My next stop was the nearby Adina Mosque – the biggest mosque in the entire subcontinent and one of the first mosques in the region – now in ruins but thankfully well preserved.
– PIN IT FOR FUTURE –
Sikandar Shah, the second Sultan of the Illiyas Shahi dynasty and one of the most prominent. Sikandar who ruled Bengal for over three decades brought peace and stability in the administration and thus prosperity among his subjects. Soon after Sikandar Shah assumed the throne (1358 CE) vacated by his father, Illiyas Shah, he was attacked by the Sultan of Delhi – Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1359 CE) but Sikandar’s army was able to keep the mighty sultanate army at bay and that gave him a lot of confidence. Sikandar declared himself to be the ‘the exalted Sultan, the wisest, the most just, the most liberal and most perfect of the Sultans of Arabia, Persia and India‘ and eventually ‘the Caliph of the faithful’. This was an attempt to put himself in the same grade of the mighty sultans of Baghdad, Persia, Damascus & Cairo – the greatest of the Muslim empires of that time.
To prove his might in the Islamic world and also to establish himself as the Caliph, he had to build the greatest mosque in the world and Sikandar did exactly that. He built the Adina Mosque (1373 CE) – the largest mosque in the entire subcontinent at that time. The size of the mosque is 172 Mt X 97 Mt which is almost the size of two football grounds kept side by side. The size and design of Adina Mosque were parallel to the biggest mosques in the world at that time. As per the beliefs, a standard mosque should have a Sahn (Open Courtyard) which is surrounded by Riwaqs (Cloisters) on three sides and a Zullah (Prayer Hall) on the side of Quibla. Adina, an all other grand mosques of that period confirms to this.
Architecturally, Adina Mosque is one of the earliest Islamic building in the country and many of its features are directly inherited from the middle-eastern style. The rectangular plan with a huge courtyard, 3-aisled Riwaqs and 5-aisled Zullah is similar to the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. The Prayer Hall has a breadth of 24 meters and on the axis of it, a 10 meters wide central nave is created. The nave had a fabulous ribbed barrel vaulted roof – about 18 meters high. This barrel vault, the first such in the subcontinent, is similar to the Taq Kasra (Taq-e-Kesra/ Ayvan-e-Kasra) of Salman Pak, Iraq. The wall towards Quibla (the western wall)or the ribbed vault- all are imported from the Pre-Islamic Sasanian Persia. The Central Nave, (The vault is gone now) also has the raised prayer platform of the Imam (Pulpit) and a fascinating looking Mihrab (The niches on the wall). The steps of the pulpit are gone now but the intricate design of it is really beautiful.
The front of the vault is missing and a lot of speculation is there about its design. It could have been closed with a rectangular frame with a huge pointed arched opening- just like the Persian Iwan. Since the Persian elements were widely used in the structure, the most likely alternative would be such however a completely enclosed design with multiple smaller arches is also possible.
In total, Adina Mosque had 260 Pillars and 387 domed bays. The inner side of the mosque seen from the courtyard is arched and a total of 92 continues arches were there. At present, the vaults and domes which made the grand roof of the Adina Mosque are mostly gone but the walls that stand give a clear indication of what a magnificent structure once existed here. While most of the columns creating the Riwaqs are now gone, some facing the courtyard are present however the portion in the north of the central nave is somehow very well maintained.
In this part, a wooden platform is created which was the royal pavilion or the prayer hall for the sultan and his aides – keeping them at a higher level from rest of the people. In these buildings arches and vaults are used to create the roof, however, an intermediate floor – flat & load bearing- was a big challenge for them. That’s why wider columns, braced beams were placed to hold the floor. The design of the stones that create this intermediate floor does not bear much of Islamic style and these were most-probably materials gathered from existing Hindu or Buddhist temple in the same area. The wooden platform is created by placing long planks of timber.
On the Western wall, a chamber is created which is not totally in harmony with the plan of the mosque. This chamber has a connection with the royal pavilion and can be accessed from outside. In popular belief, the ASI signboard approves that, the Sultan rests here however it can be questioned. It was never thought to be the tomb of the sultan but lately, a sarcophagus was found inside the chamber which gave rise to the argument however the plan of the chamber does not go with the popular style. In most tombs the centre is kept clear where the body of the king is laid however in this case, two giant pillars are placed in the centre. Naturally, the body was not laid centrally. Another argument is that the chamber does not have a central dome – which is a common feature of tombs. Since the chamber looks like a later addition to the main mosque, many believe that it is the tomb of the great sultan who wished to remain close to his masterpiece even after his death – but it was not built like a tomb. The actual fact could be that the chamber was built during Sultan’s lifetime as a waiting hall for the royal guests coming to offer prayer. the direct connection between the chamber and the royal pavilion suggest so. It can be the case that, when the Sultan died in the hands of own son, the body was cremated here only. Another fact is that from outside, the upper level of the chamber can be accessed by a ramp which the place just below the pavilion can be accessed by two gates – these gates were probably for the royal guards who used to pray in the place under the pavilion.
The Adina Mosque has been constructed with proper usage of stone & brick – which most of the stones were reused from some existing Hindu/Buddhist temple on the same area. The bricks were probably made during the construction of the mosque. The use of stone is largely restricted up to the lintel level above which the brick arches rise. The columns have a square base with a circular body and towards the top, it is inclined. The Royal Pavilion is supported with giant hexagonal columns with square base & square capital and on the upper level, fluted circular columns are placed.
Adina Mosque was once a true masterpiece in terms of its architectural grandeur. Most of the mosque is now broken and what stands now is only a bit of the great grand mosque of the East. Still, the remains and the ruins are enough to give a clear picture of what an ambitious sultan once erected to place himself in the same level with the most powerful rulers of the world.