Madurai, history, art and architecture, EI3, Part 2, 2019, pp. 138-146, illustrations 1-6.
Madurai a Hindu pilgrimage centre on the bank of River Vaigai, fell under Muslim rule following raids by the armies of the Khalji sultans of Delhi, `Ala al-din and Mubarak Shah followed by a short period of an independent sultanate (c. 1333 to 1378). The Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta who visited Madurai records:
"Mathura is a large city, with broad streets. Sultan al-Sharif Jalal al-din Aḥsan Shāh… built the city to resemble Delhi… When I went to the city there was an outbreak of cholera ... The sultan … found his mother, his wife and child ill. He remained in the city for three days and then moved to the bank of the river situated one parasang from the town. At this place, there is a temple of the infidels."
A mid-eighteenth century plan of Madura town and its immediate environ, As usual for many maps of this period the south (not the north) is orientated towards the top. The site of the Muslim quarter and the tombs of `Ala al-din and Shams al-din is shown at the bottom left.
He makes it clear that there were two Madurais: one Muslim (which could be under modern Tiruparangundram ‒ where the last Ma`bar sultan Sikandar Shah (c. 1372–1377-8) was slain by the forces of Vijayanagar), and the other Hindu ‒ by the River Vaigai with the great Sri Minaksi temple at its centre. The Hindu Madurai was, of course much older than Ahsan Shah’s new capital but the burial in the earlier town of two of the Ma`bar sultans and some of their courtiers indicate it had a Muslim community, as does the historic mosque of Qadi Taj al-din. The Hindu layout follows the concept of the town as an image of the cosmos, with a concentric plan placing the Sri Minaksi Temple at its centre with two layers of perimeter walls. In spite of modern expansions, the old core is preserved along with the straight street layout of the town, generated around the temple with its four gates opening to the four main streets aligned in the cardinal directions.
Muslim architecture of Madurai
The Muslim architecture of Madurai shares similar structural principles with that of the Hindu monuments of Tamil Nadu, all constructed with dressed stone, but in their planning the mosques have a design peculiar to South India: a prayer hall, with or without an ante-chamber, fronted by a colonnaded portico. The foremost monument is the shrine housing the tombs of the Ma`bar sultans, `Alā al-din Udauji and Shams al-dīn `Adil Shah, consisting of a square domed chamber in the centre of a colonnade two aisles deep and covered with a flat roof. The design of the plan resembles that of many tombs of Gujarat and it seems likely that the form could have been introduced from Gujarat via the Indian Ocean trade route. The dome of the central square chamber with an inner diameter of 5.9 m. appears on the exterior as a simple hemispherical dome, but it is actually a single piece of rock smoothed on the outside but with the soffit only roughly hollowed out to demonstrate the monolith. There is no other parallel with this dome in Muslim buildings in South India, but in Hindu architecture carving huge monoliths and placing them on the top of temples was a common practice.
The mosque of Qadi Taj al-din, view of the eastern
entrance colonnade seen from the modern extended
hall. The lobed arches between the columns are later
additions. Above, line drawing of the east elevation
showing it in its original condition.
Among the mosques the oldest are one in the compound of the shrine of `Ala al-din and the other the mosque of Qadi Taj al-Dīn or Kazimar (Qadimar) in the town, both having the typical South Indian layout and without a formal courtyard. The Qadi Taj al-din mosque was extended in the 1970s as the congregational mosque (Jami`) obscuring the original core which is, however, preserved without alteration. It is believed locally that the mosque was founded by Taj al-din (d. 692/1292-3), but the present building seems to date from the Vijayanagar period. It consists of a colonnaded porch, opening via an ante-chamber to the prayer hall. The monolithic columns are elaborately decorated and their bracket-capitals follow the traditional Hindu and Muslim South Indian design. The single mihrab (prayer niche) is square in plan and has a slightly ogee three-lobed arch, which derives from a profile seen in numerous early mosques of both North and South India.
