The Jama Masjid was completed in 1656, which was 16 years after the formal inauguration of the city of Shahjahanabad. The Jama Masjid, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan was one of the first mosques to be built, which was to become the stereotypical design for all the upcoming mosques that came to be built in the subsequent years, as all the mosques built after the Jama Masjid mirrored its opulence. Jama Masjid is also the place where the story of a person who climbs the towers 5 times each day to announce the inauguration of the prayer, comes; Jama Masjid was the first mosque that was built with towers. The theory behind the towers is that people during that time believed that God lived at a place higher than humans. The same theory was applied in the building of temples which gave rise to the ‘Shikhara’ in temples. Historians who have studied Architecture, have revered the Jama Masjid as one of the most spectacular pieces of infrastructure owing to the balance, symmetry, and design which makes it geometrically and aesthetically one of the most stand-out mosques to be ever built. One of the biggest mosques in India, Taj-ul-Masjid (built by Shah Jahan Begum) located in Bhopal, mosques in Aligarh, the Badhshahi mosque in Lahore (3 times of Jama Masjid) and many more, are copies of the Jama Masjid. The Jama Masjid is also one of the first mosques to be built with sandstone and marble, which was a style that slowly became the signature of Shah Jahan in North India (Many other materials were used for construction purposes by Shah Jahan in Sindh and Bengal).
A unique feature about the Jama Masjid is the life it created in the spaces around it. The steps which lead to the Jama Masjid hold ulterior importance in the development of life around the mosque. The stones that have been used to build the steps leading to the mosque, were sourced from about 200km away from Delhi. The reason for using the steps was that the mosque was built on an elevated platform, which according to some locals was called Pahari Bhojla before the Mosque came into existence. Before Nader Shah sacked Delhi in 1738, the steps of the Jama Masjid used to serve as markets, as steps on all the three sides were occupied by traders, craftsmen, artists, food stalls, and many more. The steps evolved as a hub of social life or an “adda” as it is called today. The steps helped in the development of gastronomy in the city, as Biryani, Kebabs, Kulfi, and Paan were sold on the steps while people used to enjoy listening to poetry that was recited by famous poets who were patronized by the rulers.
Major changes took place after the death of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in 1958, as a park was created beside the Masjid which came to be called ‘Azad Park’ as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad lies buried there. Soon the traders around the area were also removed and the Meena Bazaar was formally established. By the 1970s, 3 markets emerged in the area; two of them being Meena Bazaar (Outside Jama Masjid and in the Red Fort), and the third one which connected the Dehli Darwaza of the fort, to the Jama Masjid. Today, there is a round-about in front of the Dehli Darwaza, which was earlier an octagonal park with a fountain in between. The park was surrounded by an octagonal market which was called “Chowk Sadullah Khan”. This third market was the place where astrologers, palmists, bird sellers, oil sellers, medical advisers used to sit and do their usual business. In 1978, after the Saur revolution in Afghanistan, the markets saw massive migrations of people with Pathani origin, who came and started selling ointments and foods that could heal people.
If we exit the Masjid from the Shahi Darwaza, there are two graves; that of Hare Bare Shah and Hazrat Sufi Sarmad Shaheed. Hare Bare Shah used to live at the same place during Shah Jahan’s regime and tales tell us that Sarmad came afterward and pitched his tent next to Hare Bare Shah. Hare Bare Shah was famous amongst women who were childless, as they would come to him and pray for an offspring.
As the 1980s approached, a lot of traders and craftsmen were removed from the Jama Masjid. The space might have lost its old charm but the smells, vibes, mosques, dargahs, Havelis remind us of the alluring traditions and cultures that were followed during the Mughals, that make them one of the most important and interesting subjects of research under schools of History, Anthropology and Art.