Once a prayer hall for Mughal emperors during their visits to Kashmir in the summer, the 300-square feet, 16th century mosque in the Khanpur mughal sarai (inn) in Budgam is a picture of forlorn neglect.
The mosque of stone and lime mortar with a tiled roof, stands out despite the several new constructions coming up around it. It has the typical architectural grammar of the Mughal era, with small arched windows well placed to allow cross ventilation and the ‘Mehrab’, a semicircular niche in the wall to lead prayers.
But in an ominous sign, the ancient chinar tree which stood by the mosque was cut down last month by locals. The destruction of the tree, a constant at all religious places in Kashmir, came despite the ban on the felling of the species.
“The chinar was precariously positioned and may have damaged nearby houses,” said Rasheed Ahmad, a nearby shopkeeper, justifying the axing of the ancient tree.
Other local residents fear the felling of the chinar is the first sign that the mosque will be usurped, as was the mughal sarai located at Shadi Marg in Pulwama. That structure is now home to a group of families despite its once famed walls leaning and caving-in at multiple points.
Saleem Beg, ex-chairman of the National Monuments Authority of India and convener INTACH, J&K has raised the alarm over the Budgam mosque.
“The Archaeological Survey of India has the site already protected in 1958. For unknown reasons, the ASI then did not include the mosque, which is about 300 square feet. The structure continues to be at the site,” Mr. Beg told The Hindu .
In a letter to the Budgam district administration, Mr. Beg underlined that sarais on the Mughal route in J&K always had a mosque adjacent to the main premises.
“A fully grown Chinar planted during the Mughal times in the open space of the mosque delineated the mosque premises. The chinar has been felled and vandalized. This has resulted in removing the only buffer between the mosque and the private residences,” Mr. Beg said.
He raised concerns that with the removal of the chinar, the open space “may be encroached taking advantage of the absence of any watch and ward or any public ownership.”
“There would be an official record of the mosque and the chinar therein but there is no notice or fence at the site so that the area could be secured from encroachment,” Mr Beg said.
Calling for an inquiry into cutting down of the chinar, Mr Beg said, “The sarai is an important monument representing the Mughal heritage and a part of the cultural route known as the Mughal route.”