Wazir Khan’s Mosque, in the heart of the Walled City of Lahore, is one of the most thoroughly documented and discussed of our monuments. In 1887, Kipling (John Lockwood, father of Rudyard) discussed the mosque, its founder, and in particular, its glazed tile decoration, in the journal of Indian Art[i]. In 1903 Fred Andrews described its architecture and decoration in a supplementary note in the same journal, then called the Journal of Indian Art and Industry, and his concluding remarks are worth quoting at some length:
“At the time of my last visit to the Mosque, the plaster facing of the inside walls was in a state of considerable disrepair, and perhaps well-meant but crude attempts to arrest destruction had resulted in unsightly scars of inferior and uncoloured plaster, which, however, was better than some of the more ambitious efforts of a later date (if the almost incredible statement be true) where misguided zeal caused the red sandstone of a famous tomb to be colour washed pink! If the founder of the Mosque—Sheikh Ilm-ud-din alias Wazir Khan son of Sheikh Hisam-ud-Din—should in spirit visit his final and most beautiful ‘endowment to poor Mussalmans’, he would be saddened to find how little regard his human beneficiaries had shown to the solemn injunctions of his deed of bequest, and how mutable is real estate in this world, however carefully our last directions may be set forth. For in his earnest desire to perpetuate this memorial—‘ to give permanency to this sacred Institution’ – He says; ‘ I have endowed for its expenses all the shops and houses on either side of the street from the Masjid to the Delhi Gate’, and a certain serai and humam, for the proper upkeep of the Mosque and support of the establishment connected with it. ‘The legacy is valid, binding, certain and imperative—under no circumstances to become the property of anyone until the day when God shall assume heritage of all lands, for He is best of inheritors’.
This is dated 1051 Hijri. But alas! Sayed Muhammad Latif tells us that the serai and baths no longer contribute towards the original object and all the other parts of the estate, save the few shops actually included in the building of the Mosque, have become private property. [ii]
Both Kipling and Andrews were, at different times of course, principals of the Mayo Schools of Art in Lahore. Both papers were illustrated with drawings prepared by students of the Mayo School, and later, students form the same School made a wooden model of the mosque, which was exhibited at Wembley in 1924.
More recently, the mosque has been the subject of an admirable monograph by Dr. Abdullah Chughtai.[iii] It has been re-surveyed, and drawn by the Lahore Development Authority; has been extensively renovated by the Auqaf Department and forms the focus of several conservation proposals. But there is one aspect which seems to have escaped the notice of our scholars—an aspect which is essential, I believe, to our understanding of this truly remarkable building. That is, the function of the surface decoration—the inscriptions and decorative motifs—as a vehicle for communication. But more importantly, in using the example of this particular mosque I hope to demonstrate how such buildings should be “read” so that we can gain some understanding of the intention of their designers. But first, some basic information:
Nawab Hakim Ali-UdDeen Wazir Khan had this mosque constructed in 1044/1634, on the site of an ancient “Dargah” or Khanaqah or seminary established by the sufi Sheikh Sayyad Mohammad Ishaq Gazruni, who died in 786/1386 and is buried under the courtyard of the mosque. He belonged to the “Silsila muridan”, (sequence or chain of disciples) of Ahduddin Kirmani, with whose permission he came to Lahore from Gazrun, to propagate Islam.
According to his own will his grave was not covered over. Some miracles are reported after his death, for which he became know as “Peer Sabaz”, the green saint. In the Lodhi period a certain ameer Nadir Khan constructed a haveli near the grave and included the tomb structure within the complex. Around the grave he had a hujra (eloisters) constructed which was demolished at the time of construction of Wazir Khan’s Mosque.[v]
“WAZIR KHAN: Hakim ‘Aliu’d-Din was a native of Chiniot in the Punjab. He was a skilled physician and is therefore generally referred to as Hakim. In his youth, he obtained service under Prince Shah Jahan, and because of his skill in medicine and tactful understanding of the moods of his master, he was appointed superintendent of the Prince’s camp court. He distinguished himself by his skill and honesty in deciding disputes and gained a place for himself in the Prince’s esteem…. He was given the title of Wazir Khan in 1030/1620 by the Prince. Since then he was always mentioned as Wazir Khan. On the occasion of Shah Jahan’s accession to the throne in 1627, he was exalted by appointment to the rank of 5,000 foot with 3,000 horse, a drum and a lakh of rupees in cash were also granted to him with a robe of honour….
