By: Usama Irshad
2nd Year MB. , BS.
|The Wazir Khan Mosque: Mole on the Cheek of Lahore|
Its the usual weekend scene at the men's dorms:a cricket match is in full swing at the rooftop;a bunch of book lovers are lazing in the lawns with cheap Mavra &Ferozson's paperbacks; the lilting notes of the latest Hindi songs can be heard playing in many rooms interrupted by their occupant's regular laughter and guffaws;the khokha is flooded with boys in their pyjamas and their ridiculous, just-woke-up,tousled hair,the soothing music of parathas hitting the hotplate, waiters shouting orders and ravenous boys gobbling down enormous amount of grease,eggs and French toasts.
Done with the weekend's breakfast ritual,I am sprawled across my room floor,surfing through my computer's hard disk as I try to settle on a suitable movie for the morning,when BOOM! and the lights go out. I remember my room servant's thickly accented words "Sahib,itwar ko bijli jaey,tou samjo shaam 6 bjay say pehlay nai anay ki!" (Sir,if there is a power outage on a Sunday then,rest assured,it won't be restored until 6 in the evening!).
I sense a plan forming in my head. There is this general post-outage mayhem in the corridors. I shake my roommate awake. He curses. I am persistent. Eventually he stands up in his holey PJs and stares groggily around him. I slump back satisfied. My job is done. He is awake.
Its 10 a.m. and I am done watching the last movie on my Oscars playlist. My roomie is texting. I say as casually as I could,"Hey,how about we go exploring?" My voice is off-hand. A hint of excitement in my tone is all it takes to make him act all reluctant and moody. He looks up,"Exploring?"
"Yeah,you know,just the Androon Shehr (Walled City)."
He is not particularly psyched about it. His idea of an outing starts with M.M.Alam and ends with tones of junk food. But he owns a DSLR and even he can't resist the haunting beauty of Old Lahore.
|Masjid Wazir Khan:Hauntingly Beautiful|
Some thirty minutes and a bumpy rickshaw ride later,we are standing in a bustling intersection surrounded by low-hanging cables,some long-bleached campaign posters of PTI,and a plethora of ads ranging from Mutibs to tuition centers and liposuction experts.
|A painting of the Delhi Darwaza|
I crane my neck to find some remnants of The Delhi Darwaza(The Dehli Gate),and sure enough,there it stood almost obscured by the overflowing jewelry shops that have,over the years encroached upon its precincts:enshrouded in the very same mystical glow that defines every piece of Mogul architecture,its brick walls glistening in the early morning sunlight,the gate looks majestic than ever.
Carefully avoiding the puddles,we trudge our way to the gate. The cavernous roof of the historical Darwaza rises higher than I had expected. It is built from the thin baked bricks,something I have come to relate with the Mogul architecture. The insides of the gate are surprisingly relaxing,probably due to their sepulchral and 'craggy' design. There are shops selling all sorts of glittery chattels inside the darwaza.
I am in a trance now;a spell that only the Androon Shehr can cast upon me. In my minds eye I see exotic traders and colorful delegations making their way through this great gate-way into the fabled Mogul Lahore.
The road leading inside from the Delhi Gate to the Royal Fort is called the Shahi Guzar Ghah(The Royal Trail). It was through this route that the delegations to the Royal Court would travel to see the King.
Just inside the gate,to the left is the entrance to the Shahi Hammam (The Royal Bath). Ignoring all warnings by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corp.,plastered to its gait,I enter the Hammam .The arched roof with intricate frescos is the first thing I see. I am greeted by a cheerful guide who shows us around. The symmetry of the Hammam and the scientific genius of its creators is awe-inspiring.
"We are currently digging out the original Royal Stone Baths,"he tells me as he shows me a place where laborers are hard at work.
Outside, the Shahi Guzar Ghah is alive with the squeals of young children playing marbles. A Halwai( confectioner ) is squatting on his make shift 'shop',surrounded by all hues of mouth-watering treats,women and young girls stand in the delicately crafted,baroque Jhrokas of their homes staring at the passersby and making idle comments.
|Jhrokas in the Androon Shehr|
|Androon e Shehr|
Life is so hushed and tranquil here,I muse as I stare wide eyed at the beautifully well-preserved wooden beams and Jhrokas of the houses inside Delhi Darwaza.
There are shops everywhere. Traffic is awfully congested but nobody seems much bothered by it. Businesses are flourishing in every where possible little nook of the brick-lined road. Florists. Beauticians. Designers. Potters.
