Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

Mandir-Masjid Row: Bengal's Adina Mosque, Largest In Indian Subcontinent, Next In Line?

Even though the Adina mosque has been in the crosshairs of Hindutva activists of late, there is very little evidence to suggest that any temple existed there in the past

Capturing antiquity Photograph of the arcaded Adina mosque at Pandua
Capturing antiquity Photograph of the arcaded Adina mosque at Pandua Photograph: Shutterstock

“This noble building is 500 feet from north to south and 300 from east to west, and 60 feet in height. It was formerly supported by 260 columns of black marble (later found to be granite) of which number, only 150 now remain. These columns are surmounted by superb cupolas, the whole forming a most beautiful Syrian roof executed with great ability and tastefully ornamented with carved work and flowers in the sculpture,” Major William Francklin, who served the British East India Company as a regulating officer at Bhagalpur (Bihar), wrote of the mosque in his journal in 1810, when he visited the site two years after the ruins were discovered. “Common description must fall short in the attempt justly to delineate the feature of this magnificent pile. It requires the pencil of the ablest artist,” he wrote about the 14th-century mosque in Malda district of West Bengal.

The Adina (Friday in Persian) mosque was the largest mosque in the whole of the Indian sub-continent when it was completed in 1374. The reigning king was Sikandar Shah, son of Iliyas Shah. In 1342, Iliyas became the first ruler of the independent Bengal Sultanate (1342-1538) after he declared independence from the Delhi Sultanate. The father and son successfully resisted Delhi Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq’s military expeditions in 1353 and 1359 to annex Bengal. According to American historian Richard Eaton, Sikandar, having successfully defended his kingdom, projected his claims of power by erecting a monument greater in size than any edifice built by his North Indian rivals. “The inscriptions inside and outside the Adinah Mosque… are the finest that I have seen,” Henry Ferdinand Blochmann, a German orientalist and a principal of the Calcutta Madrasah, wrote in his 1873 book, Contributions to the Geography and History of Bengal.