“Wazir Khan was appointed governor of the Punjab in 1041/1031. The province of the Punjab was then the fief of Yaminu’d-Dawla Asaf Khan as well as the crown lands in the Punjab, were of greater value than those in the other provinces. He held charge of the province for about seven years….
“Wazir Khan left many memorials of his career as Governor at Lahore. He built baths, market-palaces, gardens, sarais and mosques. He had adorned his residence in a way which no other chief of the state had been able to do. His Jami Masjid at Lahore in the heart of the city, which we briefly describe here, will keep his name alive for ages. He built a brick fort and other substantial buildings at Chiniot and handed them to its inhabitants. But he never saw his home again. “
“He founded Wazirabad, a town named after him, which exists today as one the Tehsils of the Gujranwala District. During the 14th year of his reign Shah Jahan appointed him the Governor of Akbarabad (Agra), but he held that appointment for hardly ten months. In the year 1050/1640 he died of colic”.[vi]
We know from other buildings and documents that projects such as this were invariably designed and supervised by professional architects. And a project as large and prestigious as the new Jamme Mosque for the city must have been entrusted to a reputable master. While none of the inscriptions on the mosque itself provide us the identity of the architect, we do have the names of at least four of the calligraphists who worked on the decoration of the mosque. And while it was not uncommon for architects of that time to be competent calligraphists and poets, but none of these four calligraphists are known to have been architects. Among the leading architects practicing in Lahore at the time, we have the names of Abdul Karim, Ahmad Lahori, Ali Mardan Khan and Mulla Alaulmulk Tuni. But there is as yet no concrete evidence to connect any of these names to Wazir Khan’s Mosque.
Two years later, “as a reward for the buildings of Mandu having been completed through his excellent exertions, “Jahangir tells us he “promoted Abdul Karim to the rank of 800 personal and 400 horse, and dignified him with the title of Ma’mur Khan (the architect Khan)”.[viii] Abdul Karim had completed Jahangir’s Daulat Khana in 1027/1617-18. By 1041/1631-32 he had completed the Shah Burj, or the north-west corner of the Lahore Fort.[ix] But he was transferred in the same year 1041 to Agra for the Constructions of the Taj Mahal.
The renouned architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori was certainly in and out of Lahore at time of construction of Wazir Khan’s Mosque. His father, Moosa, a Turk, was schooled in the atelier of Mi’mar Sinan. He himself was an expert on mathematics and astronomy in addition to being a poet and calligraphist. He was one of Shahjahan’s principal architects for the construction of Shahjahanabad at Delhi in 1048/1638 and carried the title of Nadir-ul-Asr.
He was the architect of Asif Jah’s palace in Lahore in addition to a fort and other structures in Hasan Abdal. But there is no concrete evidence to connect his name to Wazir Khan’s Mosque.
The Shalamar Garden had been laid out in 1632 AC, two years before our mosque. The construction of the Shah Nahar, was the combined work of the well-known canal engineer Ali Mardan Khan and Mulla Alaulmulk Tuni. The layout of the gardens may also be ascribed to these engineers. But as to the master-builder of our mosque, history is curiously silent. However, there is a remarkable affinity between the architectural features of our mosque and the Serai Amanat Khan, located at “one march’s journey from Lahore” some twelve miles south of Amritsar. So much so that it has been suggested that both monuments were the handiwork of the same architect.
