Reuse of Religious Sites III

This is the third in a series of posts on reuse of existing religious sites by new/different religions. Please read my posts of 2008.11.10 and 2009.02.01 for additional background and examples from Europe and the Middle East.

Religious sites tend to be converted according to whoever is in power, of course, and religious sites in the Middle East often went from pagan to Christian to Muslim, while religious sites in Spain went from Christian to Muslim back to Christian. In India, religious sites generally went from Hindu or Jain to Muslim, and in some cases back to Hindu again after independence. The reuse of religious sites is an extremely controversial topic in India, because it touches on Muslim/Hindu rivalries which are fraught with tremendous historical weight.

The single most controversial (in recent years) temple-to-mosque conversion was the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Mughal Emperor Babur in the 16th century, Hindus claimed that it was built on the site of a Hindu temple commemorating Rama’s birthplace (while Jains claimed that it was built on the site of a Jain temple). (Indeed, the destruction/conversion of “heathen” temples has been a favorite activity of Abrahamic faiths–the zeal with which medieval Christians destroyed and converted pagan temples is well-recorded in literature. Similarly, some of the Muslim conquerors from the west arrived in India and felt compelled to wreak havoc to the native polytheistic faith.) Controversy over the site raged through the British Raj. In 1949, a couple of Hindu idols were furtively erected in the mosque, and in the 1980s the mosque, which was previously under lock and key, was opened to Hindu worshippers. Finally, in 1992, a crowd of Hindu extremists known as the Kar Sevaks gathered outside the Babri Mosque and formed a rampaging crowd that completed destroyed it. A Muslim mob retaliated in 2002 by attacking a group of Kar Sevaks heading back from Ayodhya, killing 58 aboard a train, after which horrific mob violence resulted all over Gujarat State, resulting in over a thousand deaths, largely Muslim. The violence was said to be aided by local Hindu nationalist authorities–post to come.

Especially given the destruction of the Babri Mosque, but even before its destruction, the most famous temple-to-mosque conversion, for tourists, is the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque next to the Qutb Minar in southern Delhi. The Qutb Minar and Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque were built by India’s first Muslim ruler and the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, in the late 12th century. According to an inscription, the mosque was built by parts taken from the destruction of twenty-seven temples, believed to be Jain.

The Qutb Minar, as seen from the columns of the ruined mosque, and a second image of the columns. In the first picture, note that the head of the small figure on the corner has been defaced, a common occurrence given Muslim prohibitions on representations of human forms. The elaborate carvings on the columns are clearly non-Muslim, and are said to be from preceding temples or created by local (non-Muslim) artisans.

Near the lower right corner of this picture, an empty space where there would have been a figure of a Hindu or Jain deity.

One of the most famous objects at the Qutb Complex is the “iron pillar of Delhi,” cast in the 4th century, centuries before the arrival of Aibak. The pillar is celebrated for its astonishing purity of 98% and its resistance to corrosion for all of these centuries.

We were quite struck by the resemblance of some of the ceilings at the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque to ceilings in the Pamirs and Hunza, as well as Timbuktu.

Ceilings in the Tajikistan Pamirs and Pakistan’s Hunza Valley

Ceiling in Timbuktu. This ceiling was at a market, but I believe references another famous structure in Mali.

Another conversion by Qutb-ud-din Aibak is the Adhai Din ka Jhonpra, or “Two and a Half Day Mosque” of Ajmer, the Muslim city located in otherwise Hindu Rajasthan. The name of the mosque references the supposed (and astonishing) story that it was built in two and a half days–I imagine this can’t be wholly accurate, but certainly time was saved by reusing an existing Jain temple. Again, the columns are a dead giveaway.

I mentioned in my post of 2009.03.13 Deogiri or Daulatabad Fort, a fortress believed to be have been built in the late 12th century that was captured by the Delhi Sultanate about a hundred years later and starting in 1317 briefly was used as its capital by Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq, who marched all of the citizens of Delhi to the city hundreds of miles away. The principal mosque of Daulatabad was a conversion from a Jain temple, as is visible not only from its columns, but from blocks of non-Muslim carvings nearby. In the twentieth century, locals placed a Hindu idol inside, effectively converting the mosque ruin into an active Bharat Mata (Mother India) temple.

Mosque overview, with detail showing the multi-armed Hindu idol in the place of the former mihrab

Blocks of stone found at the site, showing Jain and tantric carvings

The 15th century Adina, or Friday, Mosque of Pandua, located some 250 miles north of Calcutta, incorporates parts of a Hindu temple. (See post of 2009.03.13 on Pandua.)

The bases of the columns are lotus-shaped, while the mihrab uses the swastika, both motifs associated with native Indian religions. Note that the pattern near the top of the mihrab is broken, suggesting that the stones were not originally cut for their current placement/arrangement.

Outside, more obvious clues. The entrance contains carvings with clear (but now empty) niches for Hindu deities while the outside wall incorporates decorated blocks from an older structure.

Malik Mughith’s Mosque at the ruins of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh also reveals reuse, in the empty niches of the column bases.

I do not want to defend the Muslim conquerors/rulers of India, who in any event were alive hundreds of years before ideas of historic preservation or cultural sensitivity had fully developed, but I do want to note that, to a medieval monotheistic outsider, especially one from such an austere tradition as Islam, certain Hindu shrines must surely have seemed particularly evil and befitting destruction. Not only were the Muslims establishing their authority, but in an age before pluralism, they thought that they were doing everyone a favor by ridding the world of pagan shrines.

Shrine to Hindu Deity Chinnamasta in Gour, West Bengal, near the ruins of Pandua

3 thoughts on “Reuse of Religious Sites III

  1. Hy,Dear Brother/Sister anybody who wrote it i said to this person "Nice photos" Thank you.
    My name is suraj,I am from Aurangabad,Maharashtra.

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