I spoke with the documentary project Mosques of India . We discuss how some of humanity’s oldest monuments and structures are falling into disuse and disrepair throughout India.
Asia Art Tours: Historically, what has been the role of Mosques in India’s diverse communities? And how have they acted as centers of aid/support/charity for muslims and non-muslims alike?
Mosques of India: They definitely played a far more important role than they today. You see many of India’s large historic mosques had caravanserais where travelers Muslim/non-muslim alike would be provided with shelter and fed by the local community. You also had instances where non-muslims would build mosques and Muslims would build temples. There was also a concept of langars that would run in mosques where people regardless of religious affiliation would be fed.
Serai Nurmahal or Mughal Serai is an caravanserai of historical importance near Jalandhar. Caravanserais are roadside inns, often containing mosques, where traders and merchants could take refuge.
Asia Art Tours: What are some of India’s grandest Mosques and have they historically been points of pride for India and India tourism?
Mosques of India: There are a few grand mosques that are featured in tourist brochures and enjoy popularity like Delhi’s Jama Masjid. But such examples are few and far in between. Most historic mosques in India are not only missing from the tourist circuit but despite their historical worth are also not on on the protected monuments list neither by their respective states nor by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). So, yes there is a lot of potential provided that they are added to ASI’s protected monuments list and necessary funds are allocated for their upkeep and encroachments are removed.
Jama Masjid Mosque during Eid
Asia Art Tours: And what are some of India’s most unique Mosques that while not as famous, still have much to teach us about the history of Islam in India?
Mosques of India: The Juni Masjid (Barwada Masjid) in Gujarat is believed to have been constructed during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). It completely shatters the myth of foreign invaders but rather shows that even in western India, Islam first arrived by means of trade over 1,400 years ago. The mosque is in a dilapidated condition now and is left to the vagaries of nature. In fact, there are two other mosques that are claimed to be constructed during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) in India, one is the Cheraman Juma Palli in Kerala and the other is the Palaiya Jumma Palli in Kilakarai, Tamil Nadu.
The Barwada Masjid Mosque of Gujarat
Asia Art Tours: What changes to treatment, care or discrimination have mosques seen under the government of Narendra Modi? And what difficulties are mosques facing in terms of care, structural damage, upkeep and maintaining their role in India’s communities?’
Mosques of India : It’s not just mosques in particular but heritage sites, in general, that are in desperate need of funds. It’s not as if we could pinpoint one particular government. State governments too have a lot of power which are ruled by various parties but other than a few outliers like Rajasthan, heritage sites are not looked after as well as they should be. Apart from funds, another major problem the engulfs India’s historic monuments (mosques included) is encroachment. Right here in the capital, we have several examples of historic mosques being encroached like the Kalu Sarai Mosque that has a family residing illegally inside the heritage structure. The mosque is one of the oldest mosques in the city.
Kalu Sarai Mosque
Asia Art Tours: Finally, what do you think the future of India’s mosques will be? And why should the global community care about their fate?
Mosques of India: I can’t say for certain what the future of mosques would be like but what I can say is that if things continue to proceed the way they are now, we will lose a lot of them. I’ve seen far too many monuments that are crying for preservation but help is nowhere to be seen. We’ve lost many already. Not long ago a minaret of an ancient 400-year-old mosque in Shaikpet, Hyderabad came crashing down – this mosque was a protected monument!
Coming to why should the global community care about them. I think there’s no other country in the world with a greater amount of large historic mosques than India. If we want future generations to be able to see these structures that are standing for centuries we need global attention as only awareness can save them.
Cheraman Juma Palli Mosque in Kerala
For more on India’s Mosques, please visit the Mosques of India Project