Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Lat Masjid – The Search of the Pillar

Dhar Mosque is Delhi Mosque’s Lost in Kumbh Mela Sibling

Dhar was brimming with temples built during the glorious years of Parmars. Scores of temples were felled to build the Kamal Maula Mosque that today is known as Bhojshala. But it seemed there was enough material remaining to build another mosque nearby.

View of the Northern Arcade looking towards the Prayer Hall - Lat Masjid

The Photo that started it all. You have a feeling that this photo was taken by Henry Cousen. The Iron Pillar can be seen leaning against the masonry basement with the mosque's northern portico visible in the back. The big boulders seen on top were the anchors that held the pillar upright. Interestingly, the lower end is pointing up - Lat Masjid in Dhar, MP

Our old friend Mohammad bin Tughlaq could not decide whether to stay in Delhi or not and kept shuttling between Delhi and Daulatabad. Timur taking advantage of the anarchy razed Delhi down in 1398. The provincial governors of the Delhi Sultanate had seen enough and most of them decided to strike out on their own.

Dilawar Khan Ghuri, the Delhi Sultanate Malwa’s Governor asserted his independence in 1392. Dhar was the capital of Malwa then. His first job according to a recovered inscription in the Kamal Maula Mosque complex was of repairing the mosque. Presumably, the mosque by then was more than sixty years old.

The Inscription found in the minbar of Bhojshala - currently in CMSVS Mumbai

Once the dust after the plunder of Timur had settled down, Dilawar Khan assumed independence in 1401 to found the Malwa Sultanate and had the Khutba read in his name. The imam reading the sermon would have stood on the striking minbar of Kamal Maula Mosque whose floor had the polished inscribed stone tablet belonging to finest of the Parmar temples as reported by John Malcolm. Malcolm further disclosed that he took away the inscription.

MP Archaeological Department shows how to care for monuments - The first view of Lat Masjid approaching from North

Dilawar needed a new mosque of his own now. There was plenty of temple material lying around in the town itself. He did not have to go far. A little distance away from the town, south-east of Bhojshala, in totally tranquil surroundings stands the Lat Masjid. Built in 1405, almost hundred years after the Bhojshala, the Lat Masjid is relatively controversy free.

 The Portico can be seen on right and the big boulders on the left which was the original site of erection of the Iron Pillar

Dilawar Khan Ghuri was a Delhiite who had worked in Delhi’s Tughlaq court. You would have thought that breaking away from Delhi, he would have chosen a different design for his mosque. But no, he goes for the much tried and tested Ghurid template. In fact, he goes even a step further: he wants to totally replicate the Qutb’s Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. For this he even procures an Iron Pillar! We will come to the Lat or the pillar soon. First let’s look at the mosque.

The Google Map of Lat Masjid. Two gateways can be seen on Northern and Eastern sides. The pillar originally was erected on the boulders platform

An ascending path takes you to a landscaped setting where a beautiful structure sits atop a small hill. The path has been carved through a possible extant protection wall. Unlike the Bhojshala, the mosque is built on a raised platform. On the left you can see two huge boulders set on a platform. You don’t pay much attention to them. Unbeknownst to you these stones are part of one of the most endearing and enduring saying. We will come back to the stones, the proverb and the pillar a little later!

The Northern Projecting Portico

Photo Courtesy: Naoko Fukami, Photo Taken Circa 1960 when Japanese Historian Matsuo Ara visited. In 1995, a team of Japanese scholars led by Fukami went around Delhi and presumably other parts of India retracing Ara's steps and seeing how the monuments have changed over the years

Dilawar has apparently upped the style quotient a bit here. An elaborate pavilion or portico surmounted with a dome greets you projecting from the North wall. This is one of the two doorways to the mosque. The pavilion reminds you of temple mandaps. Luard says the masjid was erected out of the remains of a temple. The key words being ‘a temple’. Looking at the location, it does seem a single large temple could have existed exactly at this spot. The mandap could have been inspired this entrance. You can see another smaller portico built into the northern side towards west. It was probably used by women worshippers to access the zenana section in the prayer hall.

