Mughal Emperor Shahjahan had appointed his son Dara Shikoh the price of Lahore and also the heir to the throne. Dara Shikoh was a very godly man and interested in all things spiritual. He was a big devotee of Hazrat Mian Meer. When Hazrat Mian Meer passed away and was buried in what is now Cantonment, D
ara Shikoh planned to pay his spiritual mentor a unique homage. He decided to build a path originating from Lahore’s Akbari Gate to the shrine of Hazrat Mian Meer and planned to import red sandstone tiles from Jaipur for the path. Dara Shikoh had intended to walk the path to the shrine of his spiritual mentor every morning after fajr prayers to pay homage and return using the same path. The path was supposed to be a special one adorned by gardens, orchards and fountains on either side.
But no sooner had Dara imported the red tiles from Jaipur that his brother Aurangzeb mounted a coup against his father Shahjahan. He imprisoned his father while a bloody war ensued between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh in which Dara was defeated and brutally murdered. Aurangzeb ascended the throne of the Mughal Empire of India. When confronted by a pile of red stones in Lahore, Dara Shikoh’s foster brother Fidai Khan, who earlier was loyal to Dara Shikoh, in order to save his skin, sweet talked the new emperor and suggested that the red tiles be used to build a mosque fit for a king. Aurangzeb was pleased at the display of flattery and entrusted Fidai Khan the responsibility to build the mosque. Thus was born the idea of Badshahi mosque. In order to further please the emperor, Fidai Khan chose a spot for the mosque right in front of the emperor’s residence, the Lahore fort. The space he chose was, in those days, a parade ground meant for inspection of the troops. A platform to inspect the troops existed in this area which continued to exist till late 19th/ early 20th century. The platform was right in front of where staircase of Badshahi mosque exists. But then an interesting twist took place. When the construction of the mosque was more than halfway done, Aurangzeb visited Lahore and desired to see the under construction mosque. When he climbed atop the ‘deodhi’ or the gateway of the mosque he realized that the ‘zanan khana’ or the ladies section was visible from the roof of the gateway. The view of the fort from the pillar of the mosque was even clearer. Aurangzeb was displeased and immediately halted the construction of the mosque.The construction never resumed and the mosque lay in a half baked state. A state that continued for next two centuries. The half baked state of the mosque is visible in all old pictures of the mosque where only the main chamber, the gateway and pillars minus the domes can be seen. There were no boundary walls for the most part and the courtyard of the mosque was nothing more than a shabby garden. To make matters worse the mosque was hardly ever used by the citizens. It was a gruesome reminder of their much loved prince Dara Shikoh’s murder. A couple of natural calamities that hit the mosque also made people believe that Mian Meer’s curse had befallen the mosque as the red stones were meant for a path to Mian Meer’s shrine. It was sparingly used as an ‘eid gaah’ during Ranjit Singh’s times and after Ranjit Singh, mosque was badly damaged during a battle between Sher Singh and Chaand Kaur.
The current grandeur that we see of the mosque was only made possible when the construction of the mosque was completed close to the partition of India. It’s hard to imagine that a mosque of such magnitude, grandeur and beauty ever presented a picture of ruin and apathy.
So next time you’re having dinner on a rooftop top restaurant at
the food street and take an all-encompassing view of the mosque in its entire splendor, just pause for a moment and think what if the history had played out a little differently. What if Dara Shikoh had managed to prevail upon Aurangzeb. What if the red tile path to Mian Meer’s shrine had been built? The urban landscape and geography of Lahore would have been totally different from what it is today. What would have been there in place of Badshahi mosque? The mosque that was never supposed to be built in the first place and lay in ruins for good two centuries after being built is now the cornerstone of Pakistan and Lahore’s architectural magnificence and culture. Some decisions that are taken in a matter of a few seconds may have impact and consequences for centuries to come.