Afghan Church, What kind of name is it ?
Never in my wildest dreams I could have associated AFGHAN(Islamic Country) with CHURCH .
Kishe ne sach hi kaha hai ki Bade bade shahero me choti choti baate ho jati hai 😜
I was really intrigued by this weird combination which in turned fired up many more question in my mind.
Could it be possible fusion of Islamic and western culture something like Champaner near Vadodadra Where we saw amazing architectural influence of Islamic and Hindu culture together in form of Mosques and Chatris or Cenotaphs.
Ab jab sawaal man me utha hai tho uska jawaab bhi toh dondna padega na.
I had to find an answer to my question on Afghan Church and in order to do so ek visit toh banta hai boss and hence I did my preliminary research on google and set out for my weekend wanderings of this week
Afghan Church:One look and I realised how wrong I was because there was no Afghan but only church. That too angalic church which had a huge spire. So now the question arise why the name Afghan Church. If you hear the tragic tale behind the name it would bring tears to your eyes.
History: Afghan Church was built by British to commemorate the dead of the first Afghan war and the disastrous 1842 retreat of Kabul also known as Massacre of Elphinstone’s army .
This massacre was so brutal that more than 4500 troops of british army was lost along with the 12000 civilians. Despite agreement on the settlement of safe passage to the british troops, this massacre still happened as the Afghan tribals killed most of the retreating soldiers.Many people died because of frostbites and starvation.
The killing was so profound that out of the 16000 people from the coloum commanded by the Elphintone only one European and few Indians sepoys reached Jalalabad. The hardship encountered was such that around 2000 Indians many of known was maimed by the frostbite, survived and returned to Kabul to exist, by begging or were sold to slave trade.
We had just finished visiting Haji Ali Dargah and walked back to Mumbai Central Station from where we took local train to Churchgate station. Right outside the station there is a bus stop from where we took local BEST bus no 137 and got down at the Afghan Church stop. Just opposite the bus stop you see a tall spire nestled among the trees.
|Tall Spire of Afghan church
nestle among the ancient trees
The Tall spire of the church can be seen from long distance. The construction and architecture of this church is pioneer in the sense that it paved the way for the high Victorian building that later became the hallmark of British Colonial architecture.
|High Victorian style architecture
I was very excited to explore this church.Imagine staying in Mumbai for more than 50 years and yet I haven’t seen this place, well that’s the tale of almost many mumbaikar that we are unaware of such hidden treasures within our city.
|Yes I am excited to explore Afghan church
I was told that in olden days lots of British Soldiers used to come in this church to attend the Sunday Mass.
We crossed the road and entered the church complex, the lovely Banyan tree on the right of the church welcomed us and we saw few small children enjoying the swing on the hanging branches of the tree. I wanted to click them but they became conscious and ran away.
We then moved on to the main door of the church, which was unfortunately closed. I was very disappointed and after travelling so far I have to go empty handed.
|Closed Door ! Will I be going empty handed ?
Kahte hai na… jaha chah hai waha raha hai meaning where there is will there is a way !
Luckily for us, as we were clicking the exterior of the church, A batch of foreigners came at that time to visit this church. The guide along them went to the caretaker of the church, who stays next to the church. The caretaker came and opened up the Church for us with a rider that We must finish out visit in 10 minutes. We were ushered inside the church from the side door.
|Side door through which we entered
I quickly entered the church and I was quite impressed with what I saw. The wide Gothic arches and the colourful stained glass windows coupled with the pin drop silence of the church took my breath away.
|The Gothic Arches
Sitting at the church for hardly few moments I could feel the British era atmosphere all around me. I could see the Priest at the Lectern in his majestic robes and I could see the smartly dressed soldier with their wives sitting on the benches of the church listening to the Sunday sermon in my mind’s eye. This is the magic of visiting such ancient places.
|Can you see the priest…Well I saw !
The colourful stained glasses seems to narrate various episodes of bible I assumed. The light filtering in through these glasses seems to have hypnotic effect on me. It was difficult for me to take away my gaze from them.
|Colourful Stained Glasses
Then there are commemorative plaques something similiar to the ones we saw at St Thomas Cathedral in this church too that speaks poignantly of the Officers, NCOs and privates and their families who perished due to war and sickness during the troops withdrawal from Kabul through the snow bound passes. The Dead included both British and Indian soldiers.
|Daylight filtering through this colourful maze
The tiles of the floor were brought from England. The main corridor or Chancel as they call is 50 feet long and 27 feet wide and the huge spire that we see is 198 feet high.
|50 Feet long chancel
I was dazed as I came out the church. I decided to again went to the main door of the church. The beautiful door and the lobby outside it was decorated with colourful red flowers, being christmas time the aura of churches are of different league.
|Decorated Church Entrance Door
This church is actually the Church of St John the Evangelist however it is popular known as Afghan Church.Talking about the construction of this church, the imposing edifice were constructed using the locally available buff coloured basalt and limestone.
|Buff coloured basalt and limestone.
The church was opened to the public during the year 1858 by the Bishop of Bombay John Harding.
We spent some time exploring the outer side of the Church, took some photographs and bid our goodbye.
You may like this Churches of Mumbai Series : St Thomas Cathedral
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