Looking towards North East - Lat Masjid

Inside, it is absolutely serene. There is this unmistakable vibe here. The recent rains have covered the central open courtyard with a green carpet. The architecture is similar to Bhojshala. In a congregational mosque the courtyard or Sahn should be able to hold all the believers of the town when they assemble for the Friday prayers. However, there is no ablution tank in the courtyard that is used for ritual cleaning before prayers. And just like the Ghurid mosques elsewhere, the minarets are missing.


The Prayer Hall full of Surprises

Colonnades or arcades run on three sides. Similar looking sculpted pillars line the arcades. The prayer hall has the Mihrab, the niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca and Minbar, the pulpit where Imam stands to deliver khutba. The direction of Mecca is called Qibla and hence the qibla wall. Delhi’s mosques usually don’t have minbars while they seem to be common here in Dhar.

The Dome or Qubba unlike Bhojshala is disappointingly plain. What happened here – did the mandap ceiling of the temple fall rendering the corbels unusable? As if to compensate, Dilawar Khan’s architect seemed to have few surprises up his sleeve.

Rarely seen Muezzin Mahfili where the Muezzin sits in front of minbar

The Biggest Surprise - The hole in front of the Mihrab. Was it the temple element which drains the abhishek water?
Lat Masjid - The Prayer Hall full of surprise with Mihrab, Minbar, the hole on the floor, the muezzin's platform and two zenanas on either ends

You are seeing this masonry platform in front of the minbar for the first time. The Muezzin Mahfili in Turkish or Mukabariyah in Arabic is a special raised platform where the muezzin carries out his duties to call for prayer and to chant in response to the Imam’s prayers. The platform is not compulsory in mosques. Wait a minute - now what is this? On the floor in front of the mihrab is an octagonal stone with a hole in the centre. Mosque floors don’t have such holes. Is this from the temple that was used to collect and drain the abhishek water?
The wholesome looking Zenana section on North-West corner

Looking down from the south-west zenana towards north

The Prayer Hall has some interesting stone filgree work - Lat Masjid in Dhar

On either side of the hall, there are mezzanine floors resting on shorter pillars. Maybe the regular pillars were chopped to accommodate the additional floor. These were probably the zenana section built for women worshippers since women can participate in the Friday prayers. The eastern colonnade has another imposing gateway which is kept locked by ASI. Both gateways have inscriptions, the one on the west says that the mosque was erected by Dilawar Khan on 17th Jan 1405.

The three pieces of the Iron Pillar lying on the platform outside the Lat Masjid

Coming out of the mosque you walk to the north-east corner where on a platform rests three pieces of the Iron Pillar. This is the pillar you saw in the photo that brought you here. Things are becoming too similar to Delhi where the Iron Pillar stands in the courtyard of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. Dilawar Khan to mimic Delhi’s mosque had an iron pillar planted here in Dhar – it seemed Dilawar really missed Delhi and wanted to recreate Quwwat-ul-Islam in his capital.

The three pieces of the Forged Welded Iron Pillar have finally come together again. Cousens think a small fourth piece is missing

An unknown author by the name of “A Bombay Subaltern” published his delightful accounts of his wanderings in Mandu in 1844. He mentions an iron pole in front of Mandu’s Juma Masjid that is being used as a flag pole. William Kincaid in the preface of his book which carries Subaltern's account and published in 1879, declares that the iron pole in front of Mandu’s great Mosque formed part of the iron ‘Lath’ that stood in front of the Buddhist Temple at Dhar outside the city now called Lath Masjeed. Three pieces have been found – one leaning against the wall in-situ, another one in Fort of Dhar and the third in Mandu. The total height of the pillar would be 41 feet. Kincaid further asserts that the Lath Masjeed is simply a transformation of a Buddhist Temple.

