Moti Masjid: The treasure of Lahore Fort
Medieval Islamic architecture is all about grandeur. Mughal architects, in fact more generically speaking, architects of Islamic monuments of the medieval era as a whole, never believed in the concept, ‘Small is beautiful’. There, however, are a few stunning exceptions here and there. One such example is the almost forgotten Moti Masjid, tucked inside the imposing Lahore Fort in Pakistan.
Three Moti Masjids
Incidentally there are three Moti Masjids, literally meaning Pearl Mosques, of the same era in the Indian subcontinent. Emperor Muhiuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir had one built inside the Lal Quila, the Red Fort. It is in erstwhile Shahjahanabad, now part of Old Delhi. There is one of the same name in the Agra Fort, constructed during emperor Shah Jahan’s era. The Moti Masjid that took me by surprise in the Lahore Fort was initially built by emperor Nur-ud-din Muhammad Salim Jahangir. It got its present form in Shah Jahan’s time.
I had nearly missed this beautiful monument during our trip to Lahore Fort in February, 2014. We were a group of thirteen journalists visiting Pakistan on an invitation from the government. That had its many advantages certainly. Such as being exempt from all queues at all tourist sites. But one major point of irritation was the overzealous security arrangements. The Pakistan Government’s protocol officer assigned to us, Jaffar Qureshi was painstakingly making sure that all of us remained together in a group surrounded by heavily armed police personnel.
Treasure of Lahore Fort
Well, we couldn’t blame him really, he was just carrying out superiors’ orders, who obviously didn’t want to take any chances. Now, many of my compatriots were not as interested in Islamic culture as I was, and were keen to move on to the more famous destinations, even within the fort itself, while I wanted to soak-in as much as I could in this rare opportunity. Passing by the grand Alamgiri Gate, you get a fleeting glance of Moti Masjid. My team moved on, and I too hesitated for a moment: should I take a quick detour, or give it a pass?
Time, after all, was limited and Lahore Fort offers much to appreciate with time. Then in a flash I gave the security a slip! Tourists don’t seem to come to this area much. I enter into a large dark ante-chamber through a small totally unimpressive door, which led to another similar nondescript door. Luckily rather than returning from the doorstep of the shrine, I was pulled towards it by an uncanny inquisitiveness. The vista changed the moment I reached this second door.
The drop of pearl
For a moment it appeared as if a beautiful palm was etched against the dazzling blue sky and on it was a drop of sparkling white pearl. Makrana marble. The small but beautifully designed mosque was built with the best quality marble brought to Lahore from far away Rajasthan. I tried to imagine: In an era when there were neither expressways nor gigantic trucks, tons and tons of uncut blocks of marble being hauled over nearly 800 Kms on small carts pulled by beasts of burden! What a commitment to beauty, I thought. Masons working under the direction of the legendary Mughal architect Mamur Khan had constructed the edifice. I never had the opportunity but I was told that the Moti Masjid changes colour with the time of the day, and takes an unearthly golden pink just before darkness sets in.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)