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Notes on the Geography of Pakistan: Lahore: Wazir Khan's Mosque

Compared to the Badshahi Mosque, this one, founded in 1634 with a bequest from Ilmuddin Khan, the Wazir Khan, is an explosion of color.

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We've come into the Old City at the Delhi Gate and, walking along the busy street, approach this extraordinary minaret. Once, the rent collected from all the shops lining this street from here to the Delhi Gate was assigned in perpetuity to the mosque. The full text of the lengthy deed of bequest is recorded in Latif's Lahore....(1892).

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Go ahead and look, but watch the street!

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Ever seen anything like it? F.H. Andrews, an early principal of Lahore's Mayo Art School, wrote that the tile work was "extremely fine, particularly when the bright mustard yellow is not too lavishly used... the secret of the art is said to have died with an aged karigar, Muhammad Baksh, who expired at Lahore in 1876 under the weight of ninety-seven years, having never in all that time consented to take a pupil." (Quoted in Aijazuddin, Lahore Recollected, 2003, p. 71.) The tile itself is unusual in that there is no brick or earth base. Instead sand was mixed with lime and gum into a kind of paste that was spread into large slabs. The chosen pattern was inscribed with vitreous enamel, and the panel was then cut into pieces and fired at a low heat. The assembled mosaic was then laid in lime mortar. (These details come from Lockyard Kipling's note on the mosque in No. 19 of The Journal of Indian Art, vol. 2, 1888.)

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Another angle.

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A close-up.

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In clear weather, the towers are even brighter.

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The entrance from the main street is blocked off by shops. You'll have to walk around the corner.

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An open entrance. The inscription up top is the same as the one at the entrance to the Badshahi Mosque: "The best words to remember are No God but Allah and Mohamed is the Prophet of Allah."

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Inside, there's the familiar layout of a square courtyard facing a single-aisled prayer hall. The small building on the left marks the tomb of Syed Muhammad Ishaq, a Persian known also as Miran Badshah; he died in Lahore before the Mughal Period, and so Wazir Khan's Mosque was built around him.

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Looking to the side; this is the inside of the blocked entrance on the busy street.

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Looking back to the functioning entrance.

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It's decorated, too.

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Back to the prayer hall. "The outstanding characteristic of this style of building, both in Persia and the Punjab, is its accentuation of colour, as it depends entirely for its expression on the brilliant display of patterns in faience. To such an extent was this colour scheme allowed to dominate the entire fabric that one of the fundamental principles of good building has been sacrificed, inasmuch as the designers subordinated intentionally all constructional emphasis in order to give precedent to the applied art.... Exactly similar glazed decoration... is seen in profusion in the seventeenth-century buildings of Persia and Iraq, most of it being made at the town of Kashan, where the name for it is Kashi, which is also the name by which this art is commonly known in Lahore.... It seems not unlikely therefore that most if not all of this decoration was imported in bulk from Kashan." From Percy Brown in The Cambridge History of India,, volume 4, p. 560.

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A different angle on a different day--15 years earlier, in fact.

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"The extreme severity of the lines of the building is relieved by the division of the surfaces into slightly sunk rectangular panels, alternately vertical and horizontal, the vertical panels having usually an inner panel with arched head or the more florid cusped mihrab. These panels, which are exposed to the weather, are generally filled with a peculiar inlaid faience pottery called kashi, the effect of which must have been very fine when the setting of deep red plaster of the walls was intact." From F.H. Andrews.

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An inscription, in Persian, reads: "Remove thy heart from the gardens of the world, and know that this building is the true abode of man."

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The interior surfaces are painted and often in poor shape.

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Simple maintenance. The mosque didn't always get even this. Emily Eden visited in 1838 and wrote: "I went with X. to an enamelled mosque in the city, which must have been splendid in the mussulman days, but the Sikhs keep up nothing of the sort." (Up the Country, 1866, quoted in Aijazuddin, Lahore: Illustrated Views, 1991, p. 107.) Lockyard Kipling in 1890 had just about given up on the mosque's preservation: "This beautiful building is in itself a school of design; but year by year less attention seems to be paid to its maintenance, and the painted work is in a dilapidated state of neglect. Under these circumstances, it seems of the highest importance to secure careful copies for preservation in the Museum and School...." (Aijazuddin, 1991, p. 113.)

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Close-up.

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Where protected from the weather, as in the mihrab, the painted surface is in better shape.

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Muqarnas in the arch.

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Detail.

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The ceiling, sadly, is screened.

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The mosque is actively used as a madrasa.

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Same place, same text, 15 years earlier.

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The mosque's entrance in context.


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