By Atif Nadeem (The NEWS)
THE Wazir Khan Mosque, which speaks volumes of richness of cultural heritage of the provincial metropolis, has suffered irreparable losses due to laxity of the Pakistan Archaeology Department and the Punjab Auqaf Department.
The mosque is a living embodiment of the sublime Mughal art but encroachments and dampness, which the officials of both the departments failed to control, have expedited erosion of its structure.
It is located inside the Walled City and is easily accessible from the Delhi Gate. It was built in a period of seven years, starting around 1634-1635 AD., during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. It was built by Sheikh Ilmuddin Ansari, then governor of the city. The poets and artists have described it as ‘a mole on the cheek of Lahore’.
Bricks have been used in the mosqueís construction while its facade has brightly coloured glazed mosaics of the Mughal floral designs against a clear yellow background. Fresco, Kashikari, brick-imitation (tazakari), a large number of inscriptions, geometrical patterns and calligraphy are used in its decoration. Presently, layers of dust have covered the floral patterns and calligraphic works almost on all the walls, arches, domes, floors and minarets, which show lack of commitment of the departments concerned to preserving cultural heritage of the city.
The external richly-coloured plasterwork has almost lost its charm as many distorted patterns present a gloomy picture of the marvellous work patterned with plaster dating back to the Mughal era. These patterns, which are filled with inlaid pottery, called Kashi, stir the aesthetic sense of people but unfortunately only the deep red plaster of the walls remained intact.
The prayer hall has five chambers, each surmounted by a dome, which are wearing bleak looks due to and dampness. The octagonal minarets stand at each corner of the courtyard, adding glory to the structure but the minaret on its right side has suffered cracks due to dampness and no repair work is being done to restore its structure.
Sources in the Directorate of Pakistan Archaeology Department (PAD), while talking to The News, said that the PAD officials had tried their level best to restore grandeur of the famous mosque but hurdles were insurmountable as people resisted elimination of encroachments around it with protests, rallies and demonstrations against the PAD and the Punjab Auqaf Department.
‘The department restored grandeur of the columns between the sixteen shops built outside the mosque to give them original looks for which it received plaudits from the US officials and they funded $15,000 for renovation of the mosque. Meanwhile, the people started building shops in place of the columns, spoiling efforts of the department,’ they said. ‘The US funds were spent on the mosque but no progress was seen in the renovation work mainly due to two reasons, encroachments and dampness.’
Giving details of the dampness, the officials said there were many reasons for it but sewerage system of the houses built along with the boundary wall of the mosque and covered underground drain of the shops area had caused dampness, resulted in many cracks on the right side of the mosque and damaged its minaret. They said the department had discussed many initiatives with the shopkeepers but they refused to cooperate, adding that the real problem to stop the dampness is the underground drain, which cannot be filled because encroachers have built their shops over it.
The mosque is also shrouded by the houses built around it and some of them even share a common wall with it, violating the international law which states that the buildings around a cultural heritage site should be at least at a 200 feet distance. The officials agree that the houses were built in violation of the international law.
When asked why the PAD did not carry out any project to refurbish the mosque despite the fact that any further delay could do irreparable damage to it, they said the Punjab Heritage Authority had already started evaluation of the structural and artistic damages to the mosque in its project to renovate the royal route up to the Lahore Fort. They said the PAD would cooperate with the authority in the preservation of the mosque as the royal route project is funded by the World Bank.