In Paintings: 8 Beautiful Mosques of India

With the spread of Islam into India, many rulers took to building mosques. Apart from being places for worship, these mosques are a symbol of creativity, of our Islamic heritage and are known for their architectural styles. From early times, travellers from different parts of the world have been visiting India, leaving us with fascinating travel tales. But there were some, who , enamoured by the beauty and diversity of mosques in the country,  captured it all on their canvas.

In this post, we give you a glimpse into 8 gorgeous mosques in India through the eyes of these traveller-artists!


1. Moti Masjid Agra (Pearl Mosque Agra Fort)

Painting of the mosque by Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin

Moti Masjid is situated in the premises of the Agra fort in Agra. It is counted amongst the most popular Agra-attractions and is referred to as the Pearl Mosque given the white marbles used for its construction. By the mid-1800s Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin was known the world over. He travelled across India and painted landscapes, people, and monuments. His painting of Moti Masjid’s smaller version situated in Delhi (also called by the same name) is one of his most famous works till date. Built by Aurangzeb, the second version of the mosque is in Delhi’s Red Fort (scroll to the end for this one).

An inside view of the mosque at Agra, by Vasily Vereshchagin

The mosque was created by Shah Jahan for members of the royal court. Known as a connoisseur of art and architecture,  Shah Jahan’s design of this mosque is as beautiful as any other monument designed by him.

Edwin Lord Weeks was an American explorer, collector, photographer and artist. Through his paintings, he gives us glimpses of India of the 1800’s.

Moti Masjid was built between 1648-1654 and is situated to the right of the ‘Diwan-E-Aam’ or the Hall where the Emperor held court for the common man.  The mosque was completed at the cost of 1,60,000 rupees.

2. Jami Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra) was established during the second half of the 16th century by Emperor Akbar and remained the capital of the Mughal Empire for about a decade. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!  In 1814, Lord Hastings and his entourage visited the Jami Masjid. Accompanying him, was the artist Sita Ram and here’s his beautiful watercolour sketch of the Mosque’s courtyard:

The courtyard (south-east view) with Lord Hastings and his entourage being shown the sights; by Sita Ram, 1814-15

The mosque at Fatehpur Sikri was one of the first structures to be built in 1571 under the patronage of Mughal Emperor Akbar. In fact, Akbar was so excited about it, that it is believed that he occasionally swept the floor and gave the call for prayer (Azaan). On June 26, 1579, Akbar even read the khutbah (religious sermons usually held on Fridays) himself. This had only been attempted earlier by Timur and Mirza Ulugh Beg (grandson of Timur).

The now demolished Tripolia Gate & the gate to the mosque is visible in this sketch by Sir James Abbot (1826)

 The exterior is modest but the interior carries the most gorgeous ornamentation in the floral arabesques and ingenious geometrical patterns in brown, red, turquoise, black and white.

Interior of the Jami Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri : a painting by Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin

Have you ever seen a mosque as beautiful as this one?!

3. Asafi Mosque, Lucknow

Mosque at Lucknow, by English artist and traveller Henry Salt

Located inside the popular Bara Imambara, the Asafi Imambara is considered to be India’s largest unsupported structure. It is built by interlocking bricks without the use of any beams or girders.  The construction of this engineering marvel started in 1784 and took 14 years to complete. The entire building is made entirely of Lakhnawi bricks (small size bricks) and lime plaster. The main purpose of building this mosque was to create employment during the famine of 1784.  From 1857-1884, the British used the mosque as a storage space for weapons. They used the weapons to attack Lucknow-rebels and citizens who favoured the last ruler of Awadh. It took about 27 years and a lot of lobbying to get the premises vacated and re-open it for worship.

4. Tipu Sultan’s Mosque, Mysore Karnataka

Italian Artist Alberto Pasini created this oil-on-canvas painting in the 19th century.

The Masjid-e-Ala aka Jama Masjid in Srirangapatna (Mysore) is a popular tourist attraction in the city. Located near the Bangalore Gate of the Srirangapatna Fort, it was built by Tipu Sultan after he ascended the throne of Mysore in 1787 . It is said, that this is where he performed his first imamat (religious leadership course) and continued to offer worship regularly !