The ante-chamber leading to a prayer hall seen in this mosque and many others in South India never appears in North India. This layout may have been introduced from the coastal regions of the Middle East where such features could be seen in a ruinous 10th or 11th century mosque at Siraf, south Iran and in some 12th century mosques in the Yemen. If the shrine of `Ala al-din displays architectural influence from Gujarat, the appearance of ante-chambers in the mosques of Madurai and elsewhere in South India is material evidence of the cultural relationship of the region with Middle Eastern centres of maritime trade.
Kochi (Cochin), history, art & architecture, EI3, Part 2, 2019, pp. 116-122, illustrations 1-4.
Cochin, the historic Jami` mosque also known as Chembattapalli, burnt to the ground by the Portuguese and rebuilt entirely in 1519-20.
Cochin, renamed Kochi (Kerala, India), well-known for its Jewish settlement, also has a rich Muslim heritage. The history of the town goes back only to after 1341 when a geological event re-shaped the coastline with old Cochin being submerged under water and the island of Vypin emerging from the sea, heralding a new era, Puduvaipu, used for dates in many records. The ancient town was an insignificant port, ignored by the early merchants and the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who passed the site of old Cochin early after its destruction but does not mention the present town, which was not yet established, although he visited the Jewish settlement above a hill – apparently un-affected by the catastrophe.
The new town developed probably by the end of the 14th century along the calm backwater which formed an excellent harbour and the town entered the geopolitics of the time when, in 1500, its Raja made an alliance with the Portuguese. At the time Cochin was still a small town with the Raja’s palace, according to the Portuguese, a humble structure, badly furnished and the townspeople living in houses with mud walls and timber roofs. However, the Muslim merchants (the “Moors”) lived in grander dwellings enclosed by stone walls to protect their merchandise. The Jews and Muslims were under the Raja’s protection and in spite of the Portuguese hostility to these communities they were obliged to tolerate them. The Muslim who were importers of rice (the staple diet of South India) retained their position and traded not just with the local people but also with the Portuguese, who nonetheless destroyed a mosque on the coast which was later rebuilt and still stands today.
With the decline of Portuguese maritime supremacy, the Dutch took over their fort, but in the power struggle with the Nawwabs of Maysor, first Haidar `Ali, and then his son Tippu Sultan, took control of Cochin and in 1789 even proposed to buy the fort, but the Dutch declined. Tippu's final defeat by the British also eliminated Dutch control and in 1796 they eventually transferred the fort to the British.
Cochin, below, Shrine of Zain al-din al-Ma`bari with
its mosque in the background photographed in 1994.
On the gable of the shrine the inscribed wooden panels
can be seen, but they have since been dismantled and
sold to private collectors. Above details of the inscription
in Malayalam and Tamil dated 1625.
From this time the Muslim population increased and while the Jews migrated to Israel the Muslim community has continued to flourish and has now spread out of their traditional neighbourhood to all parts of the town.
Architecture: In Cochin the old street layout of the Jewish and Muslim quarters has been preserved, with the Muslim institutions along the spinal Darussalam (dar al-salam) Road, including the shrine and mosque of Zain al-dīn, and the historic Shafi`i Jami`, also known as Chembattapalli, which is known for its wooden structure and details. The outer walls are of stone, but the columns and the entire two-tiered roof structure are of wood. The prayer hall is entered through a colonnaded entrance porch which bears a bilingual inscription of 1519-20 incorporating the phrase “endure the fire” alluding to its reconstruction after being apparently burnt by the Portuguese some two decades earlier. An old addition to the building is a chamber housing an ablution pool, but in recent decades the mosque has been extended extensively at the front of the porch. The original wooden upper structure is a large, well-ventilated, slightly dark hall with a high ceiling, once used as a madrasa (theological college). The building’s joinery is simple but the structural elements fit ingeniously together to support each other in equilibrium; a well-attested method, centuries old.
