The old Pandaravadai mosque sports a new look

Entrance to the Periya Pallivasal

Entrance to the Periya Pallivasal   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy

The 500-year old structure has been restored

In her thesis, ‘Agrarian economy of the Carnatic in the 17th and 18th centuries,’ Parvathi Menon, whose research supervisor was Dr. Irfan Habib, writes that Vijayanagar inscriptions put villages under three categories, one of which was “bandaravada or crown villages, the revenues of which often went to the upkeep of the nearest fort.” We find this categorisation in Srirangapatnam, Udayagiri and Penukonda. Parvathi Menon writes that bandaravada became pandaravadai in Tamil. Interestingly, there is a village by the name of Pandaravadai in Papanasam taluk, Thanjavur district.

There are Maratha period references to the village. A Modi document talks of a flood in Pandaravadai in 1,748 C.E. In 1,756 C.E., King Pratap Singh gifted 1,340 kuzhi (close to two lakh square feet) of land to Mohammad Khan, a revenue officer of Pandaravadai. A 1,785 C.E. document talks of Lanchana Mahal in Pandaravadai taluk. K.M. Venkatramaiah, in his book on the Marathas, writes that since lanchana means seal, Lanchana Mahal must have been a place where the royal seal was affixed on documents. This points to the historical importance of Pandaravadai. The Madras District Gazetteers of Tanjore, 1906, by F.R. Hemingway, records that most of the inhabitants of Pandaravadai were Muslims (mostly Ravuttars) engaged in betel cultivation.

The inside view of Pandaravadi Periya Palli (Mosque), Thanjavur

The inside view of Pandaravadi Periya Palli (Mosque), Thanjavur   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy


Sometime in 1,389 C.E., a small mosque was built in Pandaravadai, by the Muslim community of the area.

In 1,519 C.E., Shahul Hamid Badusha of Nagore visited Pandaravadai, and suggested that a bigger mosque be built near the small one. The villagers, who even at that time were betel cultivators, said that they did not have the wherewithal for such a huge expense. Shahul Hamid Badusha found a copper pillar in a pond nearby and told them to sell it and use the funds. Every family chipped in according to its capacity. The new mosque came to be called Periya Pallivasal — Big Mosque — to distinguish it from the already existing smaller one. The plastering, however, was done 300 years later. In course of time, cracks developed in the dome and walls.

Jawahar Ali

Jawahar Ali   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy


E.K.P. Jawahar Ali, an army man from the village, felt something had to be done to preserve the historically important structure. So, in 2004, along with three elders of the village — Abdul Hamid, a retired official of the United Nations, S.O.K. Haja Mohideen and Y.H. Mohammed Zakaria, he approached Rajendran, a conservation engineer of Thanjavur.

Conservation efforts

Rajendran discovered the reason for the cracks. When it rained, water from a canal near the mosque overflowed and seeped into the basement. This had affected the walls and the floor. To tackle this problem, Rajendran used a technique called lime injection. The principle is very similar to using a piece of chalk to blot spilt ink. One and a half feet away from the foundation, a pit was dug, nine-ft deep, one-foot in diameter. A mixture of lime and sand in equal proportion was put into the pit. This mix filled up cracks in the clay and absorbed moisture, thereby protecting the basement of the mosque. Pointing to the excellent acoustics of the mosque, Rajendran says, “The mosque has five vaults, which deflect the prayer of the maulvi and carry it to the end, without any distortion.”

Pandaravadai mosque

Pandaravadai mosque   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy


Since the original plastering had been done using egg white, Rajendran wanted the re-plastering to be done the same way. After some diligent searching, they found someone in Karaikudi, who had done such plastering. Since he had lost his sight, he could not undertake the work, but gave instructions on how to go about it. However, they encountered another problem — cracks appeared because they were using Broiler eggs, whereas the earlier plastering had been done using country eggs! They tweaked the proportion and finally the re-plastering was done.

Rajendran suggested that the open courtyard should not be enclosed, because it provided lung space. He said that during Ramzan, a temporary shelter like a shamiana, could be provided to accommodate more worshippers. Mohammed Harris, from the School of Architecture, Anna University, who visited the mosque, commended Rajendran’s technical perfection and concurred with him on leaving the courtyard open. “Rajendran did not take even a rupee as consultation fee,” says Jawahar.

Pandaravadai mosque

Pandaravadai mosque   | Photo Credit: M. Moorthy


While there are seven mosques in Pandaravadai, Periya Pallivasal is the biggest, and administers three other mosques in the village. Former Presidents Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have visited the mosque. The latter has recorded in the visitors’ book that Periya Pallivasal is a diamond hidden away in a village.

“The mosque can easily accommodate 500 people. It has a length of eighty-seven and a half ft and breadth of the same extent. With 16 pillars, each seven and a half ft high, it is a majestic structure. Even in summer, it is cool inside the mosque. On Fridays, a total of 1,000 people worship here, including in the open area. Close to 150 people break their daily fast during Ramzan in Periya Pallivasal. Next year, the mosque turns 500, and we plan to bring out a book on the history of the mosque,” says Jawahar.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 10:50:46 PM |

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