Dawn – Takht-e-Babri, the first Mughal construction in the subcontinent, is grand only in name

Haroon Khalid

Panjab-Pakistan, 5 June 2017. A blue board pointed towards a small trail heading into the jungle. In front of me was a majestic lake, the lifeline of Kallar Kahar.

This small town lies on the banks of the river Jhelum, within the embrace of the salt range. It has been a tourist destination for a long time but its popularity has increased immensely since the construction of the motorway.

The entire region is a treasure trove for archaeologists and students of ancient history. Not far from here is the ancient Shiva temple of Katas Raj. A little further east is the fort of Nandana.

North of Katas Raj, located on top of a mound, is the complex of Tilla Jogian, a vast area with a pool at the centre and several smadhs around it. Since time immemorial, this has been the most important religious pilgrimage for Jogis in Punjab, abandoned at the time of Partition.

I walked on the small trail, following the board, climbing the gentle slope of the mountain. Then, almost abruptly, the trail ended and the Takht-e-Babri was in front of us. A small black monument made of rocks, it was an unimpressive structure, a staircase culminating in a small platform.

A board next to it read that Babar, the founder of the Mughal Empire, had constructed a garden here that he called Bagh-i-Safa, and in the middle of the garden this throne was constructed. Standing on it, Babur addressed his forces, the board mentioned. The garden had been taken over by the jungle.

Perhaps my disappointment at looking at the monument came from my heightened expectations. Babar, in his wonderful autobiography, wrote about the Takht-e-Babri. It was the first Mughal construction in India.

Having grown up in Lahore, I had always been just a few kilometres away from splendid Mughal architecture.

Architectural masterpieces

As children, we had returned to the iconic Badshahi Masjid several times for our school trips.

Standing on the edge of the walled city, overlooking the Lahore Fort, the smadh of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Minar-e-Pakistan, the mosque, summoned by Emperor Aurangzeb and constructed on the model of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, has become a symbol of the city.

Its marble dome and its sandstone tiles shine in the night as it is lit up for tourists visiting Food Street, which runs parallel to it. The sombre and graceful exterior of the mosque is in sharp contrast with the elaborate geometrical patterns on the inside, where flowers and other floral patterns sculpted on the wall hang precariously.

The mosque gracefully embraces both designs, the external sobriety and the mesmerising patterns on the inside.

About a kilometre from here, deep inside the Delhi Darwaza of the walled city of Lahore, is the Wazir Khan Mosque, one of the most beautiful specimens of Mughal architecture in all of South Asia.

Constructed during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan and summoned by his governor of Punjab, Wazir Khan, this mosque has a spectacular splatter of colour all over it.

It is overwhelming, assaulting the aesthetic sensibilities of an unwary tourist. All of these colours, blue, red, yellow and green, stand distinctly, retaining their individual identity, yet they also blend together, giving the mosque its own distinct flavour.

At the entrance of the mosque, on the roof, are honey-combed structures called muqarnas. Distinct to Islamic architecture, these structures are a product of complex mathematical formulas, highlighting how scientific progress goes hand in hand with artistic development.

Perhaps not as famous as the Badshahi Masjid, the mosque has recently come on the radar of tourists searching for cultural Lahore deep within its intertwining streets. It is impossible not to fall in love with this monument..

Right at the entrance of Delhi Darwaza is the newly revamped Shahi Hammam, another monument constructed by Wazir Khan. Fairies and djinns dance on the walls of this royal bath as they play heavenly instruments.

Floral and geometrical patterns merge into each other in a beautiful union of mathematics and art. The frescoes on the domes spiral, hypnotising the onlooker. The thick walls of the structure with smartly designed windows make the hammam breezy even on a hot summer day.

Humble beginnings

Unconsciously, I had expected the Takht-e-Babri to be a grand structure at par with these magnificent buildings I had grown up visiting and falling in love with. This was the throne of Babar, the first Mughal king, the founder of the Mughal Empire.

There would not have been a Badshahi Mosque or a Shahi Hammam if there was no Babar. The structure should have reflected the symbolic significance of the empire. It was to be the foundational stone of one of the world’s richest empires.

