The historical city of Lahore has seen remarkable ages and empires. From the early Muslim dynasties to the Mughal Era, Lahore preserves a rich and majestic history, the traces of which can still be seen. Even today, while walking through the narrow lanes of the old city one can envision the grandeur of bygone times. Imposing structures brimming with cultural inheritance, majestically illustrate Lahore’s glory and enchant visitors and tourists from all over the globe.
Amidst these historical structures, the Badshahi Masjid (Royal Mosque) stands prominently in the city’s center, boasting its grandeur and rich, cultural history. Visitors and tourists flock to the second largest mosque in South Asia and the fifth largest mosque in the world every day, offering prayers and paying homage to the splendor of the Mughal Empire.
The construction of the mosque commenced in 1671, under the affluent patronage of the sixth Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb (the Conqueror of the World). The mosque’s calculated structure was completed in 1673. However, the vicinity around the mosque area soon flooded during monsoon season, explaining why the mosque was consequently constructed on a raised platform, opposite the Lahore Fort. The construction was supervised by the then Master of Ordinance and foster brother of Aurangzeb, Muzaffar Hussain (also known as Fidai Khan Koka). Constructed with bricks and compacted clay, the design and structure of the mosque illustrates the splendor of the bygone Mughal Empire. Additionally, the use of red sandstone tiles and white marble on the domes gives the mosque an artistic touch.
Adorned with stucco tracery and fresco work, the main prayer hall of the mosque consists of seven splendidly carved arches. Clad with marble and red sandstone, four out of eight prestigious minarets, approximately 14 feet taller than those of the Taj Mahal, can be seen from a far distance. The Badshahi mosque courtyard can easily accommodate close to 95,000 worshippers at a time. Together with the main prayer hall and porticos, 100,000 worshippers can collectively pray in this royal mosque.
Inside the main gateway entrance, the government of Pakistan maintains a small museum that contains the relics of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), his cousin and son in law, Ali and the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima. The Fakir Family of Lahore that held numerous prestigious posts during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule, donated generously to these relics.
Since its construction, the Badshahi Mosque has seen vicissitudes through various eras of different rulers. In 1799, when Ranjit Singh invaded Lahore, he disdained the mosque by using its courtyard as a stable for his army horses. Later in 1841, Sher Singh, son of Ranjit Singh, used the minarets of the mosque to bombard his enemies from the pinnacle. After 1857, when the British dominated the subcontinent, they continued disregarding the mosque by using it as military garrison. During this time, Muslim resentment flamed furiously, leading to sporadic volatile outbreaks throughout the country. Realizing the gravity of Muslim sentiments, the British set up the Badshahi Mosque Authority to supervise the restoration of the grand mosque as a place of Muslim worship. Minor repairs to the devastated areas of the mosque commenced gradually. Keeping in view the requirements of the time, further amendments to the structure of the mosque, suggested and designed by an architect of Hyderabad Deccan, Zain Yar Jang Bahadur, were also made. The restoration work continued even after the independence of Pakistan and the mosque regained its royal majesty by 1960.
Today it stands prestigiously in the heart of Pakistan, Lahore, and proudly epitomizes the glory of the Mughal Empire.
(The article was originally published at South Asian Global Affairs – Magazine)