Now this is interesting. Until now you thought that the Lat Masjid was built over the remains of a Hindu Temple! Does that explain the undecorated ceiling of the dome and the comparatively plain pillars? Giving some force to the Buddhist Temple hypothesis, is the location of the Lath Masjid. The location is away from the city, and on the hill which was called Telangani Tekri by the locals. Now you can identify the vibe that you felt when you walked around which you associate with Buddhist places across India.  

The imposing eastern gateway - Lat Masjid

Kincaid finds the biggest in-situ piece leaning against the terrace with one end stuck in the soil. The locals had an idea that it is composed of all metals. The guide told him about the Persian inscription of Mughal Emperor Akbar on the part buried in the earth. The locals sometimes called it Akbar Shah’s Lath but commonly it is called the “Telin ki Lath” (oilman’s pillar or walking stick!). The locals think that the pieces in Mandu and here in the fort are parts of this pillar. Near the pillar are two large stones weighing several tons in weight and are called the half and quarter-seer weights of the ‘telin’!

The inscription on the Eastern Gate. The blue tiles here and on the dome and the prayer hall would have looked beautiful six hundred years ago

In 1912, when Luard comes visiting he sees the pole of wrought iron lying outside the mosque. The pillar was locally known as Jayastambha or pillar of victory. The pillar has apparently been uprooted because now he can read Akbar’s inscription which indicated Akbar stopped here on 15th Feb 1600 on his way to Deccan. Jehangir saw the pillar standing and called the mosque the Jami Masjid. Jehangir says that Bahadur Shah of Gujarat ordered the pillar to be taken to Gujarat and in the process the pillar broke into two. Everybody wants the Pillar! Jehangir ordered the pillar to be sent to Agra to be used as a lamp post. But the order was not carried out.

Before going ahead let us look at the Upright / Prone timeline of the pillar in Dhar! The pillar was upright when Dilawar Khan built the mosque in 1405. Bahadur Shah broke it while trying to take it away in 1531 and the two broken pieces lie on the ground. (the third piece is still in Mandu at this point of time, originally broken by Multani when he annexed Mandu in 1304). The pillar was still lying on the ground when Akbar came in 1600 as his inscription is at the bottom (Akbar was proceeding to Asirgarh to fight his last battle). Jehangir sees it standing circa 1620, William Kincaid finds it buried and leaning against the platform circa 1875. Henry Cousens also sees it buried and leaning against the high masonry basement in 1903. By the time Luard arrives in 1912, the pillar is again lying on the ground! In 2018, yours truly saw the pillar, now in company of its two siblings, prone on the ground. ASI has fixed the pieces to the platform so that they are not going anywhere soon!

Some Interesting History Tidbits!

It was the twilight of Akbar’s glorious career. He had to take care of some unfinished business in the Deccan. In the beginning of year 1600, Akbar rolled into Khandesh from Malwa. The Faruqi King Bahadur Khan refused to pay tribute to Akbar and duly took position inside the impregnable Asirgarh. After taking over Burhanpur, Akbar returned and the Mughal forces laid siege to the fort in April while Prince Daniyal was engaged in quelling Chand Bibi in Ahmednagar. The emperor could not bear the defiance of a small king on the all important route to Deccan. Intelligence confirmed that the fort had ample supplies of water, food and ammunition. Akbar knew subjugating the fort will take time and time was one luxury he did not have. He will have to employ trickery and intrigue.

Read the Story of Akbar's Deception and Ashwathama!

