Design and Building Techniques of Babri Masjid, Ayodhya

This is my note [Note 1.3] in the Aligarh Historian’s Society [AHS] report to the nation entitled “HISTORY AND THE JUDGEMENT OF THE ALLAHABAD HIGH COURT, LUCKNOW BENCH, IN THE RAMJANMABHUMI–BABRI MASJID CASE” circulated after the High Court Judgement of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court came in 2010

The basic plan of the Babri Masjid is reminiscent of the Tughluq, Lodi and Sharqi architectural traditions. It consists of a western liwan (prayer chamber) divided into aisles and a central nave. All the three are single-bayed, fronted with arched openings and covered with domes. The nave is comparatively larger than the flanking aisles. To the east is a small courtyard, which at some later stage was further enlarged with the placement of an outer screen and a gateway.

The whole structure, as was common in the Tughluq and Lodi periods was built of rubble stone masonry overlaid with a thick veneer of lime plaster. As visible from a photograph of the western wall of the mosque, rubble stones alternated with layers of calcrete and sand stone blocks.

Similar type of construction is witnessed in other 13th to 15th Century structures located in and near Ayodhya. An example can be given of the two very large ‘graves’ of the ‘prophets’ – one near the palace of the Raja of Ayodhya, and the other at the old cemetery on the outskirts of Ayodhya, and the medieval monuments around them.

The nave of the western liwan is fronted with a high propylon, reminiscent of the architecture of the Sharqi period.

The propylon is provided with a trabeated opening covered with a drooping eave resting on heavy stone brackets. The sides of the pylon are decorated with heavy stone projected balconies and a series of niches in the form of arch-and-panel articulation with floral medallions embossed within.

The arches employed throughout the structure are pointed arches which were generally preferred during the period before the establishment of the Mughal mode of architecture under Akbar. The

Mughals, from the period of Akbar onwards, preferred the four-centred Iranian arch, which due to its profuse use came to be known as the ‘Mughal Arch’.

The domes of the Babri Masjid were typical ‘Lodi Style’ domes, raised with the help of stalactite pendentives (as against squinches), resting on octagonal heavy necks and topped with inverted lotus crestings. The domes of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya were similar to the domes of the ‘Moth ki Masjid’ in Delhi, constructed during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (1498-1517) by his prime minister

Miyan Bhuwa.

From the period of Akbar onwards, the style of mosque architecture drastically changed: Now the preferred style was the mosque having a centrally located courtyard surrounded on all sides by the riwāqs (cloisters) and the liwan. The cusped arches, baluster columns and other intricate decorative features were also added.

By Shahjahan’s time a further innovation took place – the minaret started emerging as a part of the mosque complex and by the period of Aurangzeb it became almost an essential feature.

The mosques built under Aurangzeb and later Mughals were totally of a different kind as compared to the plan and elevation of the Babri Masjid. Almost all of them incorporate architectural features developed and used by the architects of Shahjahan. Thus nearly all of them have bulbous domes ( a fair number of which were ribbed and of marble) resting on constricted necks; the preferred arch type was that of the multifoliated cusped arches and tall domineering two or four minarets – almost all the mosques from this period onwards had the minarets as an essential architectural feature.

Examples can be given of such imperial mosques as the Badshahi Mosque at Lahore, the Jami’ Masjid and the Idgah Mosques of Mathura, the Gyanvapi and the Jami Mosque of Varanasi, as well as the Jami’ Masjid of Muhammad Shah at Aligarh.

Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi

Note: I had visited the site a number of times when the Court sponsored Excavations were taking place, having been appointed as an “Observer” by the Honourable Court.