Big in size, simple in decor

Mandu’s pride and one of India’s biggest mosques, the Jami Masjid at Mandu, the fortress town situated on the Vindhya ranges in Madhya Pradesh, stands majestic in the city centre. The mosque stands on a 5m high platform and we walk up a flight of thirty steps to enter its precincts. In addition to this main entrance for the public, the mosque has two subsidiary entrances to the north, one for the priests and the other, a private entrance for the zenana.

We are immediately struck by the austere simplicity of this gargantuan red sandstone structure, the construction of which is said to have been inspired by the great mosque in Damascus.

The construction of the Jami Masjid was begun by Hoshang Shah, also called Hushang Shah Gori, and completed by his son-in-law Mahmud Khilji, in 1454. The mosque, the largest and most important edifice representing Indo-Islamic architecture in Malwa of the period, is sprawled over an area of 97.4 sq.m.

The architecture is an amalgam of the Khilji, Tughlak and Lodhi styles, interspersed with local flavour as evidenced by the high platforms accessed by steps, arches, windows and jail screens supported by carved brackets and the use of coloured stones.

The mosque, sans minarets, reveals homogenous and continuously built hypostyle worship chambers and cloisters surrounding an expansive courtyard that opens out from the porch. The interior of the entrance porch displays beautiful jaali screen on the sides above which run fine bands of blue enamel that reveal inlays of the semi-precious lapis lazuli.

Arched colonnades

The courtyard is surrounded by arched colonnades on all sides with eleven openings in each side forming a facade to the pillared halls inside. Three imposing domes rise from the roof above the prayer hall on the western façade of the mosque.

In addition to these large domes, the intervening space on the roof is covered with a symmetrical pattern of cylindrical cupolas, one over each bay of the interior, making for a total of 58 small domes. The interior of the domes are tastefully embellished with beautiful lattice work and painted enamels.

The mosque is decorated minimally. While it is bordered by ornamental arches inset with the coloured tiles, its most decorated feature pertains to the 17 sculptured mihrabs that are present at regular intervals in the walls of the central sanctuary.

These recessed panels or niches are built facing the direction of Mecca to facilitate worshippers.

The delicately chiselled floral and geometric motifs in white stone lacing the mihrabs appear majestic against the gleaming black background.

An elegantly designed nimbar or pulpit stands in the central bay. It has a marble dome supported on four arches, the brackets and balustrades of which reveal traces of artistic Gujarati influence.

Scroll of calligraphy

CThe central niche itself is elegantly designed and is bedecked along its sides with a scroll of calligraphy in Arabic with quotations from the Quran.

We have one last view of Jami Masjid, and perhaps also its best overview, from the ruins of the Ashrafi Mahal, bang opposite the mosque.

Needless to say, we are yet again struck by its architectural contrast: the hugeness of its proportions vis-à-vis the simplicity of its décor.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 12:06:23 PM |

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