Lahore holds yet another key to understanding Islamic architecture in the subcontinent. Like Delhi (the capital of India), the city provides visual reminders of its parental heritage, of its occupation by a series of rulers since the eleventh century. But like two children of the same parents they are very different, each with their own personality and temperament. Throughout their shared history Lahore and Delhi have been inseparable, but distinctive in character.
Today Lahore is the largest city of the state of Punjab in Pakistan, with an elegant mixture of the old, the colonial, and the new. For the monarchs who ruled from Delhi, Lahore was a crucial buffer zone. It was necessary for invading armies from the west to take this city first before they could break through to Delhi. But a protective barrier is also a gateway, and Lahore was the first to come into contact with new ideas and creative influences. Great pots and artists settled here rather than further within the Indian peninsula.
The raids and establishment of a court at Lahore began in the eleventh century (in recorded history) first by Ghazni and later by Mohammad Ghori. Ghori's kingdom in the subcontinent was left to his trusted slave and able military assistant Qutubud-Din Aibak, with his capital in Delhi where he built the famous Qutub Minar. But it was in Lahore that the celebrated poet Amir Khusrao held court. For the Khalji, Tughluq, Sayyid, and Lodi dynasties, Delhi was the center of power and the administration of Punjab was delegated to their appointed Viceroys. Throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Lahore was relentlessly invaded form the north and north-west. Finally, when Delhi came under the rule of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, the Governor of Lahore invited Babur (reigning in Kabul) to join forces and take Delhi. Babur spent time in Lahore before Capturing Delhi after a decisive battle at Panipat in 1526. After this experience, Mughal rulers (and, for a brief period, Sher Shah Suri who ousted Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, from the Delhi throne) never forgot the critical importance of Lahore and spent time and effort in strengthening its forts and embellishing its environment.
The exiled Humayun, returned to Lahore in 1555 but died soon after he reclaimed the Delhi throne. His young son Akbar (14 years old at the time) was crowned emperor at Kalanor in the Punjab and proceeded immediately to Lahore. Being an intelligent man, he sensed the perfect positioning of an older citadel constructed by his predecessors and built the new Lahore Fort at the same site, with its northern side facing the River Ravi. Akbar based himself here while he was expanding his empire in the subcontinent.
As the Mughal empire grew so did its fame, and artists and poets flocked to Akbar's ateliers in Lahore. The first Portuguese Jesuits came here to visit the great emperor who had grown so interested in world religious. Akbar, desperate foe a son and heir, sought the blessings of the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chisti at a retreat outside Agra. A son was born named Salim and to commemorate the saint and the child a new fort was built called Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra, India). Prince Salim grew up in Lahore, spending much time in his father's court and artistic workshops, developing a love for all things beautiful.
It was in Lahore that Prince Salim set eyes upon Anarkali ('Pomegranate Blossom', she was Akbar's favourite dancing girl). Akbar, legend has it, was furious and had the lady entombed outside the fort. Whether this story is fact or fiction, a modest tomb stands in Lahore believed to have been built by the lovesick prince (in 1615). The gravestone in the Tomb for Anarkali bears the tragic inscription,
Could I behold the face of my beloved once more,
I would thank God until the day of resurrection.
The tomb was converted into a church during British occupation and now the building serves as an archive (with a collection of old prints) within the compound of the Government Record Office.
Jahangir (as Salim was known when he succeeded Akbar) continued to live and love Lahore even after he ascended the throne in 1605. Rather than busy himself with the problems of the empire, he spent many pleasure-filled winters in Lahore, leaving it only in the hot summer months to go to the glorious garden city of Srinagar (amidst the Kashmir hills, which Akbar had added to the empire).
Once a passionate lover, always lover, Jahangir had many passions. Just beyond Lahore (35 kilometers to the west in Shaikapura), Jahangir built a lovely pavilion in the middle of an artificial lake, and a tower called Hiran Minar in memory of his pet deer (hiran). The small lake is filled by an elaborate water system and the embankment has an open pavilion at the center of each of its four sides. A ramp leads from the shore to the three-storeyed arched building at the center of the lake, where the emperor sat and watched the forest and its animals. The octagonal building with its thick walls is incredibly cool and the arched doorways open on all sides catch every breath of passing breeze.
