Adina Mosque: Biggest Mosque in Indian Subcontinent during 14th Century
For the unaware, it takes a little time to sink in that the biggest mosque in India during the heydays of the establishment of Islamic power in India was not anywhere in north-west or northern India, nor even in the Deccan, the known centres of Islamic culture and religion, but in Bengal. Adina mosque. Commissioned in 1364 by Abu’l Mujaid Sikandar Shah, the second Sultan of Bengal’s Iliyas Dynasty, who ruled between 1358 and 1390, and completed in 1375, the Adina mosque, located in present-day Pandua, in Malda district of West Bengal, was the largest mosque in the whole subcontinent.
An architectural marvel for centuries to come Adina mosque was designed a la the great Umayyad mosque of Damascus. It is intricately designed following an astonishing amalgam of Byzantyne, Persian and Arabic design.
And yet it is so vast that one has to stand really at a distance from each arch and column to truly appreciate it as a work of art, incorporating Byzantine, Arabic, Persian and totally local, i.e. Bengali styles of architectural designs.
The mosque is considered by experts as one the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. The interior of the mosque is 500 ft long from north to south and 300 ft wide from east to west, thus covering a huge space of 150,000 Sq.Ft. It is built of stone up to the imposts of the arches, then in the upper portion the masons switched to brick.
Construction of Adina Mosque
It pioneered a method of construction would soon become widely popular in Bengal. The mosque’s most stunning feature is its monumental ribbed barrel vault that rests over the central nave. In the 1360s and ‘70s such a vast vault was unique in South Asia. The architects of the mosque had, in this case, clearly taken a leaf out of Persian Sasanian imperial architecture, giving Adina a grandeur unseen in India during its time.
But besides being an Architectural marvel, Adina mosque was also a politico-cultural message from the rulers of Bengal to their compatriots in Delhi. As renowned historian Richard Eaton points out, “Through the medium of architecture, Sikandar Shah, the son and successor of the dynasty’s founder, made the most dramatic statement defying Delhi.
Magnificent structure now stands as ruins
Completed in 1375 in the capital of Pandua, the Adina mosque signalled both the delta’s political distance from its former masters in Delhi and its patron’s imperial pretensions.” And how did the architecture contain within it this message of defiance? We have the answer in Prof. Eaton’s following observations, “With its immense courtyard surrounded by a screen of arches, and bearing no fewer than 370 domed bays, this structure surpassed in size any edifice built in Delhi. It also broke from Delhi’s architectural tradition by asserting its indigenous character.”
The mosque stood like a towering unforgettable memory of its times as late as the 19th century, when it was heavily damaged by earthquake. The colonial British masters of the period, despite documenting it through the beautiful photographs of the late 19th century archaeologist David Joseph Beglar, did precious little to preserve the grand edifice. Now a protected by the Archeological Survey of India, all that we are left with of Adina mosque are but a few flashes of the time past.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)