Keeping it alive
I was glad to see some good changes in the Lahore Fort as I entered Jahangir’s Quadrangle, which is at the backside of Deewan-e-Aam. The running fountains, lush green lawns with seasonal flowers and new info graphs explaining the location caught my sight at once. This was a transformation and at last there was some colour filled into the brown tones of Lahore Fort.
Jahangir’s Quadrangle consists of many structures like Bari Khawabgah (sleeping chamber), Seh Dari building with three openings), Harem (guest houses), Dalaan and fountain areas. As per historic accounts the construction of this portion began during Emperor Akbar’s rule and was completed by Emperor Jahangir in 1617-18 AD at a cost of seven hundred thousand rupees. Historians claim that the sand-stone work depicting animal heads are the work of Akbar which echo his policy of tolerance for other religions especially Hinduism.
On the east and the west, the Quadrangle is surrounded by a row of dalans (doorways). The front of ‘dalans’ in red sand stone with richly carved columns and elaborate brackets in animal form is an exceptional paradigm of carved and sculptured stone work. There is a large garden inside the Quadrangle with a massive tank in the centre. The middle of the tank is occupied by a square marble platform called ‘mahatabi’ containing a shallow basin, with marble fountains. The numerous fountains playing in the tank greatly enliven the atmosphere of the quadrangle. These fountains were dead since long and this time the running system amused me. I could visualise the splendor of the original times with kings and queens roaming around and enjoying the fountains and ambiance.
On the east and the west, the Quadrangle is surrounded by a row of dalans (doorways)
The Lahore Fort underwent several changes in different rules. It was at its zenith during the Mughal rule but the following eras did not do much good to it. Talking about this quadrangle, during Sikh period the Bari Khawabgah area was used as Ranjit Singh’s harem. The haveli of Kharak Singh was added in this Quadrangle. We also see the entrance to the Sikh museum which is Princess Bamba’s collection from there.
During the British period, the garden in the Quadrangle was turned into a badminton court after filling up the tank and fountains. The sleeping chamber of Jahangir was used as an arms store. A hospital and a dispensary were established by the army in the Quadrangle. Each of the adjoining Dalans was converted into single residential unit, for the military officers. The garden was totally destroyed and became non-existent and the area in front of the Dalans originally designed and built as lawns was also converted into Badminton Courts. Both Seh Daris were also damaged and later one was completely destroyed.
After 1903 steps were taken to restore it. Some of the front dalans of Bari Khawabgah were re-roofed and due to some cracks in the arches a verandah was built in the front. Since the place was proposed for conversion into an armoury, some designed wooden doors were also fitted. The subterranean rooms adjoining this Bari Khawabgah were also cleared of dirt and mud to the original floor level in 1914-15 by the Archaeology Department during the British Period. During the same time the old foundation of the water tanks, mahatabi and paths along with fountains were also excavated and restored. The fountains, the tank and mahatabi which we now see existing in the centre of this Quadrangle is entirely new work which may better be termed as restoration by the British Archaeology Department.
After partition, some Lahoris led by Makki Brothers used to organise a ‘sound and light show’ only on Independence Day
After partition, some Lahoris led by Makki Brothers used to organise a ‘sound and light show’ only on Independence Day. At one stage there used to be deer and peacocks in the garden. This Quadrangle was also used for the VIP dinners and the musicians played instrumental music there. I wish this could also be revived. Now, some rooms in the dalans are used as offices, stores, library, toilets and laboratory of the Archaeology Department. One portion under the Haveli of Kharak Singh is also being used as the offices of Walled City of Lahore Authority. The Bari Khawabgah at present is serving as the Mughal museum, but does not meet the standards of an international museum. The Museum is low lit and dull even during the day. There should be a separate ticket for the museum with which it can be maintained and yes lighting should be improved immediately. Maybe the conservation of the Seh Dari is to be started soon as the documentation was being done when I was visiting the site.
I wish this entire place becomes a reflection the Mughal era. I suggest the authorities to have peacocks there with some other birds. The entire place should also be lit up and opened for night tourism, I am sure it will be a mind blowing experience. The dalans should be made exhibition centers or technical classes like painting and photography should be allowed in there. The best way to keep a place alive is to use it. At present the guest houses and parts of dalans are closed for public which do not give a pleasing feel. I hope I see these changes in my lifetime.