A mosque that changed the river bed
Constructed between 1671 and 1673 under the supervision of Fida’i Khan Koka (Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s brother-in-law and the governor of Lahore), Badshahi Mosque was originally planned as a place to guard a strand of the last Prophet’s (PBUH) hair. Badshahi Mosque’s splendor is influenced by the Jama Mosque of Delhi which was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Mosque was constructed just a few hundred meters to the west of Lahore Fort and the River Ravi was flowing nearby. The Mosque was built on a raised platform to avoid any floods at that time. The Mughal Emperor Alamgir ordered the placement of barriers at one point in the river so that the water would not damage the Mosque. With the passage of time, the river changed its bed due to those barriers and now we see River Ravi flowing far away. Aurangzeb also added the Alamgiri Gate facing the Mosque and the space in between, a garden was constructed, which was used as a parade ground where the Emperor would deal with his army and troops. Today the same garden is known as Huzoori Bagh which was named by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. At present the Badshahi Mosque gives a splendid view of the Lahore Fort, Huzoori Bagh, Samadhi of Ranjeet Singh and the Roshnai Gate. Badshahi Mosque is a unique example of religious harmony as it shares a wall with the Samadhi of Ranjeet Singh, a Sikh religious site.
Besides being a Mosque, the Badshahi Mosque is a famous tourist spot for the people. It is one of the remains we treasure today. History narrates that this Mosque remained the world’s largest Mosque for 313 years.
As you step in the historic Huzoori Bagh you will see huge three sided marble steps that lead to the magnificent gate of the Mosque. Inside the gate is the vast courtyard with a fountain in the center. The interior of the mosque has rich ornamentation in stucco tracery and paneling with fresco motifs and marble inlay. Within the courtyard, the prayer hall features four minarets that duplicate the four minarets at each corner of the Mosque’s outskirts. The entire architecture is a mark of symmetry. The main prayer hall is divided into seven parts by means of multi-foiled arches supported on heavy pillars, three of which bear the white marble double domes. The remaining four parts are covered with flat domes.
The Mughal Emperor Alamgir ordered the placement of barriers at one point in the river so that the water would not damage the Mosque. With the passage of time, the river changed its bed due to those barriers and now we see River Ravi flowing far away.
The original floor of the courtyard was laid with small kiln-burnt bricks laid in the Mussalah pattern (prayer rugs pattern). During the repairs in 1939-60 the present red sandstone flooring was re-laid. The original floor of the prayer chamber was also replaced by marble Mussalah during the same repairs. There are only two inscriptions in the mosque: one on the gateway and another of Kalmah in the prayer chamber under the main high vault. The ceilings are decorated and so are the walls.
The exterior of the Mosque is decorated with strong stone carving and marble inlay on red sandstone. The exterior of the Mosque represents grandeur and stateliness of the Mosque. You will see lotus motifs in bold relief at different places inside the Mosque as well as on its exterior. The embellishment has Indo-Greek, Central Asian and Indian architectural influence both in technique and motifs. The skyline is furnished by beautiful ornamental merlons inlaid with marble lining adding grace to the perimeter of the mosque (merlons are the solid upright section of a castle parapet).
As the historic accounts state, the grand Mosque witnessed ups and down in different rules; it remained under different usages during the Sikh and British Eras. During the Sikh rule of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, the Hujras (rooms) around the outer boundary were occupied by his army troops. Ranjit Singh himself used the adjacent Huzoori Bagh as his official Royal Court. Some years later, a moderate earthquake struck Lahore and collapsed the marble towers at the top of each minaret. The open towers served as a position for large weaponry during the Sikh civil war.
History narrates that this Mosque remained the world’s largest Mosque for 313 years.
After the Sikh rule ended, The British continued to use Badshahi Mosque as a military garrison. The Mosque was much damaged during the Sikh eras and therefore In 1852 the British established the Badshahi Mosque Authority for the restoration of the mosque so that it could be returned to Muslims as a place of worship. In 1939 massive repairs began under the supervision of architect Nawab Zen Yar Jang Bahadur. The repairs continued until 1960 and were completed at a cost of 4.8 million rupees.
Next to the Mosque is also the tomb of the poet and philosopher of east, Dr. Muhammad Allama Iqbal. If you happen to go there you can clearly see the tomb, but at present the visitors are barred from going near the tomb due to some security issues.
If by any chance you are visiting the Fort Road Food Street, you can see the splendor of the mosque from the roof tops. The Mosque is closed for public after Maghrib prayers these days because of some security reasons. In my personal opinion, the place should be opened for the public at night so that nighttime tourism is also promoted in the area. The government should also look into opening the Roshnai Gate that faces the food street so that there is a chance for the visitors to visit the Badshahi Mosque at night. I think this will surely boost up the tourism but this is only possible if appropriate security measures are taken as we cannot risk such a big monument.
(The writer is a media professional and can be reached at [email protected])