‘The minarets, the domes, the arches, the mosaics on walls and floors and, of course, the calligraphy cast in stone on the walls are all a visual delight – a testimony to the superior craftsmanship and unalloyed devotion of those who painstakingly put together those marvels.’
A living example of an extraordinary mix of the new and medieval and ancient architecture, Lahore is home to hundreds of years old architecture in the form of historical monuments and mosques with its many centuries-old havelis and houses in the labyrinthine Walled City as well as its more modern outskirts narrating a story of their own.
Since the mosque has not just been a place of worship but also a cornerstone of the society all over the Muslim world, some of the most beautiful architectural specimens and artistic expressions can be seen here, all laid out in perfect symmetry that is not just an aesthete’s delight but also holds ordinary beings in thrall too.
‘From 1524 to 1752 as a proud part of the Mughal empire, Lahore touched the zenith of its glory. Renowned as great builders, Mughals gave Lahore some of its finest architectural monuments, many of these extant today… Such was Lahore’s splendor that in his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, the Cromwell era poet John Milton, mentions it in the same breath as some of the most renowned cities.’
Milton: To Agra and Lahore of Great Mogul…
The historical mosques of Lahore are without a doubt an architectural wonder, for these so obviously reflect the feelings, emotions and artistic expressions of the time so thoughtfully preserved over centuries. The minarets, the domes, the arches, the mosaics on walls and floors and, of course, the calligraphy cast in stone on the walls are all a visual delight – a testimony to the superior craftsmanship and unalloyed devotion of those who painstakingly put together those marvels.
From 1524 to 1752 as a proud part of the Mughal empire, Lahore touched the zenith of its glory. Renowned as great builders, Mughals gave Lahore some of its finest architectural monuments, many of these extant today.
Such was Lahore’s splendor that in his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’, the Cromwell era poet John Milton, mentions it in the same breath as some of the most renowned cities:
“His eyes might there command whatever stood/
City of old or modern fame, the seat/
Of mightiest empire, from the destined walls/
Of Cambalu, seat of Cathian Can/
And Samarcand by Oxus, Temir’s throne/
To Paquin of Sinaen Kings, and thence/
To Agra and Lahore of Great Mogul…”
During this period, the massive Lahore Fort was built. A few buildings within the fort were added by Akbar’s son, Mughal emperor Jahangir, who is buried in the city. Jahangir’s heir, Shah Jahan was born in Lahore. Much like his father, he extended the Lahore Fort and built many other structures in the city, including the Shalimar Gardens.
The last of the great Mughals, Aurangzeb, during his 50-year reign from 1658 to 1707, built the city’s most famous monuments, the Badshahi Masjid and the Alamgiri Gate next to the Lahore Fort.
Majesty of the Mughal Architecture
Apart from these majestic monuments, the Mughals are also built several mosques in Lahore. Emperor Akbar is said to have built a mosque in the Lahore Fort but its remains, or even its exact location, cannot be traced now. Around the same period, a mosque known as Oonchi Masjid inside Bhati Gate was built; it has survived the vicissitudes of time but has lost its architectural value by now.
Similarly, during the reign of Emperor Jahangir in 1614, a mosque in memory of his mother, Mariam Zamani was built. It still exists near the Lahore Fort and is known as Begum Shahi Masjid.
During Shah Jahan’s time, Nawab Wazir Khan (Hakim Ilm Ud Din Ansari from Chiniot) is recorded to have built grand mosques within the Walled City out of which only the Wazir Khan Mosque inside Delhi Gate still survives with old glory intact.
Other smaller mosques in Walled City built by him have lost their original fabric. During the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir, in 1662, Lahore was adversely impacted by Ravi’s excessive flooding which among others damaged the quarters of Hazrat Syed Abdul Hasan Ali bin Usman Hajveri. The Emperor built an embankment which not only had been a major reason for saving Lahore ever after but also caused the river to change its course to further north. Emperor Alamgir gave Lahore a unique masterpiece in 1673 when he built the Badshahi Mosque next to the Lahore Fort and added the Alamgiri Gate. As mentioned in historical references, the emperor himself offered prayers in the same mosque. Many of the mosques were damaged and ill-treated during the Sikh rule in Lahore. Most of the mosques were converted into stables or arsenal depots. Fortunately, quite a few of the mosques survived this vicious brutality, and, restored, they are still intact.
At one with the bazaar
An interesting feature in those days, especially in the Mughal period, mosques were located close to the marketplace for early and easy access for people who would otherwise be engaged in their business or work. The mosque was not just a place where one offered prayers but it also doubled as a community and administrative center – a venue for all sorts of communal functions. That is why inside the Walled City, all mosques endorse this notion, by being part of the bazaar: Wazir Khan, Golden, Begum Shahi, Oonchi, Shah Jahani and many other mosques.
Amongst these a jewel from Jahangir’s time, Masjid Sadr Jahan is situated inside Bhati Gate. According to historical accounts, the exact location of the original mosque is invisible now but Masjid Kharasian, bearing the original inscription, is located at the same site.
Either this mosque is the same one with a different name or it may have been erected later at the same site. The present edifice is reached from the north-western side through a flight of stairs. A stone plaque in the stairs bears Persian verses in the famed Nastaliq script, the inscription mentioning that it was built by Syed Sadr Jahan in A.H. 1015, corresponding to 1606. Inscribed by Katib (Calligrapher) Abdullah Hussaini, the objective was to spread Islam and Muslim culture. The last line of the inscription bears the year Emperor Jahangir was in Lahore – a testimony to this having been built in Jahangir’s time.
Situated in the Mohallah Kharasian or those who mill the staple, it has come to be known as Masjid Kharasian. Of considerable dimensions and resting over a high platform with several steps, the three-door structure has arched roofs and each of the doors carries ordinary domelets not prominent from the outside. As per historical accounts, originally the courtyard was square but is in an irregular shape at present, maybe owing to the several modifications done to the building over the passage of time. This could also have happened owing to reshaping of the bazaar and the square outside at a time when probably the mosque’s structure itself was not in good state of preservation.
Though the mosque’s historic fabric has been lost, its importance cannot be ignored. In need of preservation, it should be turned into a tourist spot, with a plaque denoting its history displayed at its gate. The mosque’s prayer leader is also in possession of two very old pictures revealing its original structure. In my opinion, such buildings ought to be preserved, otherwise soon we will lose history’s footprints inside the Walled City of Lahore.