The Second Oldest Mosque in the World and a Temple Elephant Sanctuary: Post XXVI - Travels Amongst the Saint Thomas Christians of India


Cheraman Juma Masjid - Old Photo

A few kilometres away from the repulsive Christian site at Cranganore is the delightful Cheraman Juma Masjid Mosque. It was constructed by Malik Bin Deenar, a disciple of the Prophet, during Prophet’s lifetime. It is claimed (depending on how you make your list) to be the second oldest Mosque in the world being founded in the year 629AD. It is the oldest Mosque in India.

Arab traders settled in the area around the old port of Muzeris before the spread of Islam so one would expect that one of the earliest settlements of Muslims outside Arabia to be established here. This same trade route logic reinforces the earlier claims that the area saw settlements of Christians during the Apostolic Age and Jews during the Diaspora.


There is a legend that a Chera King,  Rama Varma Kulashekhara, witnessed the miraculous splitting of the moon (the famous miracle of the Prophet). Upon enquiring about its meaning he was told of the coming of a new messenger of God from Arabia. He travelled to Mecca, converted to Islam and was given the name Thajudeen, and upon his deathbed at Salalah in the Sultanate of Oman requested that his homeland be evangelised. Malik Bin Deenar was supposedly one of those sent to India to carry out the dying king’s request.

The current building has an extension on the front that is going to be removed and an underground prayer area built so the entirety of the old building can be seen.

Model of the origional Design

I was given an extensive tour and I can only say that I was most impressed by both the site, the erudition of the Imam and the conservation efforts for the future. I might also mention that, although I was in cassock, I could not have been treated with more respect, even being taken into the very heart of the structure to the holiest area. This is where the thousand year old oil lamp is kept burning.

Inside the Oldest Section

Inside the Oldest Section II

Inside the Mosque

The Temple Elephant sanctuary down the road is delightful. This is where the Hindu temple keeps all of its elephants and where the old elephants go to retire. There are over a hundred elephants here and, I believe, they each have their own mahout who looks after them.

Elephant Sactuary  I

Elephant Sactuary II

One of the regular activities is getting a bath. I can’t say I really ever tried to imagine how you would bathe an elephant but now I know how. There were at least a dozen getting a bath whilst I was visiting. I am not sure I have ever seen an animal look so contented.

Elephant Sactuary IV

Elephant Sactuary V

I also learned something new about elephants. It turns out if you condition them strongly enough when they are young it really sticks. For example if you chain their legs so they can only take short strides, you can remove the chains after a couple of years and they will always take the same strides as if they were still chained. In the next two photographs you will notice that with both this male and female they have a iron rod placed behind their ear. When they were young they were conditioned (read severely scolded) to not let this rod or stick fall to the ground. Thus the mahouts do not need a fence to keep the elephants in with. All they need is a long stick or rod to place behind the elephants ear and it will not move from the spot where it has been left.

Elephant Sactuary VI

Elephant Sactuary VII