With the ongoing construction of Jama Masjid Metro station having yielded the remains of Akbarabadi Masjid, R.V. Smith feels it might be worthwhile to reconstruct the mosque built by one of Shah Jahan’s wives, whose loyalty to him equalled her devotion to God

News that the remains of the Akbarabadi Masjid had been discovered in Subhas Park, opposite the Red Fort, brings an echo of the happenings in the late 1960s when it was known as Edward Park. The Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, father of the present one, had started a campaign for the digging up of a mound in the park under which he claimed, with good evidence, the ruins of the mosque could be found. The masjid had been built by one of Shah Jahan's wives, Bibi Akbarabadi in 1650, about the same time that the Jama Masjid came up.

Two other wives of the emperor had built mosques in the vicinity: Matia Begum in Matia Mahal locality and Fatehpuri Begum in Fatehpuri, at the end of Chandni Chowk. Bibi Akbarabadi, as the name suggests, belonged to Akbarabad, as Agra had been named by Emperor Akbar. This mosque, it is said, was demolished in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt.

Surely it was, for many other buildings in between the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid met a similar fate. Among them were the palaces of the Mughal nobles in what is now Parade Ground, the khankah or hermitage of Sheikh Kalimullah Sahib, a sufi of the time of Aurangzeb, whose shrine is still situated opposite the fort, the “big building” in Chawari Bazar which finds mention in Ghalib's letters where, according to the poet, “Buddhe Mian” was generally found. No one has yet been able no identify this person who seemed to be a well-known character of Ghalib's times. Not content with what they had done, the British solders wanted to demolish the Fatehpuri mosque and even the Jama Masjid. But saner counsels prevailed and the worst that happened to Fatehpuri Masjid was that it was let out to Lala Chunna Mal, the famous financier, while the Jama Masjid was occupied by British troops and later handed over to some mutawwalis or trustees. Incidentally, the British action to destroy Akbarabadi Masjid followed a “fatwa” by two teachers at the mosque, Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz, against the atrocities of the “firangis”.

Bibi Akbarabadi, also known as Aziz-un-Nisa Begum, was the one who laid the Shalimar Garden in Delhi, which came to be known as Aizzabad and where she spent time with the emperor. She belonged to a noble family of Agra which had been settled in that city since the time of Akbar. She caught Shah Jahan's eye while picking roses in the royal garden outside the Agra Fort. From the beginning she was of a religious bent of mind and gave much comfort to Shah Jahan after the death of Mumtaz Mahal, which had left the fifth Moghul emperor so devastated that Byron's famous lines for The Prisoner of Chillon aptly describe his state : “His hair is gray, but not with years / Nor grew it white in a single night / As men's have grown from sudden fears”

When Shah Jahan decided to move his capital to Delhi, Bibi Akbarabadi was loath to leave the place of her birth but in deference to her husband's wishes, she accompanied the other wives to Shahjahanabad. Here she decided to build a twin of the Jama Masjid, to go to which Shah Jahan had to pass through her mosque — which, by some accounts, was no mean rival of the exalted one coming up on Pahari Bhojla (an extension of the Ridge).

Recreating the Akbarabadi Masjid, after excavating the mound being cleared to make way for the Jama Masjid Metro Station, may be difficult, unless the DMRC changes its plans. But it would be worthwhile to do so, though Subhas Park will lose much of its greenery in the process. Bibi Akbarabadi's grave is probably in Agra for, like Shah Jahan she wanted to be buried in the city of the Taj. Though the mound in the park may harbour her soul!