Can you believe an image of a Hindu Goddess is hung on the outer wall of the compound of a mosque?
It might sound Utopian. But it exists in Kolkata, the cultural capital of India. Not only the image of the goddess, but also a store of ‘Sankha’, the conch made ornament worn only by Hindu married women, are present inside the Niyamatullah Ghat Mosque complex.
Located near the Nimtala Ghat (the popular burning Ghat of North Kolkata, Niyamatullah Ghat Mosque is standing between two Hindu temples – Anandamayee Temple and Shiva Temple. Founded in the last decade of eighteen century, three religious shrines are the symbols of communal harmony of the city.
Story of a secular family:
The mosque was built by Mohammad Ramzan Ali whose ancestor Niyamatullah was a landlord of this locality. He constructed a bathing ghat on the river Hooghly for the benefit of both Hindu and Muslim, which came to be known as ‘Niyamatullah Ghat’. Hindu Brahmins also used to perform their religious service in this Ghat. According to Pran Krishna Datta, “The present Nimtala Street was previously known as Jorabagan Street but long before, it was not a free and open road. In the midst, there were unmetalled patches and again plain ground and then again cultivated land and so on. In the map of Ami, it has been shown like this only. On the rear of Anandamoyee Temple, there was brick built-ghat with small low height arches on the shores, duly rooted.” Thus, the mosque founded by Md. Ramzan is named as Niyamatullah Ghat Mosque. However, when the river Hooghly receded, the present Nimtala Ghat was constructed.
Md. Ramzan was a liberal man with a secular outlook. One day, some Brahmins went to Niyamatullah Ghat for religious activities. Some Muslim boys were taking bath nearby and somehow water splashed by them soaked the Brahmins. This was not appreciated by the Brahmins and in the fit of anger they promised not to return. Hearing this incident, Md. Ramzan got furious. He conveyed his apology to the brahmins and prohibited Muslims to use this ghat for bathing. Even he posted a guard to ensure no Muslim takes a bath at this ghat.
Architectural detail of the mosque:
As I entered the complex from the south facing gate and turned left, I found a small water passage for ‘Wazu’. Next to it, the main structure of the mosque, raised from an elevated rampart, can be reached by a steep flight of stairs. The similar pattern was found in Basri Shah Masjid too.
The square shaped mosque was plastered with a mixture of limestone powder and sand. The top is adorned with nine domes flanked in three rows. The centre creases of each of the domes are decorated with the artwork of stucco creating blooming lotus which are again topped with sharp pinnacles. Four lofty minarets are standing in the four corners of the mosque. Three arches are there on the eastern side. The stone work of the door was collected from Gour, the ancient capital of Bengal.
Communal Harmony still exists:
Nowadays, looking at the mosque from Nimtala Ghat Street, the shops inside the mosque complex attract eyes. All of the shop owners are Hindus. In each and every shop, Images of Hindu gods and goddesses are hung on the outer wall of the compound, or the pillar of the mosque.
I met one of the shop owners. He said, “even if we forget to perform the routine religious practices in the evening, the sound of ‘maghrib azan’ reminds us.” He also shared the ‘iftar party’ arranged by the mosque committee where all the shop owners are invited.
I noticed the shop owner saying “our mosque”. While returning, the ‘Maghrib Azan’ started, the shop owner lit the agarbattis, candles and started ‘Arati’. Long live the harmony!!!