Mughal era: Lahore’s neglected heritage is a sad shadow of its glorious past

The second story from Herald’s annual supplement on heritage

As the second Mughal capital, Lahore was home to emperors and noblemen during the 16th and 17th centuries. Emperor Jehangir and his wife Nurjehan were married in Lahore and their legacy survives today in the form of several monuments.

Perhaps the finest remnant of that era is the tomb of Jehangir, located at Shahdara Bagh near the town of the same name. It is said that Nurjehan supervised its construction and sought her stepson Shahjehan’s permission to stay in Lahore after her husband’s death.

The hallmarks of Jehangir’s tomb are the embellishments of interiors with exquisite frescoes, the pietra dura inlay work and the inventive use of coloured marble. The garden around the tomb also houses the dilapidated tomb of Asif Khan, Nurjehan’s brother.

Situated to the west of Jehangir’s tomb is the neglected grave of Nurjehan. The epitaph on her grave, which some say she composed herself, reads: “Pity us, for at our tomb no lamp shall light, no flowers seen/ No moth wings shall burn, no nightingales sing.”

In the1980s, when the Punjab government ordered cattle-pens to be moved “outside” Lahore, many of them shifted dangerously close to these monuments. Consequently, the main entrance to Asif Khan’s tomb is an ungainly sight. For decades, the tomb remained neglected; initial efforts at serious restoration began in 1999, signs of which are visible with new tile work completed. But it is far from over: the overall appearance of the building remains dilapidated. Other great monuments – the Lahore Fort and the Shalimar Gardens – situated at a distance of seven kilometres from each other, are grand statements of artistic expression nurtured by the Mughals. Both the monuments are World Heritage sites but United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) missions in 2003, 2005 and 2009 noted that the Badshahi Masjid and the Tomb of Ranjit Singh, although located outside the Fort, form an integral part of the fort’s physical and historical context and may, therefore, be included within the heritage site.

The Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila, situated in the north-west corner of the Walled City, was rebuilt in the period of the Mughal emperor Akbar in 1566. Although the exact date of its original construction is not known, historians have noted that the fort was destroyed several times: starting from the 11th century, when it was destroyed by the Mongols. […]