Moti Mosque

Moti Mosque (Pearl Mosque) is located in the Moti Mosque Quadrangle of the Lahore Fort.  The mosque stands on a raised plinth of 6 feet 9 inches high. It is approached by a flight of eleven steps through an unpretentious portico at the northwest corner close to the portal of Jahangir's Makatib Khana.

As you step into the irregular octagonal hallway of the mosque, hardly 21' x 25', darkened, and with only a stream of light from the doorway, it is impressive in the composition of its vaults with their lofty proportions. Shorn of all decorative features, its marble dassa (carved edging) on a slightly raised floor featuring alcoves for shoes, alone echoes its lost grandeur.

After removing your shoes, however, as soon as you walk through the low height doorway into the courtyard, you are dazzled by the sunlit courtyard, and equally so by the luminous, elegant white edifice that is exposed to view. The courtyard, measuring 55 feet by 32 feet, is paved with marble slabs and is enclosed on the west by the prayer chamber, on the north and on east by compartments of irregular shapes, and on the south by a wall. The two-bay five-aisle prayer chamber stands on a plinth a little less than a foot high and is marked by a carved decorative string course which runs around the whole courtyard. The prayer chamber measures 55 feet by 25 feet, broken by five curved archways which create five compartments, each further divided by similar arched openings. The mosque is entirely faced with sang-e-murmur (white marble)—from its multifoil arched colonnade and its repertoire of arcuate roofing elements, squinch arches and lozenge muqarnas to flooring and dadoes.

Three compartments of the front aisle, the central one, and those at the extreme ends are covered by domes, while the remaining compartments of both aisles have vaulting. The central compartment of the near aisle contains a mihrab deeply recessed in the back wall within the outlines of a cuspid arch. Adjacent to it on the north stands a mimbar (pulpit) of marble. In each of the other compartments of that aisle, the mihrab is indicated only by the outlines of a cuspid arch which, however, contains a nearly square niche at a height of 3 feet 10 inches from the floor. This feature is repeated in the side walls of both aisles. The floor of the prayer chamber is paved with marble slabs having musallahs marked with a black marble line, while the dado is defined by a double line of black and yellow marble. On the east is a compartment of irregular shape with three arched openings, of which the central one is plain and others are cusped. The eastern compartment is faced with marble and flanked on either side by a rectangular doorway set within the outlines of a cusped arch. The doorway to the north communicates to the portico, while that to the south is an entrance to the staircase ascending at the back of the eastern compartment to the roof. The wall on the south, which is faced with marble, bears the outlines of three cusped arches corresponding to similar arches which enclose the door openings of the northern compartments. The parapet bears pietra dura decoration inlaid with semi-precious stones in marble.

The shallow domes that you see are double domes, devised for better acoustics. The bulbous double domes are covered with marble and have lotus cresting which seems to have been crowned by metallic finials, now disappeared. The central dome, the largest, stands on a raised platform, nearly square, which springs from a circular drum 4 feet high. The platform is ornamented with a band of molding. The other two domes have lower drums and no platforms.

In view of a lack of any historical sources or epigraphic evidence, there are conflicting opinions regarding the authorship of the mosque—whether it is Jahangir or Shah Jahan who should be credited with this splendid piece of architecture. The confusion was compounded by Henry Cope's assertion published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1858 regarding an inscription that he had found, on "Moti Mandar in the fort" (a Sikh appellation for Moti Masjid). According to Cope a certain Soondur Khan, referring to himself as "the lowest of all slaves of Jahangir, Padshah, son of Jalal-ud-din Akbar Padshah Ghazi," had built the mosque.

However, apart from Cope no other record of this inscription exists, either in the writings of 19th century historians and archaeologists or of later researchers. On the other hand research regarding structural, architectural and decorative elements point towards Shah Jahan as the architect of this singular edifice.

The mosque structure is in a surprisingly well-conserved state—even after having served as government treasury for the British and as a temple for Sikhs.

Even though it is a small mosque—implying private and restricted usage—it has all the constituents of a mosque: a courtyard, a place for ablutions east of the courtyard, hujras (cloisters) for scholars and an aiwan (main prayer chamber) with a central mihrab or prayer niche.

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