By Sonya Rehman
Endearingly referred to as a “mole on the cheek of Lahore,” the glorious Wazir Khan Mosque, situated in the heart of the city, dates back to the 1600s. Established during the Mughal era by Hakim Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari (also known as ‘Wazir Khan’), who was the Governor of Lahore, and also a close aide of the Emperor Shah Jehan, at the time.
It’s a stunning mosque that one ever tires of photographing. Whether or not one is a native of Lahore, or a visitor, when the light is right, just as the pigeons take flight from the minarets, that postcard-perfect, albeit typical, picture is snapped. It’s glorious really, standing in the courtyard, soaking in the mosque’s warm, earthy tones, its stunning, intricate tile-mosaic work, calligraphy, in addition to its gorgeous frescoes painted in the prayer chambers. The mosque is inviting, almost gentle in its beauty, dulling the hubbub of the outside world, the narrow streets, the bazaars, and the dizzying energy. Time stops within the mosque, its splendor is too great, too tangible, real.
“It’s almost like a gateway to another world,” states Ali Asad Naqvi, an artist and a native Lahori. “It’s heavenly; almost like a door, a throne, to get intimate with the Oneness of Being – away from the hustle bustle of the outside world.”
According to Farhan Shah, the founder of ‘Old Lahore Walkabouts (OLW)’ – a new tourism company in the city which hosts walking sprees for those interested in better understanding Lahore’s art, culture and heritage; “the measure of the greatness of a city is not the amount of great people it has given birth to, but rather, the number of great people it attracts.”
“Rudyard Kipling called this mosque a school of design on its own,” states Shah, “The trend of four minarets in each corner of a mosque was set by the Wazir Khan Mosque. It served as the Jamia Mosque for the city before the Badshahi Mosque came into being.” Shah, whose ancestral home (and private museum) is Lahore’s famed Fakir Khan Museum – considered to be one of South Asia’s largest private museums – is a wealth of knowledge on the history and heritage of the city. “The most interesting part about the mosque, or rather, that square, is the number of graves and shrines that exist there,” he says, “It is interesting to find a grave smack in the middle of the mosque as well.”
The tomb that Shah mentions is that of Hazrat Miran Badshah, pre-dating the mosque. According to Shah, legend has it that after he was buried, “a pipal tree sprang up next to the grave,” the leaves of which would be collected and used for “cures to their predicaments through the blessed leaves.” Interestingly, as informed by Shah, when Ranjit Singh – the founder of the Sikh empire – seized Lahore, he “spent a night of merriment in the [Wazir Khan] Mosque with his favorite Moran Sarkar.” That night, Singh and Sarkar fell ill and were informed by their spiritual guides that “their indiscretion had angered the Pir.”
“Ranjit singh sought forgiveness and assigned an annual tribute for the mosque while Moran Sarkar started performing there every Thursday,” Shah states. It was a tribute which continued till its eventual banning by the then President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan.
“Among other graves, my favorite one is of the Pir Zakki (the man after whom the Yakki Gate of Lahore is named),” says Shah, “Legend has it that Pir Zakki while fighting the invading Mughals had his head chopped off at the Yakki Gate but miraculously, his body kept on fighting till the point his body reached the Wazir Khan Mosque. Till date, there are two graves of Pir Zakki inside the walled city; one at Yakki Gate – where supposedly his head was chopped off -and the other next to the Wazir Khan Mosque where, apparently, his body finally gave up while fighting the Mughals.”