Delhi Lens: Monuments: Nawaab ka Masjid, Chawdi Bazaar, Old Delhi

Tiny matchbox shops line both sides of a congested road. A mêlée of pedestrians, cycle rickshaws, two-wheelers and a few tempos are a cause for constant traffic jams. A lot of the buildings are crumbling and dilapidated. There’s a mess of electrical wires overhead. Everywhere you look there is chaos.

 Chawdi Bazaar, Old Delhi, India

And then suddenly, while looking up at that jumble of old buildings, you spot a delightful color combination – terracotta and blue. You pause, raise your camera to your eyes, zoom in, and see a beautiful carved wall. You click a picture, but keep staring at that building as a sea of humanity passes you by, gazing upwards, awestruck, spellbound.

View of masjid from the road, Chawdi Bazaar, Old Delhi

Until the shopkeeper – where your husband, oblivious to your delightful find, is busy buying wood working tools to fuel his hobby – moved by your stillness and your interest in photography, tells you that the building you’re staring at is a masjid. So while he pulls out the tools and makes the bill for your husband, both of you cross the road and climb up a flight of stairs to reach the mosque.

Your husband, who is ahead of you, suddenly turns towards you at the head of the stairs and says “Namaaz is going on, let’s go.” But before you can even process this disappointing news, another man sticks his head out and says “Oh no problem, please come in. Feel free to take pictures. And take off your shoes before you step into the courtyard.”

So you walk on up, give your husband a cheeky grin, and freeze.

Stone Carving, Old Delhi, India

Close up of a carved block of stone at the masjid

The masjid is far more beautiful than you had imagined. And, as the shopkeeper said, it’s unique. Because unlike any stone façade you have seen anywhere in the world, this mosque isn’t made of carved stone. It’s made of embossed stone. Yes, it means that the flowers and vines are not cut into the stone; instead, the stone around the shapes has been cut and smoothed away.

The entire mosque is made of red sandstone. Well preserved. Neat and clean. There’s no air of religious fervor here – instead, there’s a quiet spirituality. You can forget about the crowd just one flight of stairs down. The seething humanity, the chaos, the pollution, all of it just melts away. It’s a place where you feel connected with the divine…the universe…yourself…

Nawab ka Masjid, Chawdi Bazaar, Old Delhi

The masjid itself is 200 years old. Or 500. It depends on who you ask. No one seems to know exactly when it was built. All they know is that it definitely dates from British times. There’s an “English flower” carved on the entryway to prove it. They say the flower isn’t to be found anywhere in India, though they cannot tell you its name. When you ask a gentleman who has just finished his prayers what the name of the masjid is, he shrugs and tells you he is not a regular here.

English Flower, Mosque, Old_Delhi

The “English flower” carved at the entry to the mosque

You finally meet the caretaker, who tells you that the masjid is called Nawab ka Masjid – and you think that is a fitting name. He shows you around the place, showing you entire pillars and walls constructed of one piece of stone. He invites you inside and shows you around. Like all mosques, there are no figures or idols here, just a blank wall with a marble chair pointing towards Mecca. But the pillars are beautifully carved. The atmosphere within is serene. And you come away knowing that you have seen something unique…a structure that will live on in your heart for years to come.

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