Badshahi Mosque: Ornamental monument of Pakistan
For four centuries this edifice has been one of the iconic landmarks of one of the most decorated cities of the Indian subcontinent: Lahore. No wonder, therefore, standing before it during my trip to Pakistan in February, 2014, I held my breath for several moments. The grand Badshahi Mosque in red sand stone etched against the sparkling blue February sky presented a perfect picture postcard image.
For once we were not being hurried by our Protocol Officer, Jaffar Qureshi. Those reading my columns would know we were a group of 13 Indian journos visiting Pakistan on an invitation of the Pakistan government. Our itinerary said ‘free time’ after the visit to Badshahi mosque, and I decided to make full use of it.
Patterns of Badshahi Mosque
The Shahi Masjid, as it is locally known, is generally celebrated for its imposing structure. But I soon realized it also has beautiful intricate stone-carved design spread all over the exterior. The designs are in spotless white, matching with the huge white marble domes.
Relishing the vista to my hearts content from a distance I move closer. And the closer I move, a distinct pattern of Badshahi mosque becomes clearer. Anyone who looks close enough that these patterns of unerring precision are of three distinct types. The main gate, a tall arch, is decorated on three sides with a rectangular pattern. And right on top of the arch are beautiful floral designs. Both in white, and looks pretty similar in terms of workmanship. But the moment I moved closer I realized, the former rectangular design was actually etched into the red sandstone.
In architectural designing terms, this is called ‘inlay’ work. It is actually a departure from the prevalent designs of the time in the city. Then you will see floral patterns in Badshahi mosque which have been actually cut out from marble stone. They have been set on the walls: carving. Then again, particularly on top of the smaller arches you will see designs intricately chiseled out of the sand stone in red itself. Akin to shapes of lotuses. This style of designing is called lotiform.
Interior design of Badshahi Mosque
But then this is all in the exterior. The true magic began as I moved in. Stunning workmanship spread all over the arches and the roof. Intricately hand-painted designs. The beauty of these designs is that if you move close enough you will see a beautiful complete-in-itself floral pattern. Move away and all these patterns mingle together to form a mind-boggling vast picture in a single frame. But look closely enough, and you will soon realise not all of these are painted really. Much of it is a style of designing called Manbatkari, or ‘stucco tracery’. Fine sand, mortar and lime are soaked in water to prepare this ‘stucco’ or plaster. The Shahi Mosque of Lahore showcases one of the most beautiful examples of Manbatkaris in the Indian subcontinent.
Intricate as its wall-patterns are the mosque is also an imposing structure with three domes. All made in marble. The minarets are also marble, each 196 Ft tall. And each of them is crowned with a white marble canopy. It merges soothingly with the white domes. About 10 thousand people can pray together in the main prayer hall of the mosque. I remember spending a good two hours in the Shahi Mosque, and even after that I felt I hadn’t seen enough of it.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)