With only a single day in Delhi, Prabhu took us into the streets of Old Delhi to visit the Jama Masjid mosque. The first day in a new place often overwhelms me. Cities like Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam or Athens, Greece or Delhi overload my senses and thoughts with dizzy swirling colors, smells, activities, and people.
But even on a first day, if I focus on a few small details, watch one person for a few minutes, or study a building, I begin to sense the rhythm of life, the order within the chaos.
Prabhu helped us enjoy this first day. We sampled street food from a vendor he knew was safe, took a short bicycle rickshaw ride through narrow allies, and then walked to the Jama Masjid mosque of Delhi, one of the oldest and largest mosques in India.
Shah Jajan, the 5th Mughul Emperor, began construction of the Jama Masjid mosque in 1644, the same year that he completed construction of the Taj Majal (although work would continue on both for 10 more years).
He was one of the richest kings on Earth, presiding over an empire that included what is now India, Pakistan, and much of Afghanistan, with a 1-million-man army. These beautiful structures were built not by slaves, but by paid workers at tremendous expense.
Today, the Jama Masjid mosque is one of the most important landmarks of Old Delhi.
We visited it on Eid (pronounced “eed”), the last day of Ramadan. Crowd of people from surrounding villages and cities were also visiting. The outdoor courtyard can hold 25,000 worshipers during the call to prayer. However, we visited between prayers, walking through the corridors and arches at each of the gates with hundreds of other people.
Before entering, our six women were given long tunics to cover their shoulders and below their knees. Although general photography is not allowed without a permit, I was able to purchase a permit at the entrance.
Why do ancient and holy places weigh so heavily upon me? The feeling is not oppressive. Rather, I think it is the atmosphere of long history and my desire to be respectful to the people and religions that continue to seek spiritual fulfillment there. It is a weight of feeling that I seek rather than avoid.
The smiles from worshipers, the flowing colors of people dressed in lovely clothing as they streamed across the central square on narrow carpets to protect their feet from blazing hot flagstones in the Delhi sun, a short conversation with a young boy who approached, and delicious street food: these were the highlights of my one day in Delhi, my first day in India.