Lahore’s treasures


The so-called Akbari Serai is an 470 by 365 meter courtyard situated between Jahangir’s Tomb to the east and Asaf Khan’s tomb to the west. Although commonly referred to as a Serai, or caravan market, the courtyard was intended both as a staging area for official visits to the tomb and as a place of residence for the huffaz (caretakers) who worked at the mausoleums. The 180 hujra, or cells, around the courtyard were used as living areas and storage spaces for luggage, weapons, and other gear carried by visitors to the tombs. Its function and general design is similar to the jilaukhana (literally, ‘front of the house’) found at the Taj Mahal built by Jahangir’s son, Shah Jehan.
The most impressive feature of the courtyard is the gateway on its east side leading to Jahangir’s mausoleum. Opposite the gateway is a small mosque. The north and south ends of the courtyard are punctuated with gateways providing access to the whole ensemble.
ASAF KHAN TOMB: Asaf Khan was the brother of Nur Jahan, foremost of Emperor Jahangir’s twenty wives. He was also the father of Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Emperor Shah Jahan and the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built.
Asaf Khan’s clan rose to power as his sister gained entry into Jahangir’s court. Jahangir had long been addicted to opium and alcohol, and as his addiction worsened he relied more and more on his close aides for day to day governing of the empire. Asif Khan’s sister, Nur Jahan, used the opportunity to take power for herself. In 1625 she used her influence to obtain the governorship of Lahore for her brother, Asaf Khan. He held the position for a mere two years before Emperor Jahangir died in 1627. In the struggle for succession that followed, Asaf Khan broke ranks with his sister and sided with his son in law, the future Shah Jahan, in his bid for succession. When Shah Jahan emerged victorious Nur Jahan was placed under comfortable house arrest and lived out the remainder of her days as a poetess and sponsor of the arts.
Asaf Khan was placed in command of an army attacking Bijapur in 1632 but he failed to take the city. Shah Jahan retained him in the court but he never reached the heights of power that he had previously enjoyed. He died in June 1642 while fighting the forces of the rebel Raja Jagat Singh Pathania. He was accorded high honors in the placement of his tomb just a few hundred meters to the west of Emperor Jahangir’s own tomb.
Octagonal tombs were never used for emperors but they were commonly employed for burial of high-ranking noblemen such as Asaf Khan. The bulbous dome that crowns the tomb is an innovation of Shah Jahan’s era that was used to great effect at other sites such as the Taj Mahal.
BADSHAHI MOSQUE: Badshahi mosque is one of the few significant architectural monuments built during Emperor Aurangzeb’s long rule from 1658 to 1707. It is presently the fifth largest mosque in the world and was indisputably the largest mosque in the world from 1673 to 1986 when the Faisal Mosque was constructed in Islamabad. Although it was built late in the Mughal era in a period of relative decline, its beauty, elegance, and scale epitomize Mughal cultural achievement like no other monument in Lahore.
Construction of the mosque began in 1671 under the direction of Muzaffar Hussain (Fida’i Khan Koka), Aurangzeb’s brother-in-law and the governor of Lahore. It was originally planned as a reliquary to safeguard a strand of the Prophet’s hair. Its grand scale is influenced by the Jama Mosque of Delhi which had been built by Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jahan. The plan of Badshahi mosque is essentially a square measuring 170 meters on each side. Since the north end of the mosque was built along the edge of the Ravi river, it was not possible to install a north gate like the one used in the Jama Mosque, and a south gate was also not constructed in order to maintain the overall symmetry. Within the courtyard, the prayer hall features four minarets that echo in minature the four minarets at each corner of the mosque’s perimeter.
The prominence of the mosque in the imperial vision was such that it was constructed just a few hundred meters to the west of Lahore Fort. A special gate facing the mosque was added to the fort and designated the Alamgiri gate. The space in between–the future Hazuri Bagh garden–was used as a parade ground where Aurangzeb would review his troops and courtiers. The Hazuri Bagh appears to be at a lower level than the mosque since the latter was built on a six meter plinth to help prevent flooding.
The mosque did not fare well during the rule of Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. When Ranjit Singh took control of Lahore in 1799 the mosque’s courtyard was used as a stable and the hujras (cells) around the perimeter were occupied by his soldiers. Ranjit Singh himself used the adjacent Hazuri Bagh as his official royal court. When William Moorcroft of England visited Lahore in 1820, he recorded that the mosque as being used as an exercise ground for the Sipahi infantry. Twenty years later, a moderate earthquake struck lahore and collapsed the delicate marble turrets at the tops of each minaret. The open turrets were used as gun emplacements a year later when Ranjit Singh’s son, Sher Singh, occupied the mosque to bombard Lahore Fort during the Sikh civil war.
After the British took control of Lahore in 1846 they continued to use Badshahi Mosque as a military garrison. It was not until 1852 that the British established the Badshahi Mosque Authority to oversee the restoration of the mosque so that it could be returned to Muslims as a place of worship. Although repairs were carried out, it was not until 1939 that extensive repairs began under the oversight of architect Nawab Zen Yar Jang Bahadur. The repairs continued until 1960 and were completed at a cost of 4.8 million rupees.
KHWAJA MEHMUD TOMB: Khwaja Mehmud (also known as Hazrat Eishan) was a Sufi religious leader from Bukhara who moved to Lahore during the reign of Shah Jahan. He was a contemporary with Hazrat Mian Mir and was also noted as a great scholar and physician.
KOS MINAR: The Kos Minar (Mile Pillars) are a series of milepost markers built during the reigns of Sher Shah Suri and later Mughal emperors. They were originally spaced roughly every three kilometers over major highway routes, particularly the Grand Trunk Road which connected Peshawar in the west to Bengal in the east (a span of over 3,000 kilometers). As the Kos Minars are utilitarian in design, they were not regarded as architecturally significant. Most of them have been torn down, dismantled for their bricks, or otherwise demolished. Only a handful remain in the Lahore area, including the Kos Minar shown here.
– Courtesy: Lahore Nama Blog