A Mughal masterpiece in the middle of chaotic mess of illegal ugly construction
Story and Photos by Umer Saud
y latest obsession with landscape and architectural photography took me exploring the interior Lahore one fine day – the Mughal walled city with 13 Gates. While I was in hot pursuit of the perfect shot that would capture the incomparable artistry of historic buildings and architecture hidden inside the city walls, I discovered Masjid Wazir Khan with all its grandeur and finesse even after centuries of wear and tear. It was built in the era of Mughal emperor Shah Jehan by Nawab Ilimuddin Khan, a court grandee also known as Wazir Khan since he was the governor of Lahore during Shah Jahan’s reign.
Started in 1634 AD this piece of art and craftsmanship took seven years to complete; its age is quite evident when I entered the premises from the outer yard of the main building. A huge arched entrance with stone steps leads to a corridor which is open from the left and right, containing smaller arches and a passageway with a staircase rising to the roof top of the main façade. It has a very practical design which makes it easier for the caretakers to clean and maintain the high rise structure. This very staircase also takes you to the two Jharokas (Pavilions) that are built on front façade – now quite worn out. The further staircases to the Gumbad (Dome) and two minarets at the front also extend from the same passage.
The feeling of grandeur is unbelievable when you enter the front courtyard. The floor patterns are amazingly creative with small tile-like bricks which are the highlight of most of the Mughal Architecture. An elevated square shaped pond resides in the center of the yard with unlimited supply of flowing water during the day for the people to do Ablutions (Wudoo) before saying their prayers. This is made in white marble and adds to the beauty of the mosque especially when the pigeons land on its sides to drink from it. Around the courtyard are small gated rooms which were earlier utilized by the caretakers of the mosque and also served as residence for visitors from far flung areas who came to visit Wazir Khan Mosque. Amongst these rooms are two smaller arched gates which open in the bazaar nearby.
There is also a tomb in this yard which predates the mosque. It is of Syed Muhammad Ishaq, known as “Miran Badshah” from Iran who came and settled in Lahore in the times of Tughlaq Dynasty. The inner prayer area can accommodate more than 200 people at a time. This area is full of brilliant work of art and craftsmanship detailed to perfection. Colorful hand drawn patterns and calligraphy speak a thousand words of the effort and hard work of the craftsmen and their attachment to this sacred house of God. The material and colors used on the outer walls and arches which are exposed to the weather have been carefully chosen in order to sustain the weathering. This is the very reason that we can still find original designs and artwork made with pottery material intact.
Over the past decades, with the growing population, there has been loads of haphazard and unplanned construction around the mosque engulfing the splendor and heritage it carries. According to the initial bylaws, there could not be any construction in a radius of approximately 50 meters of the mosque so that its magnificence would not be lost. But looking at the present scenario, it is heartbreaking to see how bad architecture around this monument has adversely affected its value. If only the local government and ministry of Aukaaf would take steps to save this perfect specimen of our ancient heritage and many more like these we would have a lot more to offer to the tourists from around the world and be justifiably proud of preserving these ancient masterpieces for the world. Unfortunately, we can only be ashamed of letting our heritage go to pieces while we stand by and do nothing.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, issue 5, September 2008