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Tankshal ni Masjid: The Puzzle of a Wooden Mosque in Ahmedabad

“What is interesting about the Tankshal Mosque, obviously is that Ahmedabad is quite far from the coast!”

I first heard about the wooden mosque in Tankshal in Pol when Dr. Jigna Desai and the CHC initiated discussions around its documentation and conservation. Mosques in Ahmedabad are well known – built in sandstone, ornamented with jalis, and sporting iconography from various craft traditions, they are exemplars of Sultanate architecture in the sub-continent, and of course of notable mention within the world heritage narrative of the city. The wooden mosque was a curiosity and seemed like an aberration. Why, in a city otherwise populated with stone mosques, was this one built in wood?

The question remained suspended until I had the opportunity to visit the mosque during the CHC’s Site School Open House Initiative. The materiality of the mosque was obviously different, but some other differences were immediately apparent as well. The mosque had an upper level that was used as jamatkhana, a place of gathering among sects such as the Ismailis, for instance. More interestingly, the mihrab was semi-circular in plan with a semi-circular arch and the enclosed, pavilion-like space meant for prayer was supported by 16 columns. The connection, in my mind, was to the sola khambi masjid (literally translates as ‘mosque of sixteen columns’) in Bhadreshwar, which scholar Mehrdad Shokoohy analyses as part of a tradition of maritime mosques. Shokoohy suggests that the semi-circular mihrab is found in mosques along the coasts of Gujarat, and Malabar, and extends all the way to the Indonesian archipelago. The differences between the maritime mosques and those further inland emerged from the different routes through which Islam reached the subcontinent and was propagated. What is interesting about the Tankshal Mosque, obviously is that Ahmedabad is quite far from the coast! More importantly, the mosque clearly presents a moment of difference, from the dominant mosque forms in the city itself.

The presence of the wooden mosque and the apparent similarities to a very different mosque tradition hints at a historical plurality that is often forgotten or at least muted in dominant narratives. Ahmedabad was an important centre of trade and was historically connected to the over-land Silk Route via Delhi but also to maritime trade routes interacting with the coast. The wooden mosque suggests that these different cultural traditions found a place in the fabric of the city, and indeed, serves to further diversify and complicate the history of Ahmedabad. 16th May 2021


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