Sunday, 18 May 2014

Nakhoda Masjid

Nakhoda Masjid as seen from an elevated position across the street
It is perhaps difficult to imagine for anyone living in the city now, but Calcutta was once a bewildering melting pot of people and cultures, much more so than it is today. The capital of British India, and the principal port in the East, people from all over India, and indeed, all over the world, settled here, and each of these communities left their mark on the city. Among the settlers were the Memons of Kutch. The Kutchi Memons are a community of Sunni Muslim traders, and their contribution to the city’s architecture may be seen even today, towering above the chaos of Burrabazaar, Calcutta’s central business district. Nakhoda Masjid is Calcutta’s principal mosque, with a capacity of 10,000. Completed in 1926, at the cost of Rs. 1,500,00.00, the architecture of the mosque is an imitation of the mausoleum of Mughal emperor Akbar in Sikandara, a suburb of Agra.



The courtyard
A friend once asked me, “why is it called Nakhoda? Doesn’t that seem like an ungodly name”? Unlike what many may think, Nakhoda does not mean the place of no God. The Kutchi Memons, who built the mosque, were a community of seafaring traders, and the word Nakhoda means mariner. Nakhoda Masjid therefore means Mariner’s Mosque. The mosque may be entered, and most parts of it are open to visitors, at all times except during prayer. Women must remember to dress modestly, which means no shorts, mini skirts, spaghetti tops and the like. It is advisable for women to cover their heads using scarves or something similar. Shoes must be removed before entering the mosque, and you would do well to carry a bag in which to place them and carry around with yourself, because, according to locals, people with nimble fingers are all around.



The main entrance to the mosque
The fascinating architecture of the mosque makes for great photographs. One the outside, there are 3 domes and the two principal minarets are 151 feet high. There are an additional 25 smaller minarets. On the inside, the gateway is an imitation of the Buland Darwaza of Fatehpur Sikri. Intricate carvings and beautiful ornamentation may be seen on the walls.

The area surrounding the mosque is filled with shops serving some of the most delicious food. For beef eaters in particular, the biryani from Aminia, the chaap from Bombay Hotel (aka Bambaiya), and if you’re lucky, the nihari served at the crack of dawn in winter, at Sufiya Hotel, directly opposite the mosque, is top class. Don't eat beef? No problem. Chicken and mutton are available as well. If you visit during the holy month of Ramzan, and can brave the crowds, do pick up some of the Bakarkhani, a kind of sweet, flat, bread, sold on the streets.


Fountain and the pool for ritual ablutions. Marble blocks seats all along the edge.



Prayer times for the faithful

- by Deepanjan Ghosh
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