Along with the structure of the mosque, its embellishments too reveal a Persian aesthetic.
Nestled within a maze of narrow, lacklustre lanes in Dongri, The Mughal Masjid, or Masjid-e-Iranian is testimony to the grandeur of Persian architecture. The mammoth structure hits you like a bolt out of the blue, literally, because a mesmerizing mosaic of blue tiles covers its entire façade. From an airy sky blue to a rich navy, the entire spectrum of blue shades splash across the walls. “People have a wrong impression that the mosque was built by the Mughals. However, it was actually built by a rich Iranian merchant called Haji Mohammad Hussain Shirazi,” reveals Lubna Rafiq, who works as a research associate at on online museum and is heading the Mughal Masjid tour, organized by Sahapedia Heritage Walks.
Hailed as one of the oldest receptacles of Iranian culture in the city, the mosque, which was constructed in the 1860s, was built to offer displaced Iranians a place to practice their religion. “Because of a drought, a lot of Iranians left their homes and migrated to other parts of the world. Many from the Shia community, who belong to the Ithna Ashariyyah sect came to Bombay and settled in the Bhendi Bazaar area,” says Lubna. The masjid was built with the help of donations given by other wealthy Iranian traders and merchants who came to the city to carry out business. Because of its strong Persian connect, the architecture of this mosque is strikingly different from the Indo-Islamic architectural motifs in other mosques across the city. “What’s special about this masjid is that it mimics architectural details seen in masjids in Iran. For example, this mosque has no gumbaz, or dome, and has only two minarets,” Lubna points out.
Along with the structure of the mosque, its embellishments too reveal a Persian aesthetic. “If you looks closely, you’ll see that the steps leading up to the prayer hall have Iranian poems inscribed on them. Plus, the chandeliers and carpets inside the prayer hall, and the blue tiles that cover the mosque have all been imported from Iran,” Lubna discloses. The masjid also has fine examples of Islamic calligraphy, which can be spotted on the minarets, above the entrance archway and in the prayer hall, where verses from the Quran have been relayed in ancient calligraphic scripts. “The symmetrical designs and geometric patterns that dot the walls are an important feature of Islamic architecture,” informs Lubna.
While women cannot enter the main prayer hall, they can visit the adjoining one that has been specially constructed for them. It is one of the few mosques that have such a section. “When you go to Hajj, both men and women pray at the Kaaba. So people thought, ‘why not have a section for women to pray here?’ But the sections are totally separate, so men and women never mingle,” says Lubna. The insides of both prayer halls have ornate ceilings, opulent chandeliers and luxurious carpets. However, while the main prayer hall contains the Mihrab (a niche that indicates the direction of the Kaaba) and the minbar, (podium from which an Imam preaches) the women’s section contains just the minbar, as it is located right behind the main prayer hall.
Outside, a massive rectangular pond, or hauz, functions as the centrepiece of the courtyard one finds drinking water stations, stone benches and verdant trees all around. “This is a very special place for people belonging to the Shia community,” says Lubna. “If you visit this place during Muharram, more than two lakh people congregate here to perform rituals,” she adds.
The mosque is truly a sight to behold, not just as a place of beauty, but also as place that manifests that which keeps us all going – faith.