Kalan Masjid (old Delhi)
Delhi, India
The Kalan Masjid was built by Khan-i Jahan Junan Shah, the vizier (from 1368-1387) at the court of Firuz Shah III (Tughluq) (r. 1351-1388), the last Tughluq sultan to rule in Delhi. Firuz Shah was a prolific builder and his patronage extended across the empire through various public works, religious and civic buildings, pleasure retreats and palaces. He is known to have constructed the first canal in north India. In Delhi, he laid the foundations of the city of Firuzabad in 1354, although only the Firuz Shah Kotla (Citadel) survives today, and no clear record remains of the extents of the city or the remains of the city walls.

Firuz Shah Tughluq assigned viziers in his court extensive royal authority, through which they became wealthy and commanded great prestige. Khan-i Jahan Tilangani (reg. 1351-68), the father of Khan-i Jahan Junan Shah, served as first vizier to Firoz Shah’s court and was given the title ‘King of Delhi’ by the sultan himself. This kind of royal patronage continued with few exceptions up to the time of the Mughals in the sixteenth century. Khan-i Jahan Tilangani was succeeded by his son in 1351. The architectural patronage of Khan-i Jahan Junan Shah has been attributed differently by various scholars. Some scholars claim that he built two mosques and one tomb, while others mention three to seven mosques built within the city of Firuzabad. Among those ascribed to Khan-i Jahan Junan Shah are the Khirki Mosque close to the wall of Jahanpanah, the Kalan Masjid in Nizamuddin, and the Kalan Masjid of Firuzabad, now within Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi.

The Kalan Masjid in Firuzabad was surrounded by low masonry structures up to 1814, and by 1840 a thriving village had sprung up in its vicinity. Today the Kalan Masjid lies embedded in the poorest quarter of the walled city of Shahjahanabad, with houses of three to four stories abutting its outer edges. The mosque is accessed through a narrow street off the Sita Ram Bazar Road. It is currently in use by the local community and is under the direct control of the Delhi Waqf board. It is mostly intact and well maintained. A notice board at the entrance of the mosque indicates the meaning of Kalan as ‘big’. The mosque is also popularly known as the ‘Kali Masjid’ after the color of the black stone used in its construction. However, the contemporary mosque was completely refinished with gray floor tiles, and it is plastered and painted shades of green, aquamarine blue and white. Not a single surface of the mosque appears black today.

The Kalan Masjid is a rectangular building measuring approximately 41 meters by 34 meters (135 feet by 112 feet) with its longitudinal axis oriented along the east-west direction. A two-storied structure rising to a total height of approximately 20 meters (66 feet), the mosque consists of a high plinth (8.53 meters, or 28 feet) containing a series of vaulted cells accessible along its periphery and the mosque itself on the level above. The building contains openings on both floors that punctuate the 1.65 meters (5.5 feet) thick outer walls. The outer walls are built of stone rubble masonry and battered to the top where they are lined by a merlon pattern in plaster relief painted dark green and white. The rectangular mosque building has conical towers at its corners and a square domed entrance gateway protruding out approximately 6.4 meters (21 feet) from the eastern side. The entrance gateway is accessed along a flight of 32 steps rising sharply from the east.

The mosque is divided into 9 by 7 structural bays of varying sizes. The plan can be divided into two halves along an approximately central north-south axis; the eastern half consists of 5 bays by 7 bays and the western half of 4 bays by 7 bays, the western bays being slightly larger in size than the eastern bays. The mosque is organized about a rectangular open courtyard, located in the eastern half of its plan, measuring approximately 15 meters by 20 meters (49 feet by 66 feet) and occupying 4 by 5 bays.

Surrounding the courtyard but contained within the outer wall, on the north, south and east sides is a single row of arcades with 15 square domed bays. The north and south sides consist of four bays each while the east side consists of five, with the central entrance bay more pronounced than those on either side (this does not include the corner bays). The courtyard contains a square ablution pool at its center.

