Because it lies nearby the Secretariat of Kerala, Palayam Juma Masjid has garnered political importance as it is reckoned as the centre of civil society interactions of the Muslim community in the state of Kerala. Walk Board, under the government of Kerala, doles out money for staff salary and mosque administration. However, not only its location, but its magnificent and imposing architecture has contributed to its fame. The brain and vision of the Masjid is, indeed, that of TP Kuttiammu Sahib.
Of the historical significance of the architecture of the Masjid, Kuttiammu Sahib later wrote: “The finest specimen of Mughal period (Indo-Saracen architecture) which was adopted to Kerala conditions is the Juma’ Masjid at Palayam, Trivandrum. In two floors, it provides facilities for a congregation up to 2500 people. It is a terraced building with two 30 meter high miners in front and 10 meter dome on the roof. The doorway is surmounted by magnificent arches and embellished with superb Arabic calligraphy and features copied from the Taj Mahal at Agra and the Juma Masjid at Delhi. The dome is reminiscent of the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur and the windows are protected with balconies following the style of Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. The grills resemble those found in diwan-i-khas and the diwan-i-am. The lotuses, flowers and other decorative motifs follow the very best Mughal traditions. Even the colour scheme of crimson and ivory produces the effect of the red stone and marble of the Delhi Juma’ Masjid. Yet while exterior is so richly decorated, the interior is severely simple and plain, doing nothing to detract the attention of worshippers from their prayer. Variations on this theme can also be found at Tellichery, Kozhikode, Palghat, Cochin, Alwaye, Cannanore, Ullal and Bhatkal.
Kuttiammu Sahib gave inspiration, guidance and supervision for the construction of all Masjids in these regions.
His journalistic career started with the publishing of a magazine titled “Sasthravicharam”, which was aimed at promoting scientific thought in the society, to which he regularly contributed articles. Even when he was suffering from illness in 1987, the year in which he died, he wrote articles for the magazine. Also, under the guidance of late Prof. NV Krishna Varrier, doyen of Malayalam literature, an editorial board was formed to start the publication of Islamika Darsanam, a magazine which was aimed at introducing contemporary Islamic thought to Malayalam readers. Later he became the managing editor of Chandrika. Many illustrious writers in north Kerala fondly remembers the guidance, influence and help that Kuttiammu Sahib rendered to them at the budding stage of their literary career.
In 1970’s and 80’s Muslim interaction in the civil society was guided by a number of associations, which served as advisory councils for the social and cultural advancement of the community. The idea of forming associations and starting seminars was first mooted by Kuttiammu Sahib and he formed the Trivandrum Muslim Association while he was the chief engineer in the state. The association later ran a hostel for working men and students. Similar associations and advisory councils were formed in Kozhikode and Thalasseri. He formed Islamic Centre at Civil Station in Kozhikode, which engineered dynamic literary and cultural activism in north Kerala, which was exemplary for the whole state. Under his stewardship, the centre developed a then-full-fledged library and became an arena for literary and social thinking.
He was instrumental in the formation of All India Muslim League, a political platform aimed at being a corrective to the policies and activities of Indian Union Muslim League. Indian Union Muslim League is, arguably, the most representative Muslim political body in India which has roots in Kerala. Often, Indian democratic politics is such that the party drifts away from its hallowed principles and objectives due to the power mechanism in society. Kuttiammu Sahib felt the need for the formation of a democratic political body which steers Muslim League to its true purpose. That idea is still relevant today
The society that Kuttiammu Sahib envisaged and the politics he became involved in were an extension of his larger personality, his worldview and his professional commitment. For a good architect and engineer, or for any professional for that matter, work is a metaphor. They see in their activities and the decisions they are making, a microcosm of the larger world, of the entire universe. So it can be expected from a man who was instrumental in the civilisational mission of his country by building dams in its infancy to lay the bricks and mortar for an organic society where all its members work together in an organic whole. For Kuttiammu Sahib, social involvement was primarily community building, i.e. to make his community vibrant and verdant, having a unity in their aspirations while being different and diverse in beliefs and ideas, having a healthy internal core while brimming with a multitude of creative expressions, having a potent spiritual energy while being realistic on its ways and actions.
The active youth of Kuttiammu Sahib was in sync with the vibrant youth of the Muslim community in the post-independent India. Having to face the partition and the internal division, the Muslim community in India had to stand on a firm structure of its own identity so as to creatively contribute to the nation in the making. What can a talented engineer, famed as the father of irrigation projects and appointed as the first planning engineer of the Kerala state, do for that creative outburst of the community? An answer to this question lies in a couple of engineering and design projects that Kuttiammu Sahib has overseen. Masjids and institutions which were designed under Kuttiammu Sahib’s guidance and supervision reflect the historical and creative ethos of the community.
