We all know of the two tombs on both sides of the main entrance of the Badshahi Mosque facing the main entrance of the Lahore Fort. One is that of the poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the other that of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan. Both were knighted for services to the British throne.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal, whose initial complete name was Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal Sapru, the last name being that of the Kashmiri Hindu pandit clan of his grandfather, who had converted from Hinduism to Islam after the Sikhs drove out most Kashmiris from their homeland. They settled in Sialkot and his first cousin was the famous Indian freedom fighter Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. In Pakistan he is known as Allama Iqbal, while in Iran he is called Iqbal Lahori. That is not surprising for over 7,000 of his 12,000 verses are in Persian, the remaining in Urdu with a few in Punjabi. His prose books are in English, starting from his doctoral thesis.
In this piece let me concentrate on the tomb of Allama Iqbal. In future a piece on Sir Sikander Hayat is warranted. For starters let us leave Iqbal’s poetry to those more poetically literate than yours truly. Iqbal was born in Sialkot on the 9th of November, 1877. His father Sheikh Noor Muhammad was a very religious man who was not formally literate and a tailor by profession. His mother belonged to a Kashmiri family of Sambrial near Sialkot, whose family had migrated in the Mughal invasions much earlier. She died in 1914 on Iqbal’s 37th birthday. His father died in 1930 when Iqbal was 53 years old.
At the age of four Iqbal was sent to a mosque to learn Arabic, and then on to Murray College, Sialkot, where he matriculated at the age of 16 years, and two years later passed his intermediate. In 1895 he joined the Government College Lahore obtaining his Masters in 1899, coming first in the Punjab University. He joined GC Lahore as a junior professor of philosophy and in 1905 left for England to join Trinity College, Cambridge. He went on to complete his doctorate from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. On his return he joined GC Lahore again and then left to start a legal practice. Even this did not suit his temperament and he concentrated on his literary pursuits.
Now to the tomb itself. Allama Iqbal died at the age of 60 years on the 21st of April, 1938, almost two years before the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ was passed at Minto Park. Given his popularity among the Muslims of Lahore, the decision was taken, with British approval, to bury him outside the Badshahi Mosque. An Iqbal Tomb Committee was formed which was headed by Chaudhary Muhammad Husain. The finest architects were contacted and proposals invited. Amazingly the committee did not like any of the eight proposals.
So it was decided to ask the chief architect of Hyderabad Deccan, Nawab Zain Yar Bahadar. When Nawab Zain’s first proposal came through the committee returned it with a comment: “This design suits the nest of a nightingale not the tomb of Iqbal”. Nawab Zain Yar Bahadar was incensed and returned it with the comment: “In the nest of the grand mosque, a symbol of spiritual power, in front of the fort, a symbol of temporal power, to one side the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, the symbol of a rebel, and here lies a Mujaddad. The design of tomb should express all this in the stone originally purchased by Sufi-oriented Prince Dara Shikoh, which represents the Self, its tenacity and power.
Then a debate broke out. Nawab Zain Yar Bahadar insisted that the origin of the mosque’s stone was the red Jaipur stone, so it should be for the tomb. On this very quickly an agreement was reached. So in Jaipur red-stone it was to be. Now came the design. On this detail, an important one at that, the committee was split between a Mughal design and an Afghan design.
As arguments raged the architect pointed out to the spiritual aspect of Iqbal and its connection to his experience in Cordoba’s mosque, with a fiery recitation of his poem as given in ‘Bal-e-Jabril’. He argued that the universal appeal of Islamic art needs to come forth. The committee was stunned by the argument and remained silent. But then it was agreed that a combination of Moorish and Afghan architecture should be encompassed in the design.
But that was not the end of the matter. The non-Muslim members of the Iqbal Tomb Committee insisted that Iqbal belonged to the sub-continent, especially to Kashmir and Lahore, so the design should reflect the man and the soil from where he had come and lived. There was a deadlock. The matter was ‘forwarded’ to the Government of India, who sat on the matter not willing to raise further disputes.
So Chaudhary Muhammad Husain decided to recall the committee and passed a resolution not to seek any government money. The non-Muslim members then put forward a proposal that no money should be taken from rich rulers of States, or accept any contribution from the government. The resolution stated: “Let the people of our land contribute, be it his friends, his disciples and admirers”. So it was that a ‘Tomb Fund’ was established.
Much to the amazement of the tomb committee, sooner than expected the target was met after the relatively poorer people of Lahore’s old walled city went around collecting donations door-to-door. It was a beautiful gift from the people of Lahore to Iqbal. So it was that construction work started and as soon as it picked up speed the Partition of the sub-continent took place.
A lull came about as the Indian government started placing restrictions on the export of red-stone from Jaipur. In the same way the marble was to come from Makrana in Rajasthan. But then when the Indian government informed Pandit Nehru, he was furious. Nehru was himself a Kashmiri ‘pandit’ while his mother was a Kashmiri Brahmin who belonged to Lahore. Plus, like Iqbal, he was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was a great fan of the poet. So on a fast-track basis came the stone at very low prices. There is an unverifiable theory that Nehru personally subsidised the stone prices.
Now work began and very soon the tomb started taking shape. The ‘taweez’ of the tomb is in exquisite lapis lazuli, the most expensive stone of Afghanistan and a gift from the Afghan government. The design is the same as that on the tomb of the Mughal emperor Babar in Kabul. On the walls inside are couplets from ‘Zaboor-e-Ajam’. The Turkish government insisted that mud from the graves of Maulana Rumi and Mustafa Kamal Ataturk be added to the original grave. This operation was carried out with great emotion, and one newspaper report states that the Turkish officials who carried the mud wept watching the proceedings.
Over the years the admirers come and go from the tomb of the great poet. For those who can read Persian the verses on the walls and on the main grave hold special meaning, more so the couplet on the beautiful ‘taweez’. When the late Shah of Iran visited the tomb, he was stunned by the beauty of the serene setting, the Persian verses and the selection of the ‘taweez’. To the shock of his Pakistani hosts he had tears in his eyes as he recited from ‘Zaboor-e-Ajam’, the English translation of that specific verse is by Arthur J. Arberry, professor of Arabic, of Cambridge University:
“Qalanders, who to their sway Water strive to win and clay, From the monarch tribute bear Though the beggar’s robe they wear”.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2020