Towards the western side of the courtyard and occupying the western half of the plan is the prayer hall, which is approximately the same size as the courtyard. It is a vaulted structure supported on massive stone piers divided into 3 aisles and 5 rows. The west (qibla) wall of the prayer hall contains five mihrab niches corresponding to the centers of each row. Surrounding the prayer hall, but contained within the outer walls on the north, south and west sides, are 7 square and rectangular vaulted rooms of single bay thickness. These surrounding rooms occupy approximately the same space as the arcade around the courtyard.

A 1.5 meters (5 feet) thick massive stone masonry wall separates the prayer hall and the rooms surrounding it. Rubble walls of the same thickness also separate the rooms themselves, each accessed through a doorway at the center of the shorter wall. Three of these seven rooms are square, measuring approximately 3 meters by 3 meters (9.75 feet by 9.75 feet); one is in the northwest corner, the other in the southwest corner, and one directly behind the central mihrab to the west of the prayer hall. The corner square rooms lead into the corner towers. The remaining spaces surrounding the prayer hall comprise rectangular rooms. To the north and south of the prayer hall are two rectangular rooms measuring approximately 11.8 meters by 3 meters (39 feet by 9.75 feet), and in-between the three square rooms to the west, are two rectangular rooms measuring approximately 7.1 meters by 3 meters (23.5 feet by 9.75 feet). Two sections of wall between the prayer hall and the rectangular rooms, entered from the first aisle on the north and south, contain a flight of steps leading up to the roof of the prayer hall, which offers a number of clear views across Old Delhi.

The double-storied mosque building is said to have been alone atop a hillock only a hundred years ago. Its high plinth would have been visible and its chambers accessible from all sides at the time. The plinth of the mosque contains 8 vaulted chambers on the north and south sides and 5 on the west side. Each of these chambers is accessed through a single broad doorway and consists of two vaulted square rooms placed one behind the other. The rooms contain central niches on each wall surface. The separation between the two rooms is 1.2 meters (4 feet) and a lintel beam spans across a low doorway between the two rooms. It is lower than the ceiling of each room, creating two distinct spaces. The exceptions to the two-room layout are those chambers at the corner of the rectangular mosque plan: they contain one room, which leads to the octagonal spaces within the corner towers. The east side of the mosque contains three chambers on either side of the entrance gateway. Below the protruding entrance gateway is also a square vaulted room accessed from two doorways on the north and south sides. A second cell to the west is accessible from here through a deep doorway. There are spaces under the staircase as well that are accessible from the north and south sides. Apart from the rooms carved into the lower level, the plinth is solid and probably filled-in.

Raised on the high plinth, the protruding entrance gateway stands tall at the end of the approach street with the mosque obscured by the adjacent houses. A long flight of 32 red sandstone steps, and approximately 4.5 meters (15 feet) wide, lead up to the mosque. Today the staircase is walled-in and entered though a recently installed metal gate. Every fourth step is slightly wider and extends out to the sides over short parapet walls that create a stepped profile rising up on either side of the staircase. The staircase culminates at a small landing before the rectangular doorway of the protruding gateway structure.

The protruding gateway is flanked by two tapering corner turrets with floral finials. A central rectangular frame, the same width as the staircase, projects slightly out of the gateway. This frame rises up to the entire height of the gateway and is flanked at its upper corners by two small square domed pavilions. To these are attached loudspeakers that today broadcast the call for prayer. Between the two corner pavilions are three small domed pavilions lining the upper edge of the frame. The doorway is located within the larger rectangular frame, recessed within a pointed arch, and is spanned by a stone lintel supported on brackets. Above the doorway and within the arched recess is an embedded rectangular piece of marble that contains the dedicatory inscription of the patron. The spandrels of this arch contain a medallion with a moon and star motif. On either side of the doorway, within the projecting piers of the rectangular frame, are four rectangular slightly recessed panels composed vertically up to the height of the top of the arch. Within each rectangle is a slightly recessed cusped arch profile. Above the arch is a thick horizontal band containing a merlon pattern in plaster relief. At the top and bottom of this band are rounded cornices. The band runs along the top of the entire outer wall of the mosque. Above the gateway rises a shallow pointed dome. The entire gateway is plastered and painted in shades of green, ultramarine blue, pink and white keeping close attention to the differences in color of each structural and decorative element.

