If history has taught us anything about the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan, it is that he was exceptionally extravagant. However, it is this ostentatiousness of his that has manifested in some of the most beautiful monuments of the subcontinent.
The Jami Mosque at Thatta, more commonly known as the Shah Jahan Mosque, was essentially built as a token of gratitude for the people of Thatta who sheltered the exiled prince Shah Jahan before his ascension to the throne.
The midday sun was high when my group of locals and an accompanying German tourist reached the mosque, a fifteen minute drive from the Makli necropolis in Interior Sindh, Thatta (which we had been exploring prior to this one).
We caught the mosque at a rather busy time. An Imam was leading Zohr prayers at the mosque built sometime in the 16th century. You could see a modest blend of the past and present, entwining the history and culture of our land in that very moment we stepped in, barefoot of course.
The mosque’s architecture is distinctive – though overall it speaks volumes of archetypical Mogul style. A vestibule connects two grand portions of the mosque where Moslems from all over Interior Sindh still travel to offer prayers.
The ablution area is conveniently situated at the entrance of the mosque. People also use it otherwise: simply to cool off if they are resting or waiting on their (praying) family members.
A central dome stands proud on the top without a minaret – the classic tower most familiar to Moslem architecture. The impressive fusion of Mogul and Turkish architectural elements breathes life into the building making it worth several second glances.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the mosque is that its four ‘wings’ all have separate, ornate and elaborate designs on the ceiling, complemented by matching pillars and glazed tiles that enhance its grandeur.
The architect’s true skill lies in the glorious acoustics of the mosque that enable the Imam’s sound of az’aan [call to prayer] to resonate throughout the four wings, vestibules and courtyard – making it possible to hear it from anywhere in the building.
Tile sizes, patterns and decorations – as ornamental as they may be – are attributed to the Timurid School as opposed to orthodox Mogul style. Tiles In blue hues establish a cool tone throughout the mosque which is a welcomed contrast against Thatta’s scorching hot climate.
Remarkable calligraphy between mosaics of tiles depicts an era of architectural and artistic prowess. Regrettably, there are cracks in the walls and clear signs of aging in the building’s structure suggesting years of neglect.
The majestic Shah Jahan Mosque has been on Unesco’s tentative list for World Heritage Sites since 1993. So far, little has been done at the provincial level to preserve this cultural monument that lies in wanton abandonment.
Even so, it is a sight to behold: the eyes of a believer closed in reverence, hands drawn to the chest in prayer, head bowed in faith within the bewitching beauty of the old, but timeless, mosque.