June 07, 2009

The Masjid-e-Ala in Srirangapatna

I could’ve passed by the open door oblivious to its significance if not for the two towering minarets that rose from behind the high walls along a path hewn from the earth not far from where the Bangalore Gate of Tipu Sultan’s fort in Srirangapatna lay.

From the street the door parted on young children in kurta pajamas, mostly white, and skull caps moving about the open courtyard fronting a covered veranda where low wooden reading platforms and copies of the Koran (Quran) lay in two neat rows on a worn mattress covering the stone floor. A game of cricket was underway in the open courtyard, the students taking a short break from studying the Koran. As the game progressed there was much merriment around, the enclosed space ringing urgently with anxious cries as the bowlers hurled the tennis ball at the batsmen with fielders alert to any catches coming their way .

Across the courtyard, opposite the covered veranda, small rooms made up the inside of the outer wall along its entire length, on all sides. I learnt later that the teaching staff stayed there and so did some of the students. Two water taps lay to one side, adjacent to several tombs discoloured by the elements over the years. Two young pupils were quenching their thirst at the tap while a third one looked on, patiently awaiting his turn at the tap.

Middle aged men with trimmed black beards and clad in the same attire as their students were engaged in a game of cricket with their young wards. I saw more smiling faces in the square there than in the time since we arrived in Mysore from Bangalore the previous day.

The Masjid-e-Ala is also known as the Jama Masjid. A tutor, breaking away from the game of cricket with his students, told me that Tipu Sultan used to pray here during his reign. On his ascension to the throne following the death of his father, Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan built the Masjid-e-Ala in 1784 and is said to have performed the first Imamath himself.

Topped by domes the double-storied, octagonal minarets look over the countryside and the river Cauvery nudging the ramparts a short distance away. The two minarets rise from a high platform and can be reached by a flight of steps said to number two hundred. Pigeon holes open into the sides of the minarets all the way to the top. The platform houses a large prayer hall to the west.

The Masjid-e-Ala was our last stop before heading to the bus-stand at Srirangapatna for the return journey to Mysore city.

I circled the high platform enclosed by verandas and staying quarters across the open passage that ran around the platform.

A large water tank with a row of over eight water taps at knee level and a low seating of cement and bricks fronting each tap lay to one side of the passage circling the main structure. There, nudged by excited cries of the young Muslim students delighting in the fall of the wicket of a fellow student, I paused for a moment to relate the joviality within the high walls to the tumultuous night of May 4, 1799 in the fourth Anglo-Mysore War when Tipu Sultan fell to the advancing British troops led by Captain David Baird, the man the Sultan had imprisoned for four years in Colonel Bailey’s dungeon after the battle of Pollilur in 1780 before releasing him in 1784.

Fate had other ideas for the Sultan as Captain David Baird’s men breached the fortress on the banks of the Cauvery and came marching in only to be met by the Sultan himself. A violent struggle followed before Tipu Sultan fell not far from where I now stood in the masjid’s courtyard watching an innocuous game of cricket.

On our way to the Masjid-e-Ala we had passed the spot where Tipu Sultan made his last stand on May 4, 1799, rather where his body was found once the skirmish was over.

We had started our day by first visiting the Gumbaz where Tipu Sultan is laid to rest alongside his parents, Hyder Ali and Fatima Begum, in an imposing structure well known for its ivory inlaid doors, pillars, and carved stone windows, before heading to the Daria Daulat Bagh that Tipu Sultan built in 1784 to serve as his summer palace and where a museum now showcases the reign of the Sultan in its many details. Murals, paintings, pencil sketches, coins, medals, and arms among other things bring alive the period in its actual setting.

As the Sun traced its path higher with each passing minute it beat down fiercer, helped in no small measure from the fever I was running, and soon enough as if on que a rickshaw materialized and we got into it for a tour of the remaining sites of historical interest within the fortifications of Srirangapatna, namely Colonel Bailey’s dungeon, the square where Tipu Sultan was killed, Tipu’s palace site, the Masjid-e-Ala, and the Ranganathaswamy Temple.

There was no one around as we emerged from the rickshaw, gravitating to the plaque that said simply, ‘The Body of Tipu Sultan Was Found Here’. Enclosed by low walls the plaque stands in the middle of a square, marking the spot where he fell. The square is empty except for the lone plaque as if in its isolation it seeks to remind one of the moment when isolated from the men he led into battle the Sultan fell alone.

To the north the square is lined by coconut palms along the banks of the Cauvery. It is easy to let the swaying fronds lull one into meandering aimlessly at the spot where India’s history took yet another decisive turn, strengthening the British further and paving the way for their conquest and colonisation of India.


Rajesh said...

Very informative and nice snaps. The minarets do look beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Anil, the B&W images are perfect with the story - especially the last photo.

Lakshmi said...

lovely pics..when were you here ?

Lori ann said...

I love black and white, the photos fit so nicely with this post. Another informative and well written post, thank you Anil.

Sarah Laurence said...

Interesting choice to have black and white photos for this post - very timeless. Fun to see cricket played there! You capture the beauty of the architecture so well. I love the image of the man sitting alone – nice composition.

jyothy karat said...

Woh!!! These ought to have been on a travel magazine. Both the images and the text!!

Darlene said...

