Pearl Mosque or Moti Masjid in the Lahore Fort

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The Moti Masjid of Lahore is a beautiful edifice standing on the western edge of the Lahore Fort, near the Alamgiri Gate. Moti, meaning pearl in Urdu, emphasises the preciousness of the religious structure and the naming of mosques after gemstones was a popular practice amongst Mughal emperors. Like many buildings of the Emperor Shah Jehan’s era, it is constructed entirely from white marble, with cusped arches, and smooth, fine contours associated with this epoch. It is one of three Pearl Mosques built during the Mughal period, the others being in the Agra Fort and Delhi, built by Aurangzeb.

There is some conjecture over when the Pearl Mosque was completed, and even by whom. The confusion was compounded by Henry Cope’s assertion published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1858. According to Cope a certain Soondur Khan, referring to himself as “the lowest of all slaves of Jahangir, Padshah, son of Jalal-ud-din Akbar Padshah Ghazi,” had built the mosque. However, apart from Cope no other record of this inscription exists, either in the writings of 19th century historians and archaeologists, or of later researchers. Thus, common thought considers the mosque to be completed 1635 AD, after a period of five years by Shah Jehan. Compared with others mosques which were open to the public, the Pearl Mosque was solely for the use of members of Shah Jehan’s royal court.

The mosque was stripped of its precious stones, converted into a Sikh temple, and renamed the ‘Moti Mandir’ by the Sikhs after the demise of the Mughals. During the reign of Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1799-1839 AD), the mosque was used as a government treasury. In 1849, the British discovered precious items scattered inside the mosque, including gemstones, and after initially also using it as a treasury, later restored it to its original status as a mosque.

The mosque stands on a raised plinth of 6 feet 9 inches high and is approached by a flight of 11 steps through an unpretentious portico at the northwest corner close to the portal of Jahangir’s Makatib Khana. The irregular octagonal hallways of the mosque is today lacking almost all of its original decorative features, only the raised marble dassa (carved edging), with alcoves for shoes, allowing a small glimpse to the lost grandeur. The low doorway leads to the sunlit courtyard, measuring 55 feet by 32 feet, which is paved with marble slabs. There is a prayer chamber on the west, and compartments on the north and east, with a southern wall finishing the structure. The five-aisle prayer chamber stands on a plinth a little less than a foot high and is marked by a carved decoration which runs around the whole courtyard. The prayer chamber measures 55 feet by 25 feet, broken by five curved archways which create five compartments, each further divided by similar arched openings. The prayer chamber also contains a mihrab (highlighting the direction of Mecca) in the back wall, and a marble mimbar (pulpit) on the northern side.

The shallow domes that you see are double domes, devised for better acoustics. The bulbous double domes are covered with marble and have lotus cresting which seems to have been crowned by metallic finials, now disappeared. The central dome, the largest, stands on a raised ornamented platform, nearly square, which springs from a circular drum 4 feet high.

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