Domes, pagodas and faith

Cheraman Perumal Mosque near Kodungallur and Omkareshwara Temple in Madikeri boast of unique architectural style
Cheraman Perumal mosque built in the typical Kerala style temple architecture
Cheraman Perumal mosque built in the typical Kerala style temple architecture

To compare the merits and demerits of various religions or cultures, their ideals, practices and beliefs are immature in a civilised society. Each one of them possesses its own identity and worth, differences are natural and expected.

Various worshipping centres of different cultures have their own traditional style of architecture that evolved with time. However, there is something special about the Cheraman Perumal Mosque built in typical Kerala temple architecture near Kodungallur in Thrissur and Omkareshwara Temple in Saracenic architecture at Madikeri town near Coorg in Karnataka.

Legends and historical facts reveal that the 19 Perumals ruled a portion of ancient Kerala for 12 years each. The 20th and the most popular Cheraman Perumal reigned the throne for 36 years. The legends have it that due to his constant interaction with Arabian traders, Cheraman Perumal studied and embraced Islam and went to Mecca for Hajj. However, modern historians do not approve of it as a historical fact.

Omkareshwara Temple in Madikeri built by King Lingarjendra-2 was dedicated to Lord Shiva replicates  a typical mosque Cheraman Perumal Mosque is believed to be the first mosque built in India. However, the date of its construction is still unclear. The undisputed reality is that it was originally built with the same appearance as a traditional Kerala temple with pyramidical or Chinese pagoda-like roofs in wood and paved roof with baked tiles.

“The mosque was not deliberately built in Kerala’s typical architecture. Instead, the then-popular architectural style was adopted for the construction. For instance, many buildings in the past were in the same style be it a temple, church, mosque, palace or a house,” says P M Mujeeb, teacher, Govt City Vocational Higher Secondary School (CITY VHSS) in Thiruvananthapuram. Dr Mujeeb has also done his doctoral thesis on Islamic architecture, museums and heritage and is also an expert in temple architecture and iconography.

Cheraman Perumal Mosque was re-constructed many times in the past, and some years ago it was converted into a modern typical mosque with minarets and domes. As the Muziris Heritage Project was involved in the restoration of Cheraman Perumal Mosque, the newly-built modern building was demolished. The work to convert it to its original form is going on, but with added space to accommodate more people for prayer.

Originally it was a two-storey building with a projecting courtyard. The pond in the vicinity is also being rebuilt. An oil lamp still flames, which is supposed to be lit during the time of its original construction. It is also a typical Kerala-styled one.

“The task is to replicate and reinstate the building and its surroundings as was it once in the past,” says Dr Midhun C Shekhar, the Museum Manager of Muziris Projects Ltd. He was seen on the project site with a Dutch architectural expert.

An interesting contrast to the temple-styled mosque of Kerala is the Omkareshwara Temple in Madikeri with its dome and tall minarets aimed at the sky. Omkareshwara Temple built in 1820 AD by a local ruler, King Lingarjendra-2, is dedicated to Lord Shiva and replicates a typical mosque or a dargah as the construction strictly follows the Saracenic style of architecture.

Unlike all other south Indian temples, the sanctum sanctorum here doesn’t surrounded by other deities in small shrines inside the temple complex nor possesses an inner courtyard hall with pillars. A huge dome is built on top of the shrine instead of a Vimana. Vimana or sanctum tower over the main shrine is supposed to be the main character of an Indian temple. Four minarets adorn the corners of the temple which is unavoidable for a typical mosque in Saracenic architecture.

At the front portion of the temple premises in the middle of the large water tank, a Mandapa structure is seen roofed with a medium-sized Saracenic Dome. It is well connected with a walkway for the visitors to reach.

Legends around the temple say it was built by the king as a solution for his nightmares. Apparently, he had killed a brahmin, who noticed the mischiefs of the king, and was wracked with guilt. As per the advice of the astrologers of the royal court, the king constructed the temple in repentance.

Ramesh Kumar Magaji, a professional tour guide says “What attracts a modern visitor in both places is the resemblance of a temple with that of a Muslim-influenced architecture and vice versa”. Ramesh hails from Mysore and is a keen history enthusiast.

Both the mosque and temple are visited by folks of all kinds. Aside from being worship centres, these two places are also popular destinations for tourists and architecture enthusiasts. Ajai Kumar K S is a travel writer and Sridevi Narayanan is a Media Analyst/faculty

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