Prachin Mandir, Mandal, Ahmedabad District, Gujarat

Bhadra, now known as Ahmedabad under the patronage of the mighty Paramaras was considered to be the grandest city of Western India with magnificent temples, halls, dharmashalas and palatial quarters. A cursory glance at the edifices in Malwa and surrounding areas of west central India between the 9th -14th century will give you an idea of their staggering contribution to the fields of art, sculpture, architecture and music.


Though a sizeable number of their temples were destroyed or modified into mosques by the Muslim invaders, a fair number of them that have survived in and around Ahmedabad stand as a testimony to their architectural and structural ingenuity, creative and artistic excellence and literary and philosophical mastery. One such example is the Prachin Mandir at Mandal that is now known as Sidi Saiyyed Masjid.


The original temple layout had a large courtyard with a kund, pillared walkways, high ceilings with ornamental brackets and the famous receding floral roof design. It is however unclear when the temple was built and by whom. All traces of the sanctum sanctorum and presiding deity have been removed when the cosmetic changes were made by Sidi Saiyed under Shams-ud-Din Muzaffar Shah III of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1573 CE.


Yellow sandstone was used to hide the richly decorated facades, pillars, pilasters, brackets, running beams and entrance doorways. Even the two minarets on the sides are essentially turrets with proportion, dimension and harmony more commonly seen in Hindu temples that assiduously follow the tenets of Shilpa Shastra.


The mosque gained recognition for its ‘Tree of Life’ latticework that was deemed by British historians to be a marvellous innovation of Islamic architecture. However, the ‘Tree of Life’ is fundamentally an Advaita doctrine and more commonly represented as AkshayavataAkshayavata is derived from the Sanskrit words akshaya meaning eternal or imperishable or indestructible and vata meaning banyan or sacred fig and therefore, literally translates to the eternal banyan (fig).


According to the Hindu scriptures, at the time of the Maha Pralaya (the great dissolution of creation {universe}] when there is only water all round and no sign of life, Markandeya Maharshi has darshan of Lord Krishna in the form of Bala Mukunda on a gigantic leaf of the vata vriksha (banyan tree). It is this sacred tree that is the foundation for all creation and known as the Tree of Knowledge and Wisdom (JñānaVijñāna and Prajñāna).


It is well known that British historians lacked common sense, competency and understanding of the Hindu scriptures and tended to go overboard in glorifying Islamic architecture as novel.


A significant amount of effort has gone into the superficial tampering on the back wall to convert the traditional jali and window openings as unique latticework and pass it off as their own. A closer inspection of the arched windows of which seven have intricate stone jalis will lead you to question the symmetry, proportion and the miniature shrines and niches that are seated below them.


Even the mihrabs are a real eye-opener, for they are profusely carved with foliage and lotus designs, auspicious Hindu iconography and repetitive patterns as commonly seen in the entrance doorway of the sanctum sanctorum.


Written by Lakshmi Subramanian

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