Firstly, his preference for Indo-Saracen architecture for Masjids and institutions was the zeitgeist among the Progressive and traditionally moored Muslim intelligentsia in the subcontinent. When the British had changed their capital to Calcutta, they abhorred Indo-Saracen style which they had so far kept intact for colonial institutions. But Indo-Saracen was one of a few Mughal legacies that existed at that time. The word Saracen, used to denote Arab or Muslim at the time of Crusades, is a derivative of the Arabic word šarq (شرق) meaning east or orient. The Arabs mean “people in the Syrian desert or the Central Asian Province” when they use Saracens. After Babar, a descendent of Mongolian Timur, came to India, as a Central Asian king, the dynasty he founded blended the Saracen architecture, whose patterns are evident in countries like Russia, with the Indian elements. So the readiness to adopt and adopt as well as for confluence and harmony is well reflected in the Indo-Saracen style as well as the religious ideals and visions of most of the Mughal rulers. After the British under George V chose not to adopt Indo-Saracen for the new capital, the intellectuals based in Aligarh elaborately used it. The style stood as metaphor for the diversity of Islam with an underlying motif of the Unity of Tawhid. When Kuttiammu Sahib reconstructed the old Military Masjid in Trivandrum in 1967 (the word Palayam is a military register in Malayalam and the mosque was called Pattalam-Army-Palli), he renamed it Masjid Jahan Nama, thereby evoking the Mughal symbolism.
But 21 years earlier, in 1948, Kuttiammu Sahib prepared a master plan of the Tirurangadi Orphanage, which made him one of the pioneers in Indo-Saracen design. He was orienting the prime welfare institution of the Muslim community towards the Muslim history that well reflected the symbiosis and tolerance of Islam. Also, he was instrumental in creating an ideal design for Farook College, which was constructivist in attitude in style, contrary to the consumerist approach of demolishing old structures and erecting multi-storied buildings now in vogue. He retained the old edifice of the Farook Arabic College and built a new college in front. Also when he was creating the masterplan of the Thalasseri Stadium Mosque and the Calicut Palayam Mosque, he elevated the Indo-Saracen craft to its full efflorescence.
We can’t bracket Kuttiammu Sahib’s oeuvre under the rubric of Indo-Saracen in a perfunctory manner. He adapted the style to his own vision of the community and of the direction it must take as part of its civilisational mission. We can say that his design was more eclectic than Indo-Saracen. He used the traditional minarets to the realisation of their utility in the region, as a holder of loudspeakers so that Azan and important announcements can be made louder. He said: “Masjids should accommodate madrassas, Islamic nursery schools, Shadi Mahals, auditorium, Qutub Khana, space for study classes and handicraft training; for all utilities as a whole.” (A plan of action for Reconstruction of Jama’at). This utilitarianism does not go in accordance with the flamboyant motive of the Indo-Saracen design and has to be minimalist in conception so that the space should allow for all utilities. However, the utilitarianism was fully in accord with nascent aspiration of the Muslim community as a community which has to grow by knowledge and has to contribute to the growth knowledge. That was how, Kuttiammu Sahib said, Muslims should mark their identity in the nation state.
So he envisaged a library as part of all Masjids. He wanted to promote diversity of the Masjids by making the space for study classes and debating centres an ideal space for debate and dialogue. He envisaged distribution of the print-outs of Qutubas (Friday Sermons) one week in advance and to promote active questioning and learning. The Muslim Associations that he founded mainly aimed for the growth of knowledge and for a community constantly in dialogue. The library and Islamic centre at Civil Station Masjid is a standing testimony of that vision. He also envisaged a turf around the burial chambers (qabaristan) so that those who sleep there and those who visit their kith and kins have a spiritual ambience all around.
One has to see the Masjid-Cultural Centre complexes in countries like US to understand how far-sighted Kuttiammu Sahib was.
Kuttiammu Sahib was instrumental in the formation of All India Muslim League, a political platform aimed at being a corrective to the policies and activities of Indian Union Muslim League. Indian Union Muslim League is, arguably, the most representative Muslim political body in India which has roots in Kerala. Often, Indian democratic politics is such that the party drifts away from its hallowed principles and objectives due to the power mechanism in society. Kuttiammu Sahib felt the need for the formation of a democratic political body which steers Muslim League to its true purpose. That idea is still relevant today.
When he was a journalist for a brief period of time (as managing editor of Chandrika and as founder editor of Sasthravicharam), he tried to craft in word his vision of community renaissance and a reformist vision inspired by tradition and civilisational utility. The book that Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer wrote under his inspiration, Ormayude Arakal, is a testimony of that vision. He was an inspiration for the many writings of his friend, Muttanisseril Koyakkutty Moulavi for whose translation of Imam al Gazzali’s Mishqat al Anwar Kuttiammu Sahib wrote a foreword. When he was the managing editor of Chandrika, many illustrious writers in north Kerala basked in the guidance, influence and help that Kuttiammu Sahib rendered to them at the budding stage of their literary career. Also, under the guidance of late Prof. NV Krishna Varrier, doyen of Malayalam literature, an editorial board was formed to start the publication of Islamika Darsanam, a magazine which was aimed at introducing contemporary Islamic thought to Malayalam readers.
He earnestly attempted to leave his knowledge and thought to the service of society. To keep working hard and not to take rest for rest’s sake has been his peculiar strength. He never used a reclining chair. And his children and relatives attest to that. He said, it is those who want to live easy always use easy chairs. Those who keep working will never be satisfied with easy chairs
Late Prof V Muhammad Retd. Principal, Farook College
I found him committed to the cause of people. His integrity was unimpeachable. He loved people, served them and derived satisfaction from their welfare. I found him cheerful of spirit and serious-minded, capable of managing his subordinates and satisfying the agricultural community by merging with them.
Late VR Krishna Iyer Former Judge Supreme CourtView all