A timeless spectacle

Exploring the majestic Hiran Minar, a marvel of Mughal architecture and a natural splendour

A timeless spectacle


akistan is rich in architectural heritage including mosques, temples, monastries, Gurdwaras and forts, representing the finest in Muslim, Hindu and Sikh civilisations.

Among the most magnificent historical buildings in Pakistan one must count Hiran Minar, an architectural marvel that attracts thousands of tourists every year. The exquisite structure stands as a testament to the grandeur of Mughal architecture. Hiran Minar, also known as the Tomb of the Deer, was constructed during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The emperor had ordered this built in the memory of his beloved pet, Mansraj. The complex, considered a 17th-Century masterpiece, is particularly renowned for its harmonious integration of nature with the themes of humans, animals and hunting.

Spread over an area of approximately 100 acres, Hiran Minar is a vast complex with a towering structure, a lake and a central pavilion besides a breathtaking park. Remarkably, half of the area has been diligently preserved as a natural forest, lending an even more beautiful and authentic ambience to its surroundings. Initially, it was developed as a hunting reserve for the Mughal royalty. Hunting grounds held significant importance in the physical environment of the Mughal emperors. The reserve had initially emerged within a forest characterised by small bushes. The sanctuary provided the royal family with a near wilderness experience close to Lahore.

A timeless spectacle

The area had been a part of Prince Salim’s lege during his father Akbar’s reign. In 1607, he founded a town near the Sahu Mili village. Recognising the potential of the adjacent forests, he proclaimed them as an exclusive hunting ground. Following the demise of Mansraj, the king’s cherished deer, the hunting ground was transformed into a sanctuary.

The Hiran Minar Complex is located in Sheikhupura, nearly 40 kilometres from Lahore. The most convenient way to reach it is by utilising the motorway. Once you take the Hiran Minar exit; it is within a few kilometres. Sheikhupura derives its name from a reference to Jahangir, who was affectionately nicknamed Sheikhu.

Legend has it that Jahangir’s beloved deer, Mansraj, met its demise at this location during a hunting expedition. Deeply moved by his loss, Jahangir sought to honour the memory of his cherished antelope by constructing a 100-foot minar. Another account of the story suggests that Jahangir killed the deer, mistaking it for a wild one. The authenticity of this account remains disputed.

An inscription crafted by Mullah Muhammad Hussain Kashmiri, paying tribute to the deer, says that Mansraj was born in the same area as a wild deer. Captured by Mughal huntsmen, Mansraj abandoned its untamed nature and became domesticated.

The town where Hiran Minar was erected, was then known as Jahangirpura. It was founded by Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627). The hunting ground was developed under the supervision of Sikandar Moin. It had been commissioned by Emperor Jahangir. The minaret was built around 1050 AH (1607 AD) close to the resting place of his beloved pet. Tozak Jahangiri says the emperor ordered the installation of a deer-shaped tombstone at the burial site. Mullah Muhammad Hussain Kashmiri, then inscribed a stone plaque at the Minar.

The minaret is circular, tapering towards the flat top adorned with a parapet wall. Its outer surface features 210 square openings arranged in 14 rows at regular intervals. Inside the minaret, there is a spiral staircase comprising 1,018 steps. The exterior as well as interior walls have lime plaster. The lower tier is adorned with decorative panels, arched niches and prominent relief bands.

Legend has it that Jahangir’s beloved deer, Mansraj, met its demise at this location during a hunting expedition. Deeply moved by this loss, Jahangir sought to honour the memory of his cherished antelope by constructing an impressive 100-foot minar in 1607.

Adjacent to the grand minaret, towards the east, there is a vast lake with a causeway leading to an octagonal pavilion constructed entirely with Mughal-era bricks positioned at the centre of the tank. Emperor Jahangir had commanded the construction of the baradari pavilion in 1620, 13 years after the completion of the minaret. After its construction, Emperor Shah Jahan later ordered significant additions and alterations in 1638 AD at a cost of Rs 80,000.

Every corner of the monument has a square pavilion with a twelve-chambered gateway to the baradari. The tank is rectangular, measuring 895x752 square feet. It features a ramp and a parapet wall. During the Mughal period, a canal was laid through Aik nullah and connected to the lake at its northwest corner. A system was also devised to fill the tank with rainwater from the catchment area. The main gateway of the baradari is a rectangular corner. The outer and inner surfaces of the gateway are plastered and adorned with marvellous engravings on the walls.

Emperor Jahangir envisioned the bridge that leads to the baradari as a royal resting place. Stairs from the baradari area also descend to the water, although these no longer serve a utilitarian purpose.

A special feature of the Hiran Minar is its environment. The top deck of the minaret is the best place in the Punjab to get a feel for the landscape and its connection to the Mughal Empire. Looking north, there is a patch of forest that resembles the shrub forests of the Mughal era; to the west, there are extensive irrigated fields — a product of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. These resemble size and shape to the well-irrigated fields of the Mughal period. The Lower Chenab Canal has transformed the land into one of the most fertile regions in the country.

When I recently visited the Hiran Minar along with my friends, we started from Gujranwala. It took us approximately an hour and 45 minutes to reach our destination. As we made our way down the long winding road that led to this historic site, we had low expectations. However, as we came close, the minaret and its twelve doors gradually came into view and the grandeur of the Hiran Minar complex unfolded before us. We realised that it was much larger than we had perceived from the photographs. It also had a majestic appeal.

A timeless spectacle

The minaret is positioned at the farthest point of the complex from the main entrance. The place was bustling with tourists and the parking lot was nearly full. Boating facilities are available at the lake. The water in the tank appeared somewhat murky, but we learnt that there it is replenished regularly once a month.

As we approached the monument from the parking lot, the air was tranquil. The site has an excellent water collection mechanism that brings rainwater to the pond. Paddle and motor boats add to the lively atmosphere. s

Located outside the old city, the Hiran Minar complex and its twelve arches have been protected from residential and commercial encroachments. During the visit, we discovered that the baradari is better preserved than any other heritage sites in Pakistan. As we traversed the structure, the surrounding grounds and the small forest, a serene silence enveloped the area.

However, we noticed clear signs of decay as we approached the baradari. The unprotected walls bear a lot of graffiti. On every wall we encountered people’s signatures, phone numbers and random slogans. The grounds were littered with trash and discarded wrappers of all kinds.

The minaret itself is closed to the public. In the past, we were told, visitors could ascend the spiral staircase and enjoy a panoramic view of the surroundings from the roof. However, the structure has now been declared unstable. The pathway leading to the baradari across the bridge is also closed.

Restoration work was in progress and some improvement was visible. Overall as a tourist destination, the place is well-managed. There are adequate facilities including a canteen, a restaurant and washrooms. Tourist guides were readily available too.

The writer is based in Gujranwala. He has a keen interest in exploring and writing about archaeological and heritage sites in Pakistan. He can be reached at waseemshabbir78@gmail.com

A timeless spectacle