Jahangir's love of Lahore is further underlined by his expressed desire to be buried in Dilkush, the gardens (of the heart's delight) that he had gifted to his wife Nur Jahan. Jahangir dies in 1627 while on his way from Lahore to Kashmir, and according to his wishes was brought back to Lahore to await burial. His beautiful and powerful wife Nur Jahan had built a rather special tomb for her father (Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb in Agra) and Jahangir's Tomb is of similar design. It stands on the bank of the Ravi across from the fort in a vast (55 acre) enclosed garden. The square tomb (85 meters on each side) is single-storeyed, with four tall, very graceful minars at each corner. The minars have a lively zigzag play of colored inlaid marble-work and are topped by small white kiosk-like domes. The long, flat-roofed ground floor is punctuated by a line of arches, which open into a corridor that runs around the building. The tomb chamber is sat at the center of the building, through a passageway of painted walls and mosaic marble floors. A staircase leads up to the open court of the roof, and this is where the tomb has been placed in accordance with the emperor's wish to be buried under the canopy of the sky and stars in the manner his great-grandfather Babur. From the paintings and accounts of Jahangir's reign one gets the impression that the emperor loved birds and flowers. One must imagine that the gardens around Jahangir's tomb were once filled with flowering trees and plants, the songs of birds, and the gay abandon of fluttering butterflies. Today the garden presents a pathetic sight of neglect and disinterest.
The royal garden tombs of the Mughal emperor are all as dissimilar as their individual personalities. Babur was buried in a modest tomb in Kabul, Humayun's Tomb in Delhi is an elaborate affair: an octagonal building of red sandstone, marble highlights with a huge white marble dome. Akbar's Tomb in Sikandra, Agra is a spectacle. A five-storeyed, terraced, red sandstone structure with arches and no dome, the cenotaph perched on the top floor in an open white marble-screened terrace. Jahangir's Tomb is far more modest than either his father's or grandfather's garden tomb and larger but less ornate than Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb (his father-in-law), and is of a style that was never repeated. On the roof platform of the tomb is the marble cenotaph of Jahangir beautifully inlaid in black with the ninety-nine glorious names of God. The cenotaph was once surrounded by beautiful marble screen believed to have been robbed in later centuries to decorate the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
West of the tomb's forecourt is a another, the Tomb of Asaf Khan, the brother of Nur Jahan and father of Mumtaz Mahal (for whom the Taj Mahal was built in Agra). The Tomb today has lost most of its beauty and is poorly maintained, but it was a classic traditional, domed octagonal structure with bright tile-work decorations and highlights.
Nur Jahan survived her husband Jahangir by 18 years, and these were spant in intrigue and trouble. Jahangir had named his son Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) as his successor, but he was not Nur Jahan's son. At the time of Jahagir's death, her own candidate grabbed the throne and fortified Lahore only to be displaced a few days later by Shah Jahan, who rushed back to Lahore to quell the rebellion and convey to Nur Jahan that she had backed the wrong horse. Nur Jahan, though in disfavour, continue to live well, being an excessively powerful and wealthy woman, and set about building her husband's tomb and her son. The Tomb of Nur Jahan is a sorry sight; no fit place for the legendary beauty who wielded so much power and influence in her lifetime and virtually ran the empire on behalf of the pleasure-seeking, passionate Jahangir. It stands forlorn today near the railway track, desolate and uncared for stripped of its original decorative work and pomp.
Shah Jahan had his capital at Agra and Delhi, but he had a special place in his heart for Lahore, the city of his birth. He visited Lahore despite his preoccupations with his great architectural projects in Delhi and Agra. The 400-mile long route that linked the three capitals was lined with trees, and Shah Jahan enjoyed travelling from one home to another.
The Lahore Fort that one sees today is a happy blend of what Akbar originally built along with additions and renovations introduced by Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The rule of thumb that (does not always work but which) art historians use to distinguish the various styles is: anything in red sandstone is Akbar's or Jahangir's and anything covered in marble, heavily inlaid, is attributed to Shah Jahan's opulent taste.
The fort was more or less rectangular in shape (380 by 330 metres) with the long northern side facing the Ravi River. The modern entrance to the fort is through the regal Alamgir Gate built by Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son who succeeded him. A modern ramp leads the way into a wide open courtyard, and at the north western corner is an entrance to the Moti Masjid, the Pearl Mosque, for the private use of the royal family. This elegant little mosque is said to have been built by Shah Jahan and has a courtyard with a tiny tank for ritual ablutions and delicate arches marking the mirhab. Back into the main courtyard to the east is the grand Diwan-e-Am where the emperor gave his public audiences. A marble and red sandstone balcony at the rear end was built by the Emperor Akbar, and it was here that he sat before the august gathering that came to pay their respects.
A passageway leads behind the Diwan-e-Am to a row of palatial buildings built along the northern side of the fort facing the river, and it is important to see how the view was incorporated into the architectural scheme. The building directly behind the Diwan-e-Am is Jahangir's Quadrangle with elaborate sandstone pillers and brackets that spring from their sides in the sahpe of mythical animals. The central area may once have been a lovely ornamental garden of the type so often depicted in Mughal miniature paintings. At the northern end of the guardrangle is the Khwabgarh-e-Jahangir, Jahangir's house of dreams. Unfortunately the dreamlike quality of the building is lost as it has been converted into a museum (with a dreary display) that houses an interesting collection of paintings and manuscripts.