The date of construction of the Serai, six years later that our mosque, and the name of its benefactor are recorded in the inscriptions which “entirely fill the two enormous panels framing the gateway arches”[x]. These inscriptions constitute the monument’s most prominent, decorative feature…Boldly executed in blue and yellow glazed tiles, the inscriptions clearly reveal the hand of a master calligrapher. As it turns out, the calligrapher and the builder of the serai were one and the same man, the great calligrapher Amanat Khan, who also executed the calligraphy on the Taj Mahal….[xi]
“We also know that, Amanat Khan’s elder brother was Afzal Khan, Shah Jahan’s Prime Minister and one of the most powerful officials in the realm,[xiii] while Afzal Khan had reached the high mansab rank of seven Thousand, his brother Amanat Khan attained only the rank of Hazaari, or commander of one thousand.
However, until further evidence is available, we must leave the question of the identity of the architect of Wazir Khan’s Mosque, and turn our attention now to reading the intention of its designer.
Critical analysis, such as it is, of our buildings has, as a rule, been limited to meticulous descriptions of the form. That is, the plan, sectional and elevational form of the building, and the materials and techniques employed in their construction and decoration.
We have precise measurements, elaborate discussion on the historical circumstances, and sometimes attempts to establish evolutionary sequences and precedents. But seldom do we find systematic analyses of the inspiration of the design beyond the material and functional purpose.
Indeed, it is only recently that scholars have begun to recognize the significance of the inscriptions, decorative motifs and the symbolic function of geometry employed in Islamic architecture. Hossain Naser, Nader Ardelan, Laleh Bakhtiar, and Kieth Critchlow have contributed much to our understanding of the cosmological and metaphysical concepts expressed through abstract forms, mathematical relationships, and decorative motifs. But as has been amply demonstrated by Wayne Bagley in the paper on the Taj Mahal,[xiv] it is the “writing on the wall”, more than anything else, that helps us “read” the meanings hidden in the more esoteric expression. Let us therefore examine the texts of the inscriptions on our mosque.
Above the central arch of the main entrance, in bold nastaliq letters is the formula “the best of remembrances” followed by the Kalima Tayyiba: “There is no god but Allah”, and the date 1045, that is, 1635 AC., the date the completion of the mosque.
This is a fairly standard form of identifying a pious institution such as a mosque. The panel on the right is a panegyric stating that it was executed in the reign of Shahjahan, while the panel of the left gives the date, 1044 and the chronogram:
The two lowest panels, on either side of the central arch, are of particular interest as they contain Persian quatrains which explain the concept of this whole elaborate gateway. It is interesting that while the customary formalities are relegated to the loftier panels, the lowest panels, almost at eye-level, are obviously intended to be noticed read and by all who enter the gateway. The panel on the right declares that “This structure, like the heavens, is a manifestation of bounty, and contains, like the temple of Ka’ba, great benefit for all mankind. “To all who turn towards the Qibla in prayer, may this door remain wide open with prosperity till the day of resurrection.”
The panel on the left address us as “tillers, “and reminds us that “everything we sow in this world we will reap in the next. Lay a good foundation in this life, for everyone must pass through this gate to Paradise.” The panel is signed by the calligraphist Mohammad Ali, who is known to have been a disciple of the sufi saint Mian Mir.[xv]
In other words, this elaborate entrance is intended to symbolise the transition from this life to the next. The wide open gate of God’s munificence. Indeed, as we climb the steps into the generous portico we find ourselves in a classic “Chahar Taq”, that is, the ancient Persian form of domed chamber with four entrances, which was assimilated into Islamic architecture, with its symbolism of the earthly material aspect of life represented by the cube base, and the spiritual, heavenly or metaphysical aspect represented by the hemispherical dome above. The transition from the square base to the hemispherical dome is necessarily an intriguing aspect of this form. One solution is to place an octagon in the “Zone of transition”. In this particular case the octagon is carried down to the ground level. Thus the floor plan is externally a square but internally an octagon. So that we enter to find ourselves literally in the zone of “transition.” Looking up we find the symbolism of the dome is emphasised by the frescoes round its base. These display “fruit of every kind on silver platters” and pitchers of wine” and “trees in pairs”, an unmistakable reference to the Koranic paradise.
