In an unassuming side street of an old residential area in Sonipat is a hidden gem and remnant of the past. Durga Mandir of Mohalla Kalan in Sonipat is still popularly known as Badi Masjid (big/greater Mosque). The latter should give an insight into the former life of this Mandir, which once was a Masjid. Even today looking at the exterior of this mandir it could quite easily be confused for a masjid. It stands tall and looks grand in the red stone façade with a courtyard for Friday prayers which probably attracted many of the local Muslims in pre-partitioned Punjab. Apart from the obvious changes of installing flags and idols, the three main domes and minarets are easily identifiable with that of a small Juma masjid.
Like many other places of East Punjab, the Muslims of Sonipat migrated to Pakistan, leaving behind their homes and places of worship. These were quickly claimed by the incoming Hindus and Sikhs. Muslims were often the second largest group in these areas. For example, Muslims were significantly present in cities like Hissar (28%), Gurgaon (34%), Karnal (32%) and Ambala (32%) Rohtak (17%); all of these are part of present-day Haryana State. Most of the Muslims abandoned their homes in the ensuing violence of August 1947 and fled to Pakistan. Similarly, in Pakistan, many of the old abandoned religious (Gurdwaras and mandirs) buildings were converted/neglected by the incoming populations to be utilised for their own purposes. See link below for more about this.
In this case, the masjid has been converted into a Durga Mandir, a temple for worshiping Goddess Durga. It is now known as ‘Sri Sanatan Dharm Sabha Panji Durga Mandir.’ The Goddess Durga assumes the central position in the mandir and is surrounded by other deities; outside in the courtyard is an encased idol of Baba Sai. The dome interior has recently been filled to mask the obvious Islamic style architecture but the exterior remains as before. The link below provides further information on the Badi Masjid but more interesting are the photos. The short article was posted in October 2015, and the pictures shared are quite different from when I went to visit the site recently. The interior now has been changed to hide all signs of its former existence as a masjid. The pictures from 2015 show the perfect domes and remnants of frescoes and tiling from before. The fact that much of the interior has been transformed in the past two years is telling of the Hindutva agenda prevailing in the region.
Sonipat in August 1947 was a small city in united Punjab, then it became a city in East Punjab and eventually a part of Haryana after the reorganisation of East Punjab in 1966. There is little in the history books about the intervening years before it became part of Haryana, yet a lot has changed in this area. Looking at Sonipat today, it is difficult to tell that this historic city was once communally diverse with Punjabi Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. Today it feels very much like a Hindu city. Perhaps the latter is more of a reflection of the current climate in India. But hidden away are these old structures that remind us of a different time and a different history.
Read further about Sonepat’s Badi Masjid and see pictures from 2013. http://www.gounesco.com/badi-masjid-sonipat/
Pakistan’s long forgotten Hindu temples and gurdwaras. http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15785/pakistans-long-forgotten-hindu-temples-and-gurdwaras/