Badshahi Mosque (built 1672-74)
Badshahi mosque is one of the few significant architectural monuments built during Emperor Aurangzeb’s long rule from 1658 to 1707. It is presently the fifth largest mosque in the world and was indisputably the largest mosque in the world from 1673 to 1986 when the Faisal Mosque was constructed in Islamabad. Although it was built late in the Mughal era in a period of relative decline, its beauty, elegance, and scale epitomize Mughal cultural achievement like no other monument in Lahore.
Construction of the mosque began in 1671 under the direction of Muzaffar Hussain (Fida’i Khan Koka), Aurangzeb’s brother-in-law and the governor of Lahore. It was originally planned as a reliquary to safeguard a strand of the Prophet’s hair. Its grand scale is influenced by the Jama Mosque of Delhi which had been built by Aurangzeb’s father Shah Jahan. The plan of Badshahi mosque is essentially a square measuring 170 meters on each side. Since the north end of the mosque was built along the edge of the Ravi river, it was not possible to install a north gate like the one used in the Jama Mosque, and a south gate was also not constructed in order to maintain the overall symmetry. Within the courtyard, the prayer hall features four minarets that echo in minature the four minarets at each corner of the mosque’s perimeter.
The prominence of the mosque in the imperial vision was such that it was constructed just a few hundred meters to the west of Lahore Fort. A special gate facing the mosque was added to the fort and designated the Alamgiri gate. The space in between–the future Hazuri Bagh garden–was used as a parade ground where Aurangzeb would review his troops and courtiers. The Hazuri Bagh appears to be at a lower level than the mosque since the latter was built on a six meter plinth to help prevent flooding.
The mosque did not fare well during the rule of Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. When Ranjit Singh took control of Lahore in 1799 the mosque’s courtyard was used as a stable and the hujras (cells) around the perimeter were occupied by his soldiers. Ranjit Singh himself used the adjacent Hazuri Bagh as his official royal court. When William Moorcroft of England visited Lahore in 1820, he recorded that the mosque as being used as an exercise ground for the Sipahi infantry. Twenty years later, a moderate earthquake struck lahore and collapsed the delicate marble turrets at the tops of each minaret. The open turrets were used as gun emplacements a year later when Ranjit Singh’s son, Sher Singh, occupied the mosque to bombard Lahore Fort during the Sikh civil war.
After the British took control of Lahore in 1846 they continued to use Badshahi Mosque as a military garrison. It was not until 1852 that the British established the Badshahi Mosque Authority to oversee the restoration of the mosque so that it could be returned to Muslims as a place of worship. Although repairs were carried out, it was not until 1939 that extensive repairs began under the oversight of architect Nawab Zen Yar Jang Bahadur. The repairs continued until 1960 and were completed at a cost of 4.8 million rupees.