Bharuch, on the banks of the sacrosanct Narmada River is one of the oldest cities in Western India of immense historical, geographical, economic and spiritual importance. This ancient city has been revered by yogis, saints and tapasvis in scriptural commentaries and finds mention in important Hindu texts.
This grand seaport has been a thriving commercial centre since the olden times and described in detail in the chronicles of Alexander the Great. However, the flourishing town was also at the centre of multiple attacks by Muslim invaders particularly Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate. Famous for his religious intolerance, contempt and hatred for Hindus and unimaginable cruelty, the Muslim barbarian destroyed halls, dharmashalas and Hindu temples with relative ease and erected mosques either on the debris or using the debris.
One such example is the Jami Masjid that stands on a Hindu temple site after undergoing cosmetic and layout changes to pass off as a mosque. The mosque is said to have been “built” in 1321 by an army commander of Alauddin Khilji.
Interestingly, a few historical records opine that the original temple was built in the 2nd century BCE and was renovated in the 12th century. However, any evidence of that has been removed with the superficial tampering done in the 14th century.
But what is still visible to the naked eye is the decorative pillars and highly embellished brackets with typical Hindu architectural detailing, proportion and design as per the Shilpa Shastra that support the roof of the mosque and the ceilings in the pillared walkway that have elaborate receding lotus, floral and satkona patterns and a beautiful series of dodecagon (12-gon) in two layers with the auspicious octagon in the middle. As the domes were added later, the brick construction above the actual ceilings is clearly seen.
The pilasters along the walls are adorned with Hindu symbols like AUM, chakra, shankha, bells, lamps, satkona and lotus, iconography, repetitive linear and horizontal elements in perfectly proportioned tiers and miniature niches that once had sculptures, carvings and inscriptions. The entrance mandapa with its high ceiling, remnants of torana and raised seat for the king and queen gives you an idea of what the temple would have looked like in the 12th century.
The lack of symmetry, harmony and proportion in the entire mosque layout, the use of sandstone slabs to cover up as much of the temple, the garish ornamentation and arches in the mihrabs to hide the Gaja, Matsya, Varaha, dancers, musicians and apsaras that would have been on either side of the entrance doorways, the courtyard and kund all point to a magnificent temple that stood here once.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian