Cheraman Juma Masjid

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NH 66, Kodungallur, India
+91 0480 280 3170

Cheraman Juma Masjid Kodungallur Reviews

AdamR3723 AdamR3723
192 reviews
A real surprise Dec 08, 2017
Until recently, I had blithely assumed that Islam entered the Indian subcontinent from its northwest fringes – from Afghanistan and elsewhere. In November 2017, I made a trip to Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala during which we were taken to see a mosque, the first to be built on the Indian subcontinent. Built long before the Mughal invasion, it is in the Kodungallur district on the estuary of the River Periyar, about thirty kilometres north of Ernakulam. I learned that this small area of southwestern India is of historical significance for islam in India.

It is said that one night the Hindu ruler of Kodungallur Cheraman Perumal (a member of the Chera dynasty) had a dream in which the full moon was split in two. No one could explain the meaning of this until he met some traders, who had sailed across from Arabia. Their explanation led Cheraman to travel to Mecca, where he met the Prophet Muhammad, and became converted to Islam. He sent word back to Kerala that his people should embrace Islam and follow the teachings of Malik bin Deenar (died 748 AD), whom he dispatched to India. Cheraman, who remained for some years in Arabia, died on his way back to India.

When Malik arrived in Kodungallur, he was permitted to build what is now called the Cheraman Mosque. This was the first ever mosque to be constructed on the Indian subcontinent. Nothing remains of the original building. It was reconstructed in the 11th century, then again in the 14th. In 1504, the mosque was destroyed by the Portuguese when Lopo Soarez de Algabria (c. 1460-1520) attacked Kodungallur (see: “Muslim Architecture of South India”, by M Shokoohy, publ. 2003). Later, it was rebuilt, and in 1974 it was enlarged and surrounded by a modern structure. What the visitor sees from outside is largely unexceptional apart from the tiled roof of the oldest part of the mosque which can be seen above the modern extensions.

Male visitors may enter after washing their feet in a special area close to the mosque. I was shown the inner sanctuary, which is all that remains of the pre-1974 building. A remarkable feature is a large metal lampstand in which oil lamps (‘diyas’) may be held. This lampstand would not look out of place in a Hindu temple. The wooden ‘mimbar’ (pulpit) is elaborately constructed and delicately decorated. Next to it is the ‘mihrab’, a niche in the wall facing in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, with its semi-circular arch. This is a part of the mosque built in the 16th century. There are two graves draped with red and green silk cloths in a small room leading off from the inner sanctuary. These are the graves of Habib bin Malik and his wife Khumarriah. A door beyond the graves leads into a poky room from which women are allowed to view the graves. Although Malik bin Deenar was the first ‘Ghazi’ (leader) of the mosque, he handed it over to his relative Habib after a few years. Malik was buried elsewhere in Kerala (at Kasaragod).

The museum and gardens of the mosque are open to all. The garden has an attractive square tank (rather like a Hindu temple tank), where fishes swim. It is next to a cemetery. I noticed that several trees growing nearby were home to a colony of large bats, who hung from branches upside down and motionlessly.

The museum attached to the mosque contains a lovely model of what the mosque must have looked like before it was modernised. Like some historic mosques that I have seen in Kozhikode, the earlier Cheraman mosque, was similar architecturally to Hindu temples (and other buildings) in Kerala. Other exhibits included photographs and a wooden funeral bier. I was thrilled to stand where Islam made its first concrete foothold in India. This shrine is a site that is more evocative than visually interesting. I was told that the mosque has very few foreign visitors, who are neither Muslim nor Arab, and that I was one of its rare ‘white’ tourists.
CHERAMAN MASJID model of an earlie…
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