The Most Auspicious of Houses: Khair-ul-Manazil Masjid in Shergarh
Situated just opposite to the Purana Qila, and adjacent to the Sher Shah Suri gate is the lesser-known Khair-ul Manzil Masjid, also known as the Maham Begum Ka Madarsa. The Khairul Masjid was built in the 16th century and survived its way through the ravages of time and invaders. The best time to visit the mosque is 7 in the morning, during the time of the sunrise, as it is the time when you can be all alone in the entire mosque and be lost in the history, only with the Kabootars and the bricks. The light of the rising sun faintly falls on the central bay of the mosque, while few candles are lit near the praying area, where if you look to your right, you can get a close view of the currently closed down Sher Shah Suri Gate. A poster also hangs on one of the walls towards the west telling about the timings of the Fajr, Zohr, Asr, and etc. There are cells that surround the mosque, which was used as a Madarsa, but now have been closed down. There is also a very deep well (about 150 feet as the security guard told me) in the complex, which is now only used by the gatekeeper to take his morning bath. This mosque was built in 1561 AD by Maham Anga, who was the very famous and powerful wet nurse of Akbar. Anga was the foster mother of Akbar, and helped him carry administration when he was placed as the emperor at the tender age of 12. There are several accounts that tell us that this was the first Mughal Mosque of Delhi. What is clear, is that it was certainly one of the first Mughal mosques in Delhi to be commissioned by a woman. Maham Anga gave the job of building this mosque to her trusted relative and a minister, Shihabuddin Ahmad Khan. The mosque was once ornamented, and had a colored plaster and glazed tiles. The mosque is made of ruble and has 3 high arched openings. The most impressive features of the structure are an imposing gateway of red sandstone on the east and double-storeyed cloisters, which were used as a madrasa. Historian and translator, Rana Safvi has talked about the mosque at the length in her book “The Forgotten Cities of Delhi”. She tells us that during the late 19th and early 20th century, shooting at the roof of the mosque was a popular pastime, and this has ruined the condition of the mosque. While visiting the mosque, one can see that the complex is in ruins. The reason for this is that, once the British officers thought that some revolutionaries are hiding in the mosque, and they bombed the mosque with cannons, which is the reason for its ruinous condition. Behind the mosque were the ruins of houses that were built in the city of Shergarh (built by Sher Shah Suri). The old Jauhri Bazaar also used to run near the mosque till the 20th century. In 1564 AD, an attempt was made to assassinate emperor Akbar from the roof of this Madarsa. In the Tabaqat-e-Akbari, Akbar’s Mir Bakshi, Nizamuddin Ahmad writes that Mirza Sharfuddin Hussain (Viceroy of Mewat) who was Akbar’s brother in law (married to Akbar’s sister Princess Bakshi Bano) rebelled against Akbar and went to Nagaur, which he had captured. This is when Akbar sent Khan-e-Jahan Quli Khan to Nagaur, and Sharfuddin was spared as he was Bano’s husband. But he continued to conspire against the Mughals with Shah Abul Ma’ali and hid with 300 loyalists. One of these 300 men was an Abyssinian slave, Koka Faulad Habshi who had pledged to kill Akbar. Once when Akbar was returning back from the Nizamuddin Dargah, he was injured by an arrow at the Khair-ul Masjid. Akbar’s men were able to identify whose arrow this was and Habshi was executed for his actions. Emperor Akbar was able to recover from his injury and he made his way back to the Agra Fort.
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