The Badshahi Mosque, the crown jewel of Lahore, had been the largest mosque in the world for 313 years (1673 to 1986). Built during the reign of the sixth Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, the grand mosque represents an excellent example of the Mughal era architecture although it was built in the late Mughal era – a period of relative decline. The mosque characterizes the beauty, passion, and grandeur of the Mughal era in Lahore. After the fall of Mughal Empire, the mosque served more as a garrison for the armies of Ranjit Singh and the British troops than as a religious place. It is now the second largest in Pakistan and South Asia and 5th largest in the world with a capacity for almost 150,000 worshippers on its grounds.
The mosque is located along the outskirts of the Walled City of Lahore. It is located to the west of Lahore Fort where the entrance to the mosque faces the Alamgiri Gate of the Fort which was also built by Aurangzeb. Only the lower level Hazuri Bagh separates the two magnificent buildings. To the southern side of the Hazuri Bagh is Roshni Gate, one of the thirteen gates of the Walled city and also located closed to the entrance of Badshahi mosque. The Hazuri Bagh itself was used as a parade ground where Aurangzeb would review his troops and courtiers.
History of Badshahi Mosque
The iconic Badshahi Mosque was commissioned by the last Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb (also named Alamgir, meaning conqueror of the world) and was constructed in only two years from 1671 to 1673. Its architecture influences the Jama Mosque in Dehli although it is comparatively much larger in size. It could easily be seen from a distance of 15 km (app 10 miles) on a clear day.
Unlike his ancestors, Aurangzeb did not have much taste for art and architecture and remained more into military conquests during his reign. The construction of the Badshahi mosque was part of a military campaign against the Indian warrior king of the Maratha clan, Shivaji Bhonsle. The construction of the mosque almost exhausted the Mughal treasure and weakened the state itself.
It was built on a six-meter elevated plinth to prevent inundation from the nearby Ravi River during the flooding season. The construction project was entrusted to Aurangzeb’s foster brother Muzaffar Hussain (Fidai Khan Koka) who was also appointed as governor to oversee the projects.
Art and Architecture
The plan of the Badshahi Mosque is a square with each side measuring 170 meters. Its north end was built along the edge of Ravi River and erecting a gate to the riverside was not possible. The southern gate was therefore not constructed to maintain the symmetry. The construction of the mosque features red stone and white marble inlay which deviates the typical architectural features of the mosques in Lahore. The design of the majestic mosque was the inspiration of Indo-Greek, Central Asian and Indian architectural influences.
The full name of Badshahi Mosque is “Masjid Abul Zafar Muhy-ud-Din Mohammad Alamgir Badshah Ghazi” written in inlaid marble above the vaulted entrance. The main entrance of the mosque is accessible by stairs of 22 steps flight from Hazuri Bagh.
The entrance through the massive gate measuring 66′-7″ x 62′-10″ x 65 high including dome lets, vault 21′-6″ x 32′-6″ high, opens up into an extensive courtyard measuring 528’-8″ x 528′-4″ (278,784 ft2 )that can accommodate up to 100,000 worshippers at a time. It is divided into two levels – the upper and the lower (where the funeral prayers can also be offered). The entire courtyard is enclosed by 80 single Isle arcades measuring 23′-9″ high and plinth 2′-7″. There is a central tank measuring 50′ x 50′ x 3′ deep (2,500 ft2)
The chamber right above the entrance gate of the mosque house relics attributed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), His daughter, and His son-in-law. The chamber features Muqarna (a form of ornamented vaulting in Islamic architecture), an architectural feature from the Middle East that was first introduced in the nearby Wazir Khan Mosque
The main prayer hall measuring 275′-8″ x 83′-7″ x 50′-6″ high, has a central arched niche and five small niches, each one-third of the main. The mosque is topped with three marble domes. Its central dome has a diameter 65′ at bottom (at bulging 70′-6″); height 49′; pinnacle 24 ft and neck 15 ft high while the two side domes measuring a diameter 51′-6″ (at bulging 54′-2″); height 32 ft; pinnacle 19 ft; neck 9′-6″ high.
The interior including the ceiling is decorated lavishly with elegant floral frescos, stucco tracery, and inlaid marble from inside, while the exterior is painstakingly decorated with stone carvings as well as marble inlay on sandstone. The mosque can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers at a time. Each side chamber of the main chamber is spared for religious instructions.
There are four main three-storey octagonal shape minarets made of red stone and topped by marble canopy. Rising 196′ high from each of its four corners, the outer circumference measures 67’ and inner circumference 8’-6”, and are accessible by a staircase with 204 steps. Likewise, the main building of the mosque has four smaller minarets at each corner of the building.
Sikh Era Alterations
The entire beauty of the mosque was smashed when Ranjit Singh’s army took over Lahore in 1799 and used the mosque for military purposes. The main courtyard was used as a stable and the Hujras (cells) were occupied by his soldiers. The adjacent Hazuri Bagh was used as official Royal Court.
A moderate earthquake almost 20 years later collapsed the marble turrets at the top of each macerate and the open minarets were used as gun emplacements. During Sikh Civil war in 1841, led by Ranjit Singh’s son Sher Singh, the nearby fort which was besieged by supporters of the Sikh Maharani Chand Kaur was heavily inflicted by bombardment and most of the Dewan Aam (Hall of the Public Audience) was damaged too. Sikh forbade Muslims from entering the mosque to worship and only a small place outside the mosque was spared by the government for worship.
British Era Modifications
Later in 1846 the British controlled the region and continued using the mosque for military purpose but reconstructed the damaged parts which never regained their original look. Moreover, the 80 cells (Hujras) around three sides of the mosque, once used as study rooms during Mughal era and as military stores in Ranjit Singh’s rule, were totally demolished by the British for security reasons and rebuilt to form open arcades. The increasing agony against the irreverence of mosque led to a general resentment in Muslims which lead to indirectly summon the British to vacate and hand over the mosque to Muslims. In 1852 the British established the Badshahi Mosque Authority to oversee the restoration of the mosque in order to return it to Muslims as a place of worship.
Restoration of Badshahi Mosque
From 1852 onward gradual repair process started but the extensive repair was carried out since 1939 and by 1960 it was totally restored at a cost of 4.8 million rupees. The original floor laid with kiln-burnt bricks set in the Mussalah pattern was replaced with red sandstone flooring. Likewise, the original floor of the prayer chamber had been laid using cut and dressed bricks with marble and Sang-e-Abri lining forming Mussalah got replaced with marble Mussalah.
In 1993, the Badshahi Mosque was put in a tentative list as a UNESCO World Heritage Site