[Daily Times 15 April, 2019]

If a person is talented, hardworking and on top of that fortunate as well at many levels, then such a person shines like a bright, dazzling star on the horizons of history.

One such luminary is Sheikh Ilmuddin Ansari. He was born in a well-educated family of Chiniot during the era of Emperor Jahangir. His father’s name was Sheikh Abdul Latif and his grandfather was Sheikh Hassamuddin. Both of them were highly reputed and well respected in the city. He was taught philosophy, Arabic and Persian at home. He studied Hikmat (the art of medicine) under the tutelage of Hakim Da’vi and according to some accounts, Hakim Ra’vi. He became a well reputed and a renowned hakeem (physician). His reputation as a hakeem who could cure incurable diseases spread far and wide.

Hakim Ilmuddin eventually moved from Chiniot to Lahore in order to try his luck. Later on, he went to Delhi. After staying there for a short while, he moved from Delhi to Akbarabad. Both these cities were a hub of power and opportunity. Times changed and he got access to the Mughal Court. His association with Prince Khurram kept growing and as a result, he was bestowed with many royal honours.

In this regard, following is an excerpt from Naqoosh Lahore (Pg 802):

“Hakim Ilmuddin went to Delhi after a short stay in Lahore. Failing to find employment there, he moved to Agra and there his matab (clinic) gained fame in a short span of time.”

Syed Muhammad Latif in his book Lahore – It’s History, Architectural Remains & Antiquities, (Pg 61, 62) writes about this time period in the life of Hakim Ilmuddin:

“His accomplishments, as a physician, attracted the attention of Shah Jahan and in a short time, he made himself familiar with the temper and disposition of the emperor, the royal princes and the ladies of the harem. He was first appointed Dewan-e-bayutat(Superintendent of Households)and then Mir Saman or superintendent of the Royal Kitchen, from which post he was soon promoted to the office of the Dewan.”

Wazir Khan was very loyal to Prince Khurram who in turn held him in high regard. He was so devoted that during the tussle between Jahangir and Shah Jahan, he sided with the latter.

Some historians have recorded a very interesting anecdote regarding his access to the Court of the Emperor Jahangir. According to these accounts the favorite and most beloved wife of Emperor Jahangir, Noor Jahan, developed a cyst in her foot. The Empress didn’t want the cyst to be operated upon. The problem kept aggravating but Noor adamantly refused to get the surgery. Numerous expert physicians were called to cure the disease without resorting to surgery but the problem persisted. Prince Khurram referred Hakim IlmUd Din. He was called to the royal court for the treatment. He asked for hot desert sand to be spread in a room, the Empress was requested to move on the sand bare-feet. As the queen walked on the sand, her footprints left their marks. IlmUd Din figured out the exact place of the cyst and placed small sharp blades. Noor Jahan was requested to walk on her footsteps again and so the cyst opened up and the puss got drained without her even knowing about it and without suffering any pain. The burning hot sand healed the wound. The Empress was so overjoyed by this ingenious mode of treatment that she presented Hakim IlmUd Din with all the jewelry that she was wearing at that time, as a sign of gratitude. Her servants and slave girls also followed suit and offered their jewelry as well. This offering was worth Rs. 22 lakhs at that time.

Hakim IlmUd Din had made a Man’nat (a sacred vow). Making use of this enormous wealth, he constructed a majestic mosque, Masjid Wazir Khan, in the centre of the Lahore to fulfill his vow.

Wazir Khan’s relationship with Prince Khurram kept growing. In the last years of Jahangir’s life, the tussle for Mughal throne started between Noor Jahan and Prince Khurram. Noor Jahan wanted Prince Shehryar who was the husband of her only daughter, Ladli Begum and step brother of Prince Khurrram, to ascend the throne. In this war for the Mughal Throne Noor Jahan’s brother Asif Jah, who was also father to Prince Khurrram’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, sided with his son in law against his sister. Prince Khurram rebelled and lost. He was forgiven but was imprisoned. Hakeem IlmUd Din was appointed as his physician. He convinced Hakeem IlmUd Din to liberate the prince from imprisonment and accompany him to Deccan. On the way, the news of Jahangir’s death, who was returning from Kashmir to Lahore, reached them and they returned. After the ensuing palace intrigues and conspiracies, Prince Khurram emerged victorious and ascended the throne as Shah Jahan, the fifth Emperor of Mughal Empire. After his accession to the throne Hakeem IlmUd Din was given the title of Wazir Khan and to this day he is known by this name. He was also appointed Governor of Punjab.

