LODI GARDENS, NEW DELHI, INDIA.

Friday Mosque of Sikander Lodi.

File fact: The Afghan Sultan, Sikandar Lodi, may have possibly detested Hindus more than any other monarch of the Delhi Sultanate. But like his predecessors he made an exception when it came down to the art and architecture – a patronage that gave native artisans the freedom to experiment and create lasting legacies, like the Friday mosque that sits behind the mausoleum known as the Bara Gumbad in Lodi Gardens.

It was the first of its kind and the prototype that ushered in a new era in mosque architecture in the sub continent. Followers of the faith regardless of their status in society congregated within its open five bay prayer hall, accessible through arched doorways to pay humble obeisance or to gaze upon the words of Allah finely carved into the walls in ancient Arabic – the language of the prophet Muhammad.

More than an architectural accomplishment, the structure was the sacred house of God and God could be traced in every intricate detail. For many of the gathered Imams and Islamic pilgrims of the era, it was indeed the work of a true believer and defender of the religion.

The praise, however, might not have been a fitting one for the men and women who toiled under the harsh sun, hauled the stones in place, put in the finishing touches and shed sweat and blood to give shape to the holy site. And there is a strong possibility, the Persian and Arabic architectural designs that influence the ornamented structure – with delicately handmade motifs of floral and geometrical patterns complimented with medallions and inscriptions from the Quran – belies the true identity of the artisans who labored for days to painstakingly join the pieces together.

While not envisioned on a grand scale, the elaborate stucco on the erected rubble masonry with its arches and three Persian style hemispherical domes (though highly suggestive) might not have been the work of the Persians or Arabians at all. More likely that of their native Indian counterparts – Hindu artisans forced to work at the tip of a sword during the early days of the Sultanate and later as converts.

Fact was, the founders of the Sultanate were originally soldiers left behind as garrison commanders in charge of imperial holdings. Cut off from the land of their forefathers and lacking architects and artisans, they had relied on the indigenous  talent pool to build them monuments by imitating prevailing Islamic styles. During the reign of Sikandar Lodi many would have converted into Islam to gain favorable standing.

Northern India in 1494.

When the mosque was built in 1494 AD, Islam was near to completing its third century in North India. By this time native artisans, having gained  experience from previous attempts, were getting better at creating works of art to satisfy the taste of their Islamic overlords. Intermarriages and hard line policies ( encouraging conversion) put in place by clever monarchs had ensured additions to the population of  natural born Muslim immigrants seeping into the realm since the time of the Khiljis.

If there were any Hindu born artisans left in the workforce, fear of harassment would have induced them to either flee the land or take up projects at odds with their own religion. In truth earning a livelihood as a Hindu wasn’t a very practical option under Sikandar Lodi, unless one was careful with the choices made. But whatever inhuman atrocities the Sultan  might have reserved for his Hindu subjects, he mercifully spared their skills and talent.

To the conquerors, it actually never mattered who constructed the structures or what architectural style was used as long as it was Islamic in nature and closely resembled what they had in mind. This gave native artisans the license to infuse their own traditional techniques with Middle Eastern styles and evolve it into a distinct architectural form.

The mosque with its hemispherical dome and lotus finials at the base was one of the many visible signs of the culture fusion that would reach its apex under the rule of the coming Mughal Empire. Indo–Islamic architecture was about to come of age.

The Mosque.

The prototype that set in motion a new trend in mosque architecture, the Friday mosque is a blend of two cultures – that of the subjugated native populace and their Afghan overlords infatuated with Persian and Arabian architectural style. The structure comprises of an open five bay prayer hall sporting three hemispherical domes on the top with lotus finials, a Hindu Jharokha window and a minaret clinging to its one side. The interior wall, roof and arched entrances bear inscriptions from the Quran written in Arabic along with Persian motifs and large medallions. On the opposite end stands a small hall that may have served as a Mehaman Khana (rest house) for pilgrims, caretakers or the Imans themselves. The rubble mound in the center may have been a rain water well that was covered for some reason.

Indo-Islamic architecture.

Indo-Islamic architecture is the use of Hindu and Islamic elements in combination. The trend begun when Hindu artisans were forced to create Islamic structures for the Delhi Sultans who having arrived in India on conquest and plunder lacked artisans and architects.

Under later dynasties, Islamic immigrants trickling into the realm (and in greater numbers during the Mongol invasion of the Middle East) added to the talent pool with newer ideas and authentic Middle Eastern styles. The mix of styles and use of elements gradually evolved overtime reaching its pinnacle under the Mughals.

The Period.

Delhi Sultanate was a series of five short lived Islamic dynasties that ruled large parts of India (AD 1206 to AD 1526) from their base in Delhi. Largely of Turkic and Afghan stock, the sultans of the era are credited for spreading Islam in the sub continent and sowing in the seeds of Indo-Islamic art, music and architecture. Internal feuds, rebellions and military invasions by foreign powers largely contributed to their individual short tenures.

The dynasty: Lodi dynasty.

The Lodis were the last rulers of the Delhi Sultanate. Members of an ethic Afghan tribe (also known as Pathans), they migrated into the sultanate as traders. Then enlisting as soldiers under earlier dynasties rose in power and status finally taking over the throne of Delhi in AD 1451.

The dynasty was founded by Bahlul Khan Lodi, Governor of Sirhind (in present day Punjab) and ended with the defeat and death of third generation Ibrahim Lodi, the son of Sikandar Lodi in AD 1526 – ushering in the era of the Mughals. The mosque was built during the reign of Sikander Lodi.

Plan a visit.

The monument is located within the premises of Lodi Gardens in Lodi Colony, New Delhi. The park is open on all days. Best time to visit is between sunrise and sunset.Entry is free and no fee is charged for photography.Closest metro station is the Jor Bagh metro station. One can also reach the park from the Central Secretariat metro station via an auto rickshaw.

Travel tip.

Popularly known as the Friday mosque of Sikandar Lodi, the 15th century structure lies right behind the Bara Gumbad – the huge mausoleum of a mysterious nobleman and a few feet away from the Sheesh Gumbad – another large mausoleum decorated with glazed tiles. Visitors exploring this part of the Lodi Gardens can include the two monuments in their plans.

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