Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid, Kodungallur

Architecture

The mosque is built in the traditional Hindu architectural style using brass oil lamps. The rosewood pulpit, from where the imam recites the Friday Jumu'ah, is covered with carvings



Facing east: The prayer room inside the 7th century Cheraman Juma Masjid. Some of the door frames are a thousand years old.


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File photograph of the Cheraman Juma Masjid from 1905
 
Photograph of the Cheraman Juma Masjid, 2012
Long before Islam burst into India through the northwest frontiers, Kerala’s Malabar Coast witnessed the spread of Islam not by the sword but with a smile. The region had ancient trade ties with Arabia and when the last Chera king Cheraman Perumal witnessed the splitting of the moon, a Muslim troop enroute to Ceylon explained that it was one of the miracles of the Prophet. According to legend, Cheraman embraced Islam, divided his empire among various subsidiary rulers, made his nephew the Samuthri (Zamorin) of Calicut and set sail for Mecca. He landed at Shahr, where he changed his name to Tajuddin and eventually died at Zaphar, marked by a tomb with an inscription noting his death. But before he died, he wrote letters in Malayalam advocating the spread of Islam among his people in Kerala. Several Arab religious leaders, including Malik Ibn Dinar and Sharaf Ibn Malik, sailed to Malabar to spread the message of Islam. Cheraman’s decree, historic mercantile ties with Arabia and the religious tolerance showed by the Zamorin of Calicut, the Chera king of Mahodayapuram and other rulers helped in the spread of Islam. However, Kerala’s artisans had no idea what a mosque should look like (the Indo-Saracenic style was yet to come) and built these early mosques in the local architectural style. Spread across Kasaragod to Kodungallor, these fascinating mosques of Malabar are excellent examples of religious tolerance and Hindu-Muslim unity.
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Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid, Kodungallur
Built in 629 AD, the Cheraman Perumal mosque at Kodungallur is widely considered to be the first mosque in India. Though rebuilt and renovated over the years, which gives it a modern architectural fa├žade, it does retain a bit of the original style in the interiors. Unlike other mosques, this one faces east, not Mecca in the west. A huge bronze lamp, a feature common in temples, continues to be kept lit inside. And in a time honoured practice, people belonging to all religions bring oil or contribute money to buy oil for the lamp on auspicious occasions. In an anteroom, there is a small mausoleum where Muslim priests light incense sticks, yet another Hindu practice not followed in other mosques. A few years back, the mosque also started Vidyarambham, the custom of initiating children into reading and writing. This is a shrine that has set a practice of intermingling religious rites over the years to come up with a unique Indian ethos. Syed Mohammed aged 85, has been doing baang (meuzzin’s call) since 73 years.
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Malik Deenar Juma Masjid, Kasaragod
One of the historic mosques believed to have been established by Malik Ibn Deenar on the Kerala coast, this holy shrine is located in the Muslim quarter of Thalangara. The original mosque was a small structure with thatched roofing and a floor of marble stones brought with him from Mecca. Later, it was replaced by a bigger, more elaborate structure like the palace of a local king, replete with conical roofs and gables. The same artisans who had built the palace constructed the new edifice using doors and marble stones from the original shrine. An extension was added later. Several tombs dominate the foreground as a walkway leads up to the mosque, which contains the grave of Malik Ibn Mohammed, one of the descendants of Muslim saint Malik Ibn Deenar. Historical details about its construction are also carved on the latticed woodwork in Arabic. Owing to the sanctity of the place and a school for Islamic studies, Kasaragod has become an important center of Islam on the west coast. The town is also famous for the hand-crafted Thalangara thoppi (skull cap), a beautifully embroidered accessory of Islamic identity.
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