A mosque in Ahmedabad and Hindu temples

DURING VARIOUS VISITS TO AHMEDABAD, we have often driven past the Ahmed Shah Masjid, but never visited this venerable mosque. Close to the great Bhadra Fort and built in about 1414 AD by Ahmed Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad, this is the oldest extant mosque in the city. Today, we entered this exquisite mosque and its garden and discovered a perfect example of Indo-Islamic architecture.

When this mosque, and many others built in western India up to at least a century later, was constructed its creators incorporated many design features that can be seen in Hindu and Jain temples that were constructed centuries before believers of Islam entered/invaded India.

The grounds of the Ahmed Shah Masjid are entered through a small stone pavilion. The step inside it is just like the entrance steps to Hindu and Jain temples in that it includes a centrally located semicircular projection.

The patterning on the exterior stonework of the mosque and the many pillars within it would not look out of place on pre Islamic places of worship in India. However, the presence of figurative carving found in Hindu and Jain temples is completely absent in mosques. One small exception, which I saw at the Ahmed Shah Masjid and others in Ahmedabad, are carvings of trees, the Tree of Life.

The Ahmed Shah mosque and many other medieval mosques in Gujarat are topped with numerous domes. Seen from the outside of the mosques, they do not look exceptional, but viewed from within, the influence of Hindu/Jain temple architecture is obvious.

The domes are usually supported by 8 pillars arranged as a regular octagon. Neighbouring pillars support horizontal lintels, which together form an octagon. The dome rests on these lintels. The internal surfaces of the domes, when seen from below, consist of a series of concentric rings that decrease in circumference as they approach the top of the dome. The stonework of the rings can be either plain or elaborately ornamented. The design of these domes and their supporting supporting pillar systems are identical to what can be seen in Indian temples built long before Islam arrived in India.

Unlike the non-Muslim temples that inspired their design, medieval mosques contain features that are unique to mosques, such as elaborately decorated mihrabs, niches in the wall of the that worshippers face when they pray.

The Ahmed Shah mosque has an elevated internal chamber, where the king could pray separated from the rest of the congregation.

Having at last visited this fascinating mosque, I would reccomend all visitors to Ahmedabad to visit it first before exploring the other wonderful 15th and 16th century mosques that enrich the city.

The Ahmed Shah Masjid is a fine example of how conquerors can be conquered by the culture of those whom they have invaded. Just as the Muslims were bewitched by the wonders of Indian culture, so were the British many years later, as well exemplified by the Brighton Pavilion.

Shaking minarets

A pair of minarets is all that remains of a mosque. They stand within the precincts of the main railway station of Ahmedabad. The rest of the mosque was destroyed long ago.

Apart from being attractive, these two minarets, the SHAKING MINARETS, are special. They are able to resist earthquakes. They shake or swing instead of falling to pieces during seismic activity.

The large Jumma Masjid in the heart of Ahmedabad lost its two mighty minarets as a result of movements of the earth long ago.

No one knows why the Shaking Minarets are able to resist seismic disturbances. They are not the only minarets in the city that have this ability. When, long ago, British investigators took one of this kind of minaret to pieces, they were unable to discover the secret of its stability. They were also unable to reassemble the structure properly.

Some suggest that the Shaking Minarets are of Persian design and that their stability has something to do with the sand in their foundations.

I cannot offer an explanation, but would like to make an observation. The Shaking Minarets are constructed with brick like stones that are well separated from each other by something like mortar. Most other minarets that I have seen are made with close-fitting blocks of stone, with minimal gaps between them.

Back in the 1980s, a very violent storm hit the southeast of England, where I was living. As the storm buffeted my house, I could feel it swinging from side to side. I feared it might fall down, but it did not. The house, like the Shaking Minarets, was built of bricks separated from each other by mortar. I felt that the stability of my house was due the fact that the latticework of bricks and mortar gave its walls a flexibility, which absorbed and reduced the impact of the forces hitting it. Maybe, it is the mortar between the brick like stones of the Shaking Minarets that allows them to disperse the seismic energy and by so doing causes them to swing rather than collapse.

I am no engineer. I am just ‘thinking aloud’, but as no one can yet explain the ability of these minarets to resist destruction, I offer the above.