The Indo-Islamic mosques of Champaner

Detail from a wall carving on Kevada Masjid

“It has not rained in Champaner for 2 years, and then it rains like this. When it rains…” the guide’s voice trailed off mournfully.

About 20 pairs of suspicious, skeptical  eyes looked at the muddy, slushy path that seemed to worsen as it wound its way to apparently nowhere. But according to Manoj, the guide, the path led to 2 mosques, one of them with the most beautiful embellishments imaginable on its walls.

Maybe Manoj did not sound convincing enough, or maybe it was the mud, but most of the owners of those eyes decided to forego seeing those two mosques. But some did agree to go with the guide and see the mosques. I was one of them.

Our tour group was in Champaner for a 2-day visit. We had arrived that morning from Mumbai to a cloudy, rainy and wet day, in the wettest rainy season that Champaner was experiencing in a long time. We were to see the ruins of the medieval city of Champaner, which included many mosques in various stages of restoration or disrepair, depending on one’s point of view. I wondered how many we would be able to see with the heavy rains having made the access roads paths almost impossible to negotiate. (There are reportedly 18 such mosques, and we managed to see about 5 of them.)

With Manoj leading the way, we arrived at the Kevada Masjid after we had slipped, slid, sloshed and squelched our way through ankle-deep mud (nearly losing our shoes in the process) for about 15-20 minutes (it actually seemed like forever). This sandstone mosque complex has a main prayer hall, a cenotaph and a wazu kund. The main prayer hall is double storied and has two tall minarets flanking the main entrance. The central dome of the Kevada Masjid is missing having fallen through some years back. The beautiful windows are like jharokhas and have some exquisite decorations on them as do the minarets.

Kevada Masjid, with the cenotaph in the front and the main prayer hall behind
The exquisite jharokhas of Kevada Masjid
Carving on the minarets at the entrance to the main prayer hall of Kevada Masjid

Nagina Masjid was the next mosque along the same muddy path, and reportedly the mosque with the most beautiful embellishments imaginable. But the path to Nagina was even worse than the one we had walked through, and we had to regrettably give up the idea of visiting that mosque where still jewellers visited to get inspirations for their designs. 😦

We walked back to join the rest of the group who were waiting for us at the Sehar ki Masjid, which is located within the Royal Enclosure of Champaner. The Sehar ki Masjid was exclusively for the use of the royal family. Like the Kevada Masjid, this one too had two minarets flanking the main entrance to the prayer hall.

Sehar ki Masjid

As I was walking around the Sehar ki Masjid, trying to photograph its unique features, I could not help but think about both the grandness of the first mosque we saw that morning, the Jami Masjid, or the starkness of the next one, the Khajuria Masjid. The latter two mosques that we visited—Kevada and Sehar—fell somewhere in between as they were neither grand like the Jami nor plain like the Khajuria Masjids.

My first sight of the Jami Masjid with its simple, smooth domes, and tall slender minarets and embellished jharokhas was a breathtaking one, and a sight that I will never forget. It had just stopped raining when we arrived at the sandstone mosque, where the earthy red of the stone literally glowed against the dull grey of the skies and surroundings. (PS: I was so mesmerised by the Jami Masjid that I went back the next day, just to take some photographs with the sun out. So you will see that some photographs of the Jami Masjid have a sunny look with bright blue skies.)

The first glimpse of the Jami Masjid

The Jami Masjid is considered to be one of the finest mosques of Gujarat, and with good reason. It has some of the most intricate stone screen work that I have seen. The eastern entrance to the Masjid has the stunning porch that you can see in the photograph below. There used to be a dome to cover the porch, but today it no longer exists.

The stone acreen at the east porch of the Jami Masjid
The beautiful arches of the eastern porch

The Masjid has an open courtyard, which is surrounded on 3 sides by narrow, open, pillared, corridors, in front of the closed prayer hall. The main entrance to the prayer hall is an arch, which is flanked by two slender minarets.