Moving into the courtyard of the mosque proper we are confronted by a facade of five arches, reflecting the five domed bays of the prayer hall beyond. Inscriptions, this time in Arabic, are once again the main embellishments of this facade. They include Koranic texts, Hadith, (Sayings of the Prophet, peace be upon him) and some Tughras or calligraphic ensignias.
The three horizontal panels above the arches in the north wing include texts from the sura Baqra (Verses 125, 127 and 144) while the similar panels on the south wing carry extracts from the sura Aal Imran, 96; Tauba, 18 and Tauba, 108. The calligraphist in this case is Haji Yousaf Kashmiri who has signed the last of these panels on the south wing with the invocation of God’s forgiveness upon himself and the date 1044. But on the last panel on the north wing he has added a prayer of forgiveness and peace for the viewers and the calligraphist. Among the letters of Mujaddid Alif Thani are those addressed to Haji Yousaf Kashmiri, who was probably also a “Muezzin” in this mosque. At any rate, it is evident from these letters that he belonged to the “Naqshbandi” sufi order[xvi]. Apart from this the only point of interest in these texts, as indeed the Hadith’s on this facade, is that they almost all refer mosques, the establishment of places of worship, the direction of the Qibla, and the importance of regular prayers.
Placing such quotation on a mosque is fairly routine. But the choice of the inscriptions on the central bay are not so easily explained, particularly, the long text which frames the tall central arch. Running vertically up the right hand side, across the top and down the left side is a complete sura, Al-Fatha or “Victory”. Four of the verses in this sura refer to a “victory”; ten verses refer to the Prophet. Other themes and subjects refered to are “tranquillity”; the desert Arabs who lagged behind; restraining “their hands from you and yours hand from them”; and Fealty under the tree. But the only references to a mosque are that God shall admit to His Mercy those who were hindered from the Sacred Mosque, and the Prophet’s vision that “ye shall enter the Sacred Mosque…heads shaved, hair cut short.”
Why does it occupy the most prominent position on this facade? To understand the significance of this sura we must move to a small frescoe panel on the south face of the pillar between the two arches on the north wing of the ewan. At first the picture is as mystifying as the text, for it illustrates a tree with curious black strands hanging from its branches, and some stylised clouds above. It is only when we recall the context and events relating to the revelation of the Sura al-Fatha that the significance of this painting becomes evident.
One night, at Madina, the Prophet dreamt that with his head shaved he entered Ka’ba, and its key was in his hand. The next day he told his companions of this and invited them to perform the lesser pilgrimage with him.
The Quraysh, after much deliberation decided to bar their entry into Makkah. Taking a detour the Prophet and his party camped at Hudaybiyah, at the edge of the sacred territory.
While envoys were being exchanged, there come over the Prophet a state comparable to that of receiving a revelation, during which he sat beneath an acacia tree and the companions pledged their allegiance to him.
Finally, a treaty was concluded between the Prophet and the envoy of the Quraysh. Several of the terms appeared humiliating to the Muslims, but they agreed to a period of truce. The Muslim were to depart from Makka but were to be allowed to perform the pilgrimage the following year.
The companions were greatly disappointed. And when the Prophet asked them to “Rise and sacrifice your animals, and shave your heads”, not a man moved, and though he repeated it three times they simply looked at him in dazed and bewildered silence.
