The Mirror Palace | Pakistan Today

The Mirror Palace

Mughal culture reveled in great opulence

The chief features of Sheesh Mahal are gilt work (placing of pure gold), pietra dura work (inlay of semi-precious stones into white marble), marble perforated screens and the aiena kari (convex glass mosaic work) with monabat kari (stucco tracery)

The Royal Fort of Lahore is one of the extraordinary structures of its kind in the world. Located in the northwest corner of the walled city, the Fort is a mark of its earliest days. Roaming in the Lahore Fort you would listen the stories of love, adventure, beauties and attractiveness of queens and princesses in silk gowns and flowing dresses, Kings and Princes in armors and glittering crowns, warriors, slaves, soldiers, writers, poets, actors, revolutions, court intrigues and courtiers, courtesans, assassinations, castigation, coronations, and much more. Surely these tales would leave you breathless and mesmerised.

Walking through the majestic Jahangir’s quadrangle you can make your way to one of the magnificent buildings of Lahore Fort and no doubt the world, Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors. It is one of the most majestic palaces of the Mughal period. It was constructed under the supervision of Asif Khan for Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631-32 AD. There is a spacious hall in front with several rooms behind and on the sides. The palace formed the Harm (Ladies portion) of the fort. The rear chamber houses a marble screen beautifully carved out in tendril, floral and geometrical patterns.

The chief features of Sheesh Mahal are gilt work (placing of pure gold), pietra dura work (inlay of semi-precious stones into white marble), marble perforated screens and the aiena kari (convex glass mosaic work) with monabat kari (stucco tracery). The versatility of variegated marble stone slabs (Sang-e-Musa, Sang-e-Abri, Sang-e-Badal) added the beauty of spacious courtyard in front of the palace. The shallow water basin is constructed in the center of Mahal that comprises four jet fountains. The other buildings are connected with basin through the four water channels on each side. The mirror reflects the stars and the bedrooms presents, in its ceiling, the panorama of a star lit sky. The exterior wall of the Sheesh Mahal presents the beautiful mosaic paintings that depict everyday sport of the Mughal princes for the enjoyment of the people who used to gather below the fort not only to have a view of the emperor sitting in the Jharokha, but also to admire the brilliance of colours on the wall. Here one can observe the great art of that time in the form of galloping horses, humped camels, elephant ride, hunting scene, animal fights, horse man plying polo, camel fights, figures of angels, demon head sand moving clouds, horse and elephant riders crossing Swords and verities of floral and geometrical designs. From Sheesh Mahal, one can have a magnificent view of the Badshahi Mosque built by Aurangzeb and the Minar-e-Pakistan. At night, this view is really stunning. Mughal culture reveled in great opulence, and the perfection of craft used in the Sheesh Mahal, or Palace of Mirrors, epitomises the sumptuous reign.

The Sikh period saw major changes with Maharajah Ranjit Singh using the roof of Sheesh Mahal as a ‘harem’ where he would sit in style and display the ‘Koh-e-Noor’ jewel. The additional constructions carried out during the subsequent Sikh and British rules on the top of Sheesh Mahal added to the dead load that made the structure vulnerable to collapse. In 1904-05, the plaster from the ceiling of the main veranda fell apart, exposing the decay of internal wooden beams and the corroding roof. At that stage, the building was listed by the department of archaeology of British India in 1927 and the repair work was carried out. Similar problems arose in the 1960s and were resolved through minor repairs. In 1975, the Sheesh Mahal was listed as a protected monument under the Antiquities Act by Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology whereas in 1981, as part of the larger Lahore Fort Complex, it became inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was not until 2006 that the problems of the ceiling were comprehensively resolved and the structure was restored by foreign funding and experts of Department of Archaeology.

The Mughals had a special interest in the types of palaces that contained thousands of small mirrors in their design. This is the reason that the Agra Fort, Lucknow Fort, Ajmer Fort, Mehrangarh Fort, Rohtas Fort and Taj Mahal contained these types of palaces. The trend of mirror decoration is still running in Pakistan and India. Ceilings and walls are decorated with colourful mirrors in these countries.

At present the administration of the Lahore Fort is again documenting and studying the Sheesh Mahal in consultation with Aga Khan Trust for Culture so the building is conserved and prevented from other threats

At present the administration of the Lahore Fort is again documenting and studying the Sheesh Mahal in consultation with Aga Khan Trust for Culture so the building is conserved and prevented from other threats. The area of Sheesh Mahal at present is closed for the public and they can only visit the courtyard or the Naulakha Pavilion. My elders told me that in their childhood they were able to visit this palace at night as well and they would light up a match to see the light effect in all the mirrors. The walled city of Lahore authority is planning to open the fort at night but I guess this step involves a lot of homework and effort. If this is achieved I think Lahore Fort will again see a season of splendor and activity.



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