There is always logic as to why a building or a monument is located at any particular place or built in a certain time period. Sometimes the reason can be merely a display of power, though mostly it is a utilitarian reason.
The architecture of a building or monument exposes its geographic and period influence. The old Lahore has a lot of historic buildings and the ones spared so far by our trader classes need to be understood. By understanding the reason they were created for, we might strongly feel the reasons they should be conserved and restored.
Just a few things need to be made clear before we set off describing our subject monument in this piece. Religious monuments like temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches abound in Lahore. Their time period matters while population mix matters the most as survival of a religious monument depends on the toleration levels of the ruling classes.
But until 1947, the Walled City of Lahore, and Lahore outside the walls too, was not a Muslim majority area. Western Punjab certainly was. That’s why the mix promoted tolerance, which was once the hallmark of the city. Mind you, over the ages Lahore has been a Jain city, for 700 years a Buddhist city, a Hindu city and then, finally, a Muslim city as it is now.
The oldest surviving mosque of Lahore is the ‘Neeven Masjid,’ followed by the first mosque that served the Mughal rulers, the Mori Masjid, built in 1630. That was followed by the mosque built by Emperor Akbar’s beautiful wife Mariam Zamani, located to the south-east of the Lahore Fort, but far away from the then Walled City.
At this point, we need to understand that even the beautiful Mariam Zamani Mosque did not have a courtyard to accommodate even 250 persons. This merely meant that on Fridays, a royal entourage would leave Akbari Gate of the fort (The Alamgiri Gate did not exist then) and head for this small mosque. It was this compelling reason that there was a need for a large mosque with enough space in its courtyard to accommodate the Muslims of old Lahore.
Thus we have the Subedar of Lahore, the Governor, Hakeem Ilumuddin Ansari, known better today as Wazir Khan who decided that he would build the largest mosque of Lahore in an open space in the new expanded eastern portion of the Walled City. The reason was that as Muslim numbers expanded, more space for collective worship was needed.
Here we must make it clear that the Muslims were buried outside the ancient walled city then as we can see from the example of Ayaz, the handsome Georgian slave of the Turko-Afghan invader Mahmud of Ghazni. Today, his grave is in Rang Mahal and a part of the expanded old city. Same was the case with other Muslims.
In the earlier Tughlaq period, we have the saint-seer Syed Ishaq Garezuni, better known as Miran Shah, also buried beyond where Ayaz was buried. Near this grave was that of Syed Suf, a follower of Miran Shah. They both played a huge part in explaining Islam to the people of Lahore. Nearby were other graves of the Muslims but far away from the original ancient walled city. We all know that Ali Hajveri was also buried a distance away from the south of the ancient city.
Come the expansion and there was a huge open space – a garden – that was provided to the Subedar Wazir Khan by the emperor Shah Jahan, whom he had served since his childhood. In 1620, Wazir Khan was made a ‘Panj Hazari’ – a 5,000 horsemen cavalry leader. Once Shah Jahan came to power, Wazir Khan looked after the residential quarters inside the Lahore Fort.
Ultimately, he was made the Subedar of Lahore and played a major role in bringing the emperor’s wife Mumtaz Mahal’s body from Burhanpur to Agra where ultimately he played a major role in the building the Taj Mahal. His role in the building of a few monuments like Naulakha in the Fort showed his taste and skill of putting together large monuments.
Now he set about building a large mosque in the space provided as well as a Hamman inside Delhi Gateway to refresh and cleanse royalty as they entered Lahore after a long dusty journey. The building of the mosque posed a major problem for the once outside Muslim graveyard had two important graves there, those of Miran Shah and Syed Suf. Added to this were the Kakayzai inhabitants of the bazaar behind the planned mosque who held the two saints in high esteem. They immediately issued a ‘fatwa’ and work could not start. So a series of meetings among the Muslims of the area as well as Hindus, who held the saints in high esteem, set about. Ultimately, a solution was arrived at and the two saints were promised a marble tomb within the courtyard.
As the outer surface had since risen, a two-tier grave monument was made but within the courtyard in such a way that it did not hinder the total design. Amazingly, the outer tomb was rebuilt in the British days over the lower courtyard from where a staircase leads to the original graves.
Just a digression. If you notice that the foundations of the Shahi Hamman are a good 12 feet below the current upper road surface, we have the ‘Neeven Masjid’ existing 25 feet below the outer road surface as it is today. This reflects Lahore’s constant surface rise because of the environment being very dusty. This dust can be clearly seen by those flying into the city on aircraft.
We will leave the architectural details for another time but what we know is that the Wazir Khan Mosque provided the people of Lahore with its first open courtyard for prayers. Small mosques had also come up but not for large collective worship. Here we see the last major Mughal emperor Aurangzeb come into play. His contribution was the Badshahi Mosque opposite the Lahore Fort as well as the massive Alamgiri Gateway of the fort. It was a contribution that today stands out. Experts point out that both monuments of Aurangzeb are more a display of power than of any other consideration.
The ancient Walled City has so many such graves and temples that need immediate attention. They remind of an era where Lahore emerged as one of the great cities of the world. If only we can depend on archaeological and historic research to solve our past mysteries. There is just so much to learn.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022