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Oldest Mosque

I had the opportunity to visit the oldest Mosque in the Indian subcontinent. Its not in North-India or Pakistan/Afghanistan/Bangladesh, but is in Kerala State; 'Gods own country'. This is the Cheraman Perumal Juma Masjid at Kodungallur. I reached here on my way from Peruvarum to Thrissur in November 2007. Its beside the National Highway(NH17) equidistant from both Kochi and Thrissur(about 35km north of Kochi and also south of Thrissur)

Kodungallur is a place of great historical importance and used to be known as 'Muziris'. This is the place where the other two Abrahamic traditions also, first reached India ie Christianity (Christ's apostle, St Thomas is said to have landed in Kodungallur in 52 AD, St.Thomas Church established by him houses ancient relics and is believed to the first Christian church in India) and Judaism(AD 378, possibly before that). I will write on the St Thomas Church and Kodungallur in detail later.



Cheraman Perumal Mosque is said to have been established in 629 AD, during Prophet Muhammad's lifetime by his disciple, Malik-Ibn-Dinar. It is the the second oldest Mosque in the world to offer Jumu'ah prayers (for the last 1,380 years). The first mosque ever built in the world is in Saudi-Arabia; the Quba Mosque (Quba' Masjid or Masjid al-Quba) just outside Medina and so is considered to be the oldest.

Uniqueness

I reached here around 17:00 hours and you can just see the sun setting behind the mosque in this photograph. ie this Mosque faces east and is probably the only Mosque in Kerala that face east unlike other mosques which usually face west. Another peculiarity is that the mosque has an ancient oil lamp which always burns and is believed to be more than a thousand years old. People of all religions bring oil for the lamp as offering. This is one of the few mosques in Kerala which allow entry for people of other religions. Another unique feature is that 'Vidyarambham' a traditional Hindu ritual initiation ritual marking the start of a child's learning is held here every year

Architecture and Traditions

The mosque is built in the traditional Kerala architectural style, similar to Hindu temples. Similar to Hindu tradition, the mosque uses brass oil lamps. The Rosewood-pulpit, from where the priest recites the prayers, is covered with carvings similar to the ones seen in Hindu architecture. A block of white marble in the mosque is believed to have been brought from Mecca.

The Mosque had many renovations and reconstructions (11th and 18th centuries and recently in 1974,1994 and 2001). The ground floor of the shrine is left untouched and is still preserved. The front portion of the first floor has been replaced with minarets, while the posterior side of the first floor is still intact(see below)


Legend

The popular legend is that a Chera king, Cheramanperumal of Kodungallor left for Mecca, embraced Islam, and accepted the name Thajudeen. He married the sister of then King of Jeddah. On his return trip, accompanied by many Islamic religious leaders, led by Malik-ibn-Dinar, he fell sick and passed away. But he had given letters for the team to proceed to Kodungallur. The visitors came to Kerala and handed over the letter from Cheraman Perumal to the reigning king, who gave all the facilities and support to establish their faith in the land. The king also helped to build the first Mosque at Kodungallur, by converting Arathali temple into a Juma-Masjid. However, 'Kerala Vyasan Kunjukuttan Thampuran' is of the opinion that an old Buddha temple was handed over to the Muslims to establish a mosque here.

History

'Keralolpathi' portrays Cheraman Perumal as a generic figurehead of the Chera Dynasty, along with a Chola Perumal and Pandi Perumal. Cheraman Perumal Bhaskara Ravi Varma was a king of the ancient Tamil-speaking Chera dynasty in the eighth Century AD. Kodungallur may have been his ancient capital. It is possible that the kings in those days were all called 'Cheraman Perumal'. ('Cheranad' for Kerala and 'Raja Perumal' means 'godly king')

All the records are folk tales and stories, and it gives a somewhat blurred historical picture about the origins of the ruling dynasty. The surviving manuscripts, such as Keralolpathi, Keralamahatmyam, and Perumpadapu Grandavari, are collections of myths and legends. Some historians doubt the reliability of these manuscripts due to the many discrepancies in it.

'Keralolpathi' says that the last and the famous Perumal king Cheraman Perumal ruled Kerala for 36 years. He left for Mecca by ship with Muslims who arrived at Kodungalloor (Cranganore) port. Before leaving for Mecca, he divided his kingdom between his nephews and sons. But it goes on emphatically to deny that Cheraman Perumal converted to Islam (sometimes conflated with Buddhism) and died while on pilgrimage, asserting that this was all done by a later king, one Banu Perumal.

The 'Perumpadapu Grandavari' says the last Thavazhi of Perumpadapu Swaroopam came into existence on the Kaliyuga day shodashangamsurajyam. Cheraman Perumal divided the land in half, 17 amsha north of Neeleshwaram & 17 amsha south, totaling 34 amsha, and gave his powers to nephews and sons. Thirty-four rajyas between Kanyakumari (Cape Comerin, now in Tamilnadu state) and Gokarna (now in Karnataka state) were given to the 'Thampuran' who was the daughter of the last niece of Cheraman Perumal.


There are two tombs, that of Habib-Ibn-Malik, son of Malik-Ibn-Dinar, and his wife/ sister Khumarriah inside the mosque, where Muslim priests light incense sticks, an Indian/Hindu tradition.

This Shrine stands as a testament of the religious tolerance and cultural harmony that exists in Kerala, similar to many other places of worship in this part of the world.


This post first appeared on Aham Brahmasmi, please read the originial post: here

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