A place suitable for a queen

The recently found ruins of the Akbarabadi mosque in Central Delhi provide an opportunity to look back at the Citys past

The excavation of the remains of the majestic Akbarabadi mosque in Daryaganj has opened up some long forgotten pages of Mughal history.

The erstwhile mosque was a contribution of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s second wife Azizunnissa begum, to the Mughal architecture in Delhi. Often, people assume Shah Jahan to have had only one wife - Mumtaz Mahal for whom the famous mausoleum - Taj Mahal was built. But, as a matter of fact, Shah Jahan took many other ‘secondary’ wives after the death of Mumtaz Mahal. Azizunnissa, Matia Begum, Fatehpuri Begum, Sarhindi Begum and Kandahari Begum are some of the names that come up in historical texts.

Azizunnissa is said to have belonged to a noble family of Akbarabad in Agra, from where she got her second name Akbarabadi. A few accounts say that Shah Jahan saw her for the first time while she was picking roses in the royal garden outside the Agra fort, and took her as a wife. Some other accounts say that all of Shah Jahan’s wives, post Mumtaz Mahal, were kaneez (slaves) who later became concubines.

What most accounts do agree on is that all of these wives were well aware of Shah Jahan’s obsession with the dead Mumtaz Mahal, first, and then, the mausoleum for her –Taj Mahal which took a total of 22 years to build. 

In the meantime, Akbarabadi Begum and Fatehpuri Begum quietly commissioned their own tombs in the premises of the Taj Mahal. These two, besides, Matia Begum and Sarhindi Begum also commissioned mosques in their name in Delhi.

According to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s book Asarussanadeed, published in 1847, Akbarabadi Masjid was built in 1650. It was covered with red sandstone and some marble, had three domes, and seven arched openings in its facade.  Its courtyard was nearly as big as that of the Jama Masjid and could rival Fatehpuri Masjid and the Zeenat-ul Masjid in scale any day.

The book Royal Mughal ladies and their contributions by Soma Mukherjee adds that Akbarabadi Begum once convinced Shah Jahan to perfo­rm the Id prayers in her newly completed mosque. This queen also laid out the fam­o­us Shalimar Bagh in Delhi where Aurangzeb was later crowned. While Fatehpuri Masjid of Fatehpuri Begum, Matia Mahal of Matia Begum and Sarhindi Masjid of Sarhindi Begum survived the onslaught of time, Akbarabadi Masjid was demolished in 1857 during the gadar – a mass demolition drive by the British to clear all monuments around Red Fort where they suspected revolutionaries to hold meetings. A park later came up on the remains of this Masjid called Edward Park. After Independence, it was rechristened Subhash Park.

Residents of Daryaganj, and successive Imams at the Jama Masjid especially, had long insisted on the existence of a destroyed Masjid underneath the park. Now that it has finally been excavated by an unlikely agency – the DMRC, it remains to be seen what the ASI can do about it. 

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