Sarkhej Roza is a mosque and a tomb complex in the Makarba village, now in Ahmedabad. Shaikh Ahmad Khattu Ganj Bakhsh, one of the earliest Sufi saints of Gujarat, came and settled here in the later years of his life and died here in 1445 AD. Sultan Muhammad Shah II started building a tomb dedicated to the saint and a mosque; his work was finished by his son Qutubuddin Ahmed Shah II in 1451 AD.
The next Sultan, Mehmud Begda was so fond of this place that he had a massive extension done to this place, including the Sarkhej lake, a palace, a mausoleum for him and his family. By 17th century AD, it had become a very important center for Sufi Islam, so unique its value and architecture that it was called as the ‘Acropolis of Ahmedabad’. The architecture of the complex is credited to Azam and Muazzam Khan, two Persian brothers who are buried in the tomb near Vasna, Ahmedabad The complex was originally spread across 72 acres and had beautiful gardens all around it. Today, due to encroachments the area has come down to 34 acres.
The architectural style of the Sarkhej Roza is an elegant mix of Islamic and Hindu styles of architecture, evident from its composite Indo-Sarcenic style. As one moves around in the sprawling complex of the Sarkhej Roza, one could clearly witness an amalgamation of Hindu craftsmanship and Islamic sense of geometry and scale. The entire complex has been built majorly by Hindu craftsmen and artisans local to Ahmedabad. These craftsmen were not well versed with the fineness and nitty-gritty of Islamic architecture, such as the intricate carving of the jalis, the huge onion or bulb-like domes, the carved pillars, etc. Instead, they were used to making temples and similar buildings which never involved such things.
However, they were all the manpower that was available locally, and were employed to make the Sarkhej Roza. As a result, we see a heavy influence of the Hindu style of architecture in the Roza, especially in the jalis and the domes. The jalis are very simple with basic geometric patterns, very unlike the intricate floral patterns or inscribing of the verses of the Quran on the walls, as seen in many other Islamic monuments. Even the style of the pillars is very similar to those we see in temples and completely unlike any other Islamic monument.
As you enter the Sarkhej Roza, the first building to your left is the tomb of the Sultans of Gujarat back from the 14th and the 15th centuries. Mehmud Begda, Muzaffar Shah II and Mehmud Shah III lay in eternal sleep in an elegant mausoleum adorned with carved pillars and intricate jaalis.
In another section, separated from the King’s chamber is a tiny museum and a library, showcasing information about the complex and has all the records and manuscripts. It also showcases some ancient copies of the Quran. Some of this portion has been painted now to enable maintenance of the complex. This was actually a part of the Queen’s chambers and houses the tombs of the queens, such as that of Bibi Rajbai, Queen of Sultan Muzaffar Shah II. From this complex, one can get a good view of the Sarkhej lake (which dries up completely in the summers), the King’s palace and the Queen’s palace which are located on the opposite bank of the lake.
The Jama Masjid at Sarkhej Roza
The beauty of the Jama Masjid inside the Sarkhej Roza is due to its chaste simplicity and classic restraint, and indeed considered on its merit as a pillared hall. It is difficult to imagine how i could have been improved upon, or so said Sir John Marshall, the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928.
Compared to the other Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad which is the old city area, the one inside the Sarkhej Roza is simple and elegant. In appearance and architecture, it is a simple pillared hall, with domes of uniform height and minarets are conspicuous by their absence. The mosque complex has a prayer hall, an open courtyard between the prayer hall and the main entrance and galleries on three sides for walking and praying. There are five larger domes, which are supported by 120 carved pillars. This mosque was never abandoned and regular daily prayers happen here. The southern part of the mosque overlooks the lake and the pavilion.
Opposite Mehmud Begda’s tomb, adjacent to the Jama Masjid complex is the dargah of Shaikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh. This huge monument is built on a raised platform with a style of architecture similar to the other buildings in the complex. There is a large central dome, surrounded by smaller domes around it. The walls of this dargah have the stonework and carvings similar to those that one could see in the Jain temples of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Like most dargahs everywhere, it is mandatory to cover your head here as well. Across the entire complex, women are allowed only in some portions of the complex while men are free to enter everywhere.
In front of the tomb and the dargah is an open courtyard. There are old neem trees in this courtyard which keep it cool in its shade. In the center of this courtyard is a sixteen pillared pavilion called as a Baradari in front of the tomb. It is said that the initial construction of the mosque and the excavation of the lake was supervised by the Sufi saint himself, sitting in the Baradari. Today, when the concerts and special events happen here, the performers occupy the Baradari while the spectators take their seats around it.
The Sarkhej Roza is an old monument, and it may not be as glamorous as the Gujarat tourism advertisements show it to be. However, it is still a very beautiful monument, with a unique sense of calm and peace around it. The Roza does not belong to any particular community or sect, it is a collective heritage of the people. There are light and sound shows that happen here during some months of the year, which are a must visit. The Sarkhej Roza can be said to be a living ecosystem of spirituality that needs to protected and nurtured, and above all, respected and cherished. In a city that is otherwise super busy and happening, the Sarkhej Roza is a place of tranquility that gives one an opportunity to slow down and breath, in peace. Unfortunately, the Sarkhej Roza is under threat from the rapid urbanization and is facing encroachments and general public apathy. I hope and pray that the monument does not bear the brunt of modern civilization and pay a heavy price for it. Let’s try to do out best for that.
A big thanks to Ms. Pooja Jaiswal, my host for the heritage walk conducted by Sahapedia. Sahapedia is an open online multimedia knowledge resource on the arts, cultures and histories of India based on both curated and crowdsourced content. They regularly organize heritage walks all across India. If you get a chance, do participate in one, it is very enlightening. My host, Pooja, was very knowledgeable and made the walk a really enriching one. She has been a student of architecture, knows the place in and out and has been conducting many such heritage walks regularly in the city.