The Old Guard

Lined and wrinkled, Jehangir Ahmed squats by the entrance to the famous Jumma Masjid in Bijapur, quietly pulling at his ‘biddi’. As we look up at him from the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the Mosque doors, he gestures to us from his perch, indicating that we should not hesitate, but enter freely and leave our shoes at the correct spot. Since the afternoon prayer was abut to end, he invited us to sit with him and enjoy the peace of the afternoon and the lilting sound of the azan.

His face is calm and his smile benign, but his eyes have a sharpness that misses nothing. He proudly let us know that his family has been in Bijapur since the time of Aurangzeb, and that they live in the village just beyond the old entrance to the mosque, as they always have. We nod, we had seen the cluster of old homes with dirty children running in the narrow lanes, raising hell. He tells us that the mosque was built in 1578 to commemorate Ali Adil Shah I victory over the Vijaynagar dynasty and that it is one of the few that allows women in all areas. He then fell into silence again, lost in his own thoughts, occasionally breaking into a smile at the boys who were deep in conversation a few feet away or shouting at visitors who don’t take their shoes off.

The mosque is large and airy, with lines from the Koran in gold calligraphy decorating the main arced prayer hall and a wide open courtyard. One of the largest in South India, it was built in the Indo-Islamic style common to that period and can house upto 10,000 devotees. Ahmed is proud of his mosque and enjoys being the grand sentinel, as he transported us to his world, at all times sucking at his smelly biddi and surveying his domain.


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