Asirgarh - Key to the Deccan


Now coming to the most interesting and enduring proverb! Luard provides a possible scenario of the origin of the famous proverb: “Kahan Raja Bhoj Aur Kahan Gangli Telin”. Once upon a time there lived a Giantess Oil-Woman in Dhar and sometimes Nalcha. Her name was Ganga or Gangli Telin. She had a huge pair of scales that matched her size. The pillar was the beam of her balance and the two boulders the weights! According to Cousens, these boulders held the Pillar upright. It seems there could be historical fact too behind the saying. In 1042 Bhoja defeated the combined forces of Gangayadeva and Jayasinha. Jayasinha was the ruler of Telingana. The enemy forces would have taken this route coming from South. The battle could have taken here on this hill called Telingana-tekri. So, the proverb might mean “How Exalted Raja Bhoj is and How Lowly are his enemies Gangaya and Tellingana”!

Henry Cousens, the ASI archaeologist and photographer, gives a detailed report of the Dhar Iron Pillar in 1903. You love this guy and his thoroughness in writing this article. In the article, he compares the Dhar pillar to almost every pillar existing in the country then, most of whom he had personally visited. Now that says something about the dedication of archaeologists of that era. According to him, the total length of the pillar was 43 feet and 4 inches. He surmises that the pillar was a Jayastambha or column of victory as they were quite common in the country. The pillar was probably erected by Arjunavarmadeva (a successor of Raja Bhoja) in around 1210 to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. The pillar was made out of arms and booty taken from the enemy and was erected in the grand Vishnu Temple in Mandu. According to him, Muhammadans as per their inscriptions usually demolished the biggest temple to build their Jami Masjid. The pillar was broken down into two pieces after the conquest of Malwa in 1304 by Delhi Sultanate’s Multani. A hundred years later the longer piece was taken by Dilawar Khan to be erected in his mosque in 1405 while the smaller piece remained in Mandu. The presence of this smaller piece in front of the Jami Masjid is corroborated by the Bombay Subaltern’s account of 1844. Bahadur Shah defeated the Malwa Sultanate of Mandu in 1531. To avenge Gujarat’s past defeat he wanted to take the pillar back to Gujarat when the bigger piece at Lat Masjid further broke into two pieces. Cousens is not able to figure out why and when this pillar was made because of absence of any inscription but he is sure the pillar was surmounted by some image (Garuda) or symbol (Trishul) which probably lies disfigured together with the principal deity under the mosque in Mandu. Cousens further opines that there would be a fourth piece making the original pillar’s length almost 50 feet; twice as high as Delhi Iron Pillar.

That is a magnificent Tamarind Tree. The pillar in its original size was almost 50 feet high. It would have given great competition to the imli tree!

Your search is over. The search for the pillar in the photo has brought you to Dhar. Bhojshala turned into marvellous story set over different time frames. The story is still relevant in modern times, though the narrative has grown less cordial than you would have wanted. The three pieces of the pillar are now back together at Lat Masjid. History is amazing; how pieces in different time frames come together in the most unlikely of the places. Michael Willis in his remarkable paper says: “Indology has the power to bring us closer to the historical realities of medieval India”. Now only if we don’t create make-believe worlds and rather stay true to reality. And history is reality.

Dhar & Mandu, A Sketch for the Sightseer, 1912, by Major CE Luard, Page 1, 9 – gives interesting local narratives of the pillar

Henry Cousens, “The Iron Pillar at Dhar” Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report, 1902–03. (Calcutta, 1904), pp. 205–212 – what an awesome paper. Have high regards for the archaeologists of that time – ok not for that Fuhrer guy!

History of Mandu, The Ancient Capital of Malwa (1844) by A Bombay Subaltern republished in 1879 by William Kincaid, Bheel Agent, Pages Preface, 10, 101 – he calls the temple on which the mosque is built a Buddhist Temple


http://www.ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~islamarc/WebPage1/htm_eng/dhar-eng.htm#LAT -KI MASJID


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Saturday, 26 January 2019

Bhojshala – Decoding the Beautiful Puzzle

Discovering Dhar

Last time you were here, Dhar served as the base for your visits to the twin wonders of Maheshwar and Mandu. Since then you have progressively explored Mandu several times but Dhar remained in the shadows. You had seen the Dhar Fort with the Kharbuja Mahal and you were convinced there was nothing more to the town. Just like the ancient town of Kannauj, Dhar too seems to have faded in the mist of time from its glorious period as capital of the mighty Parmars. You never saw any temples or evidence of their rule as you went around Malwa (yes there is the mighty Bhojpur Temple near Bhopal and lots of images in Bhopal Museum from Hinglajgarh in Mandsaur District). The mist is about to lift.

The Beautiful Mihrab and Minbar of the Bhojshala

The Pillar that brought you here!

The Beautiful Tree Shaded Complex of Bhojshala - That is an old Tamarind or Imli Tree

A few years ago, you saw this black & white photo with a pillar resting against the ruined wall of a structure called Lat Masjid. That monument has been playing on your mind all these years. You are in Dhar only for a day and you need to investigate if this mosque still exists. Leaving early in the morning and asking for directions, you arrive at the entrance of this complex with huge trees. Vendors sit outside selling flowers and chadars. Just beyond is a police post where a constable sits reading the newspaper. His presence does feel a little strange but you push the thought out. The cop is nice to talk to and nothing like the nasty guards you encountered at Rudra Mahalaya in Siddhpur.

Almost seems like a British era sign - Entry Ticket to Bhojshala is only Rs 1! You feel every monument should have entry ticket
Bhojshala in Dhar - When was the last time you saw such instructions?

A path leads to some promising structures all around in a peaceful setting shaded by old beautiful trees. Past the platform by the path where alm-seekers sit is a painted doorway to a presumably dargah. Just beyond is a more archaeologically significant looking structure. Outside are the two most bewildering ASI signs you have seen. One sign announces an entry ticket of Rs. 1 – only one rupee! While ASI has recently increased the entry tickets to Rs. 15 and Rs. 30, here one rupee will get you in. The second sign makes you do a double take. The instructions written make your eyes pop. For the first time, you realise the monument here could be a little controversial. Now this explains the presence of a police post.

Now that you are here and the wall almost looks like the wall in that photo, you want to know where that pillar is. There are more surprises. The guard takes that one rupee coin that you have dug out from your wallet and hands over you a printed ticket. The guard informs that this place is called Bhojshala while there is another mosque nearby called Lat Masjid named after the pillar that actually brought you here! Before you get to Lat Masjid, you need to see what Bhojshala is all about.

Entering the eastern gateway brings you into a colonnade. Inside, the architecture looks so familiar. This is the basic template of Ghurid Mosques that you have seen in places like Delhi, Ajmer, Kaman and Mandu. Just like Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque in Qutb Complex in Delhi, Bhojshala is a square enclosed structure with arcades or colonnades running on all four sides. In the centre is an open courtyard. This is a typical hypostyle mosque where the pillars hold the roof.

The Beautiful North Arcade leading to the Prayer Hall - Bhojshala in Dhar MP

You walk in the pillared verandahs or cloisters. The sculpted sandstone pillars decorated with floral motifs and geometric patterns again look so familiar. You could be actually standing in the mosque at Qutb Minar. Like across the country, these pillars also came from demolished temples; here the temples of the Parmars from 11th or 12th century were felled.

The Ornate Corbelled Dome that would have been a part of the Vitana of the Mandap of the temple. Vitana represents the Star-Studded Sky

Delhi it seems has always been the trendsetter. Once the Quwwat-ul-Islam, Delhi’s first mosque, came up, the template was adopted across Delhi Sultanate’s rule. The Standard Operating Procedure would have been simple. Find a group of temples, bring them down, harvest the pillars and celings, find another area nearby or sometimes on top of the temple platform or jagati, set up the cloisters with an elaborate west prayer hall and bingo you had mosques in the minimum time. No wonder Ajmer’s mosque is called Adhai Din ka Jhopra – according to legend, the mosque was erected in two and a half days. The main challenge would have been to dismantle the corbelled dome of the mandap and then put it all back together. It would have been heartbreaking for the masons.

