The land of Goa has always been in the fish bowl throughout history. Be it in the myth, the ancient history, the rule of the Portuguese or the present time. For centuries, it has been a haven and a transit point for rulers and traders. From the Bhojas to the Marathas and the Kadambas, dynasties and empires battled for control of Goa. Although the Mughals never set their foot on the Goan soil, yet there remains a mysterious link.
This link to the Mughals came through Sultan Muhammad Akbar, the fourth son of Aurangzeb. Physical evidence through the Namazgah Mosque of Bicholim backs this claim. The mosque was built atop a hill, to commemorate a battle that was fought by Akbar partnering Sambhaji, the Maratha ruler against the Portuguese. Maurice Hall in his book, ‘Window on Goa: A History and Guide’ mentions, “Another of some antiquity is the Namazgah Mosque, built high above Bicholim by prince Akbar, rebel son of the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb, to commemorate a battle which he and the Marathas led by Sambhaji, a treasonable combination, fought against the Portuguese here in 1683.” A similar view is also expressed by J M Richards in his book, ‘Goa’.
However, Mr. M S Deshpande, Superintendent Archaeologist, Directorate of Archives and Archaeology, Panaji, disagrees and on the contrary, states that the Portuguese had aided Akbar to escape to Persia or Mecca. He further informed that the Rathore leader Durgadas had requested Sambhaji to give political asylum to Akbar. How and why Akbar reached Goa, is an interesting story.
When Aurangzeb’s army had marched to attack the Rajputs of Jodhpur, Akbar and general Tahawwur Khan were ordered to bribe some Rajput nobles. But in these attempts they themselves were ensnared. The Rajputs pointed out to them that Aurangzeb’s attempt to annex their states was disturbing the stability of India. They also emphasised the fact that Aurangzeb’s policies were contrary to the traditions of their ancestors. Prince Akbar lent a willing ear and promised the Rajputs to restore the policies of the illustrious King Akbar I. Akbar proclaimed himself the emperor, issued a manifesto deposing his father, and marched towards Ajmer to fight him with a strong force of 25,000 cavalry.
The crafty Mughal emperor, knowing Akbar’s treachery, then wrote a false letter and arranged it in such a way that the letter could be intercepted by the Rajputs. In this letter, Aurangzeb congratulated Akbar for trapping the Rajput guerillas where they could be crushed by father and son together. The Rajputs sought an explanation. Seeds of suspicion were sown and the next morning Akbar woke to find his Rajput allies gone and his soldiers deserting him by the hour to Aurangzeb. The would-be emperor fled at the prospect of war with his father.
Today, the mosque is in a state of isolation. On a rectangular platform, it is placed in a corner and pillars line it on its right side. There is an interesting motif of a crescent moon on top of every pillar. One wall of the mosque carries a marble tablet on which words are inscribed in Urdu. In English they tell us that the IDGAH was repaired with the help of donations by Anjuman Itihad Committee of Bicholim Goa.
The mosque, owing to the height on which it is built, commands a spectacular view of Bicholim. However, the flight of steps and the mosque is in urgent need of repairs. “It is one of the most beautiful places. It is a place where you can bow your head to God,” remarks Mr. Deshpande.
Will the Department of Archaeology restore Namazgah to its former glory?
(A Version of this article appeared on GOA PLUS, a weekly supplement of the Times of India and the Economic Times, dt: November 2-8, 2007)