Near the mosque is a chamber housing the tombs of two local religious personages: Sayyid Isma`il and Sayyid Fakhr al-din Bukhari, and further away is the shrine and mosque of Zain al-dīn al-Ma`bari. These small buildings, while not as striking architecturally, are revered locally. The Shrine of Zain al-din had, until 1994, inscribed wooden panels on its gable (now dismantled and apparently sold to private collectors) in Arabic, Malayalam and Tamil text dated 1625 and another inscription dated 1591-2 over the interior of the entrance of the mosque which seems to refer to its construction. The shrine is also significant for being the tomb of the ancestor of the better-known Zain al-din, the author of the Tuhfat al-Mujahidin, the history of the Muslim maritime merchants’ struggles with the Portuguese.
"Kozhikode (Calicut), history, art and architecture", EI3, Part 1, 2019, pp. 132–138, illustrations 1-3.
Kozhikode, better known as Calicut (Kerala, India) is known in history for its old established and resilient Muslim community whose alliance with the region’s powerful Hindu Rajas (Zamorin of the Portuguese and Samiri of the Muslims) left commerce firmly in the hands of the Arabs and the Persians, as described by many travellers such Ibn Battuta in the 14th century, Nicolò de’ Conti in the early 15th, and `Abd al-Razzaq in the mid-15th century who mentioned that the Muslims were mainly Shafa`i and had two congregational mosques (Jami`), an unusual tradition still current. Calicut’s commercial fame attracted the Portuguese who challenged Muslim dominance, and created a long period of hostility between the two.
At first, in 1498, the Muslims blocked Vasco da Gama’s attempts at setting up a trading post and two years later, in his second voyage, when negotiations failed the Portuguese shelled the town, burned the houses and the main congregational mosque, but were at the end defeated ‒ with the mosque being rebuilt even grander than before. However, with the growing marine supremacy of the Portuguese armada many Arabs and Persians gradually left the scene, and the Muslim global trade, based on peaceful free enterprise, came to a virtual end. In the course of time the Muslims, now many of local origin, remained strong, rebuilt their edifices and today live in many parts of the region as well as in the core of the old port, making up almost half of the population of Calicut.
Calicut, the fourteenth century Mithqalpalli, with the timber upper
structure of the mosque reconstructed in the sixteenth century.
The two lower tiers follow traditional structural principles, but the
two upper tiers are set back successively to create the imposing
four-tiered appearance of the mosque, which is the most impres-
sive of all Muslim structures in Malabar.
The old Muslim quarter, known as Kuttichira, at the south-east of the modern town, occupies an area surrounding the historic tank and town square, still a gathering-place. To its north-east stands the imposing Mithqalpalli, the congregational mosque constructed originally in the 14th century by Nakhuda Mithqal, a wealthy ship-owner and merchant. This is the mosque that the Portuguese burned in 1510 and was reconstructed in c. 1578-9. The prayer hall and ante-chamber are at ground level, constructed with stone walls with arched doors all around, and surmounted by a grand timber roof in four tiers housing three upper floors supported by a combination of stone walls and wooden columns. At the northern side of the ante-chamber, a chamber housing an ablution chamber has been added later.
In the Mithqalpalli the single prayer niche (mihrab) has a deep semi-circular plan and a semi-circular arched profile decorated with foliations jutting out of the frame at the sides and the crown, unfamiliar in Indian and Middle Eastern architecture, but similar to motifs seen in the 15th-century tombstones of Malaysia, indicating widespread links in maritime arts and architecture. The mosque has also retained its old wooden pulpit (minbar) bearing a number of Arabic inscriptions recording the dates of renovations, the earliest carried out in the first decades of the 17th century on the order of the Port-master, Jamal al-din `Antabi, apparently from Entebbe in Uganda.
The other congregational mosque in its present form is the largest mosque of Calicut, but was originally a much smaller building chosen as the Jami` after the burning of the Mithqalpalli, and enlarged later. The mosque and its minbar bear many inscriptions, the oldest, referring to an early restoration dating from 885/1480-81. Another records the addition of a porch in 1679-80 by a shipmaster, Shaikh `Imad who in 1683 also restored its elegant minbar. The mosque is entered via the porch, opening to an ante-chamber which in turn leads to a large prayer hall. The plan is not much different from that of the Mithqālpaḷḷi and other mosques of the town, but its proportions and asymmetrical layout – the result of the extensions and alterations – make it unlike other mosques of South India. A feature of the mosque are two rectangular pools inside the prayer hall, with openings in the roof to allow light for the hall and rainwater to pour into the basins, creating a pleasant cool interior environment, an architectural innovation with no ritual function.
