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Legend of the Lentil

Why would a mosque be called ‘lentil mosque’ or ‘Masjid Moth’,a name that often figures on many signboards on roads,as well as a bus stand in South Delhi?

Written by Irena Akbar |
July 10, 2011 1:47:54 am

Why would a mosque be called ‘lentil mosque’ or ‘Masjid Moth’,a name that often figures on many signboards on roads,as well as a bus stand in South Delhi? Legend has it that the masjid was built by one Miyan Bhoiya,who was a wazir,or prime minister,to Sikander Lodi,one of the sultans of the Lodi dynasty. Sultan Lodi is said to have picked up a grain of lentil dropped by a bird at the majestic Begampuri Masjid. He gifted that to Bhoiya. Touched by the gesture,the latter decided to dedicate the lentil gift in the service of god. He sowed the lentil in his garden,and over time,grew enough lentil to be able to sell a large harvest and fund building a mosque,which he called “Moth Ki Masjid”. He dedicated the mosque to his king.

Today,Moth ki Masjid — built out of respect for a king in 1488 — seems to be crying for attention from authorities,if not royal treatment. It is nestled in a rundown urban village,also called Masjid Moth,in the midst of well-kept upscale colonies such as South Extension and Neeti Bagh. The only way to reach Moth ki Masjid from outside the village is a path that is lined on one side with the rear wall of the mosque and on the other with an MCD garbage dump. As you walk past dogs and crows feasting on the overflowing garbage,and past a small park,you reach the entrance gate of Moth Ki Masjid,which stands on an elevated platform.

Though most of its roof has collapsed,the remaining part of the gate,which still stands,is a graceful testimony to what must have once been a grand passage. Quranic inscriptions etched in marble strips adorn the red stone gate,even as the intricate,detailed carvings on the granite brackets supporting the doorways give it the touch of a Hindu temple. The door,though,seems to have been planted recently; it’s white-painted wood.

Inside,the courtyard is not very big,if you compare it to,say Begampuri masjid,and has three large,overgrown neem trees occupying a lot of space,besides what looks like and must have been a large well in the middle of it. The well is dry,but the water that must have once filled it would have been used for ablution by the followers. There are also three unmarked small tombs. There are no prayers held in the mosque; instead of devotees filling the courtyard,children from the nearby village play cricket here. The mosque has no minarets; instead,there are four Rajasthani-style chattris at each corner of the mosque,reinforcing the element of symmetry integral to Islamic architecture. The inner chamber of the mosque has five arches,topped by three domes.

Detail is an outstanding feature of the masjid. The inner chamber,for instance,has arched niches. In her book,Invisible City: The Hidden Monuments of Delhi,Rakhshanda Jalil says such “painstaking craftsmanship” is “evidence of the passing of an age of frugality that had descended upon the citizens of Delhi after waves of Mongol invasions of the preceding century.” Prabhas Roy,who shot the photographs of Jalil’s book,shows us the fine,thin lines on a floral motif inscribed the gate. “Such a thin line looks so incredibly sharp and unbroken or cracked even after many centuries,” he says.

The most pitiable sight,though,is the degree of encroachment around the mosque. Several homes are so close to the mosque that it seems quite easy to climb down from the balcony of a home and jump straight into the courtyard. Tek Chand,an ASI attendant at the mosque for the past decade,points at a home,which has come up at the site where garbage broomed out of the mosque would be dumped every day. “The ASI had demolished the house last September,but a few days after that,the residents built it again,” he says. So,where does the garbage go now? “In the MCD garbage dump,behind the masjid. Some time ago,it would be dumped in the ablution well,too,” he says.

Besides its architectural remnants,one aspect of the mosque still thrives: a lot of lentil grains are strewn inside the mosque for birds to feed on. The legend of the lentil lives on.

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