A little way down the road,the passage widens to enclose a colossal compound(called Jilau Khana locally). I squint and look up:amidst a disjointed array of french-fries kiosks and open-air carpenter shops that dot the compound,there stood,its imposing minarets soaring high into the skies,the much documented Masjid Wazir Khan....the 'mole' on the 'cheek' of Lahore!
|A Historical Painting of the Wazir Khan Mosque by Carpenter.|
The pictures on my iPad had not done it justice;only eyes could witness what the camera had failed to capture:the augustness and silent hauteur of the place that inspires reverence. The towering minarets and nestling amidst them the grandiose entrance to the mosque,raised to an elevated pedestal with elaborate Mogul style stairs leading up to it.
|East Entrance to the Mosque. Carpenter.|
Inscriptions from the Koran grace the lofty doorway or Aiwan with its decorative 'muqarnas' semi-domical roof, flanked by decorative oriel-like projecting balconies on the upper level. This doorway leads into an octagonal vestibule richly engraved with Koranic verses and bearing matchless frescos and miniatures(inanimate). To the north and south this forecourt leads into wide rows of arcade chambers. The chambers are red brick-lined and bear thick,Mogul era doors with sinuous,floral patterns.
|The Row of Arcade Chambers|
The arcade chambers on the two sides are exact replicas and were probably meant for the gatekeepers of the mosque. Here a make-shift wooden ladder leads to the the mosque roof where wild dusky-grey pigeons roam about,flocking and taking flights at their leisure.
I am pinned to the ground,trying to imprint the dazzling panorama on my mind. As we recede back into the vestibular entrance-forecourt a marble plaque tells me what I already know:this architectural wonder was built by the famous Subehdar (Governor) of the Punjab (1041/1632), Hakim Shah Ilm-ud-din in 1634.The Mosque took a total of 7 years for its completion.
Hailing from the Punjab town of Chiniot , Ilm-ud-din had been employed by Prince Khurram (later Emperor Shah Jahan) as a Hakim (physician). He rendered great service to the Prince during the various campaigns, and became one of the most trusted aides of the emperor—it was Ilm-ud-din, along with Prince Shah Shuja, who was entrusted with the task of bringing the body of the deceased queen Mumtaz Mahal from Burhanpur to Agra to be buried in the Taj Mahal. Granted the title of Wazir Khan in 1620, he was raised to the Mansab (title) of 5000 foot and 3000 horse (the famous title of panj-hazari) on Shah Jahan's accession to the Mogal throne (1037/1628).
Finally shielding my eyes from the blinding sunlight,I step into the Mosque's courtyard and am at once dazzled by its raw splendor. A tranquil water pool in the centre reflects the shattering beauty of the structure. The prayer niche(mihrab)faces west. Ensconced between two stately minarets and three majestic domes the Mihrab is a sight for the sore eyes.The central dome, rising higher than others, accentuates the grandeur of the elegantly detailed mihrab, the ingenious construction of double domes carrying the voice of the imam to the remotest extremity of the courtyard.
The Mihrab area is an aesthetic display of fabulous frescos and faience-tile art work. The minarets that define the four extremities of the mosque and rise to over 100 m height are staged and end in exquisite kiosk configuration,all covered with Shahjahani glazed tiles.
|Calligraphy at Wazir Khan Mosque|
|A Fresco at Wazir Khan Mosque|
|A fresco at Wazir Khan Mosque|
To the north and south are hujras (prayer chambers) meant for praying in solitude.Outside these chambers are reciprocated by a series of shops meant to provide employment to the men of the surrounding area. This is something unique to the Masjid Wazir Khan. In the centre of this spacious red-marble encrusted compound is the tomb of some Sufi Saint who lived in the 14th Century.
|The Mosque Pulpit is a gift from Lord Curzon,the Viceroy of India|
|The Prayer Niche|
The wondeful amalgamation of calligraphy done in elegant nastaliq,the qashani tile work,the fresco painting,geometrical forms and floral patterns lends a unique aura to this place that is essentially its own,and yet,depicts the spirit of this immortal City at large.
It was Lockwood Kipling(curator of the Lahore Museum and Principal Mayo School of Arts(nowadays National College of Arts))who said:
"This beautiful building(Masjid Wazir Khan) is in itself , a
school of design!"
As we ride back to the dorm,I can't help humming an old Punjabi song of the legendary Madam Noor Jahan...Teray Mukhray Da Kala Kala Til Way....!
(The author is indebted to the Walled City Lahore (WCL) for permission to use their photographs)
(The author holds a degree in psychology from the University of Cambridge,UK,and is presently a sophomore at King Edward Medical University,Lahore,Pakistan. He tweets @Usama_Irshad_)