One thing that doesn’t change are the tall stories told by guides. We had our share of them in Uzbekistan too!
Our guide told us a fanciful story of Bibi Khanum, Timur’s wife, who supposedly built this mosque as a present for her husband who was returning victorious from his campaigns & the architect who wanted a kiss to complete it.
Over the years i have learnt to switch my mind off around guides, so i don’t remember it all.
I also knew that it was built by Timur on his return from India. Also that in 1398 after conquering Delhi he offered his Friday prayers at one of my favourite mosques, the Jami Masjid of Firoz Shah Kotla.
That mosque is now in ruins but it was one of the seven mosques built in the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq and was so magnificent that Timur took many artisans and elephants to build a similar mosque in Samarqand.
When I entered the Bibi Khanum mosque (1399-1404), opposite her mausoleum, it was with these memories.
The first thing that struck me was its similarity to the Sharqi mosques of Jaunpur. The high pishtaq (a rectangular frame around an arched opening) and the dome peeping behind it. Since the Firoz Shah kotla mosque is in ruins I had nothing to compare with.
the Begumpur mosque
the Sharqi mosque
Apart from that there’s no comparison as the Tughlaq and Sharqi mosques were made on solid stone, without surface decoration such as seen here.
The glorious blue tiles against the blazing sun are really a sight to behold.
Timur’s mosque was so ambitious and so huge that the double dome collapsed within a hundred years. It has been repaired a number of times but when we visited it, it was locked & again undergoing conservation. I peeped in to see mud walls and a muddy mihrab.
A contemporary chronicler notes that Timur brought in architects from Iran and India for the project and used ninety-five elephants to haul construction material.
The mosques of Iran are also decorated in blue tiles.
Scholars suggest, “Timur’s mosque was designed not only to continue Iranian imperial tradition, but also to symbolize his conquest of the world.”
The galleries on the sides in Bobi Khanum mosque have broken and stumps of the foundation pillars can be seen. All the three mosques were built as a central domed chamber with a high pishtaq and galleries on three sides with smaller domed entrances.