The legacy of Sidi Saiyyed

The external façade of the ITC Narmada is flanked with the strikingly beautiful reproduction of the Sidi Sayyid ni Jaali (lattice work carved on limestone). The word jaali which means an iron net in Urdu and Sanskrit refers to pierced screens, with a jaalidaar effect. They are a part of the Sidi Sayyid Mosque in the old city of Ahmedabad, and they bear the legacy of African, Moghul and Hindu architecture. The structure is an ode the African diaspora in India, whose forefathers were originally brought to India as slaves and maritime laborers. The descendants of these Africans rose to positions of power as military commanders in the armies of the sultans and became great patrons of art and architecture. Known as Sidis (or Siddis), or Habshis, from the Arabic-Persian word for “people from Abyssinia or Ethiopia,” one of them was Shaykh Sayyid al-Habshi Sultani, or Sidi Saiyyid, who constructed his mosque. [PK1] Built in 1573, the last year of the Gujarat Sultanate before the Mughals invaded, the mosque is one of the finest specimens of the prodigious architectural accomplishments of the Sidis in India. The architecture of the mosque is celebrated for the intricately carved filigree work on its jaalis. There are ten such curved, pierced screen that have two trees, a central one with a heavy trunk whose branches spread out over the whole area with an abundant growth of stems, off shoots, tendrils, leaves and floral motifs, and the second, a palm tree crowned by stylized palm leaves. The motif of the tree of life has a very ancient history and appears in almost all the past civilizations where it has been associated with a mythological and symbolic interpretation. Similarly, the palm tree by the Assyrians was known as the tree of life and stood for infinite life and victory. This finely wrought motif has become an unofficial symbol of Ahmedabad, India’s first UNESCO World Heritage city. By integrating this historical motif in its architecture, ITC Narmada truly roots the hotel to the city that harbours it..

References: Abbas, M. “Ornamental Jālīs of the Mughals and Their Precursors”.

Graves, J. (2019). Filling the Pot: The Remembrance of African Sufi Ancestor-Saints and the Reclamation of African Historical Heritage in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Journal of Africana Religions, 7(1), 94-104.

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