Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SAIDPUR. THE GLASS MOSQUE

In an Islamic nation replete with mosques of all ages from the 11th Century to the contemporary, in a wide, and often magnificent diversity of architectural styles, the ‘Glass Mosque’ , or Chini Masjid at Saidpur in the Rangpur Division of Bangladesh is certainly one of the prettiest and distinctive.
According to a plaque on the fascia, the original building was constructed in 1863, around the time Saidpur became to hub of the rapidly developing railway system in Bengal. Actually, the intricacy of the external and internal decoration seems to make it improbable that this masterpiece was built in one year. A subtle change, it might even be fair to say, degeneration, in the craftsmanship betrays to the eye the unquestionable fact that the original date refers only to half of what seems to be an entire building, and a contemporary development to extend the mosque even further, increases the awareness of the eye that the original builders were unequalled in their attention to detail.
The entire fabric of the building, including quite a
collection of minarets and domes, is colourfully  decorated in a style more commonly seen in the architectural detail of such Chinese structures as the famous shop houses of Malaysia and Singapore. The inlay of millions of fragments of porcelain, pottery and glass, very evidently shards of domestic pots, plates and other vessels, lends a jewel like quality to the appearance of the intricate niches, arches, windows, stairways and walls.


The whole town of Saidpur, in fact, could be said to be a dream for architectural historians, especially those interested in institutional architecture.
Saidpur, as a hub of the ‘industrialisation’ of India under the Raj, is full of residences, offices, and workshops, many in brick, that are great examples of the kind of bureaucratic architecture still visible in parts of UK.
It also worth noting, perhaps, that, flying in the face of the conventional wisdom of the ‘conflict of cultures’, behind the Glass Mosque lies the old burial ground of Raj period, in which the only evidence of vandalism is that of time and weather. And although the gates remain locked, there is an easy access from the ablution area of the mosque!

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