Monday, 18 June 2018

St. Matthias, the second oldest Anglican Church in India where Robert Clive got married!!

St. Matthias' Church, Vepery, Chennai.
During the British rule under the English company, a few churches came up in Madras, the then capital city of madras Presidency to serve the European community. 

St. Matthias' Church, Vepery is 195 years old and Since St. Matthias died a martyr, the Patronal festival is not celebrated here. However, the festivities are held on the day's eve, March 23, every year.
St.Matthias is the second oldest Anglican Church in this side of the Suez after St.Mary's Church which is in Fort St.George on the Marina, Chennai. Built in 1828, it was consecrated by the  officiating Bishop of Madras Spencer on St. Matthias day in 1842.  The ownership of this church changed  a few times in the past - earlier it was  referred to as  - the English Church because  it had passed hands from the French to the Portuguese and finally to the English (Protestants). In 1821 Major De Havilland of the Madras Engineers was asked to expand the church  to allow more people to sit and to carry on necessary repair work in the church; however, it was beyond resoration, The church was  called  the "High Anglican" for the reason that the communion was kept in the Tabernacles, a tradition not  common in the protestant churches. And it was  kept there for 24 hours for the healing of the sick.
It was decided to have new church built at a reasonable cost and one John Law, an Anglo-Indian  came up with a design that could cost Rs.31,600, for which the SPCK offered to provide Rs.20,000. The Madras Government under the English Company was willing to meet the difference, on condition that church would offer religious services and worship according to the rites of the Church of England. 

A generous Armenian merchant, Coja Petrus Uscan, gave lots of funds and helped finish  the church between 1730 and 1740. Uscan also had  the  stone steps built to access St. Thomas Mount. He died in 1751 and his tombstone is in front of the porch of St. Matthias' bearing his epitaph in Armenian and Latin.

When the construction of the church was on wife of Gov. Thomas Munro, lady Munro took a personal interest in the church work.  It was the congregation of St.Matthias which helped build St.Pauls which is  close to this church. During the French occupation, Roman catholic services were held by the French priests when the church was repossessed by the English it became popularly known as  the English Church. While under the French, Hyder Ali gave a donation of Rs. 300 in the year 1779 for building a chapel.
It is quite interesting to note the wedding ceremony of Robert Clive and Margaret Maskelyne was solemnized here officiated by the Danish missionary, John Fabricius.  St. Matthias was brought under the management of CSI and still the Angelo Indian tradition of worship is being strictly followed here, besides, holy Communion is served everyday at 7 a.m.

Historical Armenian Church, Chennai - a legacy of Madras Armenian traders

Armenian church, Chennai, India. TripAdvisor
During the early and late colonial period, the Armenians from West Asia and Armenia made a solid contribution to the growth of trade in Madras, then the capital of Madras Presidency.  This city then  boasted of a  highly religious and thriving  business community. To meet their spiritual needs, they built a Church in George Town in Chennai (Madras).

Armenian church, Chennai, inside.
Armenian Church, located in George Town - Chennai
built in 1712 and later rebuilt in 1772, is one of the oldest churches of the Indian subcontinent. In 1746, the church was demolished during the brief French occupation.  Also known as the Armenian Church of Virgin Mary, it is located on the Armenian Street, Chennai and is famous for its belfry of six bells. It is difficult to notice the church from outside because it is  behind buildings,  hidden from the madness and chaos of Armenian Street  once a vibrant busy business quarter close to the port.
Bells of the Armenian Church in Madras.
During the early colonial period, when the East India Company  was busy with mercantile trading activities, lots of Europeans moved into Madras to try their luck in business. Along with them also arrived the Armenians  and later Jews  for trade in Madras (Chennai). It is quite interesting to note that the  a select group of  adventurous Armenian settlers from Armenia, Persia, etc.,  came to Madras on foot throughgh Hindukush mountains, thus taking a long and arduous journey in the hope of finding their fortune in South India.  Armenians  focused their trade activities in  fine silk, expensive spices and gems, whereas the British were controlling cotton cloth. They were quite religious and made good contributions to the church.  St Mary's was built to seat 130 people of the Orthodox tradition, plus a choir in its gallery. So, it is a small church catering to the Armenian community.
Armenian Church .Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music -

Presently it is not functioning as a church and it is declared as a heritage site and from  9 am to  2 pm it is open to visitors. Services are still held here four to six times a year, when a priest visits with a group of Armenians from Calcutta, where there are 140. The Armenian Apostolic Church is funding and maintaining the church under the  The Armenian Church Committee in Calcutta. The Belfry adjacent to the main Church building houses six large bells which are rung every Sunday at 9:30 am by the caretaker to remind us that the old historical church is being taken care of regularly, though there are no Church services, prayers, etc.

