The Moti Mosque, in the Red Fort at Shahjahanabad, Delhi was initiated by the sixth Mughal emperor Awrangzib (r. 1658-1707) during the first few years of his reign, and completed in 1663. He spent the first twenty-three years of his reign as emperor in Delhi, during which time the Moti Mosque served as his private mosque. In 1681 he moved to the Deccan on campaign against the Hindu and Shi'i kingdoms, and never returned to Delhi.
The Red Fort complex (1638-1648) was built by Shahjahan on the west bank of the Yamuna in the form of an irregular rectangle with entrance gateways on the north, west and south walls. The eastern edge of the fort overlooking the river was occupied by the palace of the emperor; the northern quadrant was used for business, and the southern for the jenana palaces. To the west of the palace complex was the public audience hall and the market leading the west gate. During the British capture of the Red Fort after the revolt in 1857, a large part of the complex was destroyed. Further demolition of the complex was carried out to accommodate British offices and barracks within the fort. During this period, the Moti Mosque was also heavily damaged; few other buildings from the main palace complex remain, but most of those which were still standing were (like the Moti) subsequently restored by the British.
Today, the mosque stands alone, enclosed in a rectangular perimeter wall just west of the palace buildings lining the eastern edge of the fort. To its immediate east is the hammam, also enclosed within a high compound wall. To its north lies the Hayat-Baksh garden and to its south and west is a vast open courtyard that would have been part of the palace complex. Scholars suggest that Awrangzib's bed-chamber was situated close to the mosque, so that he could visit it without the accompaniment of a retinue.
The Moti Mosque is contained within a rectangular walled enclosure measuring approximately 22 meters by 15 meters (72 feet by 49 feet) with its longitudinal axis running along the east-west direction. The compound wall rises to a height of 6.1 m (20 feet) and except for its three bulbous, white marble domes and numerous (ca 20) slender minarets terminating in a lotus finial, most of the mosque remains hidden from view. The rubble masonry compound wall was originally faced with red sandstone having square and rectangular recessed panels. Today, the wall stands plastered and whitewashed with a combination of rectangular and arched recessed panels. This rectangular compound wall aligns itself with the rest of the palace complex while the interior space of the mosque re-orients itself slightly to face precisely west (qibla). With the exterior and interior geometries askew, the angular adjustment causes the compound wall to be tapered and of varying thickness throughout. This compound wall forms an elevated walkway at the top lined by foliate merlons on all four sides.
The mosque itself is accessed by a short set of stairs (5 steps) through an arched doorway in the east wall. The entry is staggered by a few paces north due to the angular shift between the compound wall and the mosque courtyard. The courtyard is a rectangle measuring 12.2 meters by 10.67 meters (40 feet by 35 feet) comprising three bays each, with the prayer hall to the west and the other three sides walled-in within the compound wall. The floor of the courtyard is paved in white marble, and at its center is a rectangular white marble ablution tank measuring 3.02 meters by 2.44 meters (10 feet by 8 feet). On the west side of the courtyard is the prayer hall raised on a plinth 1.1 meters high (3-1/2 feet) and accessed by three short (4 risers) marble flights of stairs, on center with each of its three arched bays.
The prayer hall comprises two aisles and measures 12.2 meters by 9.14 meters (40 feet by 30 feet). The interior of the hall, as with the rest of the mosque, is completely dressed in white marble; it is capped by three ribbed domes that are also clad in white marble stone. Historians suggest that the original dome were clad in copper or brass sheets. These domes collapsed in the British capture (1857), damage that went unrepaired until after 1880. Photographs taken of the mosque in 1880 depict the mosque without domes. The contemporary domes were added by the British in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
As a whole, the view from outside of the mosque's perimeter wall contrasts greatly with its interior. The outer wall is unornamented but for its merlons and insets, while the interior face is completely dressed in white marble with an array of curvilinear floral forms and patterns in relief. The main entrance doorway to the mosque on the east is through an arched doorway located slightly off center on the east wall. The entrance is framed within a white marble arched jamb and a door paneled with finely embossed brass sheets. Through this doorway, one walks through the (very thick) compound wall and is led to a second arched entrance a couple of paces to the north; the entrances are staggered, rendering it impossible to see directly into the courtyard from without. It is through this second archway that the courtyard space is accessed. Adjacent to this archway, running straight up north inside the wall thickness of the east wall, is a straight flight of steps leading to the elevated walkway of the compound wall.
Entering the courtyard, one faces the three cusped-arch elevation of the prayer hall. The central bay is larger than the two side bays in height and width and is shaded by a curved Bengali cornice that assumes a horizontal profile on either side. The four piers supporting the arches have an ornate base and capital with a straight shaft. Above the level of the cornice, aligning vertically with each pier, are four octagonal faux-minarets with tapering profiles that culminate in small octagonal domed chhatris. The three bulbous domes above the prayer hall are supported on tall drums, each capped with an inverted lotus flower and a metal finial. The prayer hall is raised on a plinth faced with horizontal bands of marble relief work at the top and bottom and is reached by three flights of four steps each. These steps are faced in white marble with strips of black marble inlaid into the riser surface.
