Professor Zoyab Alihussain Kadi
Like the proverbial pinch of salt, the contribution of Mumbai’s Dawoodi Bohra Community to the city’s flavour has been immeasurable. Notwithstanding their minuscule percentage in the overall demographics of the city, they have not only succeeded in making their presence felt, but have also been punching several categories above their weight. Their symbiotic relationship with the city is more than a century old. As for Mumbai itself, the city hardly needs any introduction. It would be impossible to say anything new about it. In fact, writing about it would be taking coal to Newcastle. For the community, it has been both a springboard to greener pastures as well as to strike root and flourish locally.
within the heart of this throbbing city, in probably its densest commercial locality, just off the famous Mohammadali Road, is the Dawoodi Bohra community’s revered landmark – Raudat Tahera – the qubba mubaraka of the Community’s 51st al-Dai al-Ajal, Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA and 52nd al-Dai al-Ajal, Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA. A matter of general interest is the pedigree of the stones used in this landmark mausoleum. Their source–the Chosira and Ulodi quarries at Makrana in Rajasthan–is the same that supplied its fabled marble, sangey marmar, to the builders of the Taj Mahal in Agra and Victoria Memorial in Kolkata; a stone immortalised in literature in several languages. In recent times, the landmark has become the epicentre of a massive urban development project, initiated by the late departed Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA that promises to radically change the fabric of the city for the better and serve as a replicable model in cities across the country. This initiative is testament to the role and importance of private entities in urban planning and development.
The design concept of the qubba mubaraka rested on a number of crucial underlying criteria.
- Inspiration for some key elements was taken from two historic Fatemi masjids in Cairo. The shape and proportions of the dome and the cornice work were inspired by the thousand year old al-Jami al-Juyushi masjid, built during the time of Maulana al-Imam al-Mustansir Billah SA and entrance details and doorways, from the later al-Jami al-Aqmar masjid, built during the time of Maulana al-Imam al-Aamir bi Ahkamillah SA. Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s RA and Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s RA contributions to the preservation and revival of historic Fatemi buildings in Cairo have been appreciated by governments, historians, anthropologists and architectural conservationists. Their efforts have opened a new chapter for heritage discussion, especially about the critical balance between revival of original ‘Form’ against revival of original ‘Function’);
- The internal dimensions of the structure–its length, width and height–were to be based on important numbers from Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s RA life;
- The volume of the structure was to be of such a dominant scale as to produce not only a sense of awe and wonder, but an atmosphere of hushed and respectful silence. And
- The material for both the internal and external cladding was to be pristine marble, in keeping with the building tradition of qubbas everywhere;
Accordingly, the ground breaking ceremony was conducted on Tuesday, 10th December 1968. The structure rose on a square plan of fifty-one feet on internal walls that soared to an impressive eighty feet, or more than seven stories. The first dimension marked Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s RA position in the long list of Da’is, while the second signified his earthly age. The uninterrupted space rests on ninety two columns; another important Abjad numeric. If the cavernous spatial quality of its architecture is daunting; then concealed behind the marble cladding is an extremely complex muscular structural system that also needs to be applauded.
Unlike the embellished facades of qubbas at Surat and Taherabad, here a minimalist approach was adopted. The exterior is impressively austere. The focus was to be on the grandiosity of the interior. Accordingly, the internal walls were clad in a script copy of the entire Quran used by Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA, in liquid gold, on 772 marble slabs. The glow from the gilding, further enhanced by yellow lighting, emanates out of the entrance doorways. The 114 opening line “Bismillahs” of each Surah are studded with rubies, diamonds, emeralds and corals. Below the Quranic verses are various extracts from Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s RA remarkable writings, some of which are especially notable for the absence of the Arabic letter, “Alif”, and in some cases, dotted letters, altogether. Considering the voluminous tome of text on display, this is an unparalleled achievement that will everlastingly be commemorated.
After nearly six and a half years of meticulous and painstaking detailing, since its foundation ceremony, the grand structure was finally ready for inauguration. His Excellency, Fakhrudeen Ali Ahmed, the then President of India, did the honours. In a stellar ceremony attended by international dignitaries from several countries, the ribbon was cut and visitors were officially welcomed on 19th April 1975 (8th Rabiul Akhar 1395 AH). Ever since then, it has been visited by thousands of zaireens every day.
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The author, Professor Zoyab Bhai Kadi is a senior architect and planner by profession. Apart from being a mentor to Triple O Studio, he has a keen interest in architectural conservation. He has over 35 years of experience in the field and worked with Louis Kahn on the IIM-A project. He has vast experience in the educational field and has been a member of inspection teams for the Council of Architecture, AICTE and the Board of Studies, Andhra University. He completed his Bachelor’s in Architecture from the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University and his post-graduation in Town and Country Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. He has been at the forefront to document the heritage houses of the Dawoodi Bohra Community in Sidhpur and has published three titles and several journal articles on Sidhpur.