Badshahi Mosque

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Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque, amongst the largest in the world, is one of the few significant architectural edifices constructed during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb from 1658 to 1707 AD and was inspired by the Jamah Mosque in Delhi, built by Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jehan. Although built during the final stages of the Mughal period, the mosque is arguably unsurpassed in its beauty, its scale and elegance like no other monument in Lahore. Presently, it is the fifth largest mosque in the world and can be found in the north-west of Lahore, adjacent to Lahore fort on Fort Road.

The construction of the mosque was entrusted to Aurangzeb’s foster brother, Fidai Khan Koka and took approximately two years, from May 1671 to April 1673. A marble tablet above the arched entrance is inscribed with an inscription highlighting the importance of his role. Built opposite the Lahore Fort, highlighting its importance in the Mughal Empire, the mosque was constructed on a raised platform to reduce the risk from any flooding from the nearby River Ravi. Bricks and compacted clay, clad with red sandstone tiles from Jaipur, were used to create the foundation of the structure, with domes adorned with white marble. In conjunction with the new mosque, a new gate was erected at the fort, Alamgiri gate, so named after Aurangzeb, facing the main entrance of Badshahi mosque. When completed, the Badshahi Mosque was the largest in the world, visible from a distance of 15 km.

During the rule of the Sikh empire, which superseded the Mughals, the mosque did not fare well. On 7th July 1799, the mosque was severely damaged in Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s capture of the city. The mosque’s vast courtyard was relegated to a stable, and the hujras (cells) used as quarters for soldiers and as a military store for magazines. When William Moorcroft of England visited Lahore in 1820, he recorded that the mosque as being used as an exercise ground for the Sipahi infantry. Twenty years later, a moderate earthquake struck Lahore and collapsed the delicate marble turrets at the tops of each minaret. The open turrets were used as gun emplacements a year later when Ranjit Singh’s son, Sher Singh, occupied the mosque to bombard Lahore Fort during the Sikh civil war.

After the British took control of Lahore in 1846 they continued to use Badshahi Mosque as a military garrison. Intermittent repairs on the mosque were conducted from 1852 onwards by the British established Badshahi Mosque authority with further extensive repairs from between 1939 to 1960 costing approximately 4.8 million rupees, restoring the mosque to its original splendour. Recently a small museum has also been added to the mosque complex, which contains relics of Muhammad, his cousin, and his daughter, Hazrat Fatima Zahra, including a green turban, a cap, and a green coat.

The mosque, like the emperor who ordered its construction, is bold, vast and majestic and there is much to see. The courtyard, an immense 530 square feet, dazzles as one enters through the eastern entrance. Eighty cells (hujras) built into the walls were originally study rooms although these were demolished by the British in 1856 and rebuilt to form arcades.

The prayer chamber is placed on a raised platform, in the tradition of mosques built during this period and allows over 60,000 worshippers to pray at any one time. The steps leading to the prayer chamber and its plinth are in variegated marble. The prayer chamber is very deep and is divided into seven compartments by rich engraved arches carried on very heavy piers. Out of the seven compartments, three double domes finished in marble have superb curvature, whilst the rest have curved domes. The prayer chamber possesses three grand, bulbous marble domes and measures 276 feet by 83 feet. It has a large central vault with five subsidiary arches on each side and four small octagonal minarets at the corners. The main entrance to the prayer chamber, with three central vaults, is panelled and enriched with marble inlay in lineal floral and geometrical patterns.

The skyline is adorned with exquisite ornamental pillars inlaid with marble lining adding grace to the perimeter of the mosque. The north enclosure wall of the mosque was laid close to the Ravi River bank, so a majestic gateway could not be provided on that side and, to keep the symmetry the gate had to be omitted on the south wall as well. In the eastern front aisle, the ceiling of the compartment is flatwith a curved border at the cornice level. The original floor of the courtyard was laid with small kiln-burnt bricks laid in the Mussalah pattern and these were replaced during the last set of repairs.

Visitors are reminded that owing to religious sensitivities, photography of the relics is strictly prohibited.

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