Monday, August 8, 2011

Dusk Over Jama Masjid, Old Delhi - Trespassing A Mosque

This is a continuation of our July 4th post before my recent travel back to Angkor and Samut Prakan.

There is New Delhi (India's capital), then there's Old Delhi. To the unfamiliar, Old Delhi is the ancient and inherent soul of India. It is where local color bursts into a thousand hues that spellbind tourists with its staggering congestion, frenetic movement, organized chaos, stark poverty and a lot of history and tradition spilling over every niche of this old city. Old Delhi hosts the Red Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Jama Masjid, aka Masjid-i Jahan-Numa (which literally means "world-reflecting mosque").


Jama Masjid is India's biggest mosque, commissioned by the think-tank behind the Taj Mahal, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. This was completed in 1628 A.D. and lies at the vicinity of a very busy street, the Chawri Bazaar Road (see below for photo). It took 5,000 men and seven years to finish. It would also constitute a scary encounter in Delhi.

This mosque, which can accommodate 85,000 devotees, adheres to a very strict set of rules, and visitors have to follow these to the letter. My friend Junaid took me there, and since I was really under "his care", I didn't bother asking him like I usually do. A big mistake!

We entered through Gate 1 (to the right side of the mosque) amidst a relaxed throng. I took my shoes off and held them with me. The ground was cool under the late afternoon sun, but I could feel the gritty waftings of dust and sand. I've always hated walking barefoot.

Then Junaid excused himself. He's Muslim and had to proceed to the prayer hall. I was left in a vast courtyard with hundreds of devotees; some praying, others in jovial and picnicky demeanor. I stood beside the central fountain (meant for ablutions). Pigeons were frolicking in mid-air.

I was awkwardly standing barefoot in the middle of the courtyard, space enveloping me into a macrocosm of colors. "Wait for me at the fountain," Junaid said. I nodded. I had to wait there. Or I'd lose him in the crowd, and this was Old Delhi. Being a first timer in this city, it intimidates the shite out of me. Ten minutes later, a stern faced guy came up to me, speaking to me in the vernacular. I shrugged my head. "No hindi, just english," I muttered. I realized that I was being chastised for an infarction I supposedly committed! What was it? For friggin' out loud!

I was escorted to a different gate (Gate 2 - the one directly opposite the mosque - we entered from the right gate) and ordered to pay 200 rupees. I actually heaved a sigh of relief. Money is disposable. If it were just a financial matter, I didn't care. I didn't realize I was encroaching on their liberties, i.e. I wasn't muslim, making me an unwelcome presence in a sea of Koran-reading populace. I asked if I could at least wait at the side, instead of outside the mosque. Otherwise, I would lose my friend who was still saying his prayer inside. I wasn't sure if the guy understood, but he lead me to a porch at the corner. It was a perfect spot for me - to observe the people milling at the courtyard. It was an ideal spot to watch the world drift by as the sun slowly dips at the horizon.

Birds in silhouette soared in avian parade creating a dramatic backdrop on the beautiful architecture. The minarets rise as high as 42 meters. Not long after that, I saw Junaid perplexed. He had been looking for me. Where have I been? I told him what happened. Was I scammed out of 200 rupees? Was I fined for trespassing? Was there really an entrance fee for non-muslims? The presence of non-muslims wasn't exactly despised in Malaysian and Bangladeshi mosques. I have no idea to this day what exactly transpired. But there was a lesson to be learned. One has to know where he's going. Relying on the wisdom of others doesn't exempt you from the repercussions of ignorance.

And sometimes you pay a dear price.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Jama Masjid - India's biggest mosque

Gate 1 - entrance. Notice the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture of the gate, quite similar to the ones at the Taj Mahal.

Colors spilling over.

Chawri Bazaar Road - The impossible crowd. From this vantage point (Gate 2, exit gate), you can see Shah Jahan's other creation, the Red Fort!

Peddlers just outside the mosque.


Ola said...

the first two pictures are simply perfect! Like in National Geographic!
I like the contrast between the colors of the architecture and the choice of colors people are wearing outside the building.

eye in the sky said...

Thanks, Ola. The Indians wear some of the most eye-popping colors in the world. They perfectly contrast with the surroundings.