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It was from Sunehri Masjid—273 years ago this month—that the Persian invader Nader Shah watched the massacre of Delhi.

In his book The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, British author Michael Axworthy writes: “On the morning of 22 March, Nader mounted his horse and rode from the palace to the Roshan-od-Dowala mosque (the former name of Sunehri Masjid). As he arrived there with his men about him, some people threw stones from balconies and windows around the mosque, and a shot was fired, killing an officer beside him. He had already made up his mind, but this final insult may have added fury to Nader’s frustration. He went to the roof of the mosque and stood by the golden domes, looking out over the houses, shops and roof of the Chandni Chowk district. He ordered that no one should be left alive in any part where any of his soldiers had been killed, and then drew his sword as a signal that the massacre should begin."

Sunehri Masjid at Chandni Chowk is barely visible from the street.

Every Delhi guidebook recommends a walk in Chandni Chowk, a shopping street designed by Shahjahan’s daughter Jahanara. At the end of the walk, the scholarly traveller, who perhaps comes to Chandni Chowk to sketch the pattern of the haveli jaalis (latticework) or to study the British influence on Mughal architecture, might remember nothing but the bazaar’s pushy hawkers, made-in-China goods, “the old and famous jalebiwallah" and perhaps the golden arches of McDonald’s. It is possible to miss stately sights like the Central Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in north India. It is almost impossible to spot Sunehri Masjid.

Facing the busy thoroughfare of Bhai Mati Das Chowk, the mosque is barely visible from the street. Its signature domes are overshadowed by the surrounding buildings. It is less known than Fatehpuri Masjid, the mosque at the other end of the Mughal-era shopping district.

Built in 1722 by a Mughal nobleman called Roshan-ud-Daulah, the mosque was repaired by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal, in 1852. It has three courtyards. One looks to the traffic square. Another faces the Seesganj gurudwara, a shrine built on the site where Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh guru, was beheaded on the orders of emperor Aurangzeb. The last courtyard is set deeper inside the mosque. It is quieter.

The mosque stands on a 2.1m-high platform. A narrow staircase leads to the marble courtyard. The prayer space has three chambers, corresponding to the domes of the mosque. Copies of the Quran are placed in niches. The chambers open only during prayer hours. At other hours, the resident maulana unlocks the doors on request.

In the usually empty mosque, the sounds of Chandni Chowk appear to come from some distant land. Sitting in the courtyard is like being in a quiet refuge.

This place played its part in a significant episode of Delhi’s history and since then has remained a recluse.

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