The trading hub of Colombo, Pettah nestles street shops, payment hawkers and a sea of people. The hustle and bustle this city slows down only after late evening. Among the multitude of commercial landscapes, on 2nd Cross Street lies a unique mosque often dubbed “the Red Mosque”.
To the ordinary layman what differentiates this building of historical importance is the use of red in the structure. However, the mosque has a larger than life history behind it and here’s a little more on it.
Construction of this holy edifice commenced in 1908 at a time when such buildings were scarce. Sri Lanka, then under the British rule, had trade and commerce flourishing only to a selected few. South Indian Muslim Traders in the adjacent property were responsible for the creation of this edifice. Did you also know that this gigantic task was handed over to a mason with no formal qualifications in architecture?
Legend has it that he depended on black and white photographs given by the traders to design the mosque. Named, Saibo Lebbe there is a plaque in honour of his work affixed to the building. The present-day mosque improved upon the original design and can accommodate almost 10,000 devotees. It is now six floors high and as in 1908, could be seen from the port.
The Red Mosque – also known as the Jami-Ul-Alfar or “Rathu Palliya” in Sinhala for obvious reasons is predominantly red in colour. Red and white bricks pair up the exterior and interior of the mosque. The interior walls and ceiling are painted white, golden and green. The prayer mats complement the exterior with red and white shades. Over the period of time, the Mosque (Masjid) has grown architecturally without changing its original character. There are many places in Sri Lanka, that has immense architectural value. The Red Mosque is one of them.
Once inside, the open-to-sky hall is enveloped around a fleet of steps. The interior is ornate with wooden ceilings atop wooden carvings. Also, regal wooden stairways and red and white painted pillars dominate the interior structure. A highlight of the interior is the blue-tiled pool.
Those who visit Sri Lanka should plan a day inner city tour in the commercial capital as well. Apart from visiting the Red Mosque, one can visit Pettah to see traditional shops, hunt for bargains and buy cheap apparel. While doing so, a visit to the Dutch Museum and the Hindu temples of 1st Cross Street and Sea Street could round off the city tour. Also, a visit to the Saint Anthony’s Shrine, in Kochchikade is a possibility.
The Masjid is open for visitors between 10 in the morning and 12 noon. It is advised to dress appropriately as this is a place of worship. It’s possible for women to enter and look around as tourists. Women should be aware that one will need to cover hair and arms and legs before entering. One must be respectful of religious customs if you plan to enter and enjoy this architectural wonder.