South of the museum is the Hammam, the once opulent royal baths, but the marble floors and painted walls have been denuded. The museum beside the Hammam has an armory and picture collection. Outside the museum is Shah Jahan's Quadrangle, with a row of rooms on the east side and Shah Jahan's Diwan-e-Khas along the north side. This elegant pavilion of marble screens, mosaic floors, and wide arches served the emperor as a place where he met special guests and family members. One can only imagine the reception such guests would have received with exquisite Persian carpets on the floor, richly embroidered bolsters and brocade cushions to recline on, with refreshments severed in Jewelled vessels and jade glasses. At the corner of the Diwan-e-Khas is an octagonal tower called Lal Burj, the red tower, also covered with tile mosaics and screen-work. The murals on the walls are of a later date but add to the richness of the building.
Following the northern line, the next courtyard is the Ladies Courtyard where the emperor met with his harem: mothers, daughters, many wives, and ladies-in-waiting. The Ghusl Khana is another royal bath with an elaborate system for hot and cold running water and areas where the ladies could elaborately groom themselves. Standing at the corner is the twin tower of the Lal Burj, termed the black or Kala Burj, which is closed for security reasons as it stands in ruins.
The next courtyard is the last in the line and is the most beautiful contribution made by Shah John to the Lahore Fort. The courtyard has lovely mosaic flooring and all around are lavishly decorated pavilions from which one could once catch a glimpse of the river and enjoy the cool water-swept breeze. Shish Mahal is the palace of mirrors, adorned with tiny concave mirrors set in gilt and carved plasterwork as part of an elaborate ceiling design. At night, when the lamps and torches were lit in the pavilion, the mirrors reflected the flickering lights like a sky with a million dazzling stars. The pillars of the pavilion are equally lovely with ornamental bases and inlay-work. Some of the adjoining pavilions are decorated with murals, other adorned with stucco-work.
The wide open courtyard is characteristic of Mughal palatial architecture. The courtyard served several purposes, while the surrounding rooms and verandas offered comfortable shelters, when required. Looking over the eastern corner of the courtyard is the little gem-like pavilion called Naulakha, literally meaning nine lakhs, perhaps the sum of money spend to build this costly pleasure cove. The structure has a curved roof in the style of the Bengal hut (of bamboo) and is tastefully decorated with very special inlay-work along the pillars and walls. The more intricate the design the more elaborate the process, and in some of the inlay-work here a single flower is made up of several tiny pieces of semi-precious gems: jade-greens, agate-reds, and lapis lazuli blues. From the window of the pavilion one can look out onto the main square and see the graceful domes rising from the enormous Badshahi Mosque, the Tomb of Ranjit Singh, and the gilded dome of Guru Arjan Dev's Memorial, which mark the next stage of the story of Lahore.
One of the exist of the fort is from the east side through the Elephant Gate where one can see the Shah Burj (Gate), the royal gateway. This eastern end of the fort wall was once covered with vibrant ceramic tiles. The tile-work of the fort is beautiful and is a feature not to be easily found in the forts of Delhi or Agra (but can be seen in the Gwalior Fort in India). This technique of decorating monumental buildings was once profusely used in Persia and parts of Pakistan (such as Multan). The mosaics have been arranged in patterns with angles and combat scenes, elephants and camels, floral and geometric designs.
Walking back to the Alamgir gateway, the path opens out into a huge open courtyard, with the fort on one side and the dramatic stairway to the Badshahi Mosque on the other. This area is called the Hazuri Bagh and within it, to one side, is the Tomb of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the great poet who died in 1938. His poetic works are still read, admired, and studied in school and collages throughout Pakistan and also India, inspiring great emotions of patriotism and independence: Speaking as they do of a time of colonial oppressions and the liberating spirit of freedom.
Shah Johan had three sons, the eldest, the favourite and heir to the throne was the aesthete, Dara Shikoh, who was murdered by his younger brother Aurangzeb, perhaps the better warrior and statesman. Aurangzeb inherited a much poorer treasury from his father who must have spent millions on the construction of the Red Fort (Delhi), the Taj Mahal, renovating the Forts of Agra and Lahore, amongst other projects. Aurangzeb rightly felt such extravagant expenditure to be wasteful and the only really major building venture he undertook (apart from the construction of his wife's tomb in Aurangabad, India) was the enormous Badshahi Mosque at Lahore. It was the largest mosque in the subcontinent, built to accommodate 60,000 people in prayer. A grand stairway leads to the entrance gate and a huge open courtyard paved with red sandstone. The experience of space and freedom here is incredible, with the magnificent blue sky above to remind one of God's eternal grace. The western face of the building is exalted, with grand arched openings. There is a delightful return to the traditional play of pink sandstone and white marble highlights in the exterior decorations. The hall within has plastered walls and ceilings with bold floral designs in almost a poor imitation of the grand marble effects achieved by Aurangzeb's father. Above the western façade rise three bulbous marble-covered domes, adding a majestic grace to the Badshahi Mosque; the mosque of the King of Kings.
