‘A mole on the cheek of Lahore’, as art lovers call it, Masjid Wazir Khan is a world wonder. The mosque is famous for its extensive faience tile work. It has such a great variety of design both in enamelled mosaic work and fresco painting that it has become a school of design itself.
It was named after a Chinioti intellect, Shaikh Ilmuddin Ansari, who built this marvel in seven years (1634-1635 AD). Ansari rose to be the court physician to Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and later became governor of Lahore. He was therefore popularly known as Wazir Khan, ‘Wazir’ being an Urdu equivalent of English word ‘minister’.
The un-surpassing splendour of the Muslim architecture in India is attributed to the Mughals, a Central Asian Muslim dynasty of aesthetic titans. The extensive use of arches in the plan structure and ornamentation of the mosque is a distinguishing feature of Shah Jahan period, when Mughal design reached its zenith.
The extensive yet thoughtful use of arch as a design element in this building has not been appreciated as much as it deserves. Perhaps no culture mastered the design and use of the arch more than the Muslims. Inheriting earlier arch forms from the Greeks and the Romans, Muslims developed a variety of new shapes. The passion they had for this motif is due to the regularly mystical and symbolic meanings associated with it, as well as its functional advantages.
The arch was first employed for structural and functional purposes but progressively it became used for decorative purposes. The arches at Masjid Wazir Khan which partly or exclusively serve the design purposes can be categories as follows.
Recessed and Transverse
There are many recessed arches on the walls of the mosque – for example, the one on the western wall of the central chamber, above the central recessed Mihrab. The central panel contains verses from the Holy Quran. The central recessed panel is flanked by four panels containing transverse arches. The use of the transverse arch over the nave not only provides greater safety and durability but also gives the final shape of the nave.
The left and right sides, from centre of the façade, are divided equally – each into vertical lines of horizontal and vertical panels, slightly recessed from the surface. These panels retain within decorative arches, vases with flower arrangements and floral trees. The central panel, instead of carrying a vase retains a rectangular opening topped by a blind arch.
Pointed Arch (used as blind arch in panels)
A blind arch is an arch found in the wall of a building which has been filled with solid construction so it cannot serve as a passageway, door and window. The panels with pointed arch are also used as blind arch to create an illusion of depth and to design the space.
The arched roof of the massive gateway of the central chamber contains a number of inscriptions, floral frescos, and intricately complex geometric designs. The extreme severity of the lines of the building is relieved by the division of the surfaces into slightly sunk rectangular panels, the vertical panels having usually an inner panel with arched head or the more florid cusped Mihrāb.
There are beautiful fresco paintings on the walls with floral designs and calligraphy arranged in painted arches. The calligraphy is designed in the shape of arch as an individual design as well as the part of whole design formation of the building.
There are several multiple arches in the mosque which in fact are combinations of recessed and painted arches. Symmetry is maintained through division of big arches into multiple small arches with the arabesques and geometric patterns. Further every single arch is divided into two or three arches. The continuity of small painted arches under Muqarnas in the arch creates a rhythmical effect and balance.
The decoration scheme of Eastern façade of the mosque is a recessed arch within another blind arch within an arched opening. Spandrels of all the three are decked with arabesques in a variety of colours. The arched window here is like the Jharoka, used by the Mughal emperors to appear before the general masses, who gathered around their palaces on special occasions.
This article has been adapted from a research paper written for Collage of Art and Design, PU.