Oonchi Masjid of Bhatti Gate — another wonder lost with the passage of time
While reading a book on Bhatti Gate ‘Lahore ka Chelsea’ I came across a title ‘Oonchi Masjid’ (a Mosque at height) which struck my mind and so I decided to visit the mosque. Going inside the historic Bhatti Gate and on asking the people there, I was finally able to locate this mosque near Mohallah Chomallah. So in case you plan to visit this mosque after reading about it, reach this Mohallah inside Bhatti Gate and there you will see this majestic mosque standing on a raised platform.
The mosque is called so because of its raised floor level than the street level. It was built on a towering platform and one can enter it by climbing almost 7 feet high steps. I guess in the past the mosque must have been higher than seven feet as with the passage of time the street levels inside the walled city of Lahore have raised. A similar thing I came across in Wazir Khan Mosque near Delhi Gate where after the excavation it was revealed that the original street level was almost twelve feet below the present street level. Well, I guess to dig out the original fabrics in the city we will have to excavate every street, which is not possible. Anyhow, it is a mosque higher than the street level and in the same vicinity once the khateeb of Oonchi Masjid, Maulvi Imam Ud Din resided, as per historic accounts of Bhatti gate and this mosque.
The mosque has a huge facade but not a traditional one. You cannot compare this mosque with Wazir Khan or Mariam Zamani mosques as Oonchi Masjid has lost all its original fabric. The locals have repaired and decorated it in their own manner and aesthetics. I believe that if it would not have been altered it surely would have been another masterpiece of fresco and calligraphy like other Mughal era mosques seen inside the Walled City of Lahore. Well, there are no references of its original features and architecture and the only thing we get to know is its height and age by books or locals. At present the mosque’s facade it tiled with floral patterns and some calligraphy of Quranic verses. This is done with the modern materials by the locals. It does have the heritage value as the mosque is popularly believed to have been constructed by Emperor Akbar, though it is more likely to have been built during Aurangzeb Alamgir’s period as seen through the inscriptional evidences. But the locals of the area attribute it with Akbar’s time period. Well, if we take a look at it then we see that it might have been of Aurangzeb’s era as he had built mosques which rose from the street level like Badshahi Mosque. Surely the interior of the mosque must have been changed during the repairs and maintenance by the locals and thus I guess it has lost its entire structural glory and magnificence.
To my surprise and now to yours, the mosque is not a tourist point and the tourists are not welcomed either. Other than the prayer timings the mosque is locked for the public and students learning Quran are seen sitting inside the mosque through the metal grills as a madrassa for learning Quran is also running inside the Mosque. Well this is an issue with most of the historic mosques inside the walled city like Saleh Kamboh Mosque, Moran Tawaif Mosque or Taxali Wali Masjid. We still need to work a lot on changing the mindsets of the people regarding heritage sites and mosques so that they let the tourists in. There is no purpose in locking up the house of Allah for public I guess, but there must be some logical reason by the Imam of the mosque.
Walled city of Lahore is known for the mosques it has and there was a time when it also had gurdawaras and temples. Most of the mosques have been replaced with new fabric and other religious places have vanished with time. Like all gates, Bhatti Gate also has many mosques like Lal Masjid, Mosque of Molana Rohi, Nomania Mosque and another built by Wazir Khan for females but this Oonchi Masjid is most popular inside Bhatti Gate and people take pride in it. Unfortunately it is not opened for the public. Life outside the mosque is more interesting and we see many fruit and vegetable sellers who have traditionally decorated their carts. It is no doubt a colorful vista.
Not much has been written about this mosque in books or otherwise, but I think we should write on every piece of heritage that we find in our country. We do not visit, write or talk about heritage and that is the problem why our heritage is not being recognised among the people of other countries. Lahore is not just about Fort or the Badshahi Mosque, it’s more than that. The numerous havelis, markets, houses, monuments and interesting alleys have their own charisma and stories. I think we should visit all these sites to show our love and care for heritage.