The courtyard is accessed through the domed entrance gateway. The courtyard is defined on all four sides by bays of broad pointed arches resting on massive stone twinned square piers with plain cuboidal capitals and bases. At the northeast and southeast corners of the courtyard the four piers are grouped into a single support. The square bays of the arcade surrounding the courtyard are capped by shallow domes painted green on their inner surface. Corresponding to each bay of the arcade is a window puncturing the outer wall of the mosque. These windows are recessed in two planes and are either blocked with masonry to form niches or screened by a jaali. A chhaja (projecting stone eave) supported on a number of small brackets circles around the courtyard above the top of the arches. A parapet with merlon patterns in plaster relief lines the top of the chhajja. At the center of the courtyard is a large square pool with an ornamental fountain at its center. A low platform clad in stone runs around its periphery. Due to extreme heat in the summer months, fans are now provided on each pier of the courtyard, which is also often covered by cloth canopies. The low pointed domes of the arcade and prayer hall, plastered and painted white, rise above the parapet.

The prayer hall consists of fifteen domed bays organized into three aisles and five rows. The shallow pointed domes rest on broad pointed arches with smaller vaults in the zone of transition. The arches are in turn supported on square stone piers. The inner surface of the domes is plastered and painted bright green while the arches are painted white. The stone piers are painted with a diagonal striped pattern in grey and white. The floor of the prayer hall is covered with grey floor tiles and is often carpeted. The five mihrabs, corresponding to each row of the prayer hall, are recessed in two planes, with the central mihrab slightly deeper than those on either side. A minbar, consisting of 6 steps and built in masonry, is located in the central bay attached to the west wall just north of the central mihrab. The north and south walls contain three narrow doorways, corresponding to the center of each aisle, that lead to the surrounding rooms.

The original surface decoration in the mosque has been almost completely obscured. The mosque today is entirely plastered, with its bands, panels, cornices and outlines pronounced through slight relief and painted to exaggerate individual elements. The facade of the entrance gateway and the walls of the prayer hall clearly demonstrate this method of decoration. Green, aquamarine blue and white are the predominant colors. The only portion of the mosque still exposed is the rubble masonry used in the outer wall.

The walls of the prayer hall to the north, south and west are decorated with slightly recessed panels in plaster. These are composed within the broad arched surface below the structural arches and around a central arched mihrab (in the west wall) or a doorway (in the north and south wall). On either side of the mihrab or doorway are two identical small arched niches framed within a rectangle. Above the mihrab or doorway the space of the arch is divided into three panels with two vertical divisions.

The Kalan Mosque is an example of a two-storied plinth mosque, in the tradition of the Jami' Masjid at Firuz Shah Tughluq’s citadel (1354), also in Firuzabad, Delhi. The Khirki Mosque and the Begumpuri Mosque (both in Delhi) are variants of this type. The lower floor was often used for shops or by travelers, and this income was used to pay for the upkeep of the mosque itself. The use of conical corner minarets, shallow pointed domes and chhajjas lining the courtyard further characterize the Kalan Mosque’s sultanate style. Significantly, the distinct style of architectural patronage by nobles was undertaken within the style preferred by the sultan himself.

Sources:

Bakshi, Shri Ram and Sharma Suresh, eds. Delhi Through Ages Vol. 1, Ancient and Medieval Delhi. New Delhi: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., 1995. 28-31.

Nath, R. History of Sultanate Architecture. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1978. 66-69.

Peck, Lucy. Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building: An INTACH Roli Guide. New Delhi: The Lotus Collection, Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., 2005. 80-83, 209-211.

Welch, Anthony and Howard Crane. "The Tughluqs: Master Builders of the Delhi Sultanate," Muqarnas vol. 1 (1983): 123-166. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1523075. [Accessed on July 12, 2013]
Location
Muhammad Deen Ilachi Marg, near Lalkuan Bazaar Road, 400 meters northwest of Turkman, Shahjahanabad (Firozabad), Delhi, India
Associated Names
Events
1387/789 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Kalan Masjid (old Delhi)
Kalan Mosque
Variant
Kali Masjid
Variant
Kali Mosque
Variant
Turkoman Gate
Variant
Building Usages
mosque
religious