During the reign of Jahangir, one of his sons had taken refuge with the Sikh Guru Arjun Dev. Although Akbar had patronized this religious group and even granted them the land on which the Golden Temple was built in Amritsar, Jahangir was not pleased by his son's act of rebellion. Tragically, he had the Guru killed, and this act alone is said to have fired lasting animosity between Sikhs and Muslims. After Aurangzeb, a line of weak Mughal rulers were unable to control the empire and bits of the territory fell to aspiring young rulers. Lahore became the target of raids and convulsed by strife, till it was finally captured by the Sikhs and ruled (1799-1839) by Ranjit Singh whose tomb stands near the entrance to the fort beside the memorial he built to Guru Arjun Dev.
Wazir Khan's Mosque
In the days when the Mughals held court in the Fort an entire city and a maze of bazaars grew up outside the fortified palace (in the southern quarter of Lahore) to furnish the needs of the imperial lords and their courtiers. Indeed, the Mughal emperors encouraged the nobility to built their homes and gardens around the fort in Lahore. Today the market area near the fort is a delightful place. The narrow streets are lined with shops, crowded with people and goods, and the sun never seems to find a place to fall on the ground below. Like the caravanserais of old, these traditional marketplaces are neatly organized into specialized areas, with a jeweller's street, another for the sale of cloth, and yet another brimming over with burnished brassware.
Amidst this riot of color and exotic sensations is one of the most beautiful sights of Lahore, Wazir Khan's Mosque. Wazir Khan was a favored number of Shah Jahan's court in Lahore and he had this exquisite mosque built, a likeness of which cannot be found anywhere in the Indian subcontinent. The mosque stands in a congested courtyard (300 kilometers from Delhi Gate) and follows the traditional form of a mosque. Its distinctive beauty lies primarily in the ceramic tile decoration, which over its minarets, walls, and doorways. The colored tiles attain their brilliance from the mineral content of the glaze, and under severe temperatures obtain an incomparable luster and vibrance. Mesmerizing turquoise, the deepest ink-blue, sunflower yellow, and new-leaf green along with shades of brick red and earth browns make up the color scheme, while the motifs range from the tree of life to arabesques. The use of file mosaic work in architecture was a heritage from Persia and was used only for a brief period in India before the Mughals made full use of the abundance of natural colored stones and semi-precious gems to adorn their buildings. But the effect of the glow and radiance of tile decoration (as in Wazir Khan's Mosque) is bold and daring whereas the delicate inlaid stonework on a monumental scale (as in the Taj Mahal) tends to be soft and diffused. What is remarkable is that both these very disparate styles were in vogue in the court of Shah Jahan.
• What's in the neighbourhood
There is lots to see and do in Lahore but one of the prettiest places is the Shalimar Gardens, built by Shah Jahan outside the city (to the north-east), but now well within the city limits. The garden was not built near the river, as was the practice in other cities like Srinagar, built fed by a great canal constructed by the emperor to feed the Mughal capital. The garden consists of three terraces with water running through them. The lowest terrace is of the traditional charbagh variety while audience halls and residential palaces were constructed on the second terrace, so that when the emperor came to this faraway garden he and his harem could spend some time here amidst the scintillating waters, fountains, and orchards. We are told that Shah Jahan was so found of this garden (which has lost much of its grandeur and sophistication) that he preferred to stay here rather than travel all the way to the Lahore Fort.
Along the Mall (now called Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam) there are some lovely old colonial buildings in an elegant style: Aitcheson Collage, the High Court, the GPO, and the Museum with the Zamzama cannot in front. The Museum has a good collection of miniature paintings, manuscripts, and carpets. The Gandharan sculptures are priceless and include the Fasting Buddha, an extremely powerful image. The Buddha, undertaking vigorous penance, is depicted in this sculpture with every bone in his body, muscles, and blood-vessels visible through the skin, as it transparent. He is portrayed deep in meditation, his eyes lost in their dark cavities as if reaching inwards to find the meaning of life within his inner being.
• How to get there
Lahore has an international airport connected to countries around the world. There are trains, buses, and an internal air service to other cities of Pakistan. Cars, three-wheeler, rickshaws, and even horse carts can be hired for tour of the city. The best time of the year to visit is in winter, between November and March, after which it gets very warm and dusty.