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Restoration of the Tomb of Shah Rukn-i-Alam (Multan, Pakistan)

For the restoration of an important four-teenth-century mausoleum of the Tughluq period in Multan and for its contribution to reviving some of the great crafts of 600 years ago and promoting similar building activity throughout the country. This remarkable program was the brainchild of Muhammad Wali Ullah Kahn when he was architect to the Antiquities Department. It was further developed when he became director of the conservation section of the Awqaf Department of the government of Punjab in 1970. His main concern has not only been the res-(oration of the monument but the establishment of a training program for Pakistani craftsmen in the traditional crafts of glazed Multan tilework, wood carving, and terra-cotta. This commendable effort of Muhammad Wali Ullah Khan has not only resulted in the rescue of a great monument from decay and thoughtless disfigurement, but has led to an awareness of the need for the conservation of other great monuments in the country.


This work has won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Architects: Muhammad Wali Ullah Khan (Director Auqaf Department, Lahore)

Master Craftsmen: Talib Hussain, Bushir Ahmed, Haji Rahim Bukhsh, Abdul Wahid, K. Allah Divaya, Kashigai Nazar Hussain, and Imtiaz Ahmed

Client: Government of Punjab Lahore, Pakistan

Completed: 1977


The fourteenth-century Tomb of Shah Rukn-i-‘Alam in Multan is one of the outstanding architectural treasures of Pakistan and is considered to be the culmination of the Multan-style tombs, which derived their inspiration from Central Asian models. The earliest example in Pakistan of this style is the twelfth-century Gardezi Tomb at Adam Wahan.

The way of conserving this fourteenth-century monument was to restore all the damaged parts of the building as nearly as possible to their original appearance. Those parts of the tomb only slightly damaged, however, were left untouched in order to convey a sense of age.



To put back into a good state of repair a superb l4th century AD mausoleum; to remove later ecretions and, in particular, to repair the badly eroded retaining wall which surrounds the mausoleum platform.

Description of the Site & Buildings

A small white mosque stands adjacent to the tomb on a raised platform

Historic photograph of the tomb showing the state of deteriorationTopography

The mausoleum is situated on the top of a fortified hill adjoining and overlooking the old city of Multan. Its position makes it a dominant feature from a great distance in many directions. The top of the hill has been levelled at the western end to provide a platform for the mausoleum, and this has necessitated construction of a high retaining wall on three sides of the platform.

Climatic conditions

The climate of Multan is characteristic of the region, that is,it has greater extremes of both heat and cold than any other part of the Indian subcontinent. From the middle of April to the middle of September it is extremely hot, while from the beginning of October until the end of March there is a magnificent cool season with warm bright days and cool nights. Frosts are common in January. Although there is only a scanty rainfall, in July and August the humidity rises and the climate becomes almost tropical.

Historical Background

Shaikh Rukn-al-Din was the grandson of Shaikh Al-Islam Hazrat Shah Baha-al-Haque Zakariyya, whose large domed tomb is situated at the other end of the fortified hill on which the tomb of Rukn-al-Din stands. The latter was appointed Shaikh-al-lslam by the Delhi Sultan ‘Ala-al-Din Khaljl. Rukn-al-Din was an accomplished mystic at the age of 25 and established a Khankah and Madrasa in Multan.

One version of the construction of the mausoleum was that it was originally intended by the Delhi Sultan Ghiyas-al-Din Tughluq for himself, but that after his death his successor Sultan Muhammad Tughluq gifted it to Hazrat Shah Rukn-al-Din who had alreacy been buried in the tomb of his grandfather. Consequently the body of the saint was eventually removed to his present tomb in the presence of yet a later Sultan, Firuz Shah Tughluq, who also shouldered the bier. There are,however^no authentic records for this version of events, and it seems likely that the immense reverence with which the aged saint was held at the time of his death resulted in the construction of this magnificent mausoleum.

Mr Muhammad Wali Ullah Khan at first noticed the severe deterioratior of the condition of the building many years ago, and had campaigned at a time when he was architect to the Antiquities Dept. for its restoration. Upon his being brought out of retirement to become Director of the conservation section of the Auqaf Dept of the Government of Punjab, Mr Muhammad Wali Ullah Khan was able to propose, with the Governor, a campaign to raise the funds to make the conservation project of the 1970’s possible.

Local Architectural Character

Multan is almost entirely dominated by brick,which is used for walls floors and roofs , as well as for paving streets. The walls and roofs of buildings are usually plastered, and painted in light colours. Flat roofs are utilised in most buildings, and domes and vaults are used only in tombs.


