Dome of two-centuries-old Mubarak Begum Masjid collapses in Delhi rain

Published : July 20, 2020 20:14 IST

The Mubarak Begum Masjid in New Delhi on July 20 after heavy rains destroyed one of its domes. Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

With the central dome of the two-centuries-old Mubarak Begum Masjid in Delhi crashing down in the heavy rain that lashed the city on July 19, a piece of history has been consigned to history.

The mosque was constructed in 1823 by Mubarak Begum, wife of David Ochterlony, the British Resident in Delhi. Life was a constant search for social acceptance for Begum, who had begun life as a courtesan in Poona (Pune). Her matrimonial alliance with Ochterlony was designed to give her upward mobility. The riches and the access to privilege she got after the marriage, however, did not get her acceptance in Muslim society in which the shadow of her past loomed large. The construction of the mosque was her way to both elevate her social ranking among the pious and to wash away the memories of her days as a courtesan.

But it was not to be. The mosque itself came to be called Randi ki Masjid, or courtesan’s mosque, nullifying all her pious intentions. However, a signage was added in English and Urdu, calling it Mubarak Begum Masjid. This was probably done to encourage the local people to call the mosque by its proper name.

The past, however, proved stickier. The mosque is located close to the erstwhile New Amar cinema, where sex workers from a nearby red-light area came to watch films. Surprisingly, rather than films about nautch girls or sob stories of women’s exploitation, they patronised films about women’s empowerment. The cinema often put the movies in the morning slot in an era when four shows were screened daily for a new film. These women from the brothels of GB Road would often stop over after the show at the masjid. On Fridays, many would wait outside the mosque’s gate, seeking help from the worshippers.

Interestingly, women do not come to offer prayers here. Like most other mosques, this one too has no separate enclosure for women.

The three-domed mosque with an open courtyard has a plaque at the entrance carrying the full name of the patron, Bibi Mahruttum Mubarak-ul-Nisa Begum. It has a verse too from a chapter titled “Women” in the Quran.

It is also one of the three mosques constructed by women in medieval India, the other two being Masjid Begum Akbarabad and Fatehpuri Masjid, both situated in Delhi. None of them had a special enclosure for women. That honour was reserved for the historic Jama Masjid in the vicinity.

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