The church has a big graveyard and there are graves of about 350 Armenians here. It is of particular interest to History buff that the founder, publisher and editor of the world's first Armenian periodical "Azdarar", Rev. Haroutiun Shmavonian's mortal remains are in the grave. The Armenian population after India's independence declined drastically to a tickle. The last ones left Chennai in 2004 and presently the church is being taken care of by one Michel Stephen who, besides keeping the church well, I understand, is showcasing the legacy of past Armenian traders of Madras.
Belfry of the Armenian Church in Madras.
 Any  visitor to the Church will be much impressed by the six bells in the belfry.  The are all of different sizes, varying from 21 to 26 inches, and weigh around 150 kg each, They are  said  to be the largest and heaviest bells of Chennai. One interesting fact is these bell were cast at different times:   One bell, with Armenian inscription dates back to 1754. This  bell was recast in 1808 for unknown reasons and also bears Tamil inscription.  Another bell's inscription suggests that it dates back to 1778. Inscriptions on two bells suggest that they were donated by an Armenian trader  to the church  in memory of his 19 year old son Eliazar Shawmier, buried in the Church’s garden. It is on his  private chapel ground the present Church stands. With respect to remaining two bells, they  date back to 1837 and were cast by the White chapel Bell Foundry, then known as Mears & Stain bank, with inscriptions reading "Thomas Mears, Founder, London". They created the bells for Big Ben in London and the much older Liberty Bells in Philadelphia, PA - USA.

This church is in proud possession of a massive Bible, printed in 1686, in fine Armenian script with woodcut prints, which is used on certain occasions, according to the Church keeper Michael Stephen. The stepped wooden altar is  inlaid with rare  and fine oval paintings depicting various events from  the life of Christ, surmounted by a painting of the Assumption.,_Chennai

Sunday, 17 June 2018

"Satkhanda” and Mini Taj at Chota Imambara, Lucknow

Satkhanda, Lucknow, UP.  Pinterest

In the city of Lucknow, besides the Bara Imambara and Chota Imambara, there are other Islamic structures that can not escape our attention. They are beautiful and attractive  and in terms of artistic work and decorations, meticulous care had been taken to bring out the salient features of Muslim architecture relevant to that time. 

Lunar obsevatory. Satkhanda
Right across the road in Hussainabad  Chota Imambara, a unique building attracts our attention and it appears to be incomplete. It is a blend of  French and Italian architecture. This  incomplete monument does not have seven floors as it was originally planned, but is called the “Satkhanda”. What is the purpose of this strange structure that has only four floors? What about the remaining floors? It is said the structure was built with a view to taking a clear view of the Moon during the holy month of Ramzan, besides, it is said, it served as a Watch
Tower.The builder  already had spent 5 years on this structure and , unfortunately, could not complete all the seven floors because of his unexpected death on the 7th of May 1842.  With his death,  work on the tower - Moon Observatory  came to a grinding halt. 

Under normal circumstances, the successor to the throne would normally resume the work where it was stopped and proceed to complete it. In the case of this tower, the next heir and later others were not allowed to resume the work on the tower  as it was considered unlucky and the ruler would run into all kinds of unnecessary problems if would venture to resume the work on the tower.  That is the reason why there are four tiers, each built in different styles.  This strange structure is under the control of the ASI who carries out periodic repairs.The height of the octagonal ground floor is 10 feet and the successive floors decrease in height as well as breadth. The total height is about 35 feet. Each face of the structure on every floor has triple-arched windows and compartments. The higher level from the ground floors can be accessed by a spiral flight of steps. From the top of the structure you have a good view of the adjacent places. 

 Mausoleums - Mini Taj:

chota Imambara,
Mosque at chota Imambara, Lucknoow.
Mini  Taj.chota Imambara
Among the other structure in Chota Imambara, the small, but beautiful structure that serves as a mausoleum for four graves  of the son, daughter and son-in-law of the King Mohammed Ali Shah and one of the lady. is an interesting one. This simply a small version of the Taj Mahal  at Agra built by Shah jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.

This tomb  was built on the model of the Taj by the Lucknow's Nawabs to  impress on the Moguls that construction of the Imambaras was a prestigious issue for them and they would rather build many Imambaras for the benefit of the people, rather than wasting money on highly embellished huge and luxurious tombs for their own selves like the Moguls. The message was quite clear:  For the Lucknowi Nawabs the holy prophet of Islam and his family  are close to their heart and more   important than themselves. They would build many structures that were useful to the pious people. This magnanimous attitude of the rich rulers helped them gain the trust of their subjects.

Mausoleum of the King and his mother: The Imambara building is flanked on the two sides by two white buildings which look a lot like mini Taj Mahal. The tomb of Princess Zinat Asiya, daughter of King Mohammad Ali Shah Bahadur is quite attractive.  These are actually the mausoleums for the King, his mother and his family members and the architect got the inspiration from  the iconic Taj Mahal.They though lack any decorative works of arts, embellishment and attractive calligraphy, etc., have their own aura about them. Yes, they stylishly simple and opulent.

