A 17th century Mughal-era mosque, a replica of Badshahi Masjid Lahore and Jamea Masjid Delhi, and a fine specimen of architecture and masonry, is fast losing its luster, reflecting neglect of the departments supposed to preserve rich heritage and culture of the historical city of Chiniot.
Having been constructed by Nawab Saadullah Khan, the prime minister of Emperor Shah Jehan, the mosque, named after the original Badshahi Masjid of Lahore, is amongst the historical buildings of Chiniot that have become the identity of this ancient city.
Visited by thousands of tourists from across Pakistan and abroad, the mosque is still used for saying prayers by the locals.
Nawab Saadullah Khan, born in 1591 A D, might have been inspired by the grand architect of Badshahi Masjid of Lahore where he got his early religious education and after being appointed prime minister by Shah Jehan in 1645, got constructed its replica here around 1650. He died in 1655.
Built with red stone, like the original one in Lahore, it stands on an elevated place opposite thehistoric Rekhti Fort, got built in 1326 AD during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq (1325-1351) on the banks of River Chenab.
The red stones used for the mosque’s construction were extracted from the hills in the area along the riverbank. The stone carving was done by expert masons of the time whose skill can also be witnessed in the grand structures of Masjid Wazir Khan (Lahore), Taj Mahal (Agra), Kashi Raam Mandar (Banaras), India.
A royal garden was also established in front of the mosque, while a pond was built in the centre of its courtyard for ablution.
On a 100-kanal piece of land attached with the mosque, an inn had been built to house travelers and their horses.However, the area was gradually encroached upon by locals, reducing it to only a few kanals, where Auqaf department, that took over the monument in 1960, built some 140 shops and rented these out to generate revenue.
As per sources, the department earns around Rs20-Rs30 million as rent of these shops but spends little portion of the amount on its maintenance.
The first repair and renovation work on the mosque was carried out in 1972-77 with a cost of Rs1 million under the supervision of the then archeology director Wali Ullah Khan.The second and so far the last significant renovation of the monument was done in 2014 that cost Rs6.3 million on the recommendation of then MPA Maulana Ilyas Chinioti.
Because of this official apathy, the grand monument is fast losing its luster, with the ornamentations on its walls fading and plaster at various places eroding, revealing the bricks underneath. The plaster on the ceiling was also falling because of lack of maintenance. The lights installed to illuminate the structure have also gone out of order since a long.
The royal garden has been closed for the public and is full of weeds and bushes. The bullock-driven well that once fed the ablution pond has dried and the 400-year-old wooden equipment used to get water from it was still there which could be restored to attract tourists. The pond itselfwas discarded due to developing cracks as it was feared that seepage from it could damage the foundations of the mosque.
A portion of the monument is being used as offices of the Pakistan Qaumi Razakar, Auqaf department and an NGO.
The concerned citizens demand the Punjab chief minister to order steps and provide funds for revival of the glory of the monument.They also demand it should also be declared national heritage and handed over to the archeological department.
Deputy Commissioner Chiniot Syed Noman Masood said efforts would be made for restoration and renovation of these cultural and historical buildings of Chiniot with the assistance of Auqaf and other line departments.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2021