Sunehri Masjid

The Sunehri Masjid, or golden mosque, can be found in the old city of Lahore in the Chowk Kashmiri Bazar. A relative newcomer as compared with older monuments in the city, the mosque stands on a masonry platform a storey above ground level, and was constructed during the latter years of the Mughal Empire in 1753 AD by Nawab Bhikari Khan, the Deputy of Lahore. When he acquired the land, Bikhari Khan was required to obtain a special fatwa from Muslim scholars to construct the mosque; officials were concerned that the new edifice would interrupt the flow of traffic in the chowk (square).

Although his request was permitted, Khan could not persuade the religious authorities to allow incorporation of an existing small mosque into the new structure. Historian and Engineer Kanhaiya Lal credits Deputy Commissioner Lahore, Captain Nisbet in bringing Bhikari Khan’s concept to fruition one hundred years later, by demolishing the small mosque in question and incorporating the space within Sunehri Masjid compound.

The foresight of Bhikari Khan in elevating the mosque above shops—the rent from shops providing a source of revenue—ensured the upkeep of the mosque even during most of the Sikh rule. When the Guru Granth Sahib was placed in the vicinity, complaints of disturbance from the azan (Muslim call for prayers) began to be voiced by the Sikh community. Maharajah Ranjit Singh ordered the imam to be dispossessed and the Guru Granth Sahib to be placed within the mosque which was met with dismay by local Muslims. According to Kanhaiya Lal it was the efforts of Fakir Aziz-ud-Din and Noor-ud-Din in enlisting support of Gullu Mashki (the watercarrier in high favour with Mahrani Jindan), to influence Ranjit Singh that resulted in the reversal of the Sikh ruler’s decision. The undertaking given by the imam included reduced pitch of the azan and forfeiting the rent of the shops attached to the mosque.

 

Built on a raised vaulted platform about 11 feet above ground level, the structure covers a rectangular area measuring 102 feet by 45 feet. The basement is composed of deep, narrow cells. A flight of sixteen steps has been provided against a small entrance gate on the east. An open courtyard measuring 65 feet by 43 feet, with an ablution tank 25 feet by 27 feet, has been provided in front of the prayer chamber, measuring 40 feet by 16 feet. The northeast and southeast corners of the prayer chamber have minarets, crowned with blind pavilions. The eastern facade of the prayer chamber, including the corner minarets, is lime-plastered, with panels of various sizes which originally had fresco decoration.

The prayer chamber is a single-aisle three bay structure, surmounted by three distinctive copper domes carrying polished gilding, which, due to its shine, is visible from a great distance. Its four minarets are reconstructions after their collapse during an earthquake in 1905. The prayer chamber is divided into three compartments by four centred cusped arches carried on jambs nearly three feet thick. The central bay, nearly square and measuring around 15 feet, is bigger than those flanking it. In the centre of the western wall is the mihrab, balanced by similar niches in each of the two side bays.

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