A must-see sight for tourists
Entering the Lahore Fort through the British Era Postern Gate and going up the walkway, one can see three white domes shining like a pearl. Crossing the Makatib Khana and the cafeteria ground you can see a narrow staircase leading into a hallway. As you traverse the doorstep of the antechamber, you would surely forget blinking your eyes for a moment, here; you will catch sight of a brightly lit shimmering marble structure boldly proclaiming purity and serenity. This is The Pearl Mosque or The Moti Masjid. One cannot visualise the beauty and tranquillity of the place as the exterior of the mosque is dull and unattractive. It is no doubt a pearl hidden in a shell.
Moti Masjid was built in 1645 by the Mughal Emperor Shahabuddin Muhammad Shah Jahan. As per historic accounts it is stated that the mosque might have been built along with the Dolat Khana Khaas-o-Aam of Shah Jahan. Mosques with the same name are found in Agra and Delhi, as it was common Mughal practice to name mosques after precious stones and personalities like Wazir Khan Mosque. The word “Pearl” also refers to the gleaming marble resembling a pearl, as well as the mosque’s small size. It is one of those two mosques built in chaste marble by Shah Jahan. The second one was built at Agra Fort in 1654 AD. Aurangzeb also constructed a mosque of the same type at Red Fort Delhi in 1662 AD. They are all titled as Pearl Mosque because of their outlook imbued with white marble.
The mosque is exclusively built of Sang-e-Murmur or the white marble which was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, India. Makrana has always been prominent for the white marble taken from the mines around it. Marble from Makrana was also used in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The facade of the Moti Masjid is divided into five compartments or bays with the central one slightly extended into the courtyard. The five chamber facade was Mughals’ specialty and can be seen in many mosques of the Mughal era, including the Begum Shahi Mosque. The interior is simple and plain with the exception of ceilings that are decorated and designed in arches and horizontal beams. The mosque has three domes. These domes are in fact double domes, devised for loud acoustics. This feature of the domes enables the sound being heard clearly as in an auditorium.
The facade of graceful cusped arches is finished with astounding pietra dura work. It is the same element that you will also find in the Diwan-e-Khaas in Shah Jahan’s Quadrangle and some other buildings inside Lahore Fort. On one side of the mosque are the prayer rooms for the females. The Hujras are also made on another side for the visitors and those who want to rest there or wait for the prayer times. At one end of the mosque is a very narrow and steep staircase leading to the roof top of the mosque. It is usually closed and visitors are not allowed to go upstairs. If by any chance you are allowed to reach the rooftop, you can clearly see the gorgeous minarets of Badshahi Mosque, Samadhi of Raja Ranjit Singh, Roshnai Gate, Paien Bagh and the entrance of Sheesh Mahal. It is an extraordinary site.
The mosque like many other monuments and the Lahore Fort itself has seen the ebb and flow of time through the centuries. After the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the mosque was converted into a Sikh temple and renamed Moti Mandir during the rule of Raja Ranjit Singh. Later in both the Sikh and British era, the mosque was used as a building for the state treasury. In 1899, on the orders of Lord Curzon the Viceroy of Sub-continent, the building was restored to its former status, and some of the religious remnants were preserved at the Badshahi Mosque.
Moti Masjid, despite being a small mosque and having limited usage, is no less striking than any other Mughal Era mosque. The building has its own valour and splendour, and constitutes all the elements of a mosque in a limited space. It is a masterpiece, a jewel like structure inside the Lahore Fort, and I am glad it is well intact. This is a must see for any visitor going to Lahore Fort.