Awe-inspiring Chota Imambara - a symbol of Lucknow's Nawabi legacy

Chhota Imambara in
Chhota Imambara in
Chhota Imambara in Lucknow.The Concrete Paparazzi

The city of Lucknow, UP is well-known for numerous Islamic monuments  of exceptional beauty  and artistic excellence, this is the reason why lots of tourists visit this city that is steeped in history. Among the various historical structures, the Imambaras attract our attention. Of particular interest to us are the Chota Imambara  and Bara Imambara.  Bara Imambara is an amazing piece of architecture, a rare kind in the world and a proud symbol of Lucknow's Nawabi heritage and legacy. The Nawabs of Lucknow were originally from Iran and followers of Shia 
sect. The story of the Nawabs of Lucknow, the capital of the erstwhile state of Oudh or Awadh, begins in 1722 and they were all great builders of beautiful buildings rich in art work and stylish in style. More often  than not, Lucknow is called a Shea city and festivities of this city are  closely associated with the Remembrance of Muharram. Once under the Moguls, the Nawabs of Awadh later became independent rulers when Mogul's influence declined.
Naubat Khana or ceremonial gateway Chhota Imambara.wikipedia

Not many visitors to this city of Nawabs realize that Chota Imambara is equally and, in some way,  more beautiful structure than Bara Imambara. The amazing beauty of Chota Imambara is overshadowed by the massive and ornate Bara (Bada) Imambara.
Chhota Imambara in Lucknow.
Chota Imambara also called as Hussainabad Imambara standing to the west of Bara Imambara,  was built by Muhammad Ali Shah (1837-42), the Nawab of Awadh in 1838. Located in the prime location of the city, it was constructed as  an Imambara. Imambara is a place of worship or congregation for Shia Muslims. In Lucknow these also house the Tazias built during Muharram. Later it served as  his own mausoleum and his mother as well who  was buried  by his side. It is an highly embellished, ornate structure with  gilded dome, several turrets, eye-catching chandeliers  specially imported  from Belgium, gilt-edged mirrors and colorful  stucco works  which adorn the interiors.
A truly unexceptional monument of Islamic style of Mogul design accentuated by a golden dome and fine calligraphy on the exterior of the building that, when it is lit up on festive occasions, comes alive. It is opulent in its own way and no comparison is needed.
Chhota Imambara in Lucknow.
This Imambara has  two halls and a Shehnasheen (a platform where the Zarih of Imam Hussain is kept.) Zarih refers to the  protective grill or structure which is placed on the grave of Imam Hussain at Karbala, Iraq. Azakhana is a richly decorated large hall bordered in white and green with stunning chandeliers and a good number of crystal glass lamp-stands. No doubt, Chota Imambara is called the palace of light by Westerners as it is nicely embellished. The highlight of the exterior is beautifully decorated holy Quranic verses in Islamic calligraphy. The holy five  Panjetan,is given due importance with five main doorways. The Chota Imambara, as it is called, not only consists of the Imambara, but also other structures.  As mentioned earlier,it owes its  originto the 9th Nawab, Abul Fateh Moin-ud-din, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali Shah. It was to serve as his final resting place as well.
Chhota Imambara in
It  is a heritage building under the ASI, but, worship  is allowed at the site under the care of the Hussainabad Trust. To access  the Bara and Chota Imambaras and the Picture Gallery, , visitors have to purchase admission tickets.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Historical Solah Khamba Masjid, Bidar, Karnataka - largest Muslim structure

Solah Khamba Masjid, Bidar.Ixig
Solah Khamba Masjid,
Solah Masjid or the Zenani Masjid or the sixteen-columned prayer hall, in Bidar is a well-known tourist destination.  Built in 1423 AD by  Qubil Sultani Prince Muhammad before shifting the capital to Bidar, this  mosque is said to be the  largest in India and the oldest Muslim structure in Bidar. This mosque is steeped in Islamic history as we learn that the Mogul ruler  Aurangzeb, after the conquest of Bidar, held prayers in the mosque  here to decree Mogul  sovereignty. The gate opposite to the royal baths leads to the gardens of the old Lal Bagh and the ladies apartments - Zanana. Once this big garden had interesting  water fountains and a series of water cascades, but now we are left with only remnants. Once you get to the top you will get a vista of the serene and panoramic surroundings  around the old structure.
Inside. Solah Khamba Masjid,flickr.comSolah Khamb
The mosque has a large prayer hall divided into a large number of aisles by massive circular columns, the central one towards the western end being more spacious. Here, the faithfuls can do their Namaz comfortably as the hall is large. Yet another advantage is since the structure has a covered corridor all around, inside the mosque it is cool and in the summer time one can pray without sweating it out.  The roof is  topped by a majestic dome of fine shape, raised on a high clerestory with lattice -type windows with perforated screen-work in different geometrical patterns.  A parapet of beautiful designs above the imposing arcade adds to its beauty. This impressive structure is a good example of the second phase of Deccani style. Solah Khamba Mosque is also known as the Zanana Masjid, This mosque is about 90 metres long and 24 metres wide. Behind the southern wall of this mosque, there is a large well. The massive structure has 16 pillars made of granite with lime mortar. Actually, it means  the mosque has 16 gates  to enter and they are resting on 15  Columns.
The mosque  is located 2.8 kilometres from the Bidar railway station and is inside the  historical Bidar fort.