Main entrance to the prayer hall at the Jami Masjid

The central dome is a two-storied structure and, till a few years back, one could climb up and explore the Masjid from a totally different perspective. But with the threat of vandalism and accidents waiting to happen, this practice has since been discontinued. I wonder if structural damage to the dome in recent years due to the elements also contributed towards the decision to deny access.

Marble Mihrab at the Jami Masjid

The Masjid has 7 mihrabs (or prayer niches), and while 6 of them are made of the same sandstone that the Masjid is built of, the central mihrab is made of marble. All the mihrabs are decorated with chain, pot and flower motifs, with the pots looking very kalash-like. The main prayer hall reportedly has 172 pillars running through its length and breadth. Women have their own section to pray in the Jami Masjid, a section that our guide preferred to refer as “Ladies Compartment”. 😀

The windows are covered with intricate stone screens to let in light and ventilation. There are screens where each unit has a different design; there are also screens with a single design spread out across the different units.

(L) A stone screen with different designs in every unit. (R) Inside the main prayer hall

Though the Jami Masjid (or for that matter any of the other masjids we saw) were not active places of worship, I came across an old man offering prayers at a tomb in its courtyard.

At pray

From Jami Masjid, we went to see the ruins of the Khajuria Masjid, a mosque, which has almost no walls and almost no roof left; only the pillars and a couple of jharokhas survive. The ruins of the Khajuria Masjid actually helped me appreciate the beauty of the other masjids even more.

The ruins of Khajuria Masjid

The last mosque that we saw was the Ek Minar ki Masjid or the mosque with one minaret. That wasn’t the original name of the mosque, but because it has only one minaret left standing, it is known by that name. The minaret is 5-storeys high and has a unique feature as one goes up: it is square at the base, octagonal on the next level, 16-sided in the next two levels, and circular on the top.

The picturesque settings of Ek Minar ki Masjid

The mosques of Champaner are characterised by a design, which though Islāmic is also strongly, very strongly Hindu. The jharokhas are the most visible manifestation of the Hindu influence, but there are subtler ones as well.

Delicately carved stone screen at the Jami Masjid

They are present in the geometrical designs of the stone screens, some of which are like the kolam that my mother draws everyday at our doorstep. They are present in the rows of delicately carved flowers on the minarets, flowers which look like the sheuli or parijat flowers, and very holy to the Hindus. They are present  in the toran like entrances to the mosques. They are present in the design of the pillars. They are present in the embellishment of the arches.

In my opinion, this Indo-Islamic fusion was possible because Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat, and the person who commissioned most of the mosques, thought local. He did not waste money getting builders or building stones from outside the region. The building stone used for all the monuments that I saw in Champaner is the locally available sandstone. Only in one instance has a non-local stone been used—the central mihrab at the Jami Masjid is clad in marble. More importantly, all the builders, sculptors, and other artisans were local. Since they were Hindus, or at least we can safely assume that most of them were, the designs were Indian, but keeping in mind Islāmic sensibilities.

Two days and 5 mosques later, I think I have begun to understand the terminology Indo-Islāmic design that the guide kept using while pointing out to the various design elements in the mosques. It is more than just using the lotus as an element in Islāmic architecture, as seen in the Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur or the Royal Bath in Hampi or even the Balahissar Gate of Golkonda.

It is a terminology that truly combines that best that the two differeing styles have to offer, and the Indo-Islāmic mosques of Champaner are the best possible illustrations of this terminology in the context of architecture and design.

P.S.: This visit was part of a tour organised by Doreen D’Sa of Doe’s Ecotours. She can be contacted at does_ecotours[at]yahoo.co.in.

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32 thoughts on “The Indo-Islamic mosques of Champaner

    1. I loved Champaner, particularly its unexplored feel and the treasures it has to offer. The extent of Indo-Islamic fusion was a delightful surprise, and along with history, I learnt a lot about design and architecture. Geologically too, the area was fascinating, though I have not discussed that aspect in this post.