Calicut, present plans of the two oldest mosques in the
town the Jami` (above) and Muchchandipalli (below).
The remains of the layout of the original walls are shown
in solid black and later additions in line drawing.
Near the mosque is another smaller mosque, the Muchchandipalli which is probably the oldest in Calicut, bearing a foundation inscription which seems to date from 1287-8. Another records its renovation in c. 1480-81. The structure’s stone walls have semi-circular arched doors similar to those at the Mithqalpalli. The decorated porch is close in form to that of the Jami` and from the same period. The wooden upper level is similar to that of the Jami` but has been partly reconstructed in later dates, giving the façade a three-tiered appearance. A number of smaller mosques in Kuttichira are all built on the same principle of stone walls with wooden columns and roof structure, and altogether Calicut’s Muslim edifices represent the best of Kerala’s rapidly disappearing architectural traditions, with the Mithqalpalli, still the grandest mosque in South India.
* “The Lady of Gold: Sikandar Lodi's mother (c. 837/1433 - 922/1516)
and the tomb attributed to her at Dholpur, Rajasthan”,
M. and N. H. Shokoohy, BSOAS, vol. 81, Part 1, 2018
“It is said that in the days that Bahlul Khan was Governor of that town (Sirhind or Sihrind) he had built outside the fort a mansion comparable to the heavenly paradise. Sometimes he resided there. In those vicinities lived a goldsmith who had a daughter with a face like a tulip and hair the colour of musk; it happened that Bahlul’s eye fell upon her, he was enchanted. That beauty with moon-like face also gave her heart to him. When he sat on the royal throne he satisfied the wishes of her father and married her.” This was Sikandar Lodi’s mother as described by the Tarikh-i Shahi.
Until the Mughal period historians of Muslim India hardly mention ladies, as it was considered discourteous, while in any case only a handful of noble women were deemed worthy of mention. A secluded lady was of concern only to the man of the house. But a few women’s influence reached beyond the harem and their voices appear between the lines. One was Sultan Raḍiya, Īltutmish’s daughter, who succeeded to the throne and enjoyed a degree of freedom during Turkish rule in India, but was killed, accused of an illicit relationship with a black slave. Another was the Sharqī Sultan Muḥammad’s mother, Bībī Rājī, who played a significant role in the affairs of Jaunpur, but this article concerns Sultan Sikandar Lodī’s mother, known as Bībī Zarrīna “the Lady of Gold”, who defied the Lodī nobility to put her son on the throne. Here we explore her story and study her tomb.
The handsome and elaborate tomb of Bībī Zarrīna faces a mosque, both built of red sandstone with the trabeated structure typical of the Bayana region. Unlike the Sayyid and Lodī buildings of Delhi, deriving from Tughluq architecture and often incorporating arcuate structures set on monolithic columns, in the Bayana region all major Lodī buildings are trabeate. A unifying design for the complex is expressed in the beam and bracket structure of the mosque and the tomb, but there are subtle differences in detail. The columns of the tomb are plain, but on the exterior between the columns pierced stone screens carved with a variety of interlaced patterns give a particular charm to the interior when patterns of light and shade fall on the floor and the tomb.
The contrast between the delicate tomb and the more massive and plain mosque leads the eye from one feature to another. The modest scale of the compound also seems intentional, as it suits the mother of a king, leaving a grander design for the tomb of the sultan himself, buried in Delhi. But there may have been another reason for the chosen scale. If the mausoleum were much larger it could not have been as light as it is and the balance between the size of the building and the finely carved screen work would have been lost. As it is, the chamber with its fine open work echoes the form of an ornamental jewel box; a suitable form, perhaps, for the daughter of a goldsmith, and within it the jewel – the mortal remains of “the Lady of Gold”.
