This Hindu builds mosques – the Hindu
Self-taught architect Govindan Gopalakrishnan built 110 mosques, 4 churches and a temple
A person looking at the skyline of any major city in southern Kerala is bound to stumble upon one of the minarets or dome designed by Govindan Gopalakrishnan.
From the imposing Beemapally Mosque on the coast of Thiruvananthapuram to the Taj Mahal-inspired Sheikh Masjid in Karunagappally, the 85-year-old self-taught architect in the world of whom religious barriers do not exist, has built more mosques than any other type of building. In nearly six decades, he built 110 mosques, 4 churches, a temple and several houses, earning him the name “man of the mosque”.
On his table are close copies of the Bhagwad Gita, the Koran, the Bible and other religious texts, almost like a reflection of his architectural background.
His approach to architecture began quite early when he was at school in the 1940s, tracing blueprints for buildings left by his father K. Govindan, a contractor, tracing papers he made by rubbing l coconut oil on white sheets.
“On weekends, I used to visit my father’s yards to see how these lines appeared in the original structure. I learned the basics of construction drawing from LASaldanha, an Anglo-Indian designer who worked with him. But, I could not undertake engineering or architecture studies as he wanted. Although I joined the FRIEND course later, I couldn’t complete it either. During this time, I worked as an unpaid apprentice with the building division of the Department of Public Works, working in the SAT hospital construction project, which helped me to learn the trade and techniques ”, explains Gopalakrishnan.
The journey to become ‘the man of the mosque’ began at Palayam in Thiruvananthapuram, a crossroads representative of the state’s communal harmony, with a mosque, temple, and church located next to one another. other.
When the Palayam Mosque committee decided to rebuild the mosque in the early 1960s, his father won the construction contract. He helped his father work on the design for TPKuttiamu, Kerala’s first chief engineer.
“During those days, the contractor didn’t get up front and we had to spend out of our pockets during the construction period. But, we couldn’t afford the same. I enlisted the help of PPChummar, for whom I was building a house. He readily accepted. Thus, the construction of the Palayam Mosque by Hindu architects began with the financial help of a Christian. I learned my lessons in community friendship during this time. The then Indian president, Zakir Hussain, inaugurated the mosque in 1967, ”recalls Gopalakrishnan.
Until that time, most of the mosques in the area were built in the Kerala architectural style with tiled roofs. The design of the Palayam Mosque, with a dome and minarets, inspired by the tomb of Safdarjung in Delhi, has also attracted requests from other mosque committees. In 1967, the Beemapally Mosque committee approached him to be the designer of its reconstruction.
“I was only 31 at the time and I was very happy. We didn’t have electricity at home at the time. I finished the drawing in a week, working on it day and night, under a lantern, after learning the basics of Indo-Saracen architecture from Indian Architecture (Islamic Period) by Percy Brown. The construction took 17 long years, because everything depended on donations, ”he says.
Although the lotus shape he used as a motif aroused minor controversies, the pastel pink-colored structure with a massive facade and huge domes is still beloved. Another of the great mosque reconstruction works he has undertaken has been the Vavar Mosque in Erumely, where pilgrims to the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple stop to pay their respects. He proposed design changes, including a covered veranda so that Hindu pilgrims could walk around the mosque without disturbing the Namaz.
His wish to build a church came true when he was hired to design Saint George’s Orthodox Church in Chandanapally in the district of Pathanamthitta, for which he drew inspiration from Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Near his home in Lenin Nagar in the capital is the chariot-shaped Alumkandam Bhadrakali temple, designed by him. Some of the mosques he designed can be found in Tirunelveli, Dindigul and in the Malabar region.
Community harmony also reigns inside his house, since he is married to N. Jaya, a Christian, and two of his three children are married to people of other religions or castes. In 2002, he launched “Manava Maithri”, a social organization to promote tolerance and fraternal relations between different communities. Currently, he has completed the first part of his book ‘Njan Kanda Quran’ (The Quran I Have Seen), based on his understanding of the Quran over the years.
“When I first suggested that some of the Arabic calligraphy in front of mosques should also be written in Malayalam, there was some opposition. Later, I managed to do it at Sheikh Masjid. I thought more people should know the beautiful teachings. My effort is to reduce the distance between communities and eliminate misunderstandings. There is a lot of unnecessary fighting for religion, ”says Gopalakrishnan.