      I think it is a good decision to go back and spend a day or two in Champaner.

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  1. wow, this place looks and reads amazing. Unfortunately living in the UK its near impossible to ever visit such a place but I guess I may have to add to the list of places in India I want to visit when I get the plan organised to go.

    Very good.

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  2. Sudha: your eye for detail is amazing……you make the place come alive…..please tell me ( if you can)…do you remember all the facts, do you take notes or do you access the net for factual information?

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    1. Thank you so much, Jayanti.

      I listen to the guide (if there is one) very carefully, read the information book (if there is one available) and all thge signboards on the site and remember all this for future reference (or at least till I have written it). Its only when I have none of these options available that I use the net (for eg. my post on the Golkonda Fort). But whatever I use I make sure that I write in in my own words or if I have quoted somebody, I do give the references.

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  3. when one looks at the the divide being created by the politicians between the two communities one feels like dragging them by their earlobes to such places which showcase the fusion of the two. This especially in a state like Gujarat. Lovely pic and details.

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    1. “18 mosques, but not a single one is open for prayers?” I asked a local.

      “There are no Muslims here, Madam,” he mumbled.

      “How is that possible? There must be descendents of the Muslim inhabitants from that time.”

      “Well, there are none now. They left after the riots, Godhra riots,” he muttered almost inaudibly and went away.

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  4. Lovely pics with very good write up .I am forwarding this blog to a gym friend of mine as she is a Jain & I INSISTED THAT IT IS A MUST VISIT FOR HER.She has convinced her parents but this would just finalise the trip.TRULY INCREDIBLE INDIA THANKS FOR THE HAPPY MEMORIES REVIVAL.

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  5. There is poetry in stone
    there is music in the air..
    there is beauty in
    the frozen monuments
    standing silently where
    someone, somewhere decided
    to leave a tiny mark
    of their ephemeral existence..

    They who made these
    are long gone,
    and left behind the notes
    of a silent song
    that came alive
    before my eyes
    Through the
    pictures that you saw
    and your exquisite lines..

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  6. My my! Beautiful photographs and account of a truly grand place. The place is lush green after the rains… and what intricate designs on the old structures. Loved these Champaner posts Sudha.

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  7. Dear Sudha, have you been to Palitana, go once and you’ll forget everything,,, the biggest temple complex in the world…lot of amazing places on the mountain of shetrunjay hills, do lemme know…

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    1. Welcome here, Nirav, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I have heard a lot about Palitana, but have not yet visited it. It is on my bucket list and I do not know when I am going to visit this temple complex. I only hope that it is sooner, rather than later.

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  8. Hi Sudhagee,

    Thank you first of all for a great post. I am planning to visit these mosques in few days.
    I had few questions to ask. I would be really thankful if you could find some time to answer them.
    * On Google maps one can only see ‘Sehar ki masjid’, ‘Jami Masjid’ and ‘Ek minaara Masjid’. So how far are the rest of the mosques (i mean Nagina Masjid, Kevada Masjid, etc.)?
    * Is there any entry fees for the Archeological park?
    * How crowded this place was when you guys visited? And is there any space for car parking?

    Thanking you in advance.
    – Afshar

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    1. Welcome here, Afshar, and thank you for stopping by and visiting. Champaner is a fabulous place and a real treat and, believe me, it is even better than the pictures 🙂 Let me answer your questions one by one:

      I would suggest that you begin your visit with the Jami Masjid and the ticket that you buy there is valid for all the other places. Kevada Masjid is some distance away a vehicle would be required. As for Nagina Masjid, it is walking distance from Jami Masjid. We had visited during the rains so, I did not see any motorable roads, but perhaps one can take a vehicle upto Nagina Masjid now.

      You can see from the photos that it is not very crowded. The area receives a lot of tourists, but they all go to Pavagadh temple and not to the Champaner mosques.

      There is ample space for car parking outside the monuments.

      Hope this helped and do say hello to Champaner from my side when you visit it 🙂

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