Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The mosque of Wazir Khan

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The mosque of Wazir Khan (built during the reign of Shah Jehan) inside Delhi Gate in old Lahore is without doubt the most priceless piece of Mughal art and architecture in the city. Anyone who has studied its decorative tile work critically places it in terms of sheer aesthetic beauty miles above the more famous and celebrated Blue Mosque of Istanbul.

Indeed, it will not be incorrect to say that together with the contemporaneous Shah Jehan Mosque of Thatta, it is a superlative of Mughal art. Masood Khan of Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP) says, the tile work seen in both mosques reached its state of perfection in Shah Jehan’s period, was used to great advantage and then faded out of the artists’ vocabulary.

The mosque of Wazir Khan has long been under threat from encroachment, particularly along the south wall. As well as that at least two minarets are leaning outward. Recently the floor of the courtyard was beginning to sink. Masood Khan, in charge of the AKCSP walled city restoration project, who carried out a detailed study of the mosque, says that the threat was mainly because of extremely poor drainage under and around the structure. This is largely because of haphazard and unplanned building all around the mosque.

In April 2011, the Department of Archaeology and the Auqaf Department ganged up to add to the destruction of this unique piece of national heritage. After due paperwork, Rs33 million was made available as destruction funds. At that time it was planned that the mosque will be ‘renovated’ with modern cement. Thanks to intervention from AKCSP, the madness was averted.

With no expertise in conservation (Ketas temple in the Salt Range is a premium example of official hack jobs), the so-called experts of both departments are hard at work to demolish Wazir Khan’s mosque. The work proceeds even as you read these lines.

Teams of daily wage earning labourers armed with chisel and hammer are pounding away at various parts of the mosque. Six inch-thick coats of 370 year-old lime mortar has been hack off the parapet walls, roofs and the paving of the courtyard uprooted. Not one of the luminaries of both departments recognises that the pounding of the hammers is causing structural damage to the building. No one takes any notice of the damage already inflicted upon the priceless tile work. Just witnessing the work in progress gives the impression that the mosque is being demolished.

Over the past couple of decades we have seen that the Department of Archaeology both at the federal and the provincial level is singularly incapable of understanding the word ‘conservation’. We have dozens of monuments that fell prey to their ignorance and ineptitude. The exquisitely beautiful baradari of Raja Todar Mal near Chunian was destroyed by treasure hunters in the early years of the last decade. The inn at Sarai Chhimba (25 km south of Thokar Niaz Beg on N-5) has been converted into a village and people are destroying that Akbari monument as they please. But the Department of Archaeology sleeps because there is no money to be made by saving such monuments. As someone enriched himself plastering Ketas with slabs of marble, there is more money to be made by destroying Wazir Khan.

Postscript. Nearly 20 years ago, this remarkable piece of heritage was placed on the tentative World Heritage List. But because the Department of Archaeology is so incompetent that they cannot even fill out the requisite paperwork, Wazir Khan’s Mosque remains unlisted. Shame on us.

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

4 Comments:

At August 21, 2015 at 4:34 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Sir it not some thing new in regard to archaeology department of Pakistan that how they fail in their responsibilities. Shame for the department.
sir ihave to make request to you. Please do not mind. Please wright masjid insted of mosque becasr of its meaning. Advance thanks.

 
At August 22, 2015 at 10:36 AM, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Unfortunate, we do not have sense of respect to our heritage or history.

 
At January 6, 2016 at 9:25 AM, Blogger BOB said...

I belong to Pattoki near Chunian, where Baradari Of Raja Todri Mal. is situated.

 
At January 6, 2016 at 2:53 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Nice to know that BOB. I hope you were not among those who destroyed the baradari looking for non-existent treasure.

 

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days