were noticeably blood-shot, and I didn't believe him for an instant. He then showed me a trash strewn nook for no apparent reason and started making absurd claims. He told me that the mosque was 2000 years old, and that at one point it was seized by terrorists, who had to be evicted with RDX gas (none of which, needless to say, is true). I did my best to abandon him at this point, though he continued to sort of hover around me for a while, and later tried to get me to buy him beer...finally, as I was leaving the mosque, he asked that I give him rs. 500, which I really didn't think he deserved (even if I did feel kind of sorry for him)....I didn't. Anyway, the security guard appeared to be totally willing to allow the monument he was supposed to be protecting to become a beggar's haunt. Then again, frequently at these places it's the security guards themselves who hover around me looking for a hand out....being white I'm obviously Mr. Money Bags...there must be good ones out there somewhere, though I must confess I've rather grown to hate the sight of them...either they're telling you not to do something, or they're following you around  bothering you until you give them money or you're really nasty to them (which I fear is more often than not the case with me, given that I have no money)....They rarely enhance the experience. 

This is up on the roof of the mosque, looking toward's the building's odd roof-domes. . They're quite strange,  much more weird than aesthetically pleasing. Like so much in Khirki Masjid, they are a unique design element. 

Furniture being lifted from one balcony to the next in Khirki village, right next to the Tughlaq Period Mosque. The bizarre juxtaposition of old and new has long since become something of a cliche in Indian travel writing, though that doesn't make it any less bizarre...Evidently, no building is supposed to go on within a 100 meter buffer zone around monuments that have been deemed by the Archaeological Survey of India as historically important...though nobody seems to be enforcing the rules in this case. The result is that the 14th century mosque seems almost to be getting devoured by the modern settlement, though this does have the effect of making the old building seem even more like a rare survival from a radically different world. 

Looking across the roof towards Saket Select City Walk. 

A place where the roof of the mosque fell in, apparently fairly recently.

Leaving the mosque, looking towards the southern entrance-way ...the strange Nepali looking fellow is one of those guys in the doorway, though I'm not sure which.

Well, that's all for now....I have such a huge backlog of posts to put up, I'm not sure which one I'll post next, but I will post it soon...stay tuned...

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