This 800-year-old mosque is an architectural delight

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Photos: Harikrishnan
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The Juma Masjid at Thazhathangadi in Kerala's Kottayam district is an architectural marvel that has been standing tall on eight strong pillars for over a thousand years. It is believed that the mosque on the banks of the Meenachil river on the outskirts of Kottayam town was built by the Thekumkoor King for the believers in the area. The intricate wood carvings similar to those seen at Travancore palaces adorn the two-storeyed building. The iconic building based on Kerala's Thachu Shastra (science of carpentry) is on par with most of the other heritage structures in the state.

For those of you who admire and appreciate the beauty of ancient buildings, let's take you through the doors of the Thazhathangadi mosque...

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The mosque known for its exquisite wood work stands on more than 6,000 sq ft of area. The front portion of the mosque has Mattuppavu' (balcony) and Mukhappu (decorative slanting portion of the roof), similar to the entrance to the palace. The frame of the main door is made of stone. Experts say that structures built 800 years ago in Kerala had stone-framed doors.

The room that has the stone-framed door has a water tank made of a single rock. The central portion of the stone was carved out to set up the tank. A single rock was cleaved straight and was used to fill water in the tank. A dried coconut shell was attached to a long stick and used to draw water. As time passed, a pipe was fitted to fill in water, and the dried coconut shell was replaced with a steel cup. As per the customs, one can enter the mosque only after washing the feet clean. The stairs next to the tank leads to the Ustad's room. The roof built of wood and the water beneath keeps the room cool.

Mukootti Saksha

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There are two halls inside the mosque for prayers - Puram Palli (Puram means outside, while Palli refers to mosque) and Akam Palli (Akam means inside). The hall opens into Puram Palli. Four of the eight pillars of the mosque are in this room. Three walls of the Puram Palli have wooden decorations, while the fourth wall is built entirely on wood. On the wooden wall between Puram Palli and Akam Palli, Quran wordings in Arabic are written.

For entering Akam Palli from Puram Palli, there are two doors. The main attraction of one of the doors is Mukootti Saksha.

Mukootti Saksha literally means three wooden locks that can be closed at once and opened one by one. The technique dates back to the ancient times when the famed Kerala carpenters were literally creating magic on wood. There is no duplicate or imitation of this Mukootti Saksha anywhere else.

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The second door's lock is in the shape of a highly decorated Manichitrathazhu (an ornate lock).

The 12.5ft tall upper roof is held together by Kazhukol (wooden rafters), Uttaram (wall plate) and beams, all of which have a width of 1.5ft. The roof is engraved with flower motifs with different petals of varied sizes. The other four pillars on which the mosque stands are in Akam Palli. At the western part of the spacious hall is where the Imam stands. That space is known as Mihrab and towards its left is Minbar. From the raised platform of the Minbar, Imam makes his speeches during Friday prayers and festive occasions. The window frames on either side of Mihrab are also made of stone.

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The stairs leading to the top of the building is situated in Puram Palli.

Malikapuram is a big hall, which has the combined size of Puram Palli and Akam Palli. The top part of the eight pillars extend up to the roof of the second floor.

There is a small door towards the bottom of the south western corner. It is the entrance to a secret chamber in between Akam Palli and Malikapuram. This exemplifies the intelligence and craft of the carpenter who built it. If the door is closed, it would not be known that there is space between two floors.

The pond at the courtyard that was earlier used for ablution adds to the beauty of the mosque. Stairs are built till the bottom of the pond and there is a traditional bathing area too. In the middle of the courtyard, there is a sundial (Nizhal Khadikaram), which stands testimonial to the ancient heritage of the mosque. Before clocks with needles came into existence, the time for prayer was calculated using the shadow.

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"When the shadow is in the middle of the structure, it means noon. By looking at the length and position of the shadow, time for evening and morning prayers were determined," said the current Ustad of Thazhathangadi mosque, Ustad Hafis Sirajuddin Hasani.

There are several legends connected to the mosque that is part of Kottayam's history. It is also believed that the descendants of Malik Deenar established 10 mosques in Kerala and Thazhathangadi is one among them. The Thazhathangadi mosque had once given permission for women to enter, too.

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