Nadira Begam's Tomb

Tomb of Nadira Begam, is located in close proximity to the tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir. In order to view this 17th century structure, you should travel southeast on Allama Iqbal Road. Almost midway between the canal and railway line is a turning off Allama Iqbal Road (Mayo Road) on the right (south), from where a turning right and then left, leads you to the historic tomb and mosque of Mian Mir. Intercepted by a small road from the enclosure of the saint's mazar is a large garden on its east, in the middle of which stands the square tomb of Nadira Begam.

Nadira Begam was the wife of Prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan—the same poet-prince, who had served as governor of Lahore during the 1640s. At the time of his wife's death, Dara was on the run and fighting a losing battle for the Mughal throne—and literally his life—with his brother Aurangzeb. After the battle of Deorai (near Ajmer), dogged by Aurangzeb's forces Dara had fled towards Multan and Uchch trying to escape to Iran via the Bolan Pass.

It was during this difficult journey that Nadira Begam, his beloved wife and daughter of his uncle Sultan Parvez (brother of Shah Jahan and second son of emperor Jahangir), succumbed to exhaustion and dysentery (1659). Although his forces were much depleted, Dara sent the remaining troops with his wife's body from Bolan Pass to Lahore to be buried near the shrine of his 'spiritual guide', the saint Mian Mir. Dara himself was a devout disciple of saints Mulla Shah and Hazrat Mian Mir. His attachment to Lahore is clear from his poetry: "The city of Lahore ever remains flourishing, and He keeps it free from plague and famine."

Unlike other Mughal tombs which have normally been constructed in the midst of gardens, Nadira Begum’s tomb is built amidst a water tank without a dome, which bears the flat parapet on all its four sides. These distinguished architectural features have made it look rather like a pavilion than a tomb. The tomb stands on a raised platform in the centre of a water tank, which was large enough to accommodate a lake. Encroachments have eaten away most of the tomb’s area during the course of history.

During the British period, the tank was dismantled by Muhammad Sultan and its bricks used in building the Lahore Cantonment. According to Latif, the corners of the tank were marked with pavilions, while the lofty gateways provided access to the tomb from the north and south through a masonry bridge. The gateways no longer exist but most of the causeways can still be seen.

The culverted bridge still stands on thirty arches. The 14 ft wide central chamber is surrounded by an ambulatory in the form of vestibules. It greatly resembles the tank and baradari at Hiran Minar in Sheikhupura. A plinth ten-feet high from the surface of the tank, comprises the foundations of the tomb. Square on plan, the tomb on each side measures 44 ft. It is a two storeyed structure and has a height of 32 ft 6 in from the grave platform. The height of the first storey is 13 ft flanked by square headed apertures. The pavilion is constructed of burnt bricks and contains deep cusped arched openings. The central openings are arched, while those on the sides are flat. There are four arched openings on the ground floor in the interior around the grave and above them arches, exactly of the same type, are built in the upper storey. All these arched openings in both the storeys are cusped in design. Each of the openings in the lower storey is 3 ft 4 in wide and 6 ft 6 in high and that in the upper storey is 3 ft 3 in wide and 6 ft high. An interesting feature of the openings is that all the eight corners of lower and upper storeys were executed skilfully by forming a small pavilion in each of the corners. All the four facades of the pavilion are decorated with blind cusped arches and panels. They contain projection over which rises the high parapet wall. The stairs for reaching the upper-storey and roof arc located at the southeast and northeast corners. The whole structure of the pavilion was lime plastered.

The grave, which lies in the centre of the pavilion, is 6 ft 10 in long, 2 ft 10 in wide and 1 ft 8 in high. There were small arched holes on the northern end of the grave on a raised portion for lighting up the area with oil lamps. On the northern face of the grave Quranic verses are laid in marble slab in pietra dura in Nashtaliq characters, while on the southern end, Nadira Begum's name and her date of demise is inscribed in the marble slab in the same design.

The façade at the top retains parapet. On the parapet wall, just on the roof level are four small arched openings, two each in the north and the south, which, if seen from outside appear that below the parapet, in the façade is a balcony in red sandstone. The roof built in vaulting is flat at the top except for a fascinating hexagonal platform of two feet height that is located in its centre. The roof and the platform are covered with thick lime plaster and lack any ornamentation. The tank around the pavilion, which was enclosed by a high wall, has been filled with earth and traces of its four walls are still visible. It was a very spacious tank square in shape, with each side being 580 feet long. There were fine gateways to the north and south. When there was water in the tank, the tomb seemed to be floating in water, its reflections creating the illusion of movement. Though isolated in this manner, its connection with the rest of the world is maintained by means of a causeway access in the east-west direction. The causeway bears 32 pointed arched openings and in addition to that there is one more opening in the centre of the causeway which was intentionally closed. That closed opening forms a beautiful square platform in the centre of the causeway, its each side being 11 ft 9 in long. The causeway, which is in a deteriorating condition, is 5 ft 9 in wide. The tank has now been developed in pretty lawns, bearing pathways. Numerous evergreen trees have also been planted in it and flowerbeds have also been prepared for seasonal flowers. This new arrangement has converted the area of the spacious tank into a beautiful park, an attractive spot for the inhabitants of the locality. But it has also made it into a sports ground where the causeways seem ideal for a cricket pitch!

In the interior of both the storeys, the ceilings and faces of the walls are decorated with the traditional Mughal architectural feature of kalib kari, panels of various geometrical shapes, which bear traces of red, green and black colours. The use of kalib kari or muqarnas (stalactite squiches) for roofs and vaults are also employed internally. Though now faded, some traces are still visible. The colour scheme appears to be carried over the whole of its interior surface except for the trench of the upper storey which was brilliantly embellished with glazed tiles of multi-colours, traces of which are still evident. Although no tilework is extant on the external façade, traces of glazed tiles are still evident in first floor interiors. Most of the tiles removed from the tomb are now preserved in the Lahore Museum.

Today, the tomb retains a simple and blank facade, shorn of all ornamentation. It is said to have been robbed of its costly marble and semi-precious stones during the Sikh period. During Ranjit Singh's rule, the choicest material from the structure was removed, leaving it in a dilapidated condition. The tomb is also a victim of contemporary vandalism, as gaudy graffiti is visible on the structure with the ugly plague of wall chalking.

Since independence, its proper conservation has been ignored. The tomb was declared as a protected monument in 1956 and since then its responsibility for conservation lies with the Department of Archaeology and Museum. In 1956, a comprehensive scheme was framed by the department for its repair and restoration but it seems that nothing has been put into effect since.

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