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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jamia Masjid (Mosque) - Srinagar

After having visited Hazratbal, we thought of going to the Jamia Masjid (Mosque) at Srinagar. However, our driver had some reservations. He informed that the Mosque is at the centre of the old part of the city and is a disturbed area. Cannot be considered to be very safe. Then he remembered that it was a Thursday and not a Friday. Fridays are special  when the area is fully crowded for the prayers at the Mosque. (Before I could make out a post, there was a news that a 300 year old “Dastagir Sahib”a holy shrine of the Sufi order, went into flames under mysterious circumstances. To contain the violence that followed, curfew has been clamped through out Kashmir. Even people have been restrained from offering their Friday prayers at Jamia Mosque on the 29th June) Therefore the driver obliged us and took us through the streets of the old city. From an otherwise thinly populated areas we were proceeding  towards high density area. 

The houses and buildings on our way  had a an old world charm and we could not resist clicking our cameras. Soon we noticed a tall tower at a distance resembling that of a church but then our driver corrected us saying that it is the Jamia Masjid.

We were now crossing a main road to go down. The mosque was at a lower elevation and now it was in full view. The main entrance is from the Southern side. The mosque seems to have had entrances from North and East as well. There is a broad lane surrounding the mosque with show rooms and shops on one side stocking items ranging from cloth, utensils, handicrafts and other domestic needs. It is said that the market here is cheaper as they primarily cater to the needs of the local population.

The arched doorway is huge but then the pagoda type superstructure  resembles that of a Buddhist shrine. There are no domes and minarets which we generally find associated with mosques. Practically all mosques in Kashmir are devoid of domes. The mosque is supposed to be a unique representation of the Indo-Saracenic architecture.

On entering through the main doorway, we find a magnificent square courtyard with well maintained lawns and ornamental trees. Towards the West is the main prayer hall wherefrom the Imam (Head Priest) directs the congregation. Just in front of the main prayer area there is a large square pool with flowing water used for ritual washing of hands before entering the hall for praying. There is a LED display board inside which shows the exact timings for the 5 times a day  prayers. This main complex is surrounded by a very broad corridor on the other three sides with fully carpeted flooring.

The Jamia Masjid is located in the Nowhata area of Srinagar. This was got constructed by the local ruler Sultan Sikandar in the year 1400. Later extensions were carried out by his son Jain-ul-Abidin. As said earlier the architecture is of Indo-Saracenic type. As a matter of fact it is an amalgam of Gothic, Mughal and Indian styles. Here they have used fully baked bricks for the whole construction. It has a wooden ceiling over which corrugated tin sheets have been placed angularly to facilitate easy clearance of snow during winters. the ceiling is supported by 370 very tall pillars made of pine timber. The mosque has a capacity to accommodate a congregation of 33333 people under its roof. Unfortunately this mosque too had to suffer great amount of loss due to fire which broke out at least thrice so far. The last renovation after a major fire was carried out by a Hindu ruler Maharaja Pratap Singh during the later part of 16th century.

Amongst all the mosques we have seen in India, this one is unique and justly called the pride of Srinagar.

Hazratbal (Srinagar)

Very close to the Nishat Baug at Srinagar there is a very famous place known as Hazratbal. Once it was a village which now is a suburban locality of Srinagar. “Bal” literally means  a place and it is some times misconstrued as “Baal” meaning “hair”. Hazratbal if literally translated could mean a holy place. Interestingly it does have an association with the  “hair” of the Prophet Mohammed, the precursor of Islam. It is believed by the muslim community of Kashmir that a strand of hair from Prophets beard is preserved at a shrine thereat which is also referred to as Hazratbal. A gang of terrorists even occupied the shrine with an intent to take away the holy relic and in the shoot out that followed, the security forces succeeded in eliminating them. Even thereafter there had been few skirmishes. Now it seems that peace has finally dawned. There are hundreds of pigeons here and people say that the white ones, representing peace, are on an increase. Because the entire area is sensitive, security forces have been posted at the shrine.

The structure as it appeared in 1920
The holy relic gets exposed to public view five times a day for the whole week during during Eid-e-milad and Meraj-un-nabi celebrations. Thousands throng to this shrine during those occasions just to have a glimpse of the relic. It is said that during the beginning of the 17th century a high official of Shahjahan’s court got constructed a beautiful building (Isshrat Mahal) with gardens spread out. In those days the surrounding area was known as Sadiqabad. When Shahjahan visited the place in 1634 he ordered the building to be used as a prayer hall. Historians are of the view that the relic was brought to India from Medina by one Syed Abdulla a descendant of the Prophet, who settled down at Bijapur in Karnataka. After his death the relic came into the possession of his son Syed Hamid. But then the area came under the attack of Mughals who annexed it. During the turmoil, Syed Hamid lost all his properties and was not able to take care of the family relic. He, therefore, sold it to a rich Kashmiri merchant named Khwaja Nur-ud-din Eshai. When Aurangazeb (Mughal emperor) came to know about this, he got the holy relic confiscated and sent it to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. Nur-ud-din Eshai was arrested for possessing the relic and jailed at Lahore (now in Pakistan). It seems that after some time Aurangazeb’s conscience deplored his own actions and then he decided to return the relic to it’s owner Nur-ud-din and set him free. However by that time Nur-ud-din, while in jail,  had already departed to his heavenly abode.

It was in 1699 that the remains of Nur-ud-din Eshai’s body as also the holy relic were brought to Kashmir. Inayat Begam, daughter of Nur-ud-din got the remains of her father’s body cremated and a shrine erected at Hazratbal. She also took the holy relic under her protection. The present structure made of marble was constructed by the Muslim Aukaf Trust administered by Sheikh Abdulla (a renowned politician of yester years). The construction started in 1968 and got completed in 1979. The shrine, apart from religious activities, was also a nerve centre of all political activities at Srinagar. Sheikh Abdulla used to address the public from this venue and became very popular. After his death, his son Dr. Farooq Abdulla desired to have  control over the affairs of the shrine but terrorists had a upper hand from 1990 onwards. The shrine proved to be a safe heaven for them.

We roamed about the residential areas adjoining the Shrine and then proceeded towards the left. The road was going down, not steep though. To our right there was one opening leading towards the left side of the Holy Shrine. Amidst a well laid our lawn, there were some ornamental trees.  The main dome of the shrine had scaffoldings and it appeared that some restoration/repairs were being undertaken. There was a group of Kashmiri women at the extreme end of the lawn singing and rejoicing. We asked a gentleman there, probably belonging to that group, about the happenings. We were told that a family from a nearby village had no issues and they had prayed at the Shrine earlier. As a result a baby was born and that the family has brought the child here and were expressing their gratitude. We sought their permission to take few photographs and they gladly agreed. After enjoying their traditional group song with the accompaniments, we proceeded towards the shrine. There were not many tourists. Most of the people there were local women who were entering a side hall to offer their prayers. We had a peep through a window. When we were proceeding towards the front side, we encountered few security personnel. We once again enquired if it would be proper for us to take photographs. We were advised not to do so inside the hall leading to the main Shrine (tomb). There was a covered porch outside through which we could enter the main hall, The hall was fully decorated and carpeted and looked like the hall of a church without the seating arrangement (benches). Thereafter we came out and we were on the main street after passing through an arched gate.

The visitors from different parts of country generally  pay a visit to the shrine. In the past, even the political delegations, including from the BJP, also made it a point in the past to pay obeisance at the shrine. Former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Presidents Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and APJ Kalam had also visited the shrine. But now a days It seems that tourists are not very comfortable coming here as it is perceived that any thing could happen anytime.

Here is a small video: