The Shah Hamadan's Mosque, in Srinagar, Kashmir
A beautiful and rare depiction of the Khanqah-e Maula, also known as Shah-e-Hamadan Masjid and Khanqah, in the old city of Srinagar in present day Jammu and Kashmir on the banks of the river Jhelum. This oil painting shows the stunning wooden Masjid with its tapering, pyramidical roof, columned balconies and sharp pointed spire. There is a sense of serenity and calm in this depiction of a bright day with a few clouds scattered across a blue sky and a gentle riverbank. It appears to be a summer’s day where the trees, possibly Chinars (Platanus orientalis), are verdant green. On the ghat or steps on the banks of the river Jhelum we see a number of people dressed in white, alighting from small shikaras or cedar boats with tapering canopies, to visit the shrine. Some of the boats are carrying people also in white. The pagoda-style architecture of the building, the boats and the trees are all typical symbols of Kashmir.
Frederick William John Shore was a British artist who was born in 1844. He succeeded his brother as 4th Baron Teignmouth in 1915. His grandfather was Sir John Shore, the Governor General of Bengal from 1793 to 1798. Whilst serving as a Major with the Royal Horse Artillery, Shore was based at Sialkot (now Pakistan). He remained at Sialkot until January 1894 and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel before returning to England later that year. He died in 1916. He is known for his beautiful landscape paintings of the rivers and landscape of the Kashmir Valley. The Khanqah-e-Molla or Shah-e-Hamdan is one of the oldest Muslim shrines located on the banks of the river Jhelum in Srinagar. An important religious destination in Srinagar, this shrine was originally built in 1395 and reconstructed in 1732. Believed to contain "the secret of Allah" - the Khanqah-e-Molla is an excellent example of wooden architecture drawing inspiration from Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic styles. The Khanqah-e-Molla was originally constructed by Sultan Sikander (1389-1413 AD) in memory of the Sufi saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdan, who lived in Kashmir and was instrumental in the spread of Islam in Kashmir.
In 1480, the building was ravaged by fire and reconstructed by Sultan Hassan Shah in 1493. Following that, in 1731, the shrine was damaged once again, with Abul Barkat Khan rebuilding it in 1731. Most mosques and shrines (ziyarat) in Kashmir are based on an architectural plan of a low, cubic space forming the prayer hall or burial chamber, which is then covered by a pyramidal roof and often supported by a series of pillars. Large mosques will have a third element known as the mazina which consists of a square, open pavilion from which the muezzin would give the call to prayer (azan) and a sharp spire which represents the minaret.
The Shah Hamadan masjid neatly fits this local typology of mosque architecture. It has a square plan measuring approximately 190 cm on each side and sits on an irregular walled base composed of materials taken from ancient temples. It is a two-storeyed, tiered structure with gently sloping pyramidal roofs differentiating each tier. The roofs are further emphasised by heavy woodwork on the cornices under the eaves. The first tier has double-arcaded verandahs running continuously around the building, the only break being for the canopied main entrance. The second tier is more of an arcaded balcony that protrudes on all four sides of the main structure. The verandahs with arcades and balconies and their delicate wooden grilles (pinjras) together with slender columns not only lend structural support to the roof but also create the impression that the 16m-tall mosque is soaring into the sky. The pyramidal roof of the second tier is capped off by an open pavilion for the muezzin, which in turn is crowned by a sharp pyramidal spire. The base of the spire has a protruding triangular decorative window on each face and has a golden end finial (alem) at the apex. Parts of the roof have over time been covered with seasonally flowering vegetation, creating a charming image of intricate woodwork and terraced flowerbeds.
According to James Fergusson, the masjid of Shah Hamadan, which is smaller than the Jama Masjid, "is interesting, in the first place, because its roof is probably very similar to that which once covered the temple at Marttand, and the crowning ornament is evidently a reminiscence of a Buddhist Tee, very much altered, it must be confessed, but still not so very unlike some found in Nepal, as at Swayambunath, for instance and elsewhere" (pp. 608-9). The building envelope is made of square logs arranged in alternate courses, which generates an attractive pattern on both the exterior and interior of the building. He adds that the method in which the logs are placed and ornamented resembled the ornamentation of temples found in Orissa. The cross-cultural inspiration for Kashmiri architecture makes this a striking architectural structure.
Additions were made over time; for example, a small subsidiary temple and two rows of cloisters were created in the interior. The rows consist of 14 arches, which flank the north and south side of the large 69'x 46' (21x14m) prayer hall. The shrine of the saint is in a cloister in the northwest corner. The date 1384 AD (786 Hijra), marking the saint's death, is carved above the doorway. This tomb chamber is decorated with glass and glazed work. An annual congregation forms at this shrine to celebrate the saint's death on the 6th of 'Zilhaj', the last month of the Muslim calendar.
The walls of the prayer hall are made of woodwork panels with stone skirting. Some display the names of God carved in gold. The centre of the prayer hall has four solid wooden pillars 7 metres in height, placed in a square configuration, which support the ceiling. They are decorated with painted wooden chips arranged in a herringbone pattern on the shafts, carved lotus motifs at the base and leaf patterns on the 16-sided capitals.
Fergusson, James. History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. England: J. Murray, 1876, 1876. (accessed 7/07/2022)
https://www.archnet.org/sites/1592 (accessed 7/07/2022)
https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/kashmirs-sacred-architecture-combines-hindu-buddhist-and-islamic-influences/article31110251.ece (accessed 7/07/2022)
https://www.jktdc.co.in/khanqah-e-molla.aspx (accessed 7/07/2022)