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In memory of a pious Begum

Named after one of Emperor Shahajahan's wives, Fatehpuri Masjid in Chandni Chowk was in a way a rival of the famous Jama Masjid, says R.V. SMITH


Fatehpuri Masjid, built in 1650 is more than a mosque. Like the Fountain it is a landmark of Delhi that few can miss. Named after one of Shah Jahan's wives, it is at the end of Chandni Chowk, which initially began at the Red Fort. In those days one did not have to encounter heavy traffic to walk from one end of the street to the other.

Of course, there was a canal in the middle with huge trees on either side that provided the much needed shade in summer.

Fatehpuri Masjid was in a way a rival of the Jama Masjid, the latter built by the Emperor and the former the creation of his begum, a devout woman, who, could not think of a better way to commemorate herself. In former times the mosque was not encroached upon by shops that are such an eyesore now. But there is a practical reason for having them there because of the income they bring to the trust that looks after the mosque and without which its upkeep would be difficult.

It was at this place that the famous inter-religious debates between Bishop Lefroy and Sharf-ul-Haq place in the last century.

During the Moghul days there were beautiful fountains inside the mosque and a huge central tank.

But the masjid fell on bad days after the Mutiny, when it was occupied by the British troops, along with the Jama Masjid.

The soldiers thought it their duty to despoil the monument and to carve their names on the walls. Not only this, they held parties inside the mosque where liquor flowed and some of the drunken men even climbed the pulpit, from where they preached their own nonsensical sermons.

It was long after that order was restored that the masjid was handed back to the trustees. The courtyard was auctioned by the British to Seth Chunna Mal. But in 1877 it too was restored for worship after being redeemed from the Seth in exchange for four villages in Mehrauli.

A peculiar feature of the courtyard is the existence of the graves of the past imams. Another masjid built by another wife of Shah Jahan, Bibi Akbarabadi, was situated in what is now known as Netaji Park, near the Jama Masjid.

This mosque was destroyed by the British in 1857. Some years ago the former Shahi Imam off Jama Masjid, Abdullah Bukhari, had raised the demand for the rebuilding of the mosque but nothing came of it and now even the residents of the area have forgotten that such a masjid once existed as a counterpart of the one built by Fatehpuri Begum.

Avenging troops

Why this mosque was demolished is not known, but the conjecture is that unable to destroy the Jama Masjid because of popular sentiment, the avenging troops of the East India Company hit upon the expedient of doing away with this building, which did not attract so many NamazisBibi Akbarabadi also laid the Shalimar Garden in Delhi, which was called Aizzabad after her, as she was also known as Aiz-un-Nissa Begum. Why did the Begum build a mosque so close to the Jama Masjid? Women did not visit the big mosque of Shah Jahan, so Bibi Akbarabedi thought it fit to have a place of worship for them close to the Red Fort.

In those days there was no road dividing the fort and Jama Masjid because of which Shah Jahan could walk across and offer prayers at his mosque after entering it through the Shahi Darwaza. Meanwhile, Bibi Akbarabadi and her maids made their way to the smaller mosque for their devotions.

According tot the late Haji Zahooruddin, Akbarabadi Masjid rankled in the eyes of the British because it was there that the congregation used to raise slogans against the Tommies occupying the Jama Masjid. So the mosque was blown up after the Mutiny, along with the palaces that stood opposite the Red Fort and the ones adjoining the shrine of Hazrat Kalimullah. But now that the mosque cannot be rebuilt because of difficulties in accommodating it in the changed environs, it will only exist in memory as the lost twin of Fatehpuri Masjid.

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