When Tamerlane aka Taimur was done and finished with largest mass-massacre in known and recorded Indian history, he decided to do some site-seeing. He explored the Mosques built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah Tilangani in Delhi during the reign of Feroz Shah Tughlaq. After admiring Jami Masjid of Kotla-i-Ferozshahi near present day Old Delhi, he went to the Begumpur Village, situated in today’s South Delhi. He was so mesmerized by the grandeur of the Begumpur Mosque that he decided to replicate it in Samarkand.
He shangaied masons captured from Delhi – those who had not been summarily executed during his ‘cleansing’ drive – and took them back to the land we now know as Uzbekistan. They were supposed to get inspired by the then biggest mosque of world, the Begumpur Marvel. Masons and Architects obeyed their new master and the similarity is ever so evident.
THE BEGUMPUR STORY
So what was so special about Begumpur Mosque of Delhi? Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah Tilangani, the Prime Minister of Emperor Feroz Shah Tughlaq of Delhi, was a great architect. He decided to pose a challenge to architects of mosques across the globe. He built the first large covered mosque, and the six others each with something special within. The Begumpur Mosque was one of those six, a single storied structure that measures 308 feet by 289 feet. It has total 68 domed compartments and a huge open court. The main Pishtaq (central arch), the most prominent feature of the building, is flanked by sloping buttresses each containing a winding staircase leading to the roof. There is an attached Mallu Khana, which is an independent mosque for ladies and also has a Taikhana. Mallu khana is accessible from a very small opening in the North wall, where you have to kneel to get through. I have not seen or heard of any other mosque from that era that contains such a huge and beautifully decorated mosque for women, which is attached to the main mosque. Mallu Khana is approximately 1/ 4th of the size of Begumpur Masjid and has beautiful Mehrabs and Windows.
Very few people are aware that there used to be a Village settled inside Begumpur Mosque. I was once part of a Heritage Walk in the Begumpur area. When we reached the Begumpur Mosque, we saw a small gathering around the mini-exhibition of archival pictures that ASI had arranged for us. This exhibition had historic photographs of this entire area, including the Begumpur Mosque. We could see old houses inside the Mosque and fields around it. So this group of locals gathered around the exhibition had few old people, who recognized their huts in those pics from early 1900s. It was a great nostalgic moment and everyone was getting Goosebumps. The old man took me around and explained every corner. He told about people who used to live there. He also told about farms and trees. He told how they did minor modifications in windows when some thief struck through it. But the most interesting part was, how this village got settled in here …
This old fellow told me, they belonged to some remote village in district Jhajjar of Haryana. In late 1800s, the soldiers of the Nawab of Jhajjar came to collect tax. Women told that men are out in field working and since there has been no rain this year, can they be exempted from tax this one time. But the soldiers barged into the homes and looked into every corner to be sure that there is no hidden money or crop. When men came back from field in evening and learned about the story, they sent a message to soldiers to come back and collect the tax. They said, they are ready to give away everything but face humiliation.
Next day, when soldiers came to collect money, entire village was ready for an ambush. All the soldiers were killed and according to the pre-plan, all villagers moved out of Jhajjar. They came to Delhi and stayed as nomads for few days in Kilokri area. Then someone told them about an empty mosque called Begumpur. So everyone moved there.
They divided the mosque into half. In one portion, all the villagers settled and in another, they built huts for helps. They invited cobblers, undertakers for their animals, priest, doctor, blacksmith and all other experts that are needed for a village to function. Outside the mosque were huge fields, which would give these villagers their daily bread and butter.
In 1928, a few domes of the mosque collapsed. British officers decided to move everyone out of this structure, as it was now declared dangerous for living. These families were given few hundred rupees per house to move out and settle elsewhere. But the land around this area was so costly that this small amount was no good for shifting. So these families decided to utilize their farms. They built their homes in their small fields and also gave space to those who were not having land there. This resulted in a much congested Begumpur Ghetto. British and the later Independent Indian Governments took measures to restore the mosque and improve roads in this ghetto. While streets are still very congested, the mosque appears like a wonder out of the rubble.
This mosque was built in Feroz Shah Tughlaq’s reign, during the second half of 14th century. Taimur had invaded Delhi within two decades of its construction, and the Mosque must have been in its full glory at that time, and no wonder it inspired him to replicate it in Samarkhand …