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Delhi’s historic mosques’ fountain connection

Spouting history: Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid, two of Delhi’s historic mosques dating back to 17th centuries, have marble fountains in their hauz (ablution area).

Spouting history: Jama Masjid and Fatehpuri Masjid, two of Delhi’s historic mosques dating back to 17th centuries, have marble fountains in their hauz (ablution area). | Photo Credit: Ziya Us Salam

Five times a day the faithful gather around the hauz at the historic Jama Masjid in Old Delhi for ablution before daily prayers. At the centre of the water body is a circular fountain made of white marble. The fountain is placed right behind the central mihrab or niche of the mosque built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1650. For centuries, it has helped in water circulation in the water tank dug inside the earth.

“In the past, water from the fountain and hauz was sprinkled over the dead as many considered it sacred,” says Hakim Fazlur Rehman, a Unani doctor. “I have been frequenting the mosque since the pre-Emergency days.”

Watch | Delhi’s historic mosques and their fountain connection

Even as the faithful climb 39 steps to reach the mosque built in red sandstone and white marble, there is another mosque barely a kilometre away with similar antecedents, and an even bigger fountain in the ablution area. Located at the far end of Chandni Chowk, the Fatehpuri Masjid was constructed by one of the wives of Shah Jahan, Fatehpuri Begum. It has a large ablution area, wide in the middle and tapering towards the two ends. At the centre of this hauz is a six feet high fountain made of white marble. It has been that way ever since the locals can remember. It didn’t change even when the mosque was bought by local businessman Lala Chunnamal for ₹19,000 after it had fallen into the hands of the British post the Revolt of 1857. It remained that way when the mosque was bought back from him in 1877. The domes, the niches, the hauz and the fountain all remained intact.

Delhi’s historic mosques built during the time of the Mughals seem to have an abiding fountain connection. Almost all mosques of the 16th and 17th centuries have a fountain in their wuzukhana or ablution area. Some have removed it only recently to replace the creaky old structure with a new one. Among them is the historic Masjid Abdun Nabi located next to the erstwhile police headquarters in central Delhi. The mosque, which serves as the nodal point for Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, has had a large pond for ablution. At the centre of it has been a fountain. Named after Mughal emperor Akbar’s registrar, the mosque is under renovation.

“We have always had a fountain in the hauz here. Just before Ramzan this year, we had to repair the hauz as the fountain was no longer working well. It is under repair now,” says Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind’s senior functionary Fazlur Rahman.

The story is repeated at the historic Madrasa Husain Bux in Old Delhi that played host to freedom fighters in the early 20th century. The madrasa has had a hauz or a pond with a fountain at the centre. Under renovation after the pandemic, the fountain was replaced with a pillar at the centre with provision for birds to quench their thirst in summers. “I have been working here since 1968. The madrasa always had a fountain in the hauz,” says Mohammed Qayyum, muezzin at the place. “It used to be a cylindrical two-storied structure. Fish used to roam around it.”

The story is repeated at the good old Patna Wali Masjid in Bara Hindu Rao and Masjid Fakhruddin in Azad Market, etc. And indeed at the Lal Masjid, not far from the residence of famous Urdu poet Ghalib. “I have prayed at Patna Wali Masjid for the past 40 years. The fountain still works,” says Mohammed Javed, a local worshipper.

Noted American historian Audrey Truschke explains the reason behind the presence of fountains in Islamic architecture. “You got to circulate water. Otherwise, it will be gross and mosquito haven. Pleasantness of surroundings and cleanliness are pretty strong concerns in Islamicate culture,” she notes.


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 7:56:59 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/delhis-historic-mosques-fountain-connection/article65442332.ece