The Mihrab, Minbar and Exquisite Corbelled Dome at Bhojshala

It is quite possible, the architecture firm that provided the design for Qutb mosque was hired for all these places too with a nudge from the Sultan.  The only difference would have been the height of arcades. Here except the prayer hall, the arcades are a pillar high, while in qutb, the arcades have two or three pillars mounted on top of each other. Ajmer’s Adhai Din ka Jhopra, is probably the highest with three and four pillars doing the balancing act.

The Prayer Hall with the Qibla Wall

The Western Prayer Hall is the most elaborate and is Five Pillars Deep

View from South Western Corner looking towards the Rauza of Chisti Saint Kamal Maula

It is serene inside. You love it when you have monuments all to yourself. The guard stays a comfortable distance behind you. You are making your way to the domed western prayer hall. The prayer hall several pillars deep is the most striking. The wall has the niche called mihrab which the worshippers face when praying and which indicates the direction of Mecca. The mihrab has pretty black and golden touches. On the right of the mihrab is the minbar or the pulpit ascended by a flight of nine steps where the imam stands to deliver sermons or khutbah. Next to the minbar is a pretty enclosure with stone jalis. It is possible the enclosure was the Zenana and was used by the royal ladies. Or is this enclosure called Maqsura that was used by the Sultan? Looking up you see the beautiful corbelled dome that would have been part of the mandap of a temple.


Now the things are getting even more interesting. Several pillars have taped plastic see-through covers. Inscriptions! This pillar has the most incredulous inscription which to you looks like a very complex Janam Kundli! These serpentine designs probably denote Sanskrit grammar rules. Each cell has a word written in it topped with a few lines that appears to be Sanskrit or Prakrit.

The inscribed pillar in the prayer hall denoting Sanskrit grammar rules in Serpentine form

The Eastern Arcade has the huge black stone slabs with Prakrit inscriptions - the slabs were found behind the Mihrab

Never seen before this big inscribed slab - Bhojshala is full of surprises

The largest inscriptions are in the Eastern arcade, again, thankfully covered. These two black stone slabs were discovered from behind the mihrab. One inscription contains two odes in Prakrit, one ode being composed by Bhoj himself. The other contains the Sanskrit play which praises Arjunvarma, a Parmar successor of Bhoj (1210-15). The play also describes a Saraswati Temple. Some more inscriptions and tablets have been found in and around this site. One slab was taken by John Malcolm (Occupant of Malcolm Kothi in Nalcha) which formed the floor of the minbar. The inscription is probably the Raula Vela of the 12th century poet Roda. The inscription is safely housed in CSMVS, Mumbai.

View looking towards West

Two of the Four Tombs here - The front seems to belong to Mahmud Khilji

The central courtyard has an ablution tank which is now empty. It seems a hawan kund has been constructed in the middle where some ash can be seen. Steps lead up to the top of eastern arcade but have been fenced off. Outside, in a cluster of some magnificent trees is the Cemetery complex with a group of four tombs. The main tomb or Rouza belongs to the Chisti saint Kamal-al-Din, a protégé of Farid Shakar and Nizamuddin Auliya. The tomb right opposite to the dargah belongs to Mahmud Khilji (1436-69) who wanted to be buried in front of the saint. There are more assorted graves in the open. But more than the tombs here, the trees are making you gasp.

Frangipanis are usually grown as ornamental trees in parks with their fragrant white and pink flowers and which usually doesn’t grow too big. Rajghat and Shakti Sthal have quite a few iconic and some soon to turn iconic trees. Vittal Temple in Hampi has a beautifully gnarled frangipani that seems quite old judging from the British time photos.

