Built by Shah Jahan from between 1650 and 1656, the Jama Masjid (or Friday Mosque) is the main mosque of the Shahjahanabad district of Delhi, and is one of the largest mosques in India.
Originally called Masjid-i-Jahan Numa, meaning ‘mosque commanding view of the world’, it is built on a natural outcrop of rock 10m above the level of the city and dominates the skyline.
There are three gates, on the north, east and south sides with wide steps taking you up to the building platform. The main gate is the east gate, the grandest of the three and was used by the Emperor to attend prayers.
You can enter the mosque from any of these gates, but remember that you will need to take your shoes off and leave them at the gate or carry them around with you. If you are unsuitably dressed you will need to wear a wraparound top or skirt.
Having climbed the stairs you enter a massive courtyard 100m square, with a central basin and fountain. This space is capable to accommodating 25,000 people who come here to pray, I have no idea how they all manage to reclaim their own shoes back at the gates afterwards !
The prayer hall on the western side has three bulbous domes flanked by two 40m high minarets. There are eleven bays, with the minbar (pulpit) carved from a single block of marble.
It’s a hugely impressive structure, the sense of scale is a little overwhelming having just previously navigated around the small, narrow, and claustrophobic lanes that surround the mosque.
It took 5,000 workman six years to build this mosque, at a cost then of one million rupees. Goodness knows what the cost of building a similar structure today would be.
This was one of the last great monuments to be built by Shah Jahan, who was also responsible for the nearby Red Fort in Delhi, and the Taj Mahal in Agra. It remained the royal mosque of the emperors until the end of the Mughal period.
Sadly, this mosque has also been in the news headlines in the last few years for all the wrong reasons. In April 2006 there were two explosions shortly after Friday prayers injuring nine people. Then in September 2010 two Taiwanese tourists were injured after a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire on a bus parked near Gate 3. Please don’t be put off by these events, any acts of violence are incredibly rare in India and I would suggest that crossing any road in any country in the world probably puts you at greater danger !
If you’re interested in photography the best time to visit the mosque is early morning after morning prayers. The mosque is relatively empty then and all the potential foreign tourists are most likely still having their breakfast. It also offers the best light, with the rising sun casting a soft warm glow onto the front of the prayer hall.
By 10am the place gets quite busy, and that continues throughout the day until dusk. Unlike some other mosques I have visited, such as the Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal, the building is not lit up at night.
If you do visit the Jama Masjid in the early morning, be sure to stick around beyond 9am. It is around this time that a small ticket booth opens a little west of the south gate inside the courtyard, and here you can purchase a ticket to climb the nearby southern minaret.
There have been reports by female tourists on TripAdvisor of some unpleasant experiences climbing the southern minaret, nothing too serious but more along the lines of the attendants getting a little too close. It’s just something be aware of, and if you’re a solo female traveler it might be prudent to wait for others that are going up and join them for the climb.
As you can probably imagine, the internal staircase inside the southern minaret is small, narrow, and if you don’t like tight spaces it may not be the thing for you. At the top you are literally caged in, all the openings have wire mesh fixed to stop you topping over the edge. There’s not much room up there either, enough space for about four people and no barrier to prevent you falling down the stairs.
For all these warnings I hope it doesn’t put you off. The views from the top are amazing and it is well worth going up. Hopefully these small warnings will help prepare you and ensure it’s an enjoyable experience !
Although my recommendation is to visit in the early morning, you will get a lot out of your visit at any time of the day. If you like people-watching, there’s always something going on with the mix of both foreign and Indian tourists, locals who just come here to hang out with their families, and of course those who have come here to pray.
It’s also a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of city street life around the mosque, and for me it was a place I kept returning to during my few days in Delhi.
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