As Martin Lings relates in his excellent biography:-
“It was not a rebellion on their part, but having had their expectations shattered by the turn of events they were now genuinely perplexed by the command to do something which they knew to be ritually incorrect; for according to the tradition of Abraham the sacrifices had to be performed within the sacred territory, and the same applied to the rite of shaving the head. None the less, their apparent disobedience dismayed the Prophet, who withdrew to his tent and told Umm Salamah what had happened. “Go forth”; she said, “and say no word to any man until thou hast performed thy sacrifice.” So the Prophet went to the camel which he himself had consecrated and sacrificed it, saying in a loud voice, so that the men could hear: Bismi-Llah, Allahu Akbar. At these words the men leaped to their feet and raced to make their sacrifices, falling over each other in their eagerness to obey; and when the Prophet called for Khirash – the man of Khuza’ah he had sent to Mecca before ‘Uthman – to shave his head, many of the Companions set about shaving each other’s heads so vigorously that Umm Salamah was afraid, as she afterwards remarked, that mortal wounds might be inflicted. But some of them merely cut locks of their hair, knowing that this was traditionally acceptable as a substitute. Meantime the Prophet had retired to his tent with Khirash; and when the rite had been accomplished he stood at the entrance with shaven scalp and said:
“God have Mercy on the shavers of their heads!” Whereupon those who had cut their hair protested : “And on the cutters of their hair, O Messenger of God!” But the Prophet repeated what he had said at first, and the voices were raised in protest still louder. Then after another repetition and a third thunderous protest he added: “And upon the cutters of their hair!” When asked afterwards why he had first of all prayed only for the shavers of their heads, he answered: “Because they doubted not.”
Returning to his tent, the Prophet gathered up his luxuriant black hair from the ground and threw it over a nearby mimosa tree, whereupon the men crowded round, each bent on taking what he could for its blessing. Nor was Nusaybah to be outdone by the men, and she also made her way to the tree, and was able to snatch some locks, which she treasured until her dying day.
The earth of the camp was strewn with the hair of the pilgrims. But suddenly there came a powerful gust of wind which lifted the hair from the ground and blew it towards Mecca, into the sacred territory; and everyone rejoiced, taking it as a sign that their pilgrimate had been accepted by God in virtue of their intentions, and they now understood why the Prophet had told them to perform their sacrifices.
After they had set off on the return journey to Medina, ‘Umar’s conscience began to trouble him, (for he had questioned the decision to abandon the pilgrimage,) and his anxiety was greatly increased when he rode up to the Prophet, seeking to enter into conversation with him, and the Prophet, so it seemed to him, was markedly distant and reserved. ‘Umar rode on ahead, saying to himself: “O ‘Umar, let thy mother now mourn her son!” He said afterwards that he was so troubled for having questioned the wisdom of the Prophet that he feared there would be a special revelation condemning him. His fears reached their height when he heard behind him the hooves of a galloping horse, and the rider summoned him back to the Prophet. But his troubles vanished in an instant when he saw the Prophet’s face radiant with joy. “There hath descended upon me a surah, “he said, which is dearer to me than aught else beneath the sun.”
“The new revelation left no doubt that the expedition from which they were now returning must be considered as a victorious one, for it opened with the words: “Verily we have given thee a clear victory”. It also spoke of the recent pact of allegiance: “God was well pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance unto thee beneath the tree….He knows what was in their hearts, and sent down the Spirit of Peace upon them., and hath given them the news of a near victory”.
The Divine Good Pleasure referred to is no less than the promise of Ridwan for him who fulfilled his pledge, and so this beatific allegiance is known as the Pact of Ridwan. The descent of the Sakinah, the Spirit of Peace, is mentioned also in another verse: “He it is who sent down the Spirit of Peace into the hearts of the believers that they might increase in faith upon their faith… that he may bring the believing men and the believing women into gardens that are watered by flowing rivers, gardens wherein they shall dwell unmortal, and that He may take from them all guilt of evil. Triumph immense for them is that in the sight of God”.