The Grandest Frangipani you have ever seen - Could possibly be The Frangipani of India

Monuments usually have old peepal and imli trees. Here among the graves and tombs rises a handsome, majestic and monumental, beautifully knotted and gnarled Frangipani tree. You do several takes. You never ever imagined Firangipani tree to be this HUGE. It’s a wondrous sight. It is still early morning and under a hushed darkening sky with few devotees you pause for few moments to look up. Then you realise that God probably loves trees more than men and that is why He made them this tall so that they are closer to Him.

The Controversy
How did the architecturally apparent mosque come to be known as Bhojshala?

Bhojshala is made of two words - Raja Bhoj (1010 – 1055) was the greatest Parmar king with his capital in Dhar and Shala means School and thus Bhojshala means Raja Bhoj’s School. In this timeline, Mahmud Ghazni had already taken over Mathura, Kalanjar and Somnath by 1030. The capital of MP, Bhopal is named after him. During Raja Bhoj’s reign Dhar was renowned throughout India as a seat of learning and scholarship. Raja Bhoj, himself a scholar, was famous as a patron of learned men. You know Bhoj from the monumental unfinished Shiv Temple in Bhojpur near Bhopal. In 1304-05, Alauddin Khilji took Dhar and for the next five hundred years, Dhar became a Muhammadan town. From 1401 till 1530, Dhar was one of the principal town of Malwa Sultans. The Bhojshala was presumably built in 1400 when similar looking Dilawar Khan Mosque was built in nearby Mandu.

Let's look at the recorded evidence over the years:

Sir John Malcolm in his memoirs of 1824 (one of the most detailed and quoted for Central India) mentions removing an inscribed slab from the mosque but does not mention the name Bhojshala.

The entrances to the Bhojshala and Dargah - the Imli tree can still be seen

Not much has changed except maybe the bright colours on the gateway to the Dargah - Bhojshala in Dhar

Major General William Kincaid, one time Political Agent at Bhopawar, in the first edition of the book History of Mandu published in 1875, says of Dilawar Khan that he destroyed many beautiful temples at Dhar for the construction of his own palace and masjids. 

The back of the book carries several detailed notes. Of these, the Note XXVI talks about a loquacious Muslim man he met at Kamal Maula complex who narrated number of remarkable stories including of the ‘Akl ka Kua’ in front of the Rauza of the saint. The storyteller does not say anything about the mosque being called Bhojshala otherwise Kincaid would have caught it and noted it in the book. Kincaid just refers to the mosque simply "as a small masjid". There is no mention of Bhojshala at all.

Till 1875, there is nothing like Bhojshala that exists in Dhar.

Things are about to change.

Alois Fuhrer, a German Indologist, coined the fanciful term ‘Bhoj’s School’ after seeing the inscriptions in 1893. This was a ridiculous interpretation and for his efforts, ASI after investigating his reports dismissed him from the department. It wasn’t just Fuhrer.

In 1902, during Lord Curzon’s visit to Dhar, KK Lele, the Superintendent of Education in the state of Dhar, showed the inscriptions to Curzon. Later in 1903, Lele published his report entitled The Summary of the Dramatic Inscription found at the Bhoja Shala (Kamal Maula Mosque), Dhar where the term 'Bhojshala' was first used.

Major Luard, Superintendent of Gazetteer in Central India, uses the term Bhojshala in his chronicles of 1912, but says that Bhojshala is a misnomer.

It was the beginning of 20th century when the myth of Bhojshala took shape because of a spurious ASI person. 

Jain Goddess Ambika in British Museum 
The inscription records the making of the image of Ambā by Vararuci after he had made a goddess of speech (Vāgdevī ) and three Jinas. This Vararuci may be identified as Dhanapāla, the author who enjoyed a prominent place in the court of king Bhoja - Photo and Comment Courtesy British Museum

The Myth now gets stronger.

At this stage Goddess Saraswati makes an entrance. 

