Bari Mosque

Bari Mosque an imposing structure of pre-Mughal period, stands at Chhota Pandua in the Hughli District of West Bengal. It is an oblong building measuring 70.41m x 12.5m and having no enclosed shan (courtyard) in front. Two parallel rows of basalt pillars (1.83m high) divide the mosque into three aisles, resulting in sixty-three bays. The roof of 63 domes, now lost, rested on the arcades and brick-pendentives. The domes were arranged in three rows of 21 each in conformity with the alignment of the aisles. The basalt pillars were reused from pre-Islamic structures and are not of uniform design; some bear traces of Hindu or Buddhist imagery.

The qibla wall has 21 mihrabs, of which the central one is the largest and most ornate, with an outer frame textured with a grill pattern. A decorative cusped arch, designed and constructed in the indigenous style of the pre-Sultanate period, connects the jambs of the frame. Rosette medallions are fixed into the spandrels of the arch. Inset is a similar but smaller frame. The concave interior is recessed in the framed space. Ornamental motifs decorate the wall of the mihrab.

The mimbar on the right side of the central mihrab is a throne-like structure of black basalt, having a trefoil-arched canopy, which has a full-blown lotus on the underside. Besides, bell-on-chain, makara (a mythical figure combining a fish with a crocodile), kirtimukha (stylised lion head) and garland are some of the decorative motifs found on the lithic elements quarried from temple ruins. The basaltic stone pillars are relieved by several horizontal bands of ornamental patterns.

The mosque had 21 arched openings. Three more were provided on either side of the building to give access to the aisles from the flanks. All these side openings except one have been sealed. As a result, the mosque has now only 22 entrances from which its local name, Bais Darwaza, originates.

Bari Mosque, Hughli district, West Bengal The absence of any inscription stands in the way of ascertaining either the name of the builder or the date of construction of this mosque. Local tradition associates the mosque with Shah Safiuddin, who, along with Zafar Khan Ghazi, is said to have invaded and conquered Pandua at the behest of Firuz Shah (identified with Shmsuddin Firuz Shah). The authenticity of this legendary account has not yet been substantiated. Some elements, such as the use of red thin bricks for construction, the reportedly low hemispherical shape of the lost domes of the roof, typical stone pillars in the liwan, utilisation of lithic materials quarried from demolished temples and low pointed arched doorways etc have been taken to suggest an early 14th century date for the mosque. [Dipakranjan Das] [Das, Dipak Ranjan Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Calcutta University]