The Dargah-Qutub-Sahib, Delhi, a sanctified place of worship

Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki's dargah Delhi,
Dargah Qutub Sahib, Delhi
In Delhi, there are countless dargahs and mosques, each has its own historical  value and religious significance.  The Dargah-Qutub-Sahib, situated near Gandak ki Baoli in the Mehrauli village, close to  the Adham Khan’s tomb, is an important place of worship for Muslims who believe in Sufism. India is home to Sufi saints whose teachings are of immense value to the humanity, irrespective of faith being followed by the people. These venerable saints have taught us the the essense of righteous living and charity.  Muslims, who on a visit to Delhi, always make it a point to visit this highly venerated mosque. Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kalki (born 1173-died 1235; Kyrgyz Republic), a disciple and spiritual successor of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer was held in great esteem by the Muslim community here. He was a scholar of the Chishti Order from DelhiBefore him the Chishti order in India was confined to Ajmer and Nagau. His dargah located adjacent to Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli, and the oldest dargah in Delhi, is also the venue of his annual Urs festivities.  It is  said well-known rulers like  Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam II and Akbar II lie buried in the various enclosures around the saint’s grave. It is also believed that if a person has deep trust in the mystical powers of  the saint and  makes a wish by tying a thread near the grave, he will get positive results.

Rupmati Mosque in Ahmedabad, Gujarat - named after a queen!!

Rani Rupmati mosque in 1430 1440 ADAlamy
Rani Rupmati mosque, Ahmedabad. MapmyIndia Map

Ahmedabad city in Gujarat state  has a number of beautiful old mosques  and some of them have superb architecture.  Located on the Northern side of the city, there lies an impressive mosque called Rani Rupmati mosque built by  Sultan Mehmud Beghara. Beghara (r. 25 May 1458 – 23 November 1511), was the most prominent Sultan of Gujarat Sultanate. Raised to the throne at young age, he successfully captured Pavagadh and Junagadh forts in battles which gave him his name Begada. Some historians point out that he got the title because of his big twisted moustache that looked like a bull's twisted horns. He established Champaner as the capital. 
Begumpur Mosque; Dindigul,
 A perusal of Indian mosques  reveals none of them is named after women. The exception being Begumpur Mosque (also called Begumpur Big Mosque) located on Madurai Road, Begampur in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu The mosque is named after Ameerunnisa Begum, the younger sister of Hyder Ali (1721-82 CE), father of Tipu Sultan. She  is buried in the mosque during 1766. 

Aurangabad. Bibi Ka

 The other one is  the Bibi Ka Maqbara (English: "Tomb of the Lady") and it is a tomb located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. It was commissioned by Aurangzeb's Son Azam in memory of his Mother Dilras Banu Begum (posthumously known as Rabia-ud-Daurani). The unique feature of this mosque is it has a striking resemblance to the famous Taj Mahal, Agra the mausoleum of Aurangzeb's mother, Mumtaz Mahal.

Rani Rupmati mosque, Ahmedabad.MapmyIndia Map

 What is so special about this mosque.? This mosque is named after the queen of a Sultan - Rani Rupmati. It  is popularly known as Masjid-e-Nagina or Mirzapur queen's mosque.  The sultan was so much fond of his beloved wife, he named the mosque after her in fond memory.  It took 10 long years for him to complete the construction work in 1440 AD. The work on the mosque was undertaken  during the later period of Ahmed Shah I's reign.  Ahmed Shah belongs to Muzaffarid dynasty; between 1411 to  1442 he ruled the Gujarat Sultanate. The historical mosque is characteristic of impressive domes, carved galleries and tall and thin minarets. This mosque stands out above other structure because the fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture  accentuates the beauty of this mosque.  The mosque measures, 105 feet long, forty-six broad, and thirty-two high. Due to the natural calamity that affected the Ahmedabad city in the year 1818, the mosque lost one of its minarets. The ceiling of the dome is beautified with the Hindu style patterns. The prayer hall of the mosque is of great aesthetic value, consisting of exquisite carving.  ASI has declared it as a monument of national importance.