A walk on Imamwada Road doesn’t prepare you for this slice of Persia. Ambling past nondescript humble eateries and shops selling kites and medicines, the mammoth blue structure springs up suddenly, at once captivating. The mosaic tiles and motifs have you stop and sigh ‘Blue Mosque’ after Istanbul’s famous attraction, but the roots of Mughal Masjid lie a little further away in Iran.
Over 150 years old, the mosque – also called Masjid-e-Iranian – was built by a merchant called Haji Mohammad Hussain Shirazi. A hub of rich merchants, Bhendi Bazaar was then considered uptown, as was the nearby Byculla, the location for the Bhau Daji Lad museum. Today, it is a place of reverence for the Shia community.
The Iranian connect is clearly visible in the architecture of the mosque, also called Masjid-e-Iranian. Instead of replicating the Indo-Islamic architecture elsewhere in the city, the mosque bears no gumbaz(dome) and has only two minarets. Verses from the Quraan are inscribed on these as well as on the archway. The chandeliers and carpets inside the prayer hall are said to have been imported from Iran, as are the distinct blue tiles that give the mosque its uniqueness.
As mesmerising as the exterior is, it’s hard to forget that first step inside – the palm trees, the pond, the courtyard, and the elegant prayer hall. A silence reigns inside that takes notice of neither the concrete buildings towering above nor the cries of hawkers on the footpath outside. Men catch a wink on the benches around the rectangular pond or hauz, where ablutions would once take place. Older men read newspapers or confer with friends. On the balcony outside the prayer hall and inside, others read the Quraan. The place, at once a sanctum and a refuge.
That first visit, I’m scuttled out quickly by the guard. Women are not allowed in the prayer hall and have a separate area earmarked for them inside. The courtyard is still accessible, and my subsequent visits are more even-paced. The guards still rankle, but they don’t come in the way. Try noon or the period between Zohr and Asr for a peek inside.
An edited version was published on The City Story