Thank you for the tour and history of a fascinating place. I love to see photos of far away places (with strange sounding names)because I suffer from wanderlust but age stops me from traveling very far.

Black and white photos show details that are often missed in color photography. You did a great job of capturing this Mosque.

Slogan Murugan said...

Anil does it again. This place is on my to-visit list.

delhidreams said...

the king lies here, fallen, alone//
and how majestic the silence roars

coming here after a long gap. thanks for the beautiful post.

Anil P said...

Rajesh: Thank you. It's got something to do with their proportion vis-a-vis the main structure.

Seamus: Thank you. The last picture is a poignant reminder of the Sultan.

Lakshmi: Thank you. Around this time two years ago.

Lori Ann: Thank you.

Sarah Laurence: Black and White pictures do justice to the timeless. I was surprised he wasn't with the group playing cricket, and unlike the kids he was in a lungi, so were some of the elders there.

Jyothy Karat: Thank you :-)

Darlene: Thank you. Like you said I find Black and White photographs rivetting, at times. They do still time to a recurring memory.

Slogan Murugan: Thanks.

Adee: Thank you.

Amber Star said...

I, too, like the look of the black and white pictures. It gives the subjects a timeless feel.

One of my blog friends is experimenting with sepia colored pictures. Or I should say changing the color shots into sepia color.

Amber Star said...

The black and white is still my favorite, but here is the link to the sepia scenes


karen said...

This is lovely, and I agree with all the previous comments about the black and white pics. Great to have your personal impressions as well as the story of Tipu Sultan, as informative as ever! I especially like the last photo...

Anil P said...

Amber Star: Thank you. Sepia makes for an unique feel as well, and certain types of photographs/pictures (as in moods) show up the best in sepia tones, though not all. Thanks for the link, I'll check the pictures.

Karen: Thank you.

Ms.N said...

lovely post and i like that u mix some research and history into the narration... although, i always tend to confuse srirangapatna of karnataka with the srirangam in TN... :)

MRaghunandan said...

Srirangapattana is one of the places that i have visited many times, once by bycycle from Mysore. about three kilometers from the masjid mentioned here, is the 'Sangama' the confluence of the two branches of river kaveri which surround the town. it was a calm and quiet place with a gentle flow of clear water on a bed of sand. a bath in the river looking at the scenery around and with the birds and fish for company,was most enjoyable but the locals warned any one getting into water, to be watchful for crocodiles.
i visited the Sangama recently after about three decades to find the approach narrowed beyond imagination by the shops selling cocacola, lay chips and ghutka- covering the path almost up to the river and rubbish stewn all over. whe ever i visit any of my old favorites i end up lamenting "why are we bent up on spoiling all that is beautiful"?

Anil P said...

Ms. N: Like I used to mix up Thirur and Trichur, for a long time too :-)

Raghunandan: I can imagine what it must have been in the days of yore, for there are still some traces of it left.

It must have been fun cycling from Mysore to Srirangapatna. However, we hired a rickshaw for Rs. 160. A bus from Mysore would have got us to Srirangapatna much cheaper but we would have missed out on stopping along the way. We did return from Srirangapatna to Mysore by bus.

It does not appear that many people bathe there now though I did catch sight of two people lying on exposed rocks as if sunbathing, something I would've expected crocodiles to do instead. That makes me wonder if any crocodiles are left there. The rocks in the river are ideal for crocodiles to bask in the Sun.

I did not visit the Sangama you mention but can well imagine the scene you describe. Unless there's citizen action to ensure that protected sites remain free of such congestion precious little will happen, for there is no political will to ensure it, given that politicians and/or Municipal staff mostly derive political capital from those who congest, and might likely hail from the classes they 'help' encroach.

A sense of aesthetics, unless it is a part of the culture one grows up with as in family and community or neighbourhood, will cease to exist.

MRaghunandan said...

anil, your response makes me even more nostalgic. the visit which i mentioned in my comment was the second. cycling from mysore was equally enjoyable.
my first visit was a decade before that. our family of seven, along with two family friends + the driver, managed to fit ourselves into an ambassador (courtesy my father's friend- along with petrol!)and travelled from Bangalore to srirangapattana,ranganathittu, melokote and back.
the road from srirangapattana to ranganathiitu was a "kaccha" road with sugarcane fields on both sides. it was the season to cut the cane and prepare jaggery on site. we stopped in front of one such place called an "aalemane" in kannada where the juice was being extracted and jaggery being prepared. all ten of us drank as much sugarcane juice as we could, with ourt being sick and we were offerd lumps of fresh, hot jaggery to carry with us. the owners of the place had even kept lemons ready - to be mixed with cane juice- for the benefit of intruders like us and everything was a show of courtesy to strangers and money was neither expected nor accepted.

when i say that i miss those days, it proves that i am getting old.

Lucy said...

'Timeless' was the word that sprang to my mind too, interesting that so many saw it that way... It's very beautiful anyway.

I remember seeing on the tv some years ago 'Tipu's tiger', a giant clockwork toy of a tiger savaging a British soldier, perhaps David Baird himself!

Anil P said...

Lucy: Thank you. The British looted much of Tipu Sultan's treasures and took them back to Britain, many of which are now said to be on display in British museums. India has tried to get them back, but to little or no avail.

Nidhin Olikara said...

Great Snaps and a well written article too. Good work.