Obvious but unnoticed
Imagine the life in the Makatib Khana… Travelers coming in fort, registering their names with the clerks, wearing flowing robes and colourful headgears, to meet the royals and nobles of the fort, taking gate passes and moving on to the desired place. There must have been strict security checks, guards greeting people and accompanying them to parts of fort and telling them to leave by the time fort gates would close. Lahore Fort World Heritage Site is a collection of wonders. Once you enter in this mighty fort you will come across breathtaking monuments and palaces aging to antiquity.
Let me take you to this unique place inside this fort. The place is still unnoticeable despite being on the face of the fort. As you enter Lahore Fort you will come across a strange building on your left in the garden areas. That is the Makatib Khana. The Makatib Khana is a small cloistered court immediately adjacent to the Moti Masjid. The word Makatib Khana means a clerk’s room, or a secretariat. According to historic references this was a place where clerks (muharirs) recorded entry into the fort. A Persian inscription fixed on the façade of the vestibule tells that the palace was built under the orders of the emperor Jahangir in the year AH 1027 (1617) and under the superintendence of the architect Ma’mur Khan. The inscription which is carved in exquisite Nasta liq characters on the marble slab, English translate read as:
“In the twelve occasion of the blessed accession of his imperial majesty, the shadow of God, a Solomon in dignity, Kayumars in state, An Alexander in arms, the asylum of the Khlilafat emperor Nur ud din, son of emperor Jalal ud din, champion of the faith, corresponding with 1027, the building of the auspicious was completed under the superintendence of most humble disciple and slave, the devoted servant, Mamur Khan.”
The Makatib Khana is the special formation of Mughal emperors and best known historic part within Lahore Fort. The monument is a witness of the incomparable use of spaces, valued formation, and application of geometric proportions during the eminent era of Mughals. It is completely a sole combination of history, culture and architecture.
The massive entrance has central arched openings towards the east. It faces an open courtyard, square on plan and having oblong vaulted chambers on the east, west and north. Yet another high arched way leads to the main court of the Moti Masjid Quadrangle on its north. Presently the Makatib Khana is a single story building containing an open courtyard (19mx19m) in the middle of building. The structure of the Makatib Khana is built with the brick masonry and lime mortar.
According to a recent study conducted by the Walled City of Lahore Authority, it is observed that the entire structure of the Makatib Khana is suffering from serious threat and damages. The experts of the authority said that during visual inspection the majority of damages found in the form of cracks, and solemn leaning at northeast corner. They said that considering the fact and venerability of the structure, it is important for the stability and prolonging of the structure all threats and damages to the structure both at macro and micro scale should be addressed and encountered before transforming structure into worsen condition. The remains of the historic flooring, patterns and renders are in dilapidated condition need to be rectified by following given standards of conservation.
Let me tell you a little about the fort as well. The Lahore fort is a reflection of many centuries. The earliest reference to the fort comes in a history of Lahur (Lahore) compiled by Al-Biruni, which refers to a fort constructed in the early 11th century. He further notes that Munshi Sujan Rae Bhandari, author of the Khulasatut Tawarikh in 1695-96 AD, records that Malik Ayaz, a favourite of Sultan Mahmud, built a masonry fort at Lahore and repopulated the city. Khan believes it is the same fort that was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241 and in 1398 by a detachment of Timur’s army after which it was rebuilt again in 1421 by Sayyid, son of Khizr Khan.
Mughal emperor Akbar the great demolished the earlier mud fort and re-built it in burnt brick in 1566. Akbar’s successors, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb added several buildings to the fort. The fort has almost 21 different buildings in it. Those lying in the northern half are grouped in four blocks or quadrangles. Lahore fort is the only monument in Pakistan which represents a complete history of Mughal architecture and the eras following it.
Makatib Khana is one of the most important buildings inside Lahore fort but previous conservation schemes for the Fort did not cater to it. I am happy that now the Walled City Lahore Authority (WCLA) has acknowledged the importance of the monument and has taken up the task of its conservation. I see that if once it is conserved to its original glory, the place will be a marvel for tourists. It can be converted into a crafts bazaar, different institutes should be allowed to come and hold their field classes in these rooms and trust me it will be exiting. Different cultural activities should also be a part of Makatib Khana once it is conserved so that this dead place should come alive. It will also be interesting if the tour route by the authority is designed in a manner that the tourists enter the fort and take route from the gorgeous building of Makatib Khana to Jahangir’s Quadrangle and even Sheesh Mahal. There can also be costumed characters in this place that can welcome the tourists as clerks of the fort and file their name in a register and give them a receipt as a souvenir. If we go abroad such gimmickries are often seen but I feel no one here in Pakistan is interested to develop such interest at heritage sites. Let’s see what wonders touch the fort with this conservation.
(photography by Fareed Ahmed Khan)