Rendezvous @Dilkusha

February 9, 2020

Moghuls had no formula for succession. While the late monarch waited for the last salute, the contesting princes formed their own alliances and killed one another.

— Image: Supplied

It seems that due to the whimsical flow of the river Ravi back then, many gardens were laid on its right bank. One of these was Kamran’s, of which only the central pavilion has survived. The other was Dil Kusha, which is attributed to Nurjahan. Every time Emperor Jahangir left for Kashmir or returned, he would stay here. He had even expressed his wish to be buried at the place. As the chain of events unfolded, the garden turned into a royal necropolis of Lahore. Thus, Jahangir is the only Moghul ruler buried in Pakistan (the other one, freshly proclaimed, lies buried along with his elephant in the sands of Ravi).

Jahangir died in Rajori, during his annual trip to Kashmir. The news had to be suppressed till the time someone else was coroneted. As the royal retinue marched back towards the capital, oral history tells us the body was kept on a horse giving the impression that he was riding it. He was thus reduced to an equestrian corpse. By the time they reached Gujrat, the pathological stench made the royal surgeons to remove his internal organs which they buried in the place thenceforth called Jahangira.

Upon reaching Lahore, the eavesdroppers reminded the already exhausted marchers of the mummified cavalier’s wish to be buried in his favourite queen’s garden. Widowed for a second time, she had no time to object as the war of succession ensued in Lahore. Frontiers ahead — Avanti, Delhi and Agra. She was a fierce supporter of Prince Shehryar’s, who was married to her daughter — Ladli Begum — from Sher Afgan.

Moghuls had no formula for succession. While the late monarch waited for the last salute, the contesting princes formed their own alliances and killed one another. A scheming Asif Jah, brother of Nurjahan, favoured Prince Khurram because he had married his daughter — later known as Mumtaz Mahal. He won the day, helping his son-in-law to ascend the throne and assume the title of Shahjahan. Born and coronated in Lahore, he had a special affiliation with the city, and built his father’s tomb and two other monuments that found their way into the World Heritage List — Shish Mahal inside the Lahore Fort and the Shalamar Gardens, both on the brink of being declared endangered.

Nurjahan, though a year older than Jahangir, lived fourteen more years. She was happily pensioned, and banished from the imperial capital like so many other ladies of the royal harem. Maybe she never left Lahore, even after the tragic outcome of the struggle. She is said to have built herself a haveli where the Old Anarkali police station is now located (in clear view of Anarkali’s Tomb, whose dome is the largest in Lahore — ref: this writer’s soon to be published master’s thesis, titled Domes at Lahore).

While construction of Jahangir’s sepulchral monument proceeded, oral history has it that every Thursday Nurjahan would visit it, showering coins for the populace all the way (the coins that Jahangir had minted bearing her name were largely ceremonial; late Col Afridi wanted to buy one against my advice). It is not clear if she had any role in designing the mausoleum. That she wanted to be near him even in after-life is obvious from the single storey of the tomb she built for herself and her daughter (Ladli Begum) nearby. The big difference is that Jahangir’s tomb is devoid of any basement.

Jahangir’s Tomb is the best example of a Chahar Bagh spread over 57 acres (according to Naeem Iqbal). It has been divided into four parts, and each portion further subdivided into fours; (sixty four paisas to a rupee). The main building, surrounded by a wide platform, consists of a series of arches the central one of which is encased by a projecting façade. The corners are defined by unique minarets. The arrangement seems to have been derived from Hiran Minar, the central pavilion of which is approached by a bridge comprising similar arches. The central arch, too, is encased by a similar projection. At the end is the Minar. This scheme has been repeated in four-way symmetry in the monarch’s eternal abode, symbolising an earthly paradise after crossing the Pul-e-Siraat.

Water from large wells, lifted by Persian wheels to a high water tower, was released into channels lining the parapet walls, and it made way to the lower levels.

The squared division of the plan interrelates with the octagonal minarets, with eight-sided water tanks, fountains and square ones in front of the central projecting façades. Narrow slits allowed the water to overflow falling/sliding over a red sandstone inclined slab engraved with herringbone lines causing a rippling effect and sound. The water thus released finally made its way to the lowest parts of the hydraulic system.

The big cascade of Shalamar, comprising a big monolithic marble slab with a similar design, is a further development of zigzag lines, also derived from Kiswa, or the covering of Ka’aba. Water from the first stage escaped through a narrow slit and flowed into the vast pond in the second stage. The minarets too have similar zigzag designs that could be an inspiration from the date-palm fronds of which thousands were once seen in the vicinity, though the number has dwindled over the years. Dates being a handy food for travellers, such groves developed wherever the caravans camped.

At the time of Partition, refugees in large numbers camped in the adjoining Sarai, commonly attributed to Akbar’s period. Some were buried in the Chahar Bagh. Shrines have also appeared for commercial reasons. While the wall facing the Ravi was knocked down during the seasonal flooding, only a small fraction of the eastern gate survives that has been mercifully saved. But the real damage was man-made. Local aspirants to the Provincial and National Assemblies competed for point-scoring. The northern gate of the sarai was opened for the residents of Shahdara. A former governor of the Punjab took special (rather amateurish) interest in disturbing the Emperor’s RIP mode. He engaged shackled, hardened prisoners to move old and original, red sandstone slabs inlaid with delicate white marble. A VIP gate was built for the privileged.

The Kake Zayi clan had a free hand. A graveyard developed outside the northern gate with “no space for further burials” (a term derived from Feryal Gohar’s book). UNESCO’s manual for treating historical gardens prohibits such activities. The monuments at Shahdara suffered over the centuries. Invaders would stay here. During the Sikh period, it was used as a cantonment. During the early British period, a monorail track was set up inside the sarai to supply coal to the newly established Railways when automobile had not been introduced.

The post-independence period too has not fared well. Housing colonies appeared abutting the boundary walls. The Lahore Conservation Society (LCS) strongly protested against this vandalism, as reported by the legendary Safdar Mir, under pseudonym ‘Zeno’ in daily Dawn (July 27, 1984), titled Disappearing Monuments and the Maze of Slums.

It may be pointed out that this four-minaret motif was picked by designers of the Taj. Since best Moghul miniature paintings were produced during Jahangir’s period, it is plausible that court painters designed the still-lifes and floral motifs adorning various parts of this monument. Asif Jah’s tomb was built in an adjoining enclosure measuring 10 acres. Nurjahan was buried in a separate tomb occupying 17 acres. Thus, the royal necropolis stood completed. When the Railway tracks were laid for Rawalpindi and onwards, the monuments were mercifully spared. All these monuments are being renovated painstakingly by Architect Maqsud Malik and Engineer Naeem Iqbal, narrowly avoiding the Charter of Venice. There is no justification for handing over the near-complete project to the Walled City of Lahore Authority that has no expertise as is reflected in the treatment meted out to the Lahore Fort, opined the visiting members of LCS on the occasion of their monthly, Last Wednesday meeting.

This dispatch is dedicated to “legendary journalist Safdar Mir, whose pseudonym was Zeno”


The writer is a painter, the founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at [email protected]

Note: Free art classes at the House of NANNAs on Sundays. No age bar. Benches are provided. Bring your own lunch.

Also, a visit to Hiran Minar will be made on February 10, at 10am. Open to all.

Rendezvous @Dilkusha: Lahore's historical places