Tinkering with the past

Legend has it that the Cheraman Juma Masjid in Kodungallur, Thrissur, was built inthe 15th century. —Photo: Thulasi Kakkat  

e have offended our history and heritage. Now we want to do penance and reparation,” says Mohammed Sayeed, president of the Cheraman Juma Masjid Committee, which on a cue from the Muziris Heritage Project to revive old heritage structures and maritime environs in the Paravur-Kodungalloor region, has drawn up plans to restore India’s first mosque to its original architecture..

Located at Methala, some 35-km north of Kochi, the mosque is believed to have been built by then Cheraman Perumal (local ruler) or at his instruction in the seventh or eighth century. “Legend has it that this was originally a Buddhist place of worship, with a huge rectangular pond on one side. The royalty resided at Mahodayapuram in the vicinity. But as Buddhism declined, then Cheraman Perumal probably found an ideological vacuum and embraced Islam. He left for Saudi Arabia and met the Prophet’s descendents, but died on his return in the present Yemen. The Masjid, it is believed, constructed at his instruction,” explains Mr. Sayeed, a surgeon by profession.

“Another story ascribes the idea of the mosque to a disturbing dream the Perumal had, after which he allowed the Arabs who came for trade in the region to use the place for worship. The original structure suffered serious damage in the infamous deluge of 1341, following which it was constructed afresh in the 15{+t}{+h}century. The inscriptions on the huge oil lamp inside the mosque, the architecture of the pulpit and the knowledge inherited from our oral tradition confirm this,” he says.

However, the original mosque could only accommodate some 375 devotees, which was not an issue until the years that followed Partition, which saw the Muslim community around the mosque grow in numbers.

“That the structure remained protected by the society was testimony to interfaith harmony in the region,” says Mr. Sayeed.

The mosque has been modified several times over between 1975 and 2004 to cater to a greater number of devotees.

“The peripheral structures were all pulled down to erect fresh parts during this period. Our aim now is to restore the mosque to its pre-1975 splendour, removing all additions made ever since. We will thus be able to reclaim the 15{+t}{+h}century structure,” says Mr. Sayeed.

However, when the state tourism department, which is implementing the Muziris Heritage Project, approached the mosque committee requesting it to hand over the monument for restoration, there emerged voices of dissent. “The devotees did not want their sacred space to be given away to the government. This was when we thought of restoring the mosque, with a specially designed cellar to accommodate at least 2,500 devotees—the numbers we get for the Friday mass. The design is now being vetted by the Thrissur collector after which it will be examined by the Chief Town Planner at Thiruvananthapuram,” he says.

Funds for the massive restoration work, estimated to take over three years, have been arranged by the mosque committee and permission is learnt to have been obtained from the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out in-situ excavation for building the cellar.

“This being a historical place, there is a great chance of us stumbling upon artefacts while digging up the area. These will be conserved in a museum we are planning to build on the mosque premises,” says Mr. Sayeed.

The mosque has been modified many times between 1975 and 2004 to cater to the increasing number of devotees.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 3:49:33 PM |

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