Anarkali's Tomb

Among the earliest extant Mughal tombs, Anarkali's sepulcher is also one of the most significant Mughal buildings of the period. The tomb, to the south of Lahore's Old City, is part of the compound of Punjab Secretariat on Lower Mall, and is located at the rear of Chief Secretary's Office. Since the tomb is utilized as the Punjab Archives, access to the building is restricted. Make sure that you plan a visit to it during office hours, otherwise you will find the gates to the secretariat locked and the sentry at the gate unwilling to allow even a peep.

Not only is it a "most ingeniously planned octagonal building", it is a memorial to the love-legend centering around prince Salim (later emperor Jahangir), and Anarkali (pomegranate blossom) who belonged to the harem of emperor Akbar, Salim's father. Although Mughal sources are silent about Anarkali, European contemporary travelers such as William Finch related the popular gossip rife at the time, mentioning her as Akbar's "most beloved wife."

Latif, quoting popular legend, says that Sharf-un-Nisa or Nadira Begam, with the title of Anarkali, was found giving a return smile to the prince by the emperor in the mirrors of his palace. Suspecting an intrigue or worse, Akbar ordered Anarkali to be interred alive. Accordingly, she was placed in an upright position and buried alive in a masonry wall, brick by brick. The prince, who must have been devastated, on succeeding the throne in 1605, "had an immense superstructure raised over her sepulcher" 16 years after her death.

The tomb, once set off as the centerpiece of a beautifully laid out garden setting, is today hemmed in by the structures surrounding it. However, it is this tomb which gifted the name Anarkali to the whole area when the British first set up a cantonment here. The monument employs a popular format using an octagonal plan, its sides alternately measuring 44 feet and 30 feet. Architecturally, however, it is unique in its utilization of semi-octagonal towers dominating each corner, rising well above the walls and terminated with cupolas over pavilion-like kiosks. A low pitched dome—among the earliest Mughal examples of double-dome—spans the central chamber and is carried on a drum or neck. The lower shell of the dome is constructed of small bricks in five stages or rings. The central dome is supported inside by eight arches 12 feet 3 inches thick. It is a masterpiece of solid masonry work of the early Mughal period.

Over the last couple of hundred years, the tomb has been put to several uses. In the first half of 19th century it served as the residence of Ranjit Singh's French general Jean Baptiste Ventura's Armenian wife. From 1847 it was used as offices for the clerical staff of the first British Resident, Henry Lawrence. From 1851 it was the venue for divine service, while in early 1857 it was consecrated as St. James' Church, later being declared a Pro-Cathedral.

The sarcophagus made of pure marble of extraordinary beauty and exquisite workmanship is, in view of 19th century scholars, "one of the finest pieces of carving in the world." It was put away in one of the side bays when the building was first converted into a church. It was then placed in the spot from which the altar had been removed rather than being replaced in its original central position. In 1940 the grave was found intact in its original position, five feet below the present floor. From accounts of its discovery, the grave is apparently of plastered brick-work, inscribed on the top and sides with the ninety-nine attributes of God and below with a Persian couplet. The Persian couplet inscribed on the sarcophagus has been translated by Latif into English. "Ah! could I behold the face of my beloved once more, I would give thanks unto my God until the day of resurrection," and is signed "Majnoon Salim Akbar" or "The profoundly enamoured Salim, son of Akbar" and expresses Jahangir's intense passion for the beautiful Anarkali. No doubt the two inscribed dates 1008 [1599] and 1024 [1615] refer to the date of Anarkali's death and the completion of the sepulcher respectively. Historians now believe the tomb to be that of Sahab-e-Jamal, one of the wives of Jahangir, who died in Lahore in 1599.

Today the monument appears as a simple, whitewashed massive brick structure, robbed of its decorative veneer, and its apertures and aiwan profiles filled in to serve its varied usage. However, the internal spaces, inspite of the alteration, are exciting, the viewing of which coupled with the amazing treasure of archival material of Punjab Archives—set up as Punjab Record Office in 1891, when the cathedral was shifted to its new premises—is wonderfully rewarding. For those interested in history of the British Punjab, it is a treasure trove, for, along with rare images and other documents, files dating back to the earliest days of British administration are carefully and meticulously maintained here.

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