Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pakistan's Other Red Mosque (yes, there's more than one.)

Islamabad's Red Mosque, Lal Masjid, sits in a residential part of Pakistan's capital. For the last week the quiet neighborhood has been shaken by a violent battle battle between government security forces and radical clerics and students. The siege began a week ago and ended today. You can get some background about the pro-Taliban mosque in this profile from the BBC

However, that standoff is not the subject of this post.

As I ran a search for "red mosque pakistan" looking for pictures of the building, I came across another mosque that is called by the same name in English. This one is in the country's cultural capital of Lahore, striking for its majestic architecture and its veneer of red sandstone.

(Picture by Ali Imran at answers.com)

Gorgeous. I simply had to find out more.

The Badshahi Mosque is a fine example of Mughal architecture - grand, awe-inspiring structures. The name means the King's Mosque, the king being the sixth Mughal Emperor, Shah Aurangzeb Alamgir. The Mughal empire covered much of the Indian subcontinent and portions of modern-day Afghanistan, where many examples of their architecture and influence remain to this day.

The Mughals loved to build - Aurangzeb's father Shan Jahan poured his sorrow and mourning for a dead wife into construction, thus giving the world the sublime Taj Mahal. (Incidentally, just days ago that structure was named one of the new seven wonders of the world.)

Badshahi Mosque was severely damaged in the first half of the nineteenth century, when the area was under Sikh Rule. The building was converted to military barracks and served as an arms dump. To add insult to injury, Muslims were not allowed to enter the mosque and instead had to worship outside.

(Picture at left of Badshahi minaret by Aqeel Ahmad at Wikimedia Commons)

When the British conquered Lahore they gave Badshahi back to the Muslims. Subsequently it was turned over to the Badshahi Mosque Authority for restoration to its original glory.

The interior has rich embellishment in stucco tracery (Manbatkari) and panelling with a fresco touch, all in bold relief, as well as marble inlay.

The exterior is decorated with stone carving as well as marble inlay on red sandstone, specially of loti form motifs in bold relief. The embellishment has Indo-Greek, Central Asian and Indian architectural influence both in technique and motifs.

Recently a small museum was added to the mosque complex. It contains relics of Muhammad, his cousin, and his daughter, Hazrat Fatima Zahra.

The vast Badshahi is the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent, and can accomodate fifty-five thousand worshippers.

Below is a picture of Pakistan's other Red Mosque, Lal Masjid, in Islamabad. (It's the only picture I could find that didn't include siege images.) Lal Masjid is the pro-Taliban institution with affiliated madrassahs involved in this week's deadly siege.