In the chaos of Chandni Chowk, in the horrific blare of horns and pushing and shoving of thousands of people going about their daily business and shopping sprees, history is often lost… What remain are yards and yards of sequinned sarees displayed on shop windows, vendors selling everything kitschy in the world, and a din like no other in the city. It takes effort to imagine what this world had once been, and the beauty it must have exuded back then.
As I walk down the “Moonlit Path” all the way down from the glorious Red Fort, I am swept along by the throngs of people. And on and on I am jostled forward until I reach the other end of this historic street. I am standing at a gateway that faces the Red Fort, with a humble sign board requesting visitors to take off their shoes. I comply, and walk into a large open space, the courtyard of a mosque. Peace!
On one side of the gateway lies the busiest street of Delhi. On the other, a surprising patch of peace and serenity. I am taken aback by the sudden silence. A pretty Mughal mosque stands at the far end of the courtyard. In between us, a beautifully-shaped water tank for worshipers to clean themselves. There are others around the courtyard, some sitting by the tank, some enjoying a quiet conversation, some even lying down. There is a madrasa with students’ rooms running all around the courtyard, representing an age-old tradition of religious education that continues to this day. No one questions or even looks at me as I wander around clicking pictures and staring at Mughal arches and pillars. It’s far cry from the majestic Jama Masjd, which teems with the religious minded as well as tourists, where guards are often known to be strict, and rules unbendable. The Fatehpuri Masjid inspires faith with its simplicity and serenity. No questions asked, no eyebrows raised.
The mosque has had a chequered past. After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, it was actually auctioned off to a merchant by the British! This merchant was Lala Chunnamal, whose family still lives in their huge ancestral haveli in Chandni Chowk. Some years later, The British bought back the mosque in exchange for four villages, and granted it to the Muslims when they were finally permitted back into the Walled City.
I think back to the woman who had got this mosque commissioned in the first place, back in the seventeenth century. She was the Begum Fatehpuri, one of the wives of the Emperor Shah Jahan, the master builder known world over for building an unmatched mausoleum for his favorite wife Mumtaz-the Taj Mahal. Who hasn’t heard of their unparalleled love? But have you ever heard of his less favorite wife, who built a beautiful mosque facing her husband’s palace? Visit her mosque at twilight, and feel the peace.