Jul 26, 2016

Where History meets Spirituality - A Walk through Jama Masjid

As a lover of both history and architecture I have visited the Jama Masjid many times. 
I have walked through it in the heat of a summer afternoon, with the red sand stone burning my feet. I have seen it on a winter evening, shrouded by the mist rising from the Yamuna.

But to visit it during Ramadan is an experience not to be forgotten. That is the time when spirituality mixes with gaiety, fasting and abstinence goes hand in hand with mouth watering culinary delights. It all makes for an ambience rarely seen at any other time.

I had the good fortune to experience Ramadan with Navina Jafa in a talk organized by a fantastic travel group called Travel Correspondents and Blogger Group or TCBG as we call it fondly.

Navina’s website introduces her as a culture activist, academician and heritage lover. Those words don’t do justice to her. She is so much more. Her deep rooted passion and love for our culture and history becomes evident as soon as you meet her. The depth of her research and knowledge is astounding. On top of that she is a master story teller and narrates incidents and anecdotes you will not find within the pages of any historic tome. There is a certain charm in listening to stories and snippets of history gleaned from a diary here, a book there and from an inscription on some monument.

Navina’s irresistible style of narration, her kohled eyes that almost sparkle and her graceful hand movements that only an accomplished Kathak dancer can have, simply transport you to a different world.

As you listen to her weave her tales, you find yourself standing on a small hill top near the Yamuna, as workers file past you, bent almost double under the weight of the heavy red sand stone that they carry on their backs. You hear the sound of chisel on stone as artisans painstakingly carve intricate designs on the walls of the Masjid. You see the minarets slowly rise in front of your eyes, You almost hear the intrigue and deceit that formed such an integral part of the Mughal court, you see the great Emperor Shah Jahan striding up the stairs of the just completed Masjid for the first Namaz.

Navina also explained to us what Ramadan actually means, and drew comparisons between Hinduism and Islamic fasting and rituals.

As she spoke about Ramadan, I looked around. The Jama Masjid was full of people waiting to break their fast. They sat with the absolute patience of the devout, the food spread in front of them. At sunset, Fireworks went off one after the other to signal the end of the fast. As the sun sank behind the mosque, framing it into gold, as if on cue, the mosque lit up with a million lights.

Later, we walked with Navina through the famous lanes adjoining the Jama Masjid, A criss- cross of festoons with Chinese lanterns hanging from them made a very festive roof over our heads. Jama Masjid had given us a sense of peace in spite of being filled with people. Here there were jostling crowds and bright lights and cacophony. And the food ! So many aromas and flavors all tantalizing our senses. 

 Large piles of dates, thick, brown and fat; Sevaiyan, their delicate strands all wound together to make a fragrant nest; a pale pink drink unique to Ramadan, made out of Roohafza, milk and water melon pieces; phirnis with delicate pieces of badam and pista stuck in the thick milk. For the Non vegetarians, succulent pieces of chicken and mutton on skewers, the flames sizzling as the juices from the meat dripped into them, the men behind the flames expertly turning the skewers or stirring the pots, their faces glistening in the heat.

We walked on, wondering where Navina was taking us when she suddenly turned a corner and we found ourselves in an even narrower lane, with our shoulders almost brushing the building on either side. We ducked our heads through a small gate and stopped short with surprise. Infront of us was a wide courtyard, the walls painted a pristine white, with a mazaar on one side. The breeze here was cool and not laden with the smells of the bazaar we had just left behind. There was no noise, no frenzy, no crowds here. The transformation was sudden and almost shocking. In that quietude, we found our senses calming down.

And it was in this hushed and tranquil atmosphere that Navina chose to tell us about Sufism. Interspersed with anecdotes about Nizammudin Auliya, Amir Khusro and Dara Shikoh she took us on a delightful journey about Sufism that ended all too soon for me !

Her last sentence as she ended her talk will stay with me forever “There is no need to worry about the growing religious intolerance. We should all think divine and be filled with hope because there are more similarities in our religions that we can imagine and hopefully one day this understanding will transcend all divides. “

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