But it was nothing like what I had expected it to be. The first Mughal structure in India was just a small platform with a grand name.

It was the construction of a king on the run, in search of an empire, not an emperor whose family had been at the pinnacle of power for generations, controlling the destiny of millions, with unlimited wealth. The monument was an embarrassment to the splendid tradition of Mughal architectural that was to follow.

Yet, perhaps more than any of the structures mentioned above, it has the greatest symbolic value. It represented the arrival of the Mughals in India. It was a stamp of their authority.

It was to be the throne of Babar, the pauper prince who laid the foundation of one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.

This article was originally published on Scroll and has been reproduced with permission.

Haroon Khalid has an academic background in Anthropology from LUMS. He has been traveling extensively around Pakistan, documenting historical and cultural heritage.

He is the author of Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva: A study of folk religious practices in Pakistan, and A White Trail: A journey into the heart of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

To see the full article including the beautiful pictures :



BBC News – Pakistan hit by deadly suicide attacks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017. At least seven people have been killed and several more injured in two separate suicide attacks in north-western Pakistan.

In the first, six people died when two suicide bombers targeted a government compound in the Mohmand tribal region.

Three of the dead belonged to a tribal police force, two were civilians and one a paramilitary soldier.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, said it was behind the bloodshed.

In the second attack on Wednesday, a bomber on a motorbike rammed a government van carrying four judges in the city of Peshawar.

The driver was killed, and the four judges were injured. They have been transferred to a nearby hospital.

Peshawar police chief Tahir Khan told media at the scene that the judges appeared to be the bomber’s target.

Pakistan has seen an upswing in militant attacks of late, after a period of relative calm.

On Monday, a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded more than 100, most of whom are still being treated in hospitals.

The blast occurred when owners of medical shops were demonstrating against amendments to a law governing drug sales in Punjab province.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said it had carried out the attack, as well as two gun assaults in Karachi on 12 February.


Pakistan Today – Book Review: Legacy of Guru Arjan Singh*

Basharat Hussain Qizilbash

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru ArjanDevjikiyadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas, published by Lahore Shanasi Publications, Lahore, pages 63, price Rs 100.

A long, forgotten time brought back to life

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras of Sikhs.

‘Lahore mein Sikh mazhab kay panchwey guru, Guru Arjan Devji ki yadgarain’ by Syed Faizan Abbas is educative in several respects. Guru Arjan was one of the four offspring of his parents and was nominated as the fifth Guru of the Sikhs on the wish of his mother, by his father, Guru Ram Das, who was the fourth Guru.

Later on, he nominated his son as the sixth Guru on the wish of his wife.

Guru Arjan was otherworldly from early life yet he ordered the construction of many public works such as ponds, ‘bowlys’ (wells), dharamshalas, etc, on assuming Guruship. Among his several achievements, two stand out: one, he compiled Granth Sahib, the most sacred book of the Sikh religion.

Two, he invited his Muslim mystic friend Hazrat Mian Mir from Lahore to lay the foundation of the Sikhs’ holiest shrine Golden Temple at Amritsar.

To continue building public works at large scale and offer free food to the pilgrims, a constant source of income was required, so, for the first time, a yearly contribution of ‘daswandh’—one-tenth of earnings was collected from the adherents of the faith.

The lives of all great men are examples of courage and endurance and Guru Arjan’s was not different either. His brother Parthi Chand was jealous for not being awarded the Guruship, and therefore, joined hands with non-Sikh influential nobles to kill his brother, in vain.

Guru Arjan also developed strained relations with Chando Lal, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s revenue minister in Lahore because he refused the request of Chando to marry his son to Chando’s daughter.

This caused deep enmity between the two in which Chando used his political influence with the emperor to punish the Guru, who was saved by the kind words of Nawab Wazir Khan of the famous Wazir Khan mosque in Lahore in favour of the Guru.

Wazir Khan owed it to the Guru because some time back when he suffered from an acute illness that could not be cured by any physician in Lahore, he had approached saint Mian Mir for spiritual healing, who in turn referred him to Guru Arjan, whose prayer cured the ailing Nawab on the spot.