Just like Shah Jahan, Wazir Khan had a keen interest in architecture and built numerous remarkable buildings in Lahore, Chiniot and even in Agra. He is credited with settling the city of Wazir Abad. SamanBurj near Palkunwala, is one of those monuments that turned the area of Raj Ghats, into Wazir Abad. In Lahore, He constructed Nawab Wazir Khan Mosque and ShahiHamam (The royal Bath). Adjacent to the Bath he built a Saray (hotel) and a garden called Bagh e Nakhliseya (The Garden of Dates). The Punjab Public Library now stands where once the garden flourished. In vicinity of ShahiTaksali, Lahore, he built a palace for the women of his household. A small yet beautiful mosque was also constructed near the palace in MohallahSamiyan. The mosque was named as Masjid NawabWazeer Khan, Khurd. This mosque is mentioned in Naqoosh Lahore (pg.556) thus;

‘This ancient styled small mosque is situated to the south of Taksali Gate, in Bazar Samiyan. In the Shah Jahan era, Nawab Wazir Khan Governor of Lahore Province constructed his Zenana Mahal (Palace for the women of his household) here, which doesn’t exist anymore’.

A path linked the palace with the mosque and the women from the palace used to pray in the mosque. The remains of this palace endured for a long time during the Sikh Era. The British, later on, leveled this place.

After creation of Pakistan, especially in the 60s, a trend of renaming the old cities and historic places started. This tendency took stronger hold in Lahore where old buildings, localities, parks, Hindu properties and many such places were renamed due to political and religious pressures. This renaming has made the task of discovering and identifying ancient historic places extremely complex. I had to spend many a restless and laborious days looking for Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd. I visited MohallahSamiyan, innumerable times, trying to find this mosque and almost every time I found myself standing at MiyanYaseenWal mosque. According to the reference books, this had to be Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd but the ignorance of the local people and even that of the administrators, regarding the history of this mosque, created a huge problem. They all referred to this mosque as Masjid MiyanYaseenWali. God bless Khalid Behzad Hashmi, who wrote a detailed article about this mosque in the newspaper, ‘NIWA E WAQT’ (11th Feb., 2011). Following is an excerpt of the article;

‘As we enter Bazar Sheikhupuriyan from Taksali Gate, to the left, we find Masjid Abdullah Kabli (Taksalikioanchi Masjid the high mosque of Taksali). Towards the right, a stone’s throw away, Pakistan talkies is situated. Around ten shops down in the same lane, on the right hand, Bazar ThathiMlahan inner Taksali Gate starts. The old buildings of this area and their architecture compel one to stop. On this very same road, towards the right, lies the famous historic mosque, Masjid ThathiMlahan. It is on the elevation of almost eight steps from the road. Its new name is Masjid HanfiyahRizviyah, and this is the name that people know it with now. A short distance away in ChowkMohallahSamiyan, Nawab Wazir Khan’s small mosque is situated which is now called Maulana Ghulam YaseenWali Masjid. Even the Archeology Department and Auqaf Department, let alone the locals or laymen, are unaware of its location. Around a century ago, this historic mosque was revamped by Maulana Ghulam Yaseen and that is why it is being called after his name, although its original name ‘Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd’ should have prevailed.’

At present there are two approaches to the Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd. One route makes use of the Taksali Gate, which has been mentioned in detail in the reference cited from Mr. Khalid Behzad’s article. The other one is from Bhati Gate. The city wall adjacent to the gate, houses the building of Bhati Police Station as well. A short distance from this, another old and famous mosque called Uchimaseet (laal masjid) is situated. Next to it and quite close by, there is a street called Gali Noor Muhammad. The street curves like a crescent and reaches the mosque. In this same street, the building of Ghulam Fatima Trust is situated. Farther ahead, there is another famous street, ‘SeerihyanWaliGali’.

Another landmark of this area is the home of renowned and respected old political worker, Mai Gulabo. Her given name is Shamim. She is more than eighty years old and had started her political struggles from the platform of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Peoples Party. She remained affiliated with the party for a considerable length of time. A few years ago she joined Pakistan Muslim League N. From the magnificent mosque that was constructed for the women of Wazir Khan’s household to the humble abode of a female political worker who dedicated her life for political struggle, the distance is short but the journey encompasses centuries. After her house, MohallahSamiyan, starts. Right at the start of this locality we find a mausoleum that goes by the name of Rehmat Ali QadrTertosi. A few steps away there is a tomb of another revered saint, HazratMasoom Shah. Once in this same place there were two ancient wells that the locals used to call, Khari khoee. A short distance away lays another ancient street called Jindal Kathal. Moving on we reach ChowkUmer Farooq (RA). This whole area is known as Bazar Samiyan. Further ahead we find another historical gem- Gali Justice Lateef Mohallah- which is a street named after Justice Syad Muhamad Latif. During the British era, Syad Muhamad Latif wrote many authentic books including History of Lahore, History of Punjab and History of Agra. There is an enclosure that is known by his name in the Miyani Sahib graveyard which is his final resting place. The graves of his other family members are also in the same enclosure.

