Sonehri Mosque

Sonehri Mosque, also known as Masjid Talai (Talai=sonehri or golden), is a late-Mughal structure built by Nawab Bhikari Khan, son of Raushauddawla Turrabbaz Khan, Governor of Lahore during the viceroyalty of Mir Moin-ul-Mulk or Mir Mannu (d. 1753), well known for his victorious battle with Ahmad Shah Durrani in Sirhind (1748).

Bhikari Khan himself acted as confidante of Mir Mannu's wife, who, on the death of her husband, acted as regent for her infant son. Known for his piety, Bhikari Khan constructed his mosque in Chowk Kashmiri Bazaar. According to epigraphical evidence provided on the facade of the prayer chamber, the mosque was built in 1749. The somewhat irregular plan of the mosque and necessity of providing two access staircases was due to the constrained site conditions. Although he was permitted to occupy an open space in the chowk (square) he could not persuade the religious authorities to allow incorporation of an existing small mosque into the new structure. Historian and Engineer Kanhaiya Lal credits Deputy Commissioner Lahore, Captain Nisbet in bringing Bhikari Khan's concept to fruition one hundred years later, by demolishing the small mosque in question and incorporating the space within Sonehri Mosque compound.

Built on a raised vaulted platform about 11 feet above the surrounding level, the structure covers a rectangular area measuring 102 feet by 45 feet. The basement is composed of deep, narrow cells. A flight of sixteen steps has been provided against a small entrance gate on the east. An open courtyard measuring 65 feet by 43 feet, with an ablution tank 25 feet by 27 feet, has been provided in front of the prayer chamber, measuring 40 feet by 16 feet. The northeast and southeast corners of the prayer chamber have minarets which rise 46 feet 9 inches, crowned with blind pavilions. The eastern facade of the prayer chamber, including the corner minarets, is lime-plastered, with panels of various sizes which originally had fresco decoration.

The prayer chamber is a single-aisle 3-bay structure, surmounted by 3 distinctive copper domes carrying polished gilding, which due to its shine, is visible from a great distance. Its four minarets marking the four extremities are also capped by golden cupolas, and are a reconstruction since their collapse in the earthquake of 1905.

The prayer chamber is divided into three compartments by four centered cusped arches carried on jambs nearly three feet thick. The central bay, nearly square and measuring around 15 feet, is bigger than those flanking it. In the centre of the western wall is the mihrab, balanced by similar niches in each of the two side bays. Pointed arched openings are provided in the eastern facade. The entire interim is decorated with frescos work. However, much of it was badly repainted later.

The roof of the mosque carries double bulbous domes with a high neck at the springing level, on which there is a row of pseudo-acanthus leaves. The domes are crowned with pinnacles and gilded. The core of each dome is of masonry, over which a casing of wood has been applied. Copper plates have been fixed over the wooden casing. The central dome is the largest.

The foresight of Bhikari Khan in elevating the mosque above shops—the rent from shops providing a source of revenue—ensured the upkeep of the mosque even during most of the Sikh rule. It was only when the Garanth Sahib (Sikh Holy Book) was placed in the adjacent baoli (stepped well) of Ranjit Singh, that complaints of disturbance from the azan (Muslim call for prayers) began to be voiced by the Sikh community. The orders of Ranjit Singh for dispossessing the imam (the custodian of the mosque) and placing the Garanth in the mosque were received with dismay by the Muslim populace. According to Kanhaiya Lal it was the efforts of Fakir Aziz-ud-Din and Noor-ud-Din in enlisting support of Gullu Mashki (the watercarrier in high favour with Mahrani Jindan), to influence Ranjit Singh that resulted in the reversal of the Sikh ruler's decision. The undertaking given by the imam included reduced pitch of the azan and forfeiting the rent of the shops attached to the mosque.

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