By Colin MacKenzie. Image:  British Library

The mosque’s minarets can be climbed through a flight of 200 steps.  Persian scriptures (from the Quran), calligraphed beautifully adorn the walls & ceiling of this Jama Masjid.  After Tipu Sultan was killed in battle, the British captured his territory and it is believed the above painting was made around the same time.

5. Sidi Bashir Mosque Ahmedabad a.k.a Jhulta Minar

Painted by Robert Melville Grindlay (founder of Grinday’s Bank) in 1809.

The Sidi Bashir Mosque in Ahmedabad is famous for it’s shaking minarets (Jhulta Minar). It is believed that this mosque was constructed by Sidi Bashir, a slave of Sultan Ahmed Shah in 1452. There are two minarets in the mosque, each of which is three stories tall with carved balconies. A gentle shaking of either minaret results in the other minaret vibrating after a few seconds, though the connecting passage between them remains free of vibration.  The minarets were designed such, for protection during earthquakes.  Today, only the minarets and central gateway remain – the mosque was destroyed in 1753 during a war between the Maratha and Gujarat Sultanate. This architectural marvel is a must-visit when in Ahmedabad, a UNESCO World Heritage City. 

6. Triplicane Big Mosque a.k.a Wallajah Mosque Chennai

Artist Francis Swain Ward (1734-1794)

Constructed in the Mughal architectural style, this mosque was built in 1795 by the family of Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah, the Nawab of Arcot during 1765. It has a large prayer hall, a tank and a large ground in front. The entire structure is constructed with granite without the use of iron or wood. Today, the mosque is one of the busiest places of worship in Chennai.

7. Pearl Mosque Delhi (Red Fort)

The Private Mosque of the Great Moguls in the Palace of Delhi | Museum of Fine Arts Boston | Painted by the Russian Artist Vasily Vereshchagin

Built by Aurangzeb in 1662 (some give the date as 1669-70) near the Shahi Hammams or royal baths, this mosque was an imitation (a miniature one) of the Pearl mosque in the Agra Fort constructed by Shah Jahan in 1647  [also for personal use and that of the harem inmates for whom special enclosures were made].  It is said that a priceless pearl hung suspended from a gold chain, giving it the name of Moti Masjid. Interestingly, Aurangzeb did not let his father, the architect of the original Pearl Mosque (Agra) offer prayers at this mosque while in captivity.

This painting by the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin is amidst his most sought after, from his India-series and is considered to be his career’s most monumental work.

8. Jama Masjid, Delhi

The Jama Masjid in Delhi has attracted scores of painters and artists over centuries. Even today, you can spot photographers clicking away, hoping to get that “one perfect shot”.

A view of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, by Thomas Daniell, 1795

Commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan, this mosque is the largest in India and can accommodate about 25,000 people at one time. It took more 5000 workers to construct the mosque which was originally called Masjid-i-Jahan-Numa : ‘mosque commanding view of the world’. It was constructed under the supervision of Saadullah Khan, who was the deputed Prime Minister during Shah Jahan’s rule.

A view of the mosque courtyard by SitaRam 1814

The mosque has three gates (north, south and east); two minarets, four towers constructed using strips of red sandstone and white marble. At the time, it cost 1 million rupees to construct this mosque.

A view of one of the Gates of Jama Masjid, Delhi by artist Mazhar Ali Khan 1840

After the rebellion of 1857, the British confiscated the mosque and wanted to destroy it as a punishment to the people. However, they couldn’t proceed (thank god!) because of a lot of opposition.

English artist Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings during her visit.

The mosque was inaugurated by the Imam of Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan) and continues to remain one of the most visited places in Delhi. During Ramzan, Jama Masjid is decorated with lights in night and one can enjoy the best street food of the area in the lane outside gate number 1.

Woodblock Print of the Jama Masjid Gate (entrance) by Japanese artist Yoshida Hiroshi – 1931

+1 from Sarmaya India Collection : A Mosque from Kashmir

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