“The Prophet’s vision, which had prompted the expedition, is referred to as follows: God hath truly fulfilled for His Messenger the vision; God willing, ye shall enter the hair of your heads shaven or cut. But He knoweth what ye know not and before that hath He given you a near victory.”[xvii]
The painting can thus be seen as a direct reference to the Prophet, the locks of black hair on the tree recalling the precise events, at Hudaibiya. The allusion is reinforced by the clouds above – harbingers of rain, Allah’s Mercy. In fact in recognizing the Prophet as the symbol of God’s Mercy we have the key to the meanings of the surface decorations on the mosque. We read the cypress, with its symmetric form as the “insaan i kamil” the perfect man. With its top bent, it is the symbol of submission of the perfect Muslim. Entwined with the branches of the fruit tree or vine it gives us the “lover and beloved.” Two cypresses in a garden are the “lovers in Paradise”, the allusions to Paradise also abound in the flowers and “fruits of every kind on platters” (albeit of Chinese porcelain!), alternating with the ancient symbol of the cosmic tree, the Tuba or Sidra. This last is most dramatically represented in the two domes flanking the central bay. Its roots encircle the base of the dome and its branches spread upwards covering the entire surface. It is a tree, neither of the east nor of the west; it marks the outer boundaries of the cosmos and it stretches from the earth to the heavens. On the frescoed interior walls and on the encaustic tiles of the minarets and exterior surfaces the flowering peach tree symbolise the cycle of life, the evergreen cypress represent eternity.
Returning to the calligraphic inscriptions inside the main Ewan, or prayer chamber, we find a popular prayer of Abraham (Ibrahim, 38-41) and several “tughras” invoking blessings apon “Muhammad, lord of the two easts, lord of the two wests, the two Qiblas, the two worlds, the two houses, and so on, and more quotations, Hadiths and tughras. Around the base of the central dome is another complete sura-Hashr-, written in relief by one Hussain. This sura begins and ends with the glorification of Allah: “ All that is in the heavens and on earth, let it declare the praise and glory of Allah… He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or colours) to Him belong the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His praise and glory: and He is the Exalted, in might, the Wise”. This also very aptly expresses the attitude of the designers and decorators of the mosque itself. At one level the entire edifice should be read as an act of praise, a celebration of the glory of Allah. Yet at another level the designers take no credit for the creation of these forms. For the source of all forms, of all beauty, is “Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Form and colour.”
But returning to the central theme of the mosque, and the tughras, we find pairs of medallions in the spandrels above the arched mihrabs on the qibla wall. The Mihrabs of the two northern and two southern bays carry tughras glorifying Allah in the formulas of “Praise be to God most High/Exalted” and “Praise be to God most Gracious”. But the central, that is the principal mihrab carries the simple invocation: “ya Fattah!”. Fattah is one of the names Allah, from the root “Fatha” which means victory. But it also means opening. Thus “Fattah” is One who opens (the way). We will recall that the “victory” of the sura al Fattha was not a victory in the conventional sense but a pact of peace which opened the way for the spread of Islam. This reference to “opening” becomes explicit when we read the tughras above the two niches at the northern and southern end of the prayer hall. They are identical and read: “Open our Lord the gates of Thy Mercy”. It is significant that these end niches are often reserved as “retreats” which one enters in a state of extreme piety and devotion or for periods of intense meditation, particularly during the sacred month of Ramadhan. So that as he passes under these arches the contemplative enters the final stage of his journey. This is the goal he sought when he turned away from the world of men (The bazaar), and made his transition through the wide open gate of Gods. Bounty.. He was cleansed as he performed the ablution at the tank in his passage across the spacious courtyard. In the ewan he submitted to the discipline of formal prayers, and now, prepared, he prays to his Lord to open the gates of His Mercy. And Mohammad, peace be apon him, is the personification of Allah’s Mercy. And if, after having walked through its gates, traversed its court and feasted apon the delights of its ewan, if still you do not recognise the import of its message, then read, as you must when you leave the mosque, the bold Persian inscription above the exit:
“Mohammad of Arabi, who is the honour of both worlds, Dust apon the head which is not the dust of his threshold.”
Additions by islamic-arts.org
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