"Kayalpatnam: history and architecture", EI3, 2018, pp. 135–143, illustrations 1-3
Kayalpatnam (the “City of Kayal”, Tamil Nadu, India) is renowned in the history of the Indian Ocean maritime trade and is still inhabited by Muslims of Middle Eastern origin. The town is the site of the port of Qa’il and was visited by Marco Polo in c. 1293 who called it Cail, noting that ships from the islands of Hurmuz and Kish in the Persian Gulf, laden with horses and from Aden and Arabia, anchored there with other merchandise for sale. The town was a major port of the Coromandel Coast known to the Muslims as Ma`bar (“the pass”) and from the thirteenth century the commerce of the region was in Muslim hands, with its governor one Malik Taqi al-din al-Tayyibi, a relative of the rulers of South Iran and a minister of the Hindu ruler of Ma`bar. In this port Chinese merchandise was exchanged with goods from the Middle East and even Europe. The local products, particularly pearls, fine red silk and aromatic roots were exported, but the main import was horses, over 11,000 a year sold to the kingdoms of South India.
Although Ma`bar was taken by the army of the Delhi Sultans `Ala al-din Khalji in 1310-11 whose rule was followed by a short-lived sultanate which probably included Qa’il in its jurisdiction, the merchant community of the town remained aloof from politics and maintained its international trade, exporting local products, particularly gemstones and pearls which were gradually replacing the import of horses. The fame of the pearl fisheries lured first the Portuguese and later the Dutch who depleted the oyster beds ending the fame of Kayalpatnam. Today Kayalpatnam is a small but expanding and prosperous town with its Muslim population living in harmony with their Hindu and Christian neighbours.
Kayalpatnam, Jami` al-Saghir or Khutba Sirupalli, the oldest mosque in the town, dating back probably to the thirteenth century. Interior and plan which also shows a tomb chamber attached to the mosque. Among the seven early fifteenth-century tombs in the chamber one dates from 806/1403. In the plan recent additions on either side of the tomb chamber are given with lighter lines.
The town has preserved a large number of historic edifices mainly constructed of ashlar, with flat stone roof slabs, some echoing the timber roof structures which were once abundant in the region, but now rare. The mosques follow the Arab tradition of having a single prayer niche (mihrab) rather than the multiple mihrabs seen in North India. Vaults and arches, common elsewhere, are not employed, instead, a covered colonnaded prayer hall with a porch is the norm. The oldest buildings are the two congregational mosques (Jami`) known as the Khutba Parriapalli or the Jami` al-Kabir (the greater Jami`) dated 737/1336-7 and the Khutba Śirupalli or the Jami` al-Saghir (the smaller Jami`). Both share a similar plan, with plain and bold structural details. Other smaller mosques have a similar layout and structural features, comprising a prayer hall with a colonnaded entrance porch at the east.
Certain new concepts of design were introduced in the seventeenth-century, best manifested in the Rettaikulampalli, a mosque which while it preserves the colonnade principle, accomplishes a wider central nave by means of elaborate multiple brackets supporting flat roof slabs of the maximum length permitted by the properties of the stone. Domes only appear in the nineteenth century, one added in the centre of the Jami` al-Kabir and another over the circular Mahlara mosque built in 1288/1871 in the Qadiriya Madrasa. Three old tomb chambers preserved in the town also display the form of the earlier widespread timber buildings. They are rectangular in plan, and while constructed entirely of stone, have hipped roofs imitating the timber roofs still characteristic of Kerala.
* “Sources for Malabar Muslim Inscriptions”, M. Shokoohy,
in: Malabar in the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism in a Maritime Historical region,
ed. Mahmood Kooria and Michael Naylor Pearson, Oxford University Press,
New Delhi, 2018, 1-63, figs 1.1-1.27.
Calicut, the foundation stone of an early mosque preserved in the Muchchandipalli recording the construction of a mosque and the excavation of a well. The panel is likely to date from the thirteenth or early fourteenth century and while the date is eroded a reading of 686/1287–8 may be suggested.
