Amid the many publishing houses of Daryaganj is 1707’s hidden gem- Zeenat-ul Masjid. Built by Aurangzeb’s second daughter, Zeenat-un Nisa, the mosque has lost much of its beauty to the surrounding buildings.
The mosque was initially built near the ghats of the Yamuna, which was later re-routed after the British control of Delhi. Due to the proximity to the ghats, the mosque was thus also known as the Ghata Masjid. There are more stories to the name Ghata Masjid. Traveller Siddhartha Joshi writes that the mosque’s minarets were so tall that it was believed to reach the clouds. Thus, the name Ghata (clouds) was also associated with it.
Citing from her book Shahjahanabad: The Living City of Old Delhi, Rana Safvi also brings out an interesting anecdote. She writes that the reason it was nicknamed Ghata Masjid is clear from the black lines that run through its dome. These black lines from afar resemble the monsoon clouds or ghataa (in colloquial language). Some people also call it the Ghaata (loss) masjid.
With many stories to its name, the giant monument has a tiny entrance.While looking for Zeenat-ul Masjid, we crossed the old publishing building of The Times of India. A straight walk from that building led us to our destination- a little blue gate. Entering through that gateway, we reached the mosque and came across a family who lived on the mosque’s premises. The family claimed that the authorities do not maintain the mosque, it is done at the family’s expense.
Today the mosque is functioning; however, in the aftermath of 1857’s struggle for Independence, the mosque was kept in lousy shape. After the British victory over Delhi, the mosque was turned into an artillery barracks for a while. Later, it was converted into a bakery that served the British army. Zeenat-un Nisa, whose tomb was located north of the premises, was moved. And to this day, the location of her final mortals is unknown.
This may be one of the reasons why not a lot of people know about Zeenat-un Nisa. Most of us have heard or read about Gulbadan Begum, Nur Jahan, Jahanara, and Roshanara, but not Zeenat-un Nisa. “It is not that women have not made [built] monuments. It is just not written about…though Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan has described the Zeenat-ul Masjid very beautifully”, says Rana Safvi. She also quotes Sir Sayyid’s description of the mosque in her book:
The ornamentation and carving on the mosque,
the greenery all around,
the waves of the river
all contribute to a beautiful mood.
Very few mosques have such a beautiful atmosphere and surroundings.
Sir Sayyid also mentions that the black lines on the mosque’s dome ward off the evil eye while the golden finials shine under the sunlight. “The minarets are so high, as if they’re in conversation with the sky,” writes Sir Sayyid. The mosque's complex also houses a tank, which remains unused and unfunctional today. The mosque’s complex was also broken after 1857, and many parts mysteriously disappeared.
The mosque was rebuilt on the southern end, and Zeenat-un Nisa’s grave was renovated as a memorial. The marble memorial is erected on red sandstone with a headstone that reads a Quranic verse:
For a friend in my grave, God’s forgiveness is alone sufficient
The canopy of my grave is the shadow of the cloud of God’s mercy
In the hope of a righteous end.
Fatmah Zeenat-un Nisa Begum
Daughter of Badshah Mohiuddin Mohammad Alamgeer Ghazi
May God illuminate his works
Zeenat-un Nisa is known for her contributions to architecture. She has built fourteen caravanserais and constructed many inns. However, the Zeenat-ul Masjid stands out among all. Legend has it that she constructed the mosque from her dowry amount but chose to stay unmarried.
The mosque has witnessed the transition of power and the end of the Mughal era. Despite the removal of the marble pulpit, the mosque was able to gain importance and became a meeting place for Urdu poets in the initial years of the 18th century.
While today the mosque is functioning, its history remains unknown and unheard of.