I approach carefully; the man is sitting on a ledge to the left of the main entrance to the prayer hall. He is deep in thought, reciting something; perhaps thinking about God, perhaps thinking about his life, perhaps in search of the light.
Man sitting in Badshahi Mosque, Lahore
Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque is the city’s icon, its premier religious site, and a focal point for celebrations and festivities. It’s also a photographer’s paradise – one’s lens is drawn to the incredible ornate arches, the bulbous marble domes and the soaring red stone minarets. The glimpses of the city which peep over the high walls; the residential blocks, the gurdwara, the Shahi fort opposite. The devotees who pray in a seemingly endless cycle of recitations and prostrations, those that sit and wonder, like my particular subject here today.
The mosque was completed in 1671 on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the last of that great dynasty, and one of the final constructions before the decline of Muslim rule in the subcontinent. The mosque was then used by Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh as a stabling yard for his horses, an insult still not entirely forgotten by Lahoris. Under British rule the mosque initially didn’t fare much better, but after some time a Badshahi Mosque Authority was established, tasked with restoring it to its former glory.
Since 1960 it has been fully restored, and back in the hands of the local Muslims, now part of Pakistan. It sits directly opposite the Shahi Fort, another beautiful example of Mughal architecture, separated by the Hazuri Bagh, a fine example of traditional Persian gardens. Just outside the mosque is the tomb of Allama Iqbal, the 20th century Urdu poet whose often philosophical works are considered to be among the finest of modern Muslim thought. Past the gurdwara stands Minar-e-Pakistan, the most modern addition to the site. Completed in 1968, and packed with symbolic architectural signatures, the tower marks the place where Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, first made the call for a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia.
Men praying at Badshahi Mosque
I continue wandering around the forecourt of the mosque late on the hot afternoon. As the sun sinks lower in the sky, the expansive open courtyard is attracting a growing number of children, who use it as a playground between prayer times. Under the cool stone corridors along either side of the courtyard, large families sit and picnic. A guard stands watch near the ablution area, with the arches affording him a birds-eye view of the approaches to the mosque. A couple of foreign tourists wander hastily towards the head of the mosque, to catch enough happy snaps before the next call to prayer. Despite the goings on outside, the main prayer hall is still laden with a an atmosphere heavy with reverence. God is close, it seems.
Courtyard of Badshahi Mosque
On my second circumnavigation of the red stone square I have almost arrived back at the man sitting and reciting when a static click is heard from the speakers high above; the microphone has been switched on, and the call to prayer is about to start. “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Abkar” cries the muezzin. The man peacefully raises his hands in front of him, a sign that he is asking God for something. I have stopped in my tracks, absorbing the dramatic moment unfolding around me. The muezzin continues his piece, which by now is echoing around the building and reverberating through the old city outside. The man now raises his hands closer to his face, and wipes them over his cheeks, mouthing an inaudible “Allahu Akbar”. He stands, and for a moment it seems he is still lost in his thoughts. Then he looks straight at me, and with a slight curl of the lips he smiles knowingly, then turns and walks into the dimly-lit prayer hall without looking back.
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Tim Blight from UrbanDuniya
Tim Blight from UrbanDuniya is a writer, traveller, amateur photographer and teacher who splits his time between Lahore and Melbourne.
UrbanDuniya features travel and lifestyle stories and photography from Melbourne, Lahore, Sydney, Chennai and around the world.
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Travel Journal Overview:I have been in, and lived in many Islamic countries, and have seen many mosques. To me their unique architectural outlines and structures are very unique in the world. Badshahi Mosque in Lahore was a lot more. The sheer scale of the courtyard alone was incredible, but it offered a beauty I can only describe as peaceful and serene. Not to mention the fact that the on site museum house a few special things too.
The Huge Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan (click to enlarge)
I headed to Badshahi Mosque in the morning. The courtyard was even more crowded than it was the other night. It seemed like school outings were all the rage. Rather than leave my shoes with the shoe minder at the Mosque entrance I packed them into my bag and headed in.
The mosque was built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir. It was completed in 1673 after only two years. It’s said to house over 100,000 people which judging by the sheer size of the it, or rather its main courtyard is quite impressive. The surrounding bright terracotta walls contrast the slightly lighter tiles and the mosques three bright domes at the far end.
The exquisite detal of Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Pakistan
Inside, the mosque is not all that impressive, or big. But the black & white chequer flooring is quite nice and it made for some great photographs. I met some students who showed me how sound reverberates through out the mosque, and how whispering in one corner can be heard in a distant corner. Also a nice old man sat with me in corridor and began to chant. All in all I think they were trying to tell me the place sounded as good as it looked.
Old man chanting in Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Pakistan
I decided to pay 5 rupees and visit the mosques museum where allegedly some artifacts of Prophet Mohammad are on display. I headed in and joined the long queue of people viewing various artifacts from the Mosques past. All kept behind rather grubby glass displays. Just ahead of me a young school girl group were staring in at a particular exhibit. When it was my turn I could see why they were staring. Or rather what they trying to stare at. On display was a hair from Prophet Mohammed, allegedly. I say this because the glass was so dirty it was next to impossible to see anything beside his hat, and staff. Where his single hair on display should have been, was a stand. And nothing much more.
Mother and daughters preparing to pray at Badshahi Mosque
I moved on, only to find the group of girls pointing and muttering between themselves at the next display. This time on full display, complete with stains, was Prophet Mohammed’s underwear. It was hard not to frown. The news media was in full swing about an English teacher in the Sudan who was going to be sentenced to prison for letting her children name a Teddy Bear Mohamed. And here in Pakistan I was looking at Prophet Mohammed’s Underwear on full display. . .
Hmm. I tried to take a photo but a broad smiling soldier type shook his head as he saw me rise my camera up. If only I had my phone out…
It made my day.
I wanted to come back to the mosque. It was a very beautiful place. I certain highlight of my trip. I toured around once again. The tourist guides were used to me shaking my head, and I enjoyed watching people coming and going here. It had a certain peaceful and friendly ambiance to it.
Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, Pakistan
I went to the Forts high top restaurant for lunch and enjoyed a stunning view on the Mosque from the top. A snake charmer peddled his craft far down below as a crowd gathered. I think I paid more for the view than the food. So to aid digestion I took the Regal Inn’s advice and headed back through the old city. I should have learned that the Regal advice was not to my taste. And sure enough I was caught up in 2 hours worth of throat clenching traffic and people.
I wanted to spend more time in Lahore, there was plenty more to see, but with only 10 days for India it was time to move on. I grabbed a Beef Subway, the last of beef for a while I thought and headed back for my last night.
Some related links from this website that you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Pakistan)
Stories:The Pakistani Truck Painters
Stories:The Last Khyber Pass Journey
Video:The Wagah Border Ceremony
Pakistan Travel Guide