As with all regions of South Asia, the inscriptions of Malabar stand as incontrovertible historical records, as, unlike manuscripts, they are not subject to error or misinterpretation of ambiguous words by later copyists. The epigraphs speak to us directly from the time of composition, setting out the composers’ aims and perception of their social position as well as revealing the community’s attitude to itself and outsiders. The Malabar maritime Muslims were a small, but affluent, influential, minority and their inscriptions often include both historical and religious texts, recording dates, sometimes events, and usually the name of the patron of the project. With epitaphs the historical text usually provides the date of an event or the death of the deceased, with names sometimes comprising a lineage, indicating position in society as well as the town or region of origin. Such information is revealing for understanding the composition of the communities.
The major inscriptions in Quilon (Kollam), Calicut (Kozhikode) and Cochin (Kochi) are investigated in detail, analysing their significance. Some inscriptions provide material evidence for the presence of Muslim communities at least from the 13th century while others attest to the revival of Muslim influence in the region, after an interruption caused by the advent of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and their challenge to Muslim maritime trade.
A comprehensive chronological list is then given of all known Muslim inscriptions in Malabar, mentioning their location and giving reference to sources. Most of these inscriptions have simply been noted in the epigraphic reports, but have so far remained unstudied. Nevertheless, the list provides valuable social and historical information. Most of the tombstones seem to have been worn out, but the names of the deceased give revealing information on the composition of the community. Together the inscriptions of the edifices and the epitaphs speaks of the close network of Muslim communities in the trading posts of India and beyond.
Calicut Jami`. The panel over the entrance
to the prayer hall recording the renovation
of the mosque in 885/1480–1.
It is hoped that the list will provide a stepping-stone for scholars to continue with detailed studies. The list is followed by a critical overview of such records, noting that in spite of the previous lack of proper investigation, considerable historical and social knowledge can be gleaned from their perusal.
* “The Malabar Mosque: a visual manifestation of an egalitarian faith”,
M. Shokoohy and N. H. Shokoohy,
in: Malabar in the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism in a Maritime Historical Region,
ed. Mahmood Kooria and Michael Naylor Pearson,
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2018, 307-337, figs 11.1-11.23.
Calicut, interior of the central part of the Jami` looking towards the mihrab
and giving an impression of how the original mosque would have looked. The
modern blue and white paint has altered the original appearance, as the
wooden columns and ceiling would have been oiled and probably stained
with subtle colours.
The Indian Ocean trade did not begin with the Muslims. From the time of the ancient Greeks, Persians and Romans, people of many faiths – Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians – had settled on the India littoral, but no other maritime community had such a profound effect on the culture of their hosts as the Muslims, with the mosque as the architectural manifestation of their principal belief. While similarities can be drawn between the structure of the Malabar temples and mosques there was no parallel between them in concept or architectural planning. In a temple the gates and halls barred non-Hindus, outcastes and low castes from entry. Even for those allowed to enter, the dark inner sanctum of the temple was reserved for the Brahmins who performed the ritual on behalf of others. A mosque, on the other hand was a bright airy hall open to all. The prayer hall had no image of the sole invisible Almighty as a focal point, instead the worshipers prayed in the direction of Mecca, marked by a simple niche in the western wall. To all these differences one should add the concept of the khutba, the sermon usually delivered after the Friday prayer by the religious leader, guiding the faithful to the right path and furthermore giving the community – made up of merchants from different parts of the world – a sense of unity under the aegis of their single faith.
The planning of the Malabar mosques, consisting of an ante-chamber in front of the prayer hall differs from that of the sub-continent inland where there is no such ante-chamber. In Malabar a colonnaded porch often fronts this ante-chamber, a feature again absent in other Indian mosques. The Malabar mosque plan seems to be specifically related to the architecture of the trading communities and its roots can be traced back to the earliest Muslim settlements in Gujarat.
In structure, however the buildings employ the existing local traditional methods. This characteristic of the architecture of the maritime Muslims derives from the practice of hiring local craftsmen and using readily available material for building work. In the wider arena, the planning of the Malabar mosques resembles closely that of other coastal regions of India as well as lands further away – Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere – and in all these places local construction methods are employed, leading to striking similarities between the mosque architecture of Malabar and of South-East Asia.