Botched ASI facelift of Mughal mosque


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The landmark Fatehpuri Masjid , built by one of Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s wives, remains a picture of neglect despite Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) beginning restoration work here last November . Inhabitants of the Fatehpuri area in Chandni Chowk complain the ASI project has not made any visible improvement to the mosque in three months. 

Fatehpuri Masjid [Credit: Ramesh lalwani/flickr]

Shahi Imam, Dr Mufti M Mukarram Ahmed, who has been with the masjid for the last 42 years, says, “After erecting scaffoldings at the entrance in November, all that ASI has done is pull down a damaged minaret from the top of the structure. Stones and construction material piled on the road outside cause traffic problems. It is very discouraging to see that work has been done at the mosque only for five to six days.” 

The mosque, a contemporary of Jama Masjid and Red Fort, is still visited at prayer times by hundreds of worshippers every day. However, it is not designated an ASI-protected monument and is the Wakf Board’s property . Even the funding for the restoration work comes from Swami Vivekananda Trust in Kolkata. A top ASI official told TOI the Trust has allocated Rs 6 crore for conservation and upkeep of the mosque. 

While a lone ASI chowkidar guards the construction material, there are no labourers at the site. “We offered all assistance to ASI when it started work, even offering space for the labourers to stay, and to store the construction material. We want the masjid to get a much needed facelift. But we have rarely seen any actual work take place,” says Ahmed. 

The locals’ disenchantment with the project is understandable. From the moment you alight before the faded, tilting sign announcing ‘Masjid-e-Fatehpuri’ amidst the clutter of shops and rickshaws, signs of decay greet you. While the mosque’s single dome seems fine, its three standing minarets look shaky. The fourth has been dismantled. Single and double-storey apartments, many of them used as shops, surround the stonepaved courtyard. 

There are noticeable cracks in the arcade around the courtyard as well as the floor. The minarets are the worst affected and the ones facing Chandni Chowk have been reinforced with wires. The main prayer hall drips during the monsoon and remains damp the year round. Monkeys also damage a lot of the mediaeval carving. 

This decay is all the more shocking because Fatehpuri Masjid is counted among the most glorious Mughal mosques after Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid and Delhi’s Jama Masjid. Some historians consider it as important as Jama Masjid and Red Fort as all three were built in the same period. 

The mosque bears the name of Shahjahan’s fourth wife Fatehpuri Begum, who built it in 1650 AD. It has been made using the same kind of stone that is found in Jama Masjid. The mosque’s three impressive gates are always open to people and it can hold up to 20,000 worshippers during namaz. 

Author: Richi Verma | Source: The Times of India [January 31, 2012]



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