The Moti Mosque is part of the architectural legacy of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the son of famed builder Shah Jahan. Like his father, Aurangzeb ruled a great realm that covered most of India, and like his father he endeavored to adorn many of its cities with civic improvements and architectural marvels. Though he did not rival his father in the latter, he did leave his mark, especially on Delhi, where he built the Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque. This stunning white structure became the private place of worship of the Mughals while they inhabited the Red Fort complex.
From 1657 to 1666, the Mughal Dynasty in India was wracked by strife as Shah Jahan and his four sons vied for power. By 1659, Aurangzeb had effectively defeated his brothers and kept his sick father under a state of house arrest. Upon Shah Jahan’s death in 1666, Aurangzeb was solidly in control of the Mughal Empire and ascended as its sixth emperor.
While the Mughal Empire in India arguably reached its height under Shah Jahan, it reached its farthest extent under Aurangzeb. During his reign, he greatly expanded Muslim influence throughout the Subcontinent, in some ways taking a hardline against other religious groups. He expanded Muslim law in India, and unfortunately also destroyed a number of non-Muslim temples.
His efforts endeared him to the local Muslim populace, but ostracized him from others. Because of this he was forced to spend more time behind the secure walls of his palaces, moreso than his father had. Perhaps by necessity for safety and privacy he built the Moti Mosque inside the walls of the Red Fort of Delhi. Its use was reserved for himself and certain members of his household.
Aurangzeb used the mosque throughout his long reign, which lasted nearly five decades after its completion in 1660. It probably saw irregular use after Delhi’s numerous military disasters in the 18th century. Thanks to its location in one of Delhi’s most visited tourist sites, the Moti Masjid is among the most visited mosques in India.
The Moti Masjid is a relatively small mosque, at least in comparison to Delhi’s immense Jama Masjid. It is part of a series of structures in the heart of the Red Fort that include the royal residence and the harem, all of which are decked out in brilliant white. The mosque exterior gets its color from white plaster, which as of this writing was in need of some work. The building is crowned with three domes which were once covered in copper (long stripped away).
The mosque interior is decorated in beautifully carved white marble. Again, this was once similarly trimmed in copper, also long gone. The primary copper decoration still present is the door to the main entrance.
The Moti Masjid is located on the northeast side of the Red Fort, less than one mile east of the Old Delhi city center and two mile north of the New Delhi city center. The mosque is generally open when the Red Fort is open to visitors, Tuesdays through Sundays from dawn until dusk. The cost of admission is Rs250.00. Web: www.delhitourism.nic.in (official tourism website of Delhi).
Just outside of the Red Fort is Sunehri Masjid, or Golden Mosque, which was constructed by Ahmad Sha Bahadur, who reigned over the Mughal Empire in the mid-18th century.