An important part of Ahmedabad’s heritage would have been lost forever but for the intervention of the civic chief. Municipal Commissioner Vijay Nehra stopped the razing of the 448-year-old Ek Toda Masjid in Khadia after fire officials going hammer and tongs had already brought down the top of the mosque in an action-packed operation right in the heart of India’s first World Heritage City.
The mosque was built by Sheikh Mohammed Ghaus of Gwalior, spiritual guide to Mughal Emperor Humayun and the celebrated musician of that age, Tansen. The Sheikh came to Gujarat after Humayun was defeated by Sher Shah Suri and lived in Ahmedabad for 18 years when he built the mosque.
The 60-feet-high minaret, constructed of sandstone and lime in 1570, was damaged after being struck by lightning during a flash spell of rain last Saturday. A team of 70 personnel from Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services (AFES) were involved in the operation with 20 personnel from the Estate Department of the AMC monitoring the demolition.
The municipal commissioner confirmed he had halted the demolition. “Yes, I stopped the demolition as soon as I was informed of the situation. We think we can save and restore the structure. We will be first dismantling it and then rebuilding it so that we do not lose such an important part of our city’s heritage,” Nehra told Mirror.
The enthroned Pirzada (priest) of the mosque, Naiyar Ahmad Hasan Ali Gausee Shattri, said, “We have been maintaining this mosque for hundreds of years now and formed the Ek Toda Masjid Trust in 1980. Since we are still in charge here, it is not under the protection of Archaeological Survey of India.”
The top of the minaret was already destroyed by AFES workers before the order to halt the operation came. However, it is unclear from the differing statements of fire and civic officials over whether the minaret was to be razed to the ground or just stabilised. The Fire Department said that the minaret is beyond repair.
Chief Fire Officer MF Dastoor told Mirror, “The lightning has cut into the outer sandstone structure of the minaret like a hot knife and any strong wind or rain can bring it crashing down on the residents. So the Estate Department asked us to take it down. However, later in the day, we were asked to stop work all of a sudden. We were under the impression that it had to be demolished taking into account people’s safety.”
However, Ramesh Desai, deputy estate officer of Central Zone, who was overseeing the operation and had sanctioned it, told Mirror, “We were not going to demolish it at all. We were just going to remove the loose debris from the monument.”
Mirror spoke to Amit Patel, additional city engineer for heritage, who, along with other heritage officials, went to stop the demolition. Patel said, “The estate department was looking at the situation purely from the safety point of view. However, we felt it could be restored. Hence, we called off the demolition.”
About the condition of the structure, PKV Nair, general manager of the Heritage Cell said, “The structure is currently very dangerous and loose stones may still fall from it.”
All the houses and shops in the neighbourhood of the mosque, situated at Daulatkhana in Khadia, will be issued notices to vacate the area pending restoration of the mosque since it is dangerous and could fall, said Nehra.
Restoration and funding
The minaret of the 448-year-old mosque will be first dismantled and then rebuilt as part of restoration. The same technique has been used to restore the ‘Darwajas’ of the city. Nehra said that the approximate cost of dismantling will be Rs 15 lakh to Rs 20 lakh while that of reconstruction could well be above Rs 1crore. “We will be speaking to stakeholders like ASI and the trustees whether to use public money or to raise money from other sources for the restoration because it is a private property that does not have funds to restore the minaret,” said Nehra.
About Ek Toda mosque
The mosque is not registered as a heritage site either by the ASI or by the Gujarat government since it is owned and run by Ek Toda Masjid Trust run by Pirzada Naiyar Ahmad Hasan Ali Gausee Shattri, the inheritor of Sheikh Mohammed Ghaus of Gwalior, a Sufi saint of the Shattari tradition who had the mosque constructed in 1570. However, it is listed as a Grade-I heritage structure by the AMC.