In 1359, Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq stopped at a place called Zafarabad, on the river Ganges on his way to campaign against the Ilyas Shahi rulers of Lakhnauti in Bengal. Zafarabad was a strategic point on the road to Bengal and the Delhi Sultans had long been fighting with the rulers of Lakhnauti. This probably prompted the Sultan to think of building a new city for he was a prolific builder near Zafarabad. The new city was built on the River Gomtiand named it after his cousin and predecessor, Jauna Khan who had ruled as Sultan Mohammad bin Tughlaq.
In the confusion caused in the Delhi Sultanate by Timur’sinvasion, Malik Sarwar , a khwajasara (eunuch) who had been appointed the governor of Jaunpur in1394 with the title of Malik-us Sharq or ruler of the east, declared independence. Thus was laid the foundation of the Sharqikingdom. When he died in 1399 he left a greatly expanded empire to his adopted son Malik Mubarak Qaranfal who ruled as Mubarak Shah.
Mubarak Shah’s reign was short lived and he was succeeded by his brother Ibrahim Shah under whom Jaunpur rose in such importance that it was known as Shiraz e Hind. Shiraz was renowned in the world as the cultural capital of Persia and was one of the most important and famous medieval cities in the world. Sultan SikanderLodi finally put an end to the Sharqi dynasty after he conquered it in 1479.
A unique style of art and architecture also developed in Jaunpur where the Sultans being patrons of learning and art attracted scholars and creative talent.
My maternal family belongs to Jaunpur district and I have visited our ancestral village a number of times but somehow never went on an architectural tour till very recently on a visit with my sister Farah Naqvi.
I was stuck by the huge rectangular pylon (gateway) set with arches through which one entered the aisles of the mosque as I visited the three main mosques in Jaunpur. Made of stone these had fine carvings and latticework they are the centerpiece of the mosque structure in the AtalaMasjid, Jama masjid and Lal Darwaza. Unlike the Delhi mosques of the same period there are no minarets. Another prominent feature of the mosques at Jaunpur were the arrangements for cloisters for women to pray there. In fact in the Jama Masjid in Zafarabad which is the oldest in the area, the person in charge responded to my query of whether I could pray there with, “What else are mosques for if not to pray and take Allah’s name.” Though I have never faced any problem of praying in mosques in the ones I have visited, there is often a discussion on social media of women not being allowed to pray in mosques.
After being awestruck by the majesty of Atala Masjid and Jama Masjid we visited the tranquil compound of LalDarwaza where a seminary functions.
I was tired but when my host and guide asked me if I wanted to visit Jhanjhiri mosque I was intrigued by the name and immediately agreed. Though Gulrez is a local he too had never visited it but knew the general direction it was in. We entered the area where it was and leaving our car, as the roads were narrow set off on foot. Farmland and trees hid the sight of any mosque but since the locals assured us it was there we gladly traipsed on the mud road. And I am so glad for as we came round the bend there it was! An exquisite stone screen after which it is named (jhanjhiri means screen) greeted us.
The mosque itself is on a high mound and not much remains apart from this screen.
Sultan Ibrahim Shah built it for a saint, Saiyed Sadr e JahanAjmali. According to the 1889 Archaeological Survey of India book, The Sharqi Architecture of Jaunpur, it was probably built y the same architect who built the Atalamasjid and must have been of surpassing beauty before Sultan Sikander Lodi who conquered Jaunpur destroyed many of jaunpur’s mosques and secular buildings.
Sikander Lodi broke parts of the walls of the mosque court and the stones used for other buildings and according to the survey conspicuously for the great bridge another famous Jaunpur landmark.
As the mosque was overhanging the Gomti River once upon a time, floods ravaged its walls and all that is left is the central façade with the exquisite screen flanked by carved voussoirs and its inscriptions. Unlike the other mosques where the pylon is rectangular and the arch set inside it, here the arch soars upwards without restrictions.
This architectural gem in the middle of fields is worth a visit for it symbolizes Sharqi architecture at its best.