Jama Masjid

The Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), is one of the largest and finest mosques in India. It was the last major work commissioned by Shah Jahan, who laid the foundation stone in 1650; 50,000 workers took 6 years to complete the project. Although it is contemporary with Agra's Jama Masjid, the building bears a greater resemblance in its plan to the Moti Masjid within Agra Fort, although it is embellished with two minarets and is much more ambitious in scale. There are three entrances, but it is preferable to approach the mosque from the east side, with park land to the right and the great complex symmetrically positioned ahead, impressively fronted by a broad flight of steps. Formerly, the east gate was closed to all except the emperor, who would often ride to it on the back of an extravagantly decorated elephant from Red Fort's Delhi Gate. The return route was always varied, as a precautionary measure. Even when Aurangzeb built his Moti Masjid within Red Fort's complex, he continued to worship at the Jama Masjid on Friday evenings for the week's most important prayers, the streets being watered in the dry season to lay the dust as he approached.

A 14-year work of art, the 17th century Jama Masjid is India's largest mosque and the final architectural magnum opus of Shah Jahan, of Taj Mahal fame. This massive mosque, with its three gateways, four angle towers and two minarets standing 40 metres high, attracts devotees from around the planet. The direction of Mecca, which the faithful face when praying (doing 'namaz') is indicated by the placement of the 'mihrab', a semicircular space under the central dome. It's reserved for the 'imam' leading the prayers.

The building is set on a red sandstone plinth on which rests arcades. The three octagonal entrances are sited in the centres of the north, east and south sides, and pavilions mark the four corners. It is obvious that pains were taken to provide the Jama Masjid with an harmonious and appealing exterior, in contrast to the majority, of Indian mosques, where only the interior is regarded as architecturally important. At certain periods, non-Muslims are refused entry to the mosque and a check should be made in advance to ensure that no holy festival is being celebrated.

The doors of the main gate are decorated with bold arabesques of brass; at this point, shoes must be left or carried in a bag. Within the walls, the great courtyard (sahn) is almost 300 ft (91m) wide and can accommodate 25,000 worshippers. In its centre stands a marble ablutions basin (hauz) incorporating a fountain.

Unusually in a royal Mughal building, we know the name of the architect; it was Ustad Khalil, who combined sandstone and marble for the exterior of the prayer hall (liwan). As is normal, the high central entrance (iwan) dominates, providing a focal point for worshippers in the courtyard whenever there are too many for all to be accommodated in the hall itself. Of all the great Mogul buildings, only the Taj Mahal was designed with a dome large enough to 'float' above its iwan. The Jama Masjid's three domes of white marble are decorated with strips of black marble, thus accentuating their onion shape.

Surmounted by marble kiosks, the slim towers of the iwan are echoed by the two loftier minarets flanking the hall. Serving as Delhi landmarks, they are each 130 ft (40m) high and constructed from alternate strips of white marble and red sandstone. It is usually possible to ascend the minarets, for a small fee. With a supplement required for photography. Ladies should heed the notice insisting that 'women must be with reliable men relative.' From the courtyard's east arcade, the splendid views of the Red Fort's walls are a reminder that the original name of the mosque was Masjid- i- Jahan Numa (Mosque with a View of the World).

Within the north-east pavilion are housed much-venerated relics of Prophet Muhammad brought from Mecca; a footprint of the prophet, one of his sandals and a tract from the Koran- these will be shown on request. Originally, Shah Jahan inserted the prophet's footprint within the prayer hall.

The prayer hall is entered by passing through the marble screen of cusped arches. Steps, right of the central niche (mehrab), lead to the pulpit (minbar), which has been carved from one slab of marble. Exit from the mosque via the south gate.

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