Jama Masjid, Burhanpur : the mosque with inscriptions in Sanskrit and Arabic !

Burhanpur – a small city about 200kms from Indore in Madhya Pradesh lies on the bank of the River Tapti. This historically significant city hardly ever finds itself on a travel bucket list. But centuries ago, it served as a secondary capital to the Mughals, and was initially the preferred location for the Taj Mahal! The city itself is said to be founded by the Sultanate of the Khandesh in 1399 [Nasir Khan of the Faruqi dynasty] and was named after the Sufi saint ‘Burhan-ud-din’. It linked several important trade routes during the medieval times. Burhanpur fell under Mughal rule somewhere around the year 1600 (when Akbar conquered it) and remained integral to the Mughal ambitions in the Deccan region (till the death of Aurangzeb). The disintegration of the Mughal rule made way for the Peshwas, Marathas and finally the British.

Akbar’s siege of Burhanpur : Munster’s Cosmographia German Edition 1628 Source

From a royal Mughal bath (Hammam) built for Mumtaz Mahal to a Dargah built in honour of a saint, Burhanpur has many jewels when it comes to medieval architecture. The city’s history – laden with stories of conquest and kingdoms – allowed a rich aesthetic to flourish. Amidst the architectural marvels and places of interest is the Jama Masjid – located at Gandhi Chowk (center of the city).

The Jama Masjid of Burhanpur; Photo (1860s) from the British Library collection

The Jama Masjid of Burhanpur is the only mosque in India with bilingual inscriptions – in Sanskrit and Arabic!

The roofless mosque, was built in 1589 by the Faruqi ruler, Raja Ali Khan (also called Adil Shah). You’ll notice that the mosque has no roof – but the intersecting symmetrical arches create the ceiling. The facade has 15 arches and is flanked by two minarets that are 36m in height and quite plain in terms of design. It is said that the ‘black stone’ for the mosque was sourced from Mandu. The mosque has 17 mihrab niches. Mihrabs mark the prayer direction on the Mecca-facing (qibla) wall in a mosque. In one of these, along with verses from the Quran (highlighting the merits of constructing a mosque) an Arabic inscription reveals the patron of the mosque and the year it’s construction commenced, i.e. 1588/9. The inscription states that the construction was completed in one year. The calligrapher Mustafa finds a mention in the end as well. But it is at the south end of the prayer hall that we see a bilingual inscription – almost a testimony to India’s secular fabric. There’s also a little note by Akbar in Persian somewhere in the mosque.

Records in Stone: the Inscriptions

The bilingual inscription once again ascertains the name of the mosque’s patron; but sheds light on the Faruqi dynasty. In Devnagri script, the Sanskrit inscription provides the astronomical position, date, and year according to the Hindu Samvat calendar (1646). The English Calendar records state this to be 5th January 1590.

In 1601, Akbar added an inscription (in Persian) recording his arrival at Burhanpur via Allahabad and his return to Lahore. The inscription is said to have been made a month after the conquest of the hill fort Asirgadh (also called the Gateway to the Deccan), calligraphed by Muhammad Masoom.

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