The Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan is the last great mosque or masjid built under the Mughal Empire. (Image Credit: Romero Maia)
The Badshahi Masjid (Emperor’s Mosque) is a sandstone and marble 17th-century Mughal-era mosque in the Pakistani city of Lahore. Its history is entwined not just with the physical architecture of Lahore, but also with the city’s politics.
Located within the ancient Walled City of Lahore, the Badshahi Mosque is the city’s most prominent landmark. The Ravi River, also long synonymous with Lahore, once flowed alongside the northern perimeter of the mosque compound.
The History of the Badshahi Mosque
Commissioned by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1671, the Badshahi Mosque was completed two years later in 1673. At the time of its opening, the Badshahi Mosque was the world’s largest mosque, reflecting the power and wealth of the Mughal Empire.
The foster brother of Aurangzeb, Muzaffar Hussain (also known as Nawab Fidai Khan Koka), supervised the Badshahi Mosque’s construction. Hussain, who served as governor of Lahore, is also known for the Pinjore Gardens near Chandigarh, India.
With its resplendent sandstone exterior and white marble domes, the Badshahi Mosque is the last great mosque constructed by the Mughals, who fell into decline following the death of Aurangzeb. The Badshahi Mosque remains the greatest symbol of Mughal grandeur in this city that has long been a center of regional trade and culture.
After the fall of the Mughals, the Badshahi Mosque suffered desecration. In 1799, Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh Empire, seized control of Lahore and converted the mosque into a horse stable and ammunition depot. The domes and finials atop the Badshahi Mosque’s minarets were removed and the looted marble was repurposed elsewhere. The mosque was extensively damaged as Sikh factions battled against one another after Ranjit Singh’s demise.
The Punjab’s next rulers, the British, initially also used the mosque for military purposes after taking over Lahore in 1849. They then returned it to the Muslim community to be used as a functioning mosque.
But a full restoration of the mosque, including replacing the domes on its minarets, would not begin until 1939 under Sikander Hayat Khan, who had served as premier of Punjab toward the end of British imperial rule. The rehabilitation of the Badshahi Mosque would continue for two decades, led by the newly independent Muslim state of Pakistan.
Today, the Badshahi Mosque remains one of the world’s largest mosques. With a capacity of 60-70,000 worshippers, it is Pakistan’s second-largest mosque and the eleventh-largest in the world. The Badshahi Mosque hosts daily and Friday congregational prayers. And it functions as an Eid Gah — a central venue for congregational prayers on the Muslim holy days of Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr.
Architectural Features of the Badshahi Mosque
The Badshahi Mosque is a 270,000-square-foot site, most of which is uncovered. As is common with Mughal-era grand mosques, the musalla, or formal covered prayer hall, is a small portion of the compound.
The courtyard makes up most of the mosque complex and is used as overflow space for large congregational prayers. (In contrast, Ottoman mosques feature a large dome covering a massive rectangular or square base.)
To enter the Badshahi Mosque, one must first step foot in the Hazuri Bagh, the garden designed by Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, whose samadhi (mausoleum) is adjacent to the site.
The Hazuri Bagh separates the Lahore Fort’s Alamgiri Darwaza (the Gate of the World Conquerer) and the Badshahi Mosque compound entrance. It is home to the tombs of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher and intellectual founder of Pakistan, and Sikander Hayat, who led the mosque’s restoration effort.
The Badshahi Mosque site sits on a raised platform. Its commanding red sandstone gateway with ornate frescos is reached by a twenty-two-step stairway. The compositions inside the gateway are naturalistic depictions of floral bouquets (guldastas), tulips, and cypress trees — the latter, as Punjab University Professor Naela Aamir notes, are non-native plants brought to India by Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire.
The Badshahi Mosque Exterior
Upon entering the courtyard, the mosque’s rectangular main hall, iwan, marble domes, and minarets come into full view.
Those who have seen large Mughal-era mosques in India will find the Badshahi Mosque familiar. It most closely resembles the Jama Masjid in Delhi, built in the 1650s by Aurangzeb’s father, Shah Jahan. Both mosques share a red sandstone exterior and marble domes. But marble is more prominent in the iwan and broader facade of the Jama Masjid Delhi.
Earthy, red sandstone provides the dominant hue for the Badshahi Mosque exterior. Its marblework — in particular, its patterned inlays — is more intricate than that of the Jama Masjid Delhi.
Aurganzeb’s Badshahi Mosque represents the culmination of the evolution of the Mughal mosque, fusing design elements embraced by his predecessors.
Under Emperor Akbar, sandstone exteriors and triple domes above the prayer hall became a Mughal norm, according to historian Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi. Under Emperor Jahangir, the Mughals adopted the use of white marble, which can be seen in the nearby Moti Masjid, built during his era. And it is during Shah Jahan’s era that the Mughals began attaching minarets attached to mosques — as seen in the Jama Masjid Delhi.
Of the Badshahi Mosque’s three main domes, its central dome is the largest. It hovers above the iwanwith one minor dome on its left and the other on its right.
Copper-gold finials with gilded bulbs adorn the three major domes and the smaller ones atop the minarets — a feature of Mughal architecture also incorporated at Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and the Taj Mahal in Agra. The pishtaq (facade of the iwan) features a mix of inlaid white marble geometric patterns and floral motifs.
Atop the Badshahi Mosque are two sets of four octagonal minarets: one on each corner of the mosque site along its square perimeter wall and another smaller set similarly positioned on the rectangular main hall.
The mosque courtyard also features a 2500-square-footwater pool (hauz). Along the inside perimeter of the courtyard are dozens of hujras — small study rooms for seminary students.
The Badshahi Mosque Interior
The Badshahi Mosque features comparatively little ornate calligraphy, especially when compared to another major historic mosque in Lahore, the Wazir Khan Mosque. But like its exterior, the Badshahi Mosque’s interior is defined by a restraint that amplifies its elegance as evinced by the stucco tracery (manbatkari) in the muqarna below.
Observe how the curved floral motifs pose playfully within the orderly, interlocking geometric patterns. It is a fantastic fusion of abstract and naturalistic forms. Art within math.
The walls and ceilings of the prayer hall are adorned with floral ornamentation carved in plaster.