Towering above Panchganga Ghat in the heart of Banaras, the Alamgir Mosque dominates the skyline of the city from along the ghats of the great Ganga. It’s the one monument that is instantly recognizable from wherever you are, a focal point that has attracted the attention of many artists since the 17th century.
Also known as Beni Madhav Ka Darera or Aurangeb’s Mosque, the mosque was built in the 1680s on the foundations of the ancient Bindu Madhav (Nand Madho) Temple, which Aurangzeb had demolished in 1673 after capturing Varanasi in 1663. You can read more about the temple destruction and relocation here. Alamgir means “Conqueror of the World”, a title Aurangzeb bestowed upon himself after becoming the 6th Mughal ruler in 1658.
The imposing nature of the mosque on the Varanasi skyline was even more prominent up to 72 years ago. In addition to three gigantic domes the structure was once accompanied by two minarets, each nearly 50m tall. At the time these were built, they were the highest and slenderest minarets in Mughal architecture.
James Princep the English scholar, orientalist and antiquary, repaired the minarets in the 1820s after discovering they were significantly leaning outwards. By all accounts this effort was fraught with danger, one of the minarets was even struck by lightening the very day some of the scaffolding was being removed.
His efforts however only extended the life of the minarets by just over 100 years. In 1948 one of the minarets collapsed during the monsoon season, killing at least two people. The remaining minaret was subsequently dismantled by the government for fear of a similar disaster occurring.
In terms of architecture, the Alamgir Mosque is one of the two most elaborate mosques in Banaras, second only to Gyan Vyapi Mosque. Despite that, it is a far cry from the mosques built by Aurangzeb’s predecessors, such as the Jami Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri or the Jama Masjid in Delhi.
The interior of the mosque is relatively plain, with some simple geometric designs and floral designs painted on the ceiling.
If you happen to come across the Mosque caretaker when you visit here, for a very small “donation” he will unlock a door on the exterior of the mosque that will take you up to the roof via a narrow steep flight of steps.
This must be the highest point anyone can get to so close to the ghats down below, so is worth doing even the angles of view are somewhat limited. The best view is looking south-west towards Bhonsale Ghat and beyond. Turning to the north-east you can clearly see Malviya Bridge by Rajghat, near to which are the archaeological remains of the earliest evidence of Kashi found thus far.
From this lofty position one used to be able to see Dhamekh Stupa at the Sarnath Buddhist Complex, where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. Unfortunately the amount of urban development that has occurred in the last 40 years (upwards), means this is no longer possible.
Visiting the Alamgir Mosque high above Panchganga Ghat really needs to be combined with seeing the now displaced Bindu Madhav Temple a very short distance away. Only by doing so can you get a true understanding of the events that have occurred at this place over the centuries. Whilst the history of the city has often been a turbulent one, it has always remained an unparalleled center for commerce, religion, and intellectual life.
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