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Home > News > PTI

Mosques: Cultural Representatives of Bygone Era

November 22, 2006 12:50 IST

From the very first prayer hall -- the house of Prophet Muhammad in Medina, which is accepted as the first masjid in the history -- mosques have come a long way and the story of mosques is also the history of great empires that built them, says a new book.

As Islam spread across various regions, assimilation of local architecture, help from local artisans became the norm and some mosques carry Hindu names to this day, says the coffee-table book -- Mosques by Razia Grover.

The Atala mosque in Jaunpur derives its name from a temple to the goddess Atala Devi. "Inscriptional evidence testifies to the fact that the Atala Mosque was the work of a Hindu architect, a telling detail that points to the pluralistic climate that was made possible through architecture," says Grover, a writer on architecture issues.

The same was the case when much of northern India came under the Islamic rule in the 12th century. If the beams, columns and lintels from Hindu temples were used after dismantling images of the pantheon of Hindu deities, in the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, end of 14th century saw the placement of the symbolically rich Hindu element of the 'kalasa' at the apex of the dome.

The early conquering forces lacked builders, artisans and masons, hence the conquerors had to utilise the local skills. "Thus, right at the inception of Islamic building activity in India, a joint venture between the Hindu builders and Islamic overseers became inevitable," the book says.

While the North saw a fusion of Hindu and Islamic architecture, it was different case in the south. The builders in the south had to accept novel building ideas from other Muslim countries rather than developing on indigenous sources, the book says.

"Since Muslim cities in south such as Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda were not built around live and thriving centres of Hindu culture, the spoils in the form of readymade Hindu building materials were not available, the architect had to fashion new structures," it says.

Although, the earlier mosques went through various changes, some set a trend that others continue to follow. For instance it was at the 'Great Mosque' of Damascus, Syria, that the prayer hall was set in a niche and 'walled' with columns and arches, highlighting the sanctity of this space in the mosque hierarchy.

This feature set a standard for alter mosques, says Grover. Mosques also became the focal point for various Islamic dynasties to showcase their superiority over each other. Al-Walid of the Ummayad dynasty, had the Byzantium emperor to send him Greek Labourers, "...for I mean to build a mosque the like of which my predecessors never constructed nor will my successors ever such a building."

It is also true that many of the early Islamic structures were in fact built reusing the materials from the early Roman temples and Christian churches. "In places like Damascus, Kairouan, Cordoba, wherever hypostyle halls had been the style, it was easier to convert these into mosques, rather than create entirely new structures," says the author.

A hypostyle hall is a hall or other large space with a roof supported by columns or pillars forming multiple naves and bays.

The book is divided into two parts, the first featuring the great historic mosques of the world. These are located chapter-wise according to their location and, by and large, their chronological place in history.

And the second part carries various sub-continental mosques. The book carries exquisite photography, highlighting the architectural features, and layouts of the buildings.

The book also comes with some interesting details, like the dome in mosques, not being a obligatory part of Islamic architechture as many think.

"The dome was never an obligatory element in a mosque but it was developed to emphasise the central area of worship in it. But, it was the dome that inspired great heights of engineering brilliance, particularly by the Ottomans, who installed this feature with unequalled brilliance.

(About the book: Mosques by Razia Grover, published by Roli Books, Price Rs 695, 144 pages)

© Copyright 2006 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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Talk about destruction of 3000 temples and Buddha stupas and Nalanda university and hundreds of statues in north India

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