The mausoleum is approached from the town square outside the municipal offices by a fine road which leads up the hill through the great gates of the fort. The mausoleum is such an object of pilgrimagethat a large number of vendors, hawkers, doctors, masseurs, musicians, etc. set up shop on either side of this road every day.


The Work of Conservation


The Architect’s Approach to the Problem

The decision was made to restore all the damaged parts of the building as nearly as possible to their original condition. Where parts of the building were only damaged in a very minor way, i.e. where a small part of the glaze of a tile was missing, then it was not replaced. In this way, the building was restored to its original appearance and glory but with a certain sense of ageing maintained. The site was cleaned up, the paving of the  platform relaid with tiles of the original size and colour, new precast cement grilles were laid which matched the large tiles but were pierced with holes to allow the water to drain into the underground drainage system. Flowering trees and shrubs were planted on the platform and protected simply by openwork brick surrounds. New electric lighting standards were placed across the platform and electric floodlighting provided externally and internally in the mausoleum.

More controversially, the tombs which were in the porch and on the platform around the building were all removed (with the exception of one or two over which legal court cases are still pending). An outer vestibule which had been added after the original entrance vestibule was complete was removed. Finally, the entrance portico to the platform was demolished and rebuilt in a style imitating that of the period of the mausoleum, designed by the architect.

The area around the top of the hill adjoining the platform enclosure has been landscaped with grass and trees.


Structure, Materials and Technology

In preparation for the work of conservation, in 1971 the architect set about reemployment of traditional craftsmen who had inherited through their family some knowledge of 14 of the building crafts used in this building which had largely fallen into disuse or had become seriously altered with time. Under the direction of his site supervisor and the sub-engineer (Talib Hussain, and Btshir Ahmed), an outstanding mason, a woodcarver and a tiler were found (the latter subsequently replaced after he had gone into private business, by a second master tiler) and together they trained a total of 33 craftsmen in the revived techniques which were perfected by trial and error over a long period.

The following are supplementary pieces of technical information on particular aspects of the conservation work.

(i) The first measure undertaken was the clearing out of all the loose debris in the cavities and grave pits excavated into the platform around the mausoleum. At the same time the original drainage system of the mausoleum was cleared out. Portland cement was used in all the work of repairing and waterproofing ths substructure of this enclosure platform – but it was never used where it would be visible.

(ii) The foundations of the mausoleum were not felt to have moved to such an extent that a complete reconstruction was justified. (The crack in the dome was only a few millimetres wide.) For this reason attention was concentrated on the rebuilding of the lowest sections of the brick walls on the side nearest the city, i.e. the west, wherever they were cracked, both below and above the platform level.

(iii) Once these measures had been taken the whole of the enclosure platform was surfaced with a bed of very strong cement concrete 3 inches thick. On this the remade tiling was laid with tiles of the original size and design. This was done in an endeavour to prevent water seeping into the ground around the mausoleum.

(iv) The original enclosure wall was strengthened in two ways. First, wherever it was felt necessary the enclosure wall was given an extra foundation outside of the original one; i.e. the original foundation was widened and a stepped buttressed toe-wall was provided underground. Second, where it was judged necessary, in the sloping ground below the enclosure wall, two further retaining walls were provided at intervals with strong toe-walls to buttress them and broad foundations. Thirdly, to further consolidate the site, the slopes were planted with grass and shrubs.

(v) The wood reinforcing of the masonry walls and the carved woodwork of the doors, niches and mihrab were all repaired using wood carefully selected from the Forestry Dept. timber store 50 miles away from Multan. The wood was chosen in each case to match the colour of the old wood.

(vi) In relaying the brickwork of the enclosure wall and of the mausoleum, cement mortar (1:3 mix) was used to within an inch or so of the surface, the last section was filled^like all the cracks in the existing mortar joints of the brickwork}with ‘surkhy’ mortar (lime mortar with a catalyst added of burnt earth).

Vii) The dome was found to have tilted a total of 5 or 6 centimetres out of the vertical. It was decided that it was too dangerous to attempt to correct this and the tilt was left but some care was taken to disguise it externally using an additional plaster thickness. The master tile worker, Allah Divaya received an award for his tiled work, subsequently left the employment of the Auqaf and is now very successfully engaged in private manufacture of tile work of the old type. The remainder of the workmen are all still employed by the Auqaf Dept. doing restoration work on the other mausolea in the area.

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About the Author
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of development agencies with mandates that include the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities. AKDN agencies conduct their programmes without regard to faith, origin or gender.
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