Michael Willis of British Museum, in his 2012 remarkable essay "Dhar, Bhoja and Sarasvati: From Indology to Political Mythology and Back" says, the presence of Saraswati in the inscription of Arjunvarman brings a new twist in the story. A statue of Jain Goddess Ambika in the British Museum was made out to be the Saraswati of inscription. The Ambika statue was found in Dhar’s palace ruins by William Kincaid and had an inscription indicating Vagdevi or Saraswati. 

The myth had just become a reality - there was Bhojshala, there was a Saraswati inscription and now the Saraswati idol has been found! After another study of the inscription on British Museum's Ambika idol, the fact emerged that the inscription on the Ambika idol says that the sculptor after making the image of Vagdevi or Saraswati, was making this image of Ambika. The Saraswati idol, if there was one, has not been recovered so far.

Today the Bhojshala becomes a flashpoint sporadically. The Hindus consider it as a Saraswati Temple of Raja Bhoj. To diffuse the situation, ASI has assigned days and hours and issued instructions as seen on the signboard – Tuesday for Hindus when they can come pray and Fridays for Muslims when they can offer Namaz – so that peace prevails. 

On Basant Panchami, Hindus pray to Goddess Saraswati and usually the worship lasts all day. Matters come to head when Basant Panchami falls on Fridays and Hindus refuse to leave for few hours for the Namaz. In the past, riots and consequent curfews have taken place in the otherwise peaceful city.  

Your Take
Bhojshala was probably built in early 14th century and much earlier than the assumed date of 1400. The evidence is irrefutable that the mosque rose from the architectural members of Hindu and Jain temples of 11th or 12th century. According to an inscription found in the complex, the mosque was repaired by Malwa Governor Dilawar Khan in 1392 which means the mosque would have been at least 50-60 years old by then. Considering the architecture, the mosque would have been built by someone deputed from Delhi.

Dhar had a huge number of temples that were demolished and their remains repurposed to construct the mosque. It is quite possible that in this group of temples, there was a temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. However, the idol has not been found yet. Michael Willis believes the idol was taken away by Gujarat rulers in the dying days of Parmars and installed her in a temple in Saurashtra. It is also possible that this Saraswati Temple was used as a school or learning centre. But there are no temples in history that have been ascribed / attributed to Kings. The inscribed slabs would have come from different temples and therefore they do not form a single narrative.

Even a layman like yours truly knows that this mosque is a composite structure built out of a number of temples. These temples would be both Hindu and Jain dedicated to different gods and goddesses and hence the monument can’t be straitjacketed into a particular dedication.

In Conclusion
As for you, you are just relieved that the temples in Dhar have not completely disappeared like the Parmar, Pratihar and Gahadvals temples in North India, Mathura and Kannauj. The temples here live on, albeit in a different form.

Bhojshala has been the ultimate surprise. You have loved every short minute you spent here. You would like to come back and discover more inscriptions and speak to the townsfolk worshippers. On a beautiful overcast monsoon day, the monument is an oasis. The plain, hushed and restrained beauty is almost overwhelming. You are in love with these stones all over again. You will come back.


A Memoir of Central India including Malwa, 1824, by Major General Sir John Malcolm, 2nd Edition, Volume I, Page 28 – no mention of Bhojshala even though he visits the mosque and takes custody of an inscription slab

History of Mandu, The Ancient Capital of Malwa (1844) by A Bombay Subaltern republished in 1879 by William Kincaid, Page 71, 102

Western States (Malwa) Gazetteer Volume V Part A, 1908, Captain CE Luard (Superintendent of Gazetteer in Central India), Page 397 – for history of Bhoj and Dhar

Dhar & Mandu, A Sketch for the Sightseer, 1912, by Major CE Luard, Page 1, 9 – calls Bhojshala a misnomer

Willis, Michael (British Museum), "Dhar, Bhoja and Sarasvati: From Indology to Political Mythology and Back", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, Vol. 22, 2012, pp 129-153 
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