Exploring Traditional Art Through the Art of Wazir Khan Mosque
"This beautiful building is in itself a school of design"- Lockwood Kipling
The historical sites can be conceptualized as mirrors of civilizations, souls of nations, and the essence of states. Wazir Khan Mosque unequivocally is one such historical monument; thus, it won’t be wrong, if one regards it as the hallmark of Mughal art, the quintessence of Muslim intellectual tradition, and the manifestation of 17th century Indian heritage. It is located at the center of the old city Lahore, near Delhi Gate. The mosque was built by Wazir Khan (Governor of the Lahore) in1634, during Shah Jahan's reign; on a site of a classical seminary established by the Sufi Sheikh Sayyad Muhammad Ishaq Gazruni, who is buried under the courtyard of the mosque. The competition of the mosque took around seven years (1641). It’s been said that architecture developed and flourished during Shah Jahan’s time. His architectural wonders include the Taj Mahal, Shalimar Garden, Sheesh Mahal, and Wazir Khan Mosque, which is currently on the tentative heritage list of UNESCO.
It is worth mentioning that it was considered a vital teaching institution of the Mughal civilization, and calligraphy was a primal procedure of dissemination of knowledge and arts. It has been a remarkable center of scholarly exchanges among Muslim Empires – this exchange of knowledge implies the importance of intellectuals, artists for the development of the state, civilizations, and heritage. It is fascinating to note that, during the Mughal era, the great emphasis had been laid on the promotion of arts; which again is manifested in the historical intellectual and artistic contributions of the Subcontinent. Besides, the promotion of arts and knowledge, the exchange of arts also serves as a primal means for the establishment of diplomatic ties among civilizations.
Thus, the mosque not only exhibits Sub-continental history and heritage, but it also demonstrates certain elements of Central Asian art as well. The chronogram system, for instance, was influenced by Iran. And, interestingly if one decodes the art of calligraphy displayed at the left panel, near the main entrance of the mosque as per the chronogram system, they would know the date the mosque was created and the chronogram. The arched niche at the entrance has been decorated with floral motifs that illustrates detailed traditional architectural aspect, muqarana, this architectural aspect is also present in various mosques of Iran and it can also be found at the Alhambra in Spain. The mosque has certain prominent motifs of trees as well. The interior walls have been decorated with detailed fresco art. The mosaic tiles have gravitated students and researchers from across the globe to visit, explore, and to conduct research.
The Calligrapher’s Bazar is an interesting aspect of the entrance area of the mosque; moreover, it is deemed as one of the few mosques in the world that epitomized the quotes of the Sufi Sages. The calligraphy is rendered either in Persian or in the Arabic language by the Sufi aspirants (dervish); the left panel of the main gate, for instance, has been signed by calligrapher Mohammad Ali, who was the student/disciple of the Mian Mir (Sufi saints).
It has been constructed from bricks and tiles that remind of the Mughal heritage. And, when one enters the mosque, they would notice that there is one main prayer room, and five compartments/rooms each opening onto the courtyard, and four octagonal minarets are located at the corners of the courtyard providing balance to the overall structure of the building. The students used to stay in the rooms of the mosque, also known as hujra in Arabic - to learn and master skills, such as calligraphy. The intellectual history embedded in the form of Wazir Khan Mosque narrates the development of arts and culture, consequently; addressing the one misapprehension that Mughal Emperor majorly emphasized on the construction of luxurious buildings, and neglected the evolution of intellectual discourse.
Furthermore, the illustration of traditional art throughout the mosque is creatively symbolic and aesthetically pleasant in nature. Floral designs add an artistic touch to the harmonious vibes of the mosque; they can be interpreted in different ways – for one; it can represent a garden or time of spring, or for some; the design can be a symbol of sacredness of nature– the connection of man with its environment has been an integral aspect of traditional intellectual history and art, or for others; it is similar to the streets of the city Lahore. The mosque makes one realize the wellbeing of man and nature are intrinsically linked, man can’t progress whilst damaging nature. History helps to find a connection with our roots, it provides us with an opportunity to explore our identity and gives us a perspective to understand the present by examining the past. And, most importantly, the traditional art and intellectual history communicates the importance of nature and make us understand that the survival of man’s wellbeing is depended upon the wellbeing of nature. Wazir Khan Mosque is indeed one of the finest displays of traditional art, and what makes it unique is its rare union of mystical calligraphy, traditional geometrical forms, and South- Asian historical art. The distinct features of the mosque, such as its architecture, fresco art, and vibrant colors take its visitor back to the Mughal times, whilst its inscriptions and art comply them to ponder over the underlying harmony of man and nature, thus, the monument narrates past to present - connects man to the environment, and synchronizes heritage to intellect.
Reading Masjid Wazir Khan – Kamil Khan Mumtaz