There are many large and small structures within the area of “Lutyens’ Delhi” that predate the British imperial capital. This is not surprising since many villages existed in the area where the capital was built, and while most of these villages were razed, some of the religious structures – mosques, dargahs, temples and gurdwaras – were allowed to stand (and many, especially the gurdwaras, have grown in size and importance since then). Mosques were probably the most numerous religious structures, and are easily spotted today as their number and need for specific orientation made them difficult to incorporate into the new urban layout. They jut out onto roads (like the mosque on Janpath) and walkways (like the one on Baba Khadak Singh Marg) and occupy traffic circles (like on Kasturba Gandhi Marg and near Udyog Bhawan).
An example of such a mosque that would be familiar to anyone who has visited Connaught Place often is the Auliya Masjid near Minto Bridge on the outer circle of Connaught Place. This mosque is probably the only structure that halts the otherwise irrepressible circularity of Connaught Place’s design. Like most other such mosques (though larger than most), it consists of high rectangular walls that enclose a small courtyard and mihrab arcade, accessed via a few steps up from the main doorway.Auliya Masjid
While this is the usual typology for old mosques within Lutyens’ Delhi, there is another mosque in CP that is very different and quite unique. I have always been fascinated with it, and always peeped into it when passing by, so I decided to go in and explore it a little. This mosque, located along the western radial corridor of CP’s B Block, has been integrated into the alien design of Connaught Place, instead of sitting incongruously beside it.
The mosque has been accommodated and given space within the circularity of CP in a way that does not break that circularity. There is a doorway along B Block’s colonnaded corridor, which could have been the doorway into a shop, but which instead leads into a more-or-less rectangular open space that has been has been carved out of the building. This rectangular open space is not in line with the rest of the building, but instead has the qibla orientation. At the center of this space, occupying most of it, sits the mosque, rebuilt in the early 1940s. In this way, the mosque is an inversion of the usual form where high walls create a free-standing structure enclosing a secluded prayer space separated from the surroundings. Here instead, there is a “negative space” carved out of the surrounding building itself, into which the mosque is fitted. It’s quite an interesting space to be in!Entrance to the mosque from an otherwise usual Connaught Place corridor
At the scooped-out mosque I also learnt of a nearby dargah, located at the edge of the grounds of Lady Hardinge Medical College, opposite Marina Hotel on the outer circle. The caretaker of the dargah told me that the lands belonging to the dargah used to be much more vast than they are today, but were appropriated to make the hospital. The courtyard of the present dargah is a quiet, green and shady retreat from the bustle of neighboring CP!The dargah of “Hazrat Abdul Salam Chisti”, hidden along the outer circle of CP