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Timings : 5:30 AM - 9:00 PM

Time Required : 1-2 hours

Entry Fee : No entry fee

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Thousand Lights Mosque, Chennai Overview

The Thousand Lights Mosque of Royapettah, Chennai is among the most esteemed mosques of the city as well as the state of Tamil Nadu. Built in the early 19th century by the Wallajah family of the Carnatic rulers, it is till date a popular gathering place for the daily prayers and festive occasions like Muharram. The site gets its name from the legend that to illuminate the entire prayer hall, right about a thousand oil lamps used to be lit back in the days. One can only imagine how beautiful that outline must have looked against the dark black sky.

The mosque is built in the traditional Islamic pattern with domes and high minarets. It has a large prayer hall for men and a separate smaller one for women. The shrine or Dargah of the mosque is dedicated to Imam Hossein, the grandson of the first prophet Muhammad and a revered figure of the Shia Muslims around the world. The walls of the grand mosque are ornamented with lines taken from the Quran.

The Thousand Lights Mosque is respected among all the Muslim sects, but it is of special significance for the Shia Muslims as it is the home to the chief of the Shia sect of Tamil Nadu. It also has a burial ground inside for the Shia Muslim families. Albeit the mosque is visited throughout the year by men and women offering prayers. It lights up with more noise and grandeur during the revered month of Muharram and even more so on the day of Annual Muharram Festival.

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Legend of Thousand Lights Mosque

It is said that during the times for prayers, the entire assembly hall needed as many as thousand lamps to be fully illuminated. This where the mosque gets its name from, many people believe. However, some others say that a thousand lamps were gifted by the Indian National Congress when they visited the city. It was called Madras back then.

History of Thousand Lights Mosque

The foundation of the Thousand Lights Mosque was laid by Nawab Umdat-ul-Umrah of Wallajah dynasty, the ruler of the Carnatic State under the Mughal Empire in the end 1700’ and early 1800s. His real name was Ghulam Hussain Ali Khan, but Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II later awarded him the title. This happened because of the intervention of Robert Clive, thanks to their family's staunch support to the British East India Company. This gave the Nawab a strong foothold in the Carnatic areas during the rise of the British and subsequent fall of almost every other independent empire.

Before the mosque was built, the spot where it now stands used to be the gathering ground for Shiite Muslims. They assembled here during the month of Muharram to say their daily prayers. Noticing this practice, the Nawab donated the 3 acres land to the people, and the assembly hall was built. The ruler's family later followed it up by the erection of the full-fledged mosque in 1810 a few years after his death. A second mosque was added in the premise in 1981. It has two tall minarets and five concave domes.

Significance of Thousand Lights Mosque

The Thousand Lights Mosque is one of the most significant and revered places of Islamic worship. It is an important spot of pilgrimage for all the Muslim devotees of Tamil Nadu, especially the people who follow the Shia sect of Islam. The locals believe that the Shia followers, who live in the vicinity of the mosque and the entire neighbourhood of Royapettah, belong to the Ahl al-Bayt. It translates in English to the phrase "the People of the House" or "Family of the House". The term refers to the direct bloodline of the first Islamic prophet and founder, Muhammad. This mosque is like headquarter of Shiite Muslims within the state. Tamil Nadu's Shia Chief Ghazi Maulana Ghulam Mahadi Khan resides here and also has his office.

Architecture of Thousand Lights Mosque

The Thousand Lights Mosque follows a typical medieval Islamic architecture. The original building has the usual multiple round domes and high minarets. It was the one which was built for the men who gathered there to say their prayers. However, in 1981, another bigger mosque was added to the premises. The looming main structure of this mosque has five inward curving on its roof - one large in the middle and four smaller domes on the four corners, an architectural influence of the middle east. Its towering minarets rise to a height of 64 feet above the above the ground.

On the ground floor of the mosque is the main hall where men offer their daily namaz and gather on occasions. There is a separate room for women. On the second floor, the sanctum sanctorum of the mosque is present, which in common tongue is called Dargah. There are two sanctuaries in that floor. One belongs to Imam Hossein, the prophet's grandson and the other to Abul Fazl al-Abbas, the son of Ali. Though the old mosque looks a bit worn out and dilapidated compared to the newer and grander one, it has the archaic charm once you step inside. Several walls of the Thousand Lights Mosque are scripted with the texts from the Holy Book of Islam, the Quran. There is also a Shia burial ground inside the mosque premises.

Muharram Celebration at Thousand Lights Mosque

Muharram is by far the most popular festival of Muslims, not just here but all-over the world. However, unlike the major festivals of other religion, this is not a merry one. The first day of Muharram marks the Muslim New Year and the tenth day is the date of the Karbala carnage where Muhammad's grandson Imam Hossein gave his life.

On the Annual Muharram Festival Day on the tenth, the followers mourn the death of Imam Hossain and participate in a communal grievance, or matam. Even though the occasion is tragic, the mosque looks very beautiful with all the lights and the gathering of people in whites on the day of Muharram.

Tips For Visiting Thousand Lights Mosque

  • Remove your shoes before entering the mosque. Look around if there are any shoe counters which would keep your shoes safe in exchange for reasonable rates.
  • Cover as much skin as possible - it is applicable for both men and women. Dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees.
  • Be quiet and respectful if you are there to see the architecture and not to pray, because many people will be there for spiritual purposes.

How To Reach Thousand Lights Mosque

Within the city of Chennai, it is very easy to get conveyance to get to the Thousand Lights Mosque. It is located in central Chennai in the Royapettah neighbourhood in Anna Salai, right near the Peters Road and Mount Road crossing. It is quite well known and a landmark for the surrounding places. Any public transport, hired vehicle or cabs will take you there.

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