Architect Vikas Dilawari painstakingly restores a 100 year old Durgah that now stands out as a subtle landmark in Mumbai.
Most would be familiar with the iconic Haji Ali Dargah in the mumbai harbour – the newly restored Ma Haji Ani Dargah is located diagonally opposite the Haji Ali Dargah on the landward side.
Built in 1908 by the Yusuf family, this Dargah is situated on a hilly outcrop, which has today been painstakinlgy restored by architect Vikas Dilawari. This mausoleum belongs to the sister of Haji Ali and is called Ma Haji Ani; the word ‘Ma’ being added as a mark of respect.
It has a watch tower like status that provides a panoromic view of the entire bay which it overlooks. It is cladded on all sides with an Ashler retaining wall and stands out like a landward fort facing the sea with the Durgah perched on top of it.
Prior to the World War, there was a lot of change in architectural vocabulary in Mumbai. There was a shift from Gothic Revival to Indo Saracenic, which was more responsive to the climate with the introduction of chajjas, jaalis and other elements that serve functional needs. The advent of Indo-Saracenic was more contextual to religion.
What is unique about this building is that there are traces of colonial architecture which you see in the ‘Double Pilasters’.
Even composite capitals are present in the Pilaster. The use of minarets, parapets, chajjas, brackets, multi-foil arches makes the overall characteristic very Indian and Islamic. However, it is a unique experiment with western elements and Indian elements placed together seamlessly without disturbing the overall compostion.
It also has a very distinctive dome which is rectangular, shaped almost like a submarine. The ornate petals that are present here are also very similar to the petals you see at the iconic Prince of Wales Musuem in Mumbai. It is believed that perhaps the architect would have been the same or would have trained with George Whittat, who was the architect of the museum.
Vikas Dilawari wanted to follow the use of like to like materials to get back the orginal autheticiity of the Durgah, which he managed to do over a period of four years. He went to special carvers in Palitana who helped him replicate the original pieces in limestone.
He has kept the old patina as much as possible and opted for lime wash and traditional materials wherever he could. Where stone repairs were required due to chipping or missing of elements, he has used a process referred to as ‘dentistry repairs’, a technique similar to how a dentist fills in a gap, which in this case is done with mortar, using the stone dust of the same material.
The flooring of the durgah has a typical geometry which is very exact in nature, a characteristic observed in many Isalmic structures. Also discreet lighting has been introduced to illuminate the durgah, ensuring that it stands out as a subtle landmark and not where it is shouting for attention.
“The first credit of this whole space goes to the orginal architect which is unknown so salutes to that person. What we were trying to do was to follow the principal of second man, trying to respect what the first person created,” says Vikas Dilawari.
The conservation team of Vikas Dilawari Architects were confronted with major structural problems, the minarets were out of plumb, the porch was in a precarious condition. However, these challenges were gradually overcome without trying to rush into things or overdo the effort.
A process of minimum intervention was adhered to that respected the first person’s creation, to finally create a special place of worship that can once again be patronised by citizens of Mumbai.
Vikas Dilawari recently shared a keynote at the Roca Think Turf event in Ahmedabad. Partnered by Design Owl, Roca Think Turf is a series of architectural conversation that takes place across India. These exchanges aim to create a fellowship of thought leaders to deliver a better environment through a process of inquiry, dialogue and action.