By Momina Aftab
Situated in the heart of Lahore – standing tall and magnanimous, surrounded by soothing gardens and other Mughal era relics – Badshahi Mosque is the epitome of Mughal architecture grandeur. Being the most prominent architectural phenomenon of this city, the Royal Mosque holds within its sandstone paved courtyard, bulbous domes, embellished arches and rising minarets history of dynasties and ages that have passed and inhabited the Walled City of Lahore.
This crowded yet exquisite tourist spot has so much more to it than being a central religious site of the city, a photographer’s utopia, and Lahori elite’s favourite place to have their wedding shoots. Here’s the history behind the astounding architectural wonder.
The construction of Badshahi Mosque began under the reign of the 6th Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb Alamgir in 1671 A.D. The emperor handed the supervision of the construction to his foster brother Fiada Khan Koka, who was also the Governor of Lahore. The mosque was built to memorialise military campaigns against the Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji, although construction left the Mughals broke and weakened the Mughal state.
As a symbol of the mosque’s importance, it was built directly across from the Lahore Fort and its Alamgiri Gate, which was simultaneously built by Aurangzeb during construction of the mosque. The idea was to build a work of art that stands out in magnificence and architecture amongst all the other mosques built by Mughals and it truly did turn out to be an unparalleled magnum opus that has a history of being the world’s largest mosque for approximately 313 years.
Unfortunately, the decline of the Mughal Era began soon after and the mosque was taken over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh as he conquered Lahore in 1799. The Sikhs didn’t respect the integrity of this holy relic and neglected the mosque that resulted in its deterioration.
The Maharaja used the sandstone courtyard as a makeshift stable for his horses and the 80 hujras (study rooms) built on the sides of the courtyard as living quarters for his militia and artillery storage. In the 1841 civil war that ensued between son of Ranjit Singh, Sher Singh and Maharani Chand Kaur, the soaring minarets of the mosque were used to place Zamburahs (light guns) to attack Kaur’s army who had taken refuge in Shahi Qila. These shenanigans did not sit well with the Muslims of Lahore.
Even when British colonisation began in the 18th century, the East India Company continued to use the mosque for martial purposes. They also obliterated the hujras and created dalans (side aisles) in their places, which are present to date. However, the British government finally came to their senses due to backlash from Muslims and organised a Badshahi Mosque Authority in 1852 for the rehabilitation and restoration of the mosque to its prior status of a premier mosque.
It was officially given back to Muslims by then Viceroy of India, John Lawrence. Since then, the mosque has gone through many restorations under the Pakistani leadership as well to maintain its original dignity and form.