Further into the Mughal Lahore

March 5, 2023

Dr Ajaz Anwar is heartened to see many a young professor having got research-based qualification in Mughal art and architecture

Kashikari from Jehangir’s tomb.— Image: Supplied by Naeem Iqbal
Kashikari from Jehangir’s tomb.— Image: Supplied by Naeem Iqbal


 conglomerate of eight scholars of art history of South Asia is working on a project, titled CROMLahore, to further explore the Mughal Lahore. They held their first audiovisual-aided conference-like exposition on February 14. The contributors were mostly doctorate holders such as Dr Faiqa Waqar, PhD in Mughal art and architecture; Prof Dr Kanwal Khalid, PhD in the history of South Asian arts, and director of Punjab Archives; Dr Murad Khan Mumtaz, PhD in South Asian Arts, USA; Fatima Saeed, artist, and a doctoral candidate; Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi, PhD in Mughal art and architectural history; Saamia Vine Ahmad, artist, and doctoral candidate in Colombo; Usman Saeed, a gardener and miniature painter; and Saba Samee, a conservationist.

The venue chosen was Quaid-i-Azam Library, with the blessings of its chief librarian, Abdul Rahim, in Lawrence Gardens; and the day chosen was the 540th birthday of Zaheeruddin Babur, the founder of Mughal dynasty. All the above mentioned scholars contributed their observations tracing the influence of the various aspects of Islamic arts. Dr Waqar traced the development of baths by briefly mentioning Qusayr ‘Amra in Jordan. She didn’t go into the architectural details of the hot and cold sections — mentioning the frescos in the bath or the depictions of dancing girls in the bath would have been distracting. The bath in the Shalamar Gardens was briefly discussed.

Those familiar with the great palace of Qusayr ‘Amra would know the grandeur inside and out, and how a big space had been created by three wagon vaults supported by big arches. The life-size full figures are earliest depictions of Islam, writes Arnold, a teacher of Allama Iqbal at the Government College, Lahore, in his book Painting in Islam.

The most interesting part was the various graffiti-like frescoes that had been whitewashed during the early British occupation of the Lahore Fort. All the rooms and chambers, big and small, were originally covered with drawings of plants, creepers, bees, butterflies, birds and buffaloes, as pointed out by Usman Saeed. Dr Waqar mentioned the use of Kaashikari, which originated in Kashan and was used extensively in Multan and Lahore monuments. She showed a slide from Jehangir’s tomb arcades embellished with glazed, colourful tile mosaics.

Talking of the depictions of gardens, a speaker mentioned the mosaics in the arcades of the Great Mosque of Damascus from the Umayyad period, as if the various gardens of the heavens had been depicted in Byzantine tradition of tesserae. This medium was not used by the Mughals. Gardens remained a favorite theme, though. In this context, the royal necropolis of Shahdara was illustrated with drone-like images. (The garden divided into 64 parts may be discussed later.)

In case of the Lahore Fort, after it was taken over by the British soldiers, noteworthy would have been the images of the names ruthlessly scribbled with bayonets by the British in the back walls of Diwan-i-Aam. This spacious hall was converted into a hospital and all its frescoes were covered with lime wash. It is on record that the fort served as the Lahore secretariat till 1934.

At the moment this part of the hall is covered with green curtains behind which the conservation quacks of the Walled City of Lahore Authority are doing what is not their expertise. One may mention here that Dr Mahmood Hussain, the former head of the Department of Architecture at the UET, had objected to the handing of the fort to the WCLA. Consequently, he was never invited to the Darbar Hall meetings again.


The Jehangir quadrangle had many pavilions some of which have since disappeared. The so-called Sehdara should be called the proverbial bara dari with curved roofs resembling Bengali bamboo huts.

— Image: Supplied by the author
— Image: Supplied by the author

Lahore’s earliest garden is perhaps Kamran’s, of which only a bara dari has survived the ravages of time and floods. It may be pointed out that Kamran’s mother was not a Timurid. Though badly mutilated by Nawaz Sharif’s ‘restoration’ interventions, it needs to be discussed in a future research.

Many a time it was suggested that the bara dari, part of the earliest Mughal garden in Lahore be demolished as it hindered the flow of the Ravi. But it was spared only because it facilitated a pole for the high-voltage power lines crossing the river.

An extensive study of the bara dari and other Mughal monuments was conducted, and large, measured drawings were prepared by Prof Dr Naeem Mir, on the initiative of Prof Dr James Wescoat from the University of Colorado in 1986. The study was sponsored by Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The local collaborators were the Departments of Archaeology and Architecture, UET, Lahore.

Some reports along with the drawings were published which are available with Naeem Mir. When Nawaz Sharif ordered the rebuilding of the bara dari, the earlier research and drawings were not used. The LDA architect, though furious, could not refuse to obey the non-expert bureaucrats. He rightly opined that the surviving structure of the bara dari in lime would not hold bond with the Portland cement.

Babur never liked the dusty, hot plains of South Asia. He lamented the absence of trees, flowery beds and waterfalls. He thought the people here were ugly. He found it strange that people ate pulses with grain. He felt that people were loyal to the throne rather to the person of the King, a trait true to this day.

Babur was originally from Farghana. He lost his kingdom many times, yet his companions always remained loyal to him. He willed that he be buried in Kabul. The wish was granted and he lies there buried in a garden of his own. The only element he liked was the monsoons during which he enjoyed horse riding.

Babur did not live long. The long, tumultuous years of his opium-addicted son Humayun, and his attempts to appease his brothers, the rise of Shershah Suri, and his long exile are another chapter. His triumphant return with cultural gifts from Shah Tahmasp is another chapter altogether. But his successors seemed to appease Babur’s soul, justifying their sojourn here by providing what he had missed, i.e. gardens with waterfalls and fruit trees and flower beds to soothe the hot and dusty environment. Thus started a long phase of garden extravaganzas.

The able researchers were so obsessed with Babur, perhaps to glorify his family prestige as a descendent of Emir Timur who had rebuilt Samarqand, as his paternal head and Changez Khan as his maternal ancestor. Otherwise there is nothing worth mentioning about this founder of the Mughal dynasty.

This is not to question the quality of research by this team. In fact, it is a matter of immense satisfaction that they delved into a complicated yet interesting field of art and cultural history of Lahore. Moreover, the Lahore Museum was originally called Central Museum because it is the oldest and best museum of Pakistan. During the British days, any objects excavated were placed in the nearest museum. Thus, this one came to acquire the best collections of Indus Valley, Gandhara, Mughal, Sikh and Colonial periods. Scholars here and abroad can avail this research opportunity.

This scribe was the first person in Pakistan to get a doctorate in Islamic art and architecture. There was a dearth of lecturers in the subject in the early 1980s and one had to give lessons at the UET, the Punjab University and the NCA. The courses were gradually abandoned after this scribe’s retirement in 2006. The emphasis on the history of architecture as well as art appeared to be lessening. But things appear to be improving. It is heartening to see so many young professors having got this research based qualification. Besides, more of them are engaged in publishing their research papers and books. There is a need to publish these papers in journals of international repute. Pakistan has a rich cultural past. The recently concluded literary festivals at Alhamra in which so many renowned scholars, local and from abroad, participated was a testimony to that.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Naeem Iqbal, the custodian of Jehangir’s tomb)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

Further into the Mughal Lahore