Meanwhile, Chando Lal continued to plot against Guru Arjan and eventually succeeded in convincing Jahangir that the Guru had monetarily helped the rebel prince Khusrau at which the Emperor ordered Chando to imprison the Guru which he did at his haveli at Mochi Gate in Lahore.

During imprisonment, he brutally tortured the Guru, who kept refusing the marriage proposal. When he decided to sew alive the Guru in a cow hide, the Guru expressed his desire to bathe in River Ravi, to which he was taken. The Guru jumped in the river never to come out.

His son, the sixth Guru Her Gobind Singh Ji, vowed to avenge the death of his innocent father, which he did by cultivating good relations with the Emperor who handed Chando Lal to the Guru with the express instruction to do what he deemed fit with the prisoner.

Guru Gobind put a chain around Chando’s neck, kept him with dogs, blackened his face, put him on a donkey and sent him around the city of Lahore where he was assaulted and killed by the same man, who had been employed by Chando to torture Guru Arjan. Such can be the twists and turns of fate.

Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal.

Though the Sikhs decided to opt for India at the time of partition, most of their religious places are in Pakistan and in Lahore alone there were thirty gurdawaras (temples) of Sikhs. The Gurus possessed both spiritual and temporal powers. It was an intuition that made Guru Arjan compose Granth Sahib and other sacred texts.

The book sheds light on the friendly nature of relations between the Muslims and the Sikhs at that time. The two cases of inter-religious co-existence were of Hazrat Mian Mir and Wazir Khan. However, the relations between the Sikhs and the Mughal state remained hot and cold.

Emperor Akbar personally scrutinised the Granth Sahib on the false complaint that it contained sacrilegious content against the Muslims but was pleased to find out that it was a text of inter-faith harmony.

During the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan relations between the seventh Guru and the Qazi of Lahore remained strained and in persecution the state confiscated a sacred building of the Sikhs, closed the ‘bowly’ (well) and built a mosque at its ‘lungarkhana’ at Rang Mahal in Lahore.

Later on, when Ranjit Singh came into power in Punjab, the said ‘bowly’ was revived on his orders because once when he got ill, Guru Arjan appeared in his dream and revealed that he would get cured if he bathed in the water of the closed ‘bowly.’

The Sikhs reasserted their power in Lahore by having the Mullah of the ‘Sonheri Masjid’ thrown out as they found the call of ‘Azan’ quite disturbing, occupied the mosque and converted it into a place of worship for the Sikhs which was retaken by the Muslims through the good offices of Faqir Aziz-ud-din, who was a minister of Ranjit Singh.

This was not a one-off incident: political power added muscle to the reigning community and often soured inter-communal harmony.

Equally interesting is the story of Lal Kho (well) in the Mochi Gate. Lal Kho is known to the Lahoris and many Pakistanis abroad as the place where the tastiest ‘barfi’ is made by Rafiq Sweets. Actually Lal Kho was the very well in the haveli of Chando Lal, whose water was used by Guru Arjan during his incarceration by Chando Lal. Hence, the name Lal Kho and its sanctity for the Sikhs.

In addition, the author has collected images of several sacred places of the Sikhs in the city of Lahore, particularly the Walled City. There is a beautiful portrait of Guru Arjan but the author has not mentioned whether it is real or imaginary and as to who was the artist.

Furthermore, there is an imaginary painting that depicts the scene of torture that Guru Arjan had to go through during his imprisonment at Lal Kho and another drawing that shows him dictating the Granth Sahib to a scribe.

Other photos are of the ‘samran’ (rosary) owned by Guru Arjan; the Dewan Khana of Guru Arjan in Chuna Mandi; Gurdawara Bowly Sahib at Rang Mahal chowk (1910); Gurdawar Lal Kho at Mochi Gate (1960); Gurdawar Dera Sahib (1840), etc.

This is a unique effort of Syed Faizan Abbas, who has made a name for himself by devoting his energies to exploring the history of old Lahore. The book admirably enlivens the presence of the Sikh community which once played an active role in the social and political life of the city.

*The names Singh for male and the name Kaur for female Sikhs were introduced in 1699 at the foundation of the Khalsa. There are more inaccuracies in the article, but I am happy that there again is an interest in Sikh history in West-Panjab. Man in Blue