The east wall of the courtyard reflects a similar bay rhythm as the prayer hall, but contains no openings except for the small entrance archway at its center flanked by two protruding piers and an arch spanning above in ornamented relief from the wall. The entire wall surface is covered with curvilinear foliate decoration in relief that subtly reflects profiles of the piers and arches of the prayer hall: the cusped pointed arches of the prayer hall are reflected as blind archways in the east wall, with the central arch being taller and wider than the arches flanking it on either side. The central arch is framed within a rectangular recess of its full height while the two side bays are framed within rectangular recesses of proportionately smaller size. With the piers of the prayer hall mirrored as pilasters in relief on the east wall, the entire composition appear as a flattened image of the prayer hall. The top of the east wall terminates with a protruding stone course topped by foliate merlons. The protruding course contains eyelets carved in marble at regular intervals, probably to fasten rope supports for a temporary roof canopy over the courtyard. These eyelets run all around the courtyard space. The merlons on the interior surface of the courtyard are ornamented in floral white marble relief, as compared to the plain rounded plastered merlons on the outside. Their rhythm is only interrupted by the four faux minarets, which are similar in profile as those of the prayer hall but capped with a small dome and a finial inside a lotus flower. These faux minarets are aligned vertically with the pilasters, and a continuous herringbone pattern extends from the pilaster through the protruding course up to the base of the faux minarets.
The north and south walls also contain three bays, each of equal size. Although these are similar to the bays of the east wall, these two wall surfaces are conceived uniquely. The north wall contains three deeply recessed rectangular windows with intricate marble jaalis placed centrally to each bay rising from the courtyard level to a height of approximately 1.7 meters (5-1/2 feet). The window located close to the prayer hall also serves as an access passageway to a chamber adjacent to the prayer hall that is built into the thickness of the compound wall in the north. The narrow chamber is raised to the height of the prayer hall and is also as deep in plan. The three rectangular windows in the north are also reflected in the south wall, but only as shallow recesses. Above this level the bays are consistent with the east wall. Consistent also in the décor is the comparative plainness of the wall surfaces up to the height of the window lintel, above which a profusion of floral patterns cover the entire paneled surface.
The courtyard is paved in white marble with a pattern of squares inlaid in thin strips of black marble. The ablution fountain is a shallow, two-tiered square trough-like structure with upturned edges raised only slightly from the level of the courtyard.
The prayer hall can be reached from the courtyard space through each of the three arched bays. The white marble flooring in the prayer hall is broken up by the rectangular profiles of prayer carpets placed side by side to each other inlaid in black marble. A large three-sided mihrab niche is located in the center of the west wall and is recessed in two planes of cusped arches framed by a larger but shallow arch of the Bengali cornice profile. Adjacent to the mihrab, towards the north, is a three-stepped minbar in white marble. The minbar steps are hollowed out and supported on the floor by delicate, intricately carved legs in white marble. On either side of the mihrab, central to each side bay, are smaller arched niches recessed into the west wall. The north and south walls of the prayer hall contain slightly recessed rectangular panels with a diamond-shaped pattern in relief. The volume preceding the mihrab is that of a gently arched pyramidical vault similar to the Bengali roof. A similar vault roofs the outer aisle of the central bay as well. The three bulbous domes atop the prayer hall are not reflected in the space within. The two side bays are roofed by four shallow domes, decorated with flower petals arranged radially around their centers. The roof is supported on a set of cusped arches spanning in both directions between four cruciform shaped piers.
The white marble surface ornament of the prayer hall is also layered horizontally in a manner similar to the courtyard. Up to a height of approximately 1.7 meters (5-1/2 feet) surface ornament is kept to a minimum. The only exceptions are the two arched niches and the mihrab niche in the west wall, which have ornamental spandrels. Black marble inlay adorns the white marble shaft of the piers in concentric rectangular profiles. A carved white marble floral wreath in the base and the capital ornaments the otherwise plain shaft. The walls are also paneled in black marble inlay work. The bottom of the entire wall surface within the prayer hall is skirted with the floral pattern, as is the base of the piers. The rectangular paneling stops at the height of the lintel consistent with the rest of the space. This level also corresponds to the springing point of the structural arches. Above this level the arches and ceilings are covered with a profusion of floral and tendril-like motifs.
The bulbous vase containing stems of flowers is a theme consistent throughout the prayer hall, with the floral patterns emerging at the level of the springing point of the arches. The cusped arches culminate at the top to a point adorned by a floral motif, while their spandrels are replete with floral curvilinear relief work on marble. This kind of surface ornament is referred to as munabbat-kari, or "sober-relief". A variant of this kind of craft is also seen in the embossed brass sheets that originally covered the three domes and the main entrance door panel. The panel combines curvilinear foliate and floral motif to create remarkable arabesque patterns. "Munabbat-kari" is derived from munabbatkar, "stone carver" in Persian. Along with parchin-kari (stone inlay-work), munabbat-kari was used extensively by Shahjahan and deployed on a large scale in the marble and stone decoration of the Taj Mahal (1648).
The Moti Mosque, one of the most important buildings built by Awrangzib, was an expression of his deep religiosity as well as a display of courtly ostentation. The fine marble tracery work is at once geometrical and free-flowing, and speaks of the development of the craft itself by the seventeenth century. A further confluence of architectural styles can be seen in the crafting of the Bengali cornice contour and the Deccan-style lotus flowers.
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Asher, Catherine. The New Cambridge History of India: Architecture of Mughal India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 255-257.
Koch, Ebba. Mughal Architecture – An Outline of its History and Development (1528-1858). Munich: Prestel, 1991. 125-131.
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