Have you ever heard of the “Khirki Masjid”?
That’s right, the “Window Mosque”. My guess is, you haven’t. And yet, if I told you where this historic monument of the 14th century stands, you’d be surprised! Bang opposite one of the most frequented malls in present-day Delhi, the Select City Walk in Saket. Just a few steps into the village that also goes by the name “Khirki Village”. Well, long before Saket or any of the other modern areas of South Delhi came to be built, this entire area- from the Qutb to the Chirag Dilli Road- was called “Jahanpanah”. In Persian, that means “the refuge of the world”. Jahanpanah was the kingdom of the Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the 4th city of Delhi built in 1326-27. Not much remains of that city…save a few sparkling gems of what was once the grandiose palace of a mad but brilliant king, some broken walls, and a mosque here and there. But we’ll save the story of Jahanpanah for another day. Today, let us take a look into this mosque of nearly the same period, that surprisingly still stands upright amidst a crowd of private houses that have all but devoured it.
It was built by Khan-i-Jahan Jahan Junah Shah, a powerful man who served as Prime Minister to the next king Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq. Sultan Feroze Shah had a penchant for building works, as we’ve seen earlier as well. Together, king and minister built several structures across the city, from mosques to hunting lodges to irrigation structures. Junah Shah himself is credited with the building of 7 unique mosques in Delhi during this period. Khirki Masjid was the masterpiece among them, the royal mosque constructed as an inauguration of Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s rule.
This mosque is certainly unique. When I was walking in from the Saket side, I could not fathom where this could be. From the road, all I saw was an unkempt little urban village, with narrow alleys and houses stacked against each other like match boxes. I asked around for the mosque, but it only drew blanks from the first few people I met. Eventually, as I described an “old monument”, someone understood me. “Oh, you mean the Qila (fort)!” Well, so be it, I thought. Let’s see a fort instead.
Down a narrow alley I went, which suddenly ended at an open space, containing a fort like structure. The Khirki Masjid. The mosque is raised on a platform, with lofty steps leading to a lofty front-entrance. A couple of tapering pillars stood on either side of the main entrance. All around, the walls had arched windows with “jali” (perforated) screens- giving this unique structure its name. At the corners are battered bastions, much like a fortress.
I entered the mosque and was delighted. Row after row of arches greeted me- a photographer’s paradise! There was no large open courtyard as is common in mosques (remember the Jama Masjid?). In fact, this is one of the few examples of covered mosques in all of northern India. The roof was full of small rounded domes of Tughlaq style, supported on arches- 81 domes in all! Only the 4 corners of the large hall had open courtyards from which sunlight poured in to light up the arches. Sadly, a few of the domes have caved in and the mosque looks rather delicately balanced on its 700-year-old walls.
I made for the stairwell to walk up to the roof- and flinched. Dampness, darkness and bat stink. Ughh! But up on the roof was sunshine, revealing the beautiful symmetry of the building and the multitude of domes, now almost blackened with age. I looked around at the houses that hemmed in this mosque from all directions…no wonder no one in Delhi even hears about this place! They throng in droves at the three upscale malls lining the Press Enclave Marg, never learning of a far more interesting place right across the road.