The Masjid Badshahi is the greatest mosque built during the Mughal period. Many incorrectly attribute it to Shah Jahan, the great emperor-builder of the Mughals; but it was in fact constructed by his son and successor, Aurangzeb. It is nevertheless considered to be the pinnacle of the Shah Jahan period, as the Masjid Badshahi represented everything that was ideal in Mughal architecture at the time. It is in fact considered to be superior to any of the mosques built by Shah Jahan, though it is not quite as magnificent as the Taj Mahal. For centuries the Masjid Badshahi was the largest mosque west of Persia, and though it has been overtaken in size by the Masjid Faisal in Islamabad, it is still first in the hearts of Pakistani Muslims.
In 1666 AD Shah Jahan, the legendary fifth emperor of the Mughal dynasty, died, leaving behind one of the most magnificent architectural legacies the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, the last years of his magnificent life and reign were marred by jealousy, political infighting and even fratricide among his sons. From 1657 on, Shah Jahan lived in the Red Fort of Agra as prisoner two of his sons; the first was Dara Shikoh, his eldest, who declared himself regent when Shah Jahan took ill. This action triggered a civil war between Dara Shikoh and his brothers.
Dara Shikow was soon overthrown and assassinated. He was replaced by his brother Aurangzeb, who claimed the regency while keeping his father imprisoned. Upon Shah Jahan’s death, he assumed the Mughal throne outright. Despite his questionable rise to power, the ill-treatment of his father, who had been particularly beloved, Aurangzeb proved himself as capable, perhaps even more so, than Shah Jahan. During his reign, which lasted for nearly fifty years, he built the Mughal Empire into the largest Islamic realm in the history of Central Asia.
Aurangzeb has been recognized as one of the most religiously devout Sunni rulers in history, and is honored as such in Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, his reign was a particularly strict one, and he is also known for the conflicts he had with both non-Muslims and the Shi’ites of Persia. The Hindus of India, in particular, were forced to endure the imposition of Sharia law, where they had previously been allowed the freedom of their religion during the days of Shah Jahan.
In one respect Aurangzeb did not surpass his father. A fiscal conservative, he did not lavish the imperial treasury on immense building projects, with one major exception: the Masjid Badshahi in Lahore. In an effort to cement his own legacy as one of the greatest Muslim leaders of all time, Aurangzeb constructed what was at the time the largest mosque ever built outside of Arabia. He succeeded in the Masjid Badhahi, which is generally considered to be the second most spectacular Mughal monument ever built after the Taj Mahal in Agra. While the Masjid Faisal is now Pakistan’s national and largest mosque, the Masjid Badshahi remains first in the hearts of most of Central Asia’s Muslims.
The Masjid Badshahi in Lahore, Pakistan was the largest mosque east of Iran until recently when it was surpassed by the modern and somewhat less inspired 20th century Faisal Mosque in Islamabad. Built in the late 17th century, this vast structure in stunning red brick is known for its vast open plaza, an architectural touch that would be repeated in many future mosques of Pakistan and India. Four castle-like minarets rise from the corners of the mosque, while four more skyscraping ilghthouse-like minarets stand at the corners of the great outer courtyard. The great Persian-style entranceway is flanked by graceful colonnades that complete the façade. A trio of massive white domes tops the main building, while smaller domes crown each of the minarets.
Unlike most eastern Persian-style mosques, which are known for their highly decorative tile mosaics, the Masjid Badshahi is most famous for the vast web of delicate inlay designs which cover both its exterior and interior. The best known of these decorations are the exquiste florals and geometric patterns that grace the mosque’s main entrance. Also of interest in the Masjid Badshahi is the Tomb of Muhammad Iqbal, an important leader of the Pakistani independence movement.
The Masjid Badshahi is located near several of the monumental buildings of Shah Jahan towards the center of Lahore, approximately 250 miles northwest of Delhi and 620 miles northeast of Karachi. It is open at any time to Muslims, but is absolutely off-limits to non-Muslims. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.tourism.gov.pk (official tourism website of Lahore)
Lahore boasts Pakistan’s greatest collections of Muslim architectural treasures, including a number built by Shah Jahan during the Mughal period. Among these are the Masjid Wazir Khan, the Lahore Fort, the Moti (Pearl) Mosque and the Jahangir Mausoleum where his father is buried.