Saleh Kamboh – 450-year old mosque


    Another neglected piece of heritage crumbling away


    The mosque of Saleh Kamboh was completed during Aurangzeb’s reign, but the usual Shahajahani features which include multifold arches, stalactite squinches, delicately executed floral arabesque and interlacement in kashi and fresco are seen in the mosque


    The walled city of Lahore is a hub of culture and witness to many eras that passed by. This city has seen the turmoil and grandeur during various rules and has absorbed all in its tangled streets and monuments which are everywhere inside the walled city. Not just the monuments, the city holds with in itself the history of many heroes of the past. Be it a cricketer, a singer, historian, poet or a doctor; we will come across the accounts of many known and renowned personalities.

    Muhammad Saleh Kamboh was a well known storyteller and raconteur during Shah Jahan’s reign and the teacher of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. His Aml-e-Salih or Shah Jahan Nama is one of the most important original sources of Shahjahani era events, which are also considered a proof of the author’s great literary attainment and skill. His writings also include particulars and facts on Shah Jahan’s predecessors, particularly Akbar and Jahangir, and short comprehensive accounts of the poets, and other notables who were contemporaries with Shah Jahan. He also commanded a force of five hundred during the period of Shah Jahan. He was appointed the Deewan (governor) of Punjab due to his sharp wisdom during Shah Jahan’s rule. Though Saleh Kamboh was a widely read person, little is known of his life other than the works he composed.

    It is claimed by some historic accounts that Muhammad Saleh Kamboh served as a Mughal Admiral and was killed while fighting alongside his fleet against the Ahoms at Pandu on Bengal-Assam border while helping General Abdus Salam, the Faujdar (infantry commander) of Hajo, during the tenure of Islam Khan Mashadi, the Mughal governor of Bengal. The exact date of Muhammad Saleh’s death is not certain. One of the great historians, Sayed Muhammad Latif, states on unspecified authority in his works that Muhammad Saleh Kamboh died in AH 1085 (1675 AD) which is accepted by some writers. Saleh Kamboh is buried in Lahore, though his grave’s location is currently disputed by the owners of the property.

    A mosque known as Saleh Kamboh Mosque was built with his name in Mochi Gate, walled city of Lahore. Located in south of the walled city of Lahore, Mochi Gate is another noteworthy speck of the Mughal Empire. Mochi Gate is one of the thirteen gates that surrounded the old city, linked with a thirty feet high fortified wall, built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Mochi Gate is known for many historic Havelis and enticing food. Like many other gates of the walled city, this gate was also completely pulled down during the British period but was never built again. The British established a garden beside the road which has been the scene of many historical meetings and processions held by different political parties and other groups. Now the marks of the gate are hard to locate because of changes in the land use and additions of structures and houses. This mosque of Saleh Kamboh is no doubt one of the marvels inside this gate.

    The mosque of Saleh Kamboh was completed during Aurangzeb’s reign, but the usual Shahajahani features which include multifold arches, stalactite squinches, delicately executed floral arabesque and interlacement in kashi and fresco are seen in the mosque. Its structure proves that it was built under the supervision of Shah Jahan’s court’s historians and architects. This mosque is smaller in size than other Mughal era mosques. It is based on a single aisle and three bay arrangements, it is approachable through steps, and is surmounted by three domes. Because of space restriction instead of a permanent one there is a small removable pulpit which is stored away after the sermon. Its brick lined courtyard offsets the scintillating mosaic tile work on the east facade of the mosque to advantage.

    The mosque is a protected monument by the Archaeology Department of Punjab. The local body of Anjuman-e-Tajran Mochi Gate is presently looking after it on its own and no funds are provided by the government for its upkeep. The mosque, like many others, which include Golden Mosque and Mariam Zamani Mosque is encroached upon by many shops. Most of the mosques of Mughal eras are seen with encroachments inside the walled city, but fortunately the encroachments were removed from the Wazir Khan Mosque in 2012. Hopefully these will be removed from the other mosques as well in our lifetime.

    Coming back to the present condition of the Saleh Kamboh mosque, the façade of the mosque is much changed now to a modern tile structure but has clear inscriptions telling the name of the mosque. Some of the remains of fresco are also seen on it. This mosque has a colourful interior but not much preserved. The remaining fresco work will also fade away as there is no upkeep of the mosque. The inner chambers are as beautifully decorated as they are seen in the Wazir Khan Mosque. Historians quote in different books that this mosque was a masterpiece like Wazir Khan but it could not be saved. Kanhaiyalal, the author of the ‘History of Lahore writes, “this wonderful mosque is situated inside the Mochi Gate. Whoever enters the city through Mochi Gate finds this magnificent and colourful building straight from the Mochi Gate. This small mosque was once very comprehensive and beautiful.”

    This is a functional mosque and all prayers are offered there. If anyone wants to visit it, go straight inside the Mochi Gate and you will come across it after a few steps. Though there is less left in the mosque to be admired, still the remains of history and its glory can be appreciated.