What a lustrous name for any place of worship: Thousand Lights. This is a Shia mosque - indeed the main Shia centre in the state of Tamil Nadu - which shares the name with a locality of central Chennai.
This was the part of Madras where the Nawabs and other Muslim princes and people of influence had their mansions a couple of centuries ago. According to S. Muttiah's excellent Madras Rediscovered, it was a relative of the Nawab of Arcot who took to using a thousand oil lights to illuminate an assembly ground near here for Shia Muslims gathering during Muharram.
The mosque dates back to about 1820, but has been rebuilt in 1900, and modernised twice since then. While the glass and some other features look as if they are antique, in a city bursting with ancient places of worship this is not one of the oldest.
It was my own snooping that allowed me to chance upon the most surprising aspect of the mosque - a large, really well kept and exceptionally tranquil mukbara, a Muslim cemetery, in the grounds of the complex.
And amid the graves there was a solitary woman, lost in her own thoughts or memories - I wondered about her story, I'm wondering still ...
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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