The famous Tabla maestro, Ustad Tafu’s house is also situated in the very start of Justice Lateef Mohallah. There is also an old Kat’rri (small dwelling) here, a plaque of British era tells that this place belonged to a Rani (queen) of some foregone times. These days this area is known as Kat’rriPananWali. There is another ancient Kat’rri nearby that is associated with the name of ShababUd Din. It is said that the ownership of this area belongs to Wilayat Begum. A path leads from this place to Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd. From the mosque this path leads to ThathiMalahan and onwards to Bazar Sheikhutoriyan.

Mr Khalid Behzad says in his article about Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd says, ‘This mosque was also adorned with marble and lacquered inlaid tile work like ‘Masjid Wazir Khan’ but it was completely altered.’

He further goes on to say, ‘The view from the roof at the mosque is captivating. On the other side of the roof of the veranda, the three double-domes are valiantly failing to hide their imposing splendor. Their loneliness and deprecation through the ravages of time is heartbreaking. I thought as if they are saying, ‘finally, you have come!’

These domes are double layered and constructed like those of Masjid Maryam Zamani (Begum Shahi Masjid). The inner layer provides ceiling to the interior of building. The outer layer is the one that crowns the building. The space between the two layers was filled with inverted backed clay pots and a small opening was left. Once the outer layer is complete the pots were removed through this opening. In some areas they are left inside. These three glorious domes are now helplessly surrounded by rising houses on three sides and are awaiting the attention of both the Archeology and Auqaf Departments.

There is a huge decrepit arched gateway under the ceiling towards the right side. This vaulted threshold of the mosque isn’t visible from the street outside because the facade is hidden behind a wall made of bricks and cement. This part of the Nawab Wazir Khan’s mosque for his Heram is in ruins. It’s full of trash and debris. The soaring central arch, flanked by square and rectangular compartment which at one time were adorned with glazed, inlaid pottery work like Masjid Wazir Khan, is covered with wild overgrown shrubs and weeds. In spite of the present dilapidated condition, this vaulted entrance bears testimony to its glorious past.

At present Masjid Wazir Khan Khurd, is but a shadow of its former glory. When Mr. Khalid Behzad wrote his article, there were still some decorative motifs left on the inner walls of the mosque. The doors and overhanging enclosed balconies that were mentioned in that article could still have been seen in their glory, at that time. Now things have changed drastically. The original architecture is vanishing due to the extension work that has been carried out. Along with three main domes some parts of original central wall still remain that are decorated with calligraphy in Persian style work known as Kashi Kari. The living quarters of the Imam Sahib were constructed on the first floor, that have obscured the view of even this trace of the past glory, and the visitors could hardly catch a glimpse of elegant calligraphy. On the left side of the main entrance, a new hall had been constructed. Towards the right, alongside the old Hamam (Bath) the remnants of old walls can still be seen. Khalid Behzad had mentioned this Hamam (Bath) and the other old remains, in these words, ‘One can judge the strength of the structure of this historical mosque form the fact that it’s Hamam (Bath) is in working condition even today and the people of the area still benefit from it. This historical place now houses the shop of Zahoorhajjam (barber) that has a wooden door.’

This mosque associated with the name of Maulana Muhammad Yaseen had several Imams after him. Abdul Ghani Sahib, Zareef Sahib and Qari Muhammad Mazhar Sahib son of Mufti Ghulam Jan Qadri Sahib are names of some of Maulana Muhammad Yaseen’s successors.

Presently, Lahore is losing its distinct cultural heritage and character in the name of hollow, meaningless development and a proliferation of roads. The Archaeology Department and the AuqafDepartment not only have a perennial lack of funds but the staff is also untrained and ill equipped to properly preserve and care for the historical landmarks that are our heritage. Due to negligence of the concerned departments, Masjid Wazir Khan and many other relics of our cultural legacy are vanishing right before our very eyes. We’re still lucky to have seen some of the grace and beauty of the architectural gems that dot the landscape of Lahore. The question is what will our children see?