Special Reports

The history of India’s Moorish Mosque


The Moorish Mosque is situated in the city of Kapurthala in the Indian state of Punjab.

The mosque’s architectural design is based on the Grand Qutubiyya Mosque in the city Marrakesh of the Kingdom of Morocco. And there is a history to this.

It was commissioned by Maharaja Jagatjit Singh (1875-1949, reign 1877-1947), the last ruler of Kapurthala. Kapurthala city, was then the capital city of the Kapurthala State, known as 'Mini Paris of Punjab' and the mosque was stated to be one of the best in South-east Asia. The mosque is a national monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was famous not only for this Spanish wife, Anita Delgado Briones (1890–1962), but also for the state that he built, heavily influenced by the continent, and was known as a Francophile.

The Moorish Mosque was commissioned by the Maharaja was completed in 1930. French architect, Monsieur M Manteaux who designed the mosque had also designed the Jagatjit Palace in the city. The masjid is reminiscent of similar structures in Morocco and Alhambra, with colour schemes and design elements that seem more like in Seville in Spain, than in Punjab.

Maharajah Jagatjit Singh was a ruler with extravagant tastes known for the developmental activities in the then Kapurthala State. He was renowned for his secular credentials. The Maharaja, a Sikh, who built it, believed in catering to the aspirations of his largely Muslim subjects (about 60%). The mosque was his ambitious effort to promote social integration among his people, and this is proved by the fact that when the then Viceroy of India sent him a letter questioning him on the large costs involved in building it, the Maharaja replied: "Your Excellency may be unaware that 60 per cent of my population comprises of my loyal Muslim subjects. It is only in the fitness of things that the best place of worship in my state be constructed for them."

Though nowhere near as large as its Moroccan counterpart, the mosque is no less serene and stately. The inner domes and the main altar are resplendent with designs commissioned believed to have been done by art students from Mayo School of Art in Lahore, and have painstakingly been restored.

With one central tower, the mosque has a pillared central hall with semi circular arches unlike other mosques we have in the Indian subcontinent. While the mosque, done up in a warm tones, look a bit plain from afar, on getting close you see intricate designs and carvings all over, with floral reliefs and geometric patterns on white marble. Glass panes have been fitted in the arched sections of the doors, windows and other artistic feature. Wooden grills are provided in the interior while latticed iron work form the external features. The mosque is painted in light red colour. However, the doors and windows and eves are painted in green colour. In the interior of the mosque, the wooden ceiling is varnished in black and red colours

A minbar (also pronounced mimbar) is a pulpit in mosques from where the imam (prayer leader) stands to deliver sermons (khutbah). The mimbar of this mosque looks grand.

The cost of building the mosque was Rs 600,000 of that time. The mosque was inaugurated by Nawab Sadiq Mohammed Khan Bahadur, the Nawab of Bhawalpur. An inscription on the mosque states that it was built in a period of four years.

The calm and peaceful atmosphere is truly a tribute to the character of the mosque.

In 1972, as part of the operation "city beautification" programme initiated by the state government at the suggestion of then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the mosque was cleaned up and a rose garden laid in its front lawn. The mosque is now in a rundown condition with growth of wild grass in its back yards. The garden is also in a neglected state. The last time some renovation was done on the mosque was when APJ Abdul Kalam, President of India visited the mosque, in late 2013, to offer prayers.

Comments by Nasim Akhtar: I visited this masjid in 1976. It was closed then, as there were no Muslims around to pray there. The huge ground in front was used as a park. But in the same year it was taken over by the military cantonment and an Imam was appointed for conducting regular prayers. It so happened because the Muslims from the Kapurthala cantonment used to go to Jalandhar for Eid prayers. Seeing this masjid nearby, the cantonment took it over, unlocked it and regular prayers started. .