Wazir Khan Square
Traversing the giant arches of Delhi Gate Lahore, crossing the maze of shops, labyrinth of narrow winding streets, aromatic food stalls, balconies and jharokas, bricked homes and tangled rooftops you will come across the splendor of Lahore – Wazir Khan Mosque. This is the 17th century jewel of Lahore built in 1634 AD, by Hakim Ilm Ud Din the then Governor of Lahore during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Mosque is a world class illustration of fresco and tile mosaic work. Other important feature of this mosque is the presence of Hujras and shops on its eastern and northern sides which were constructed to make the Mosque sustainable through income generated by these Hujras and shops. The most interesting feature of this grand Mosque is also the open space or the Chowk outside it. This Chowk that leads you into this captivating monument is the Wazir Khan Chowk. This Wazir Khan Chowk had been once the hub of cultural activities which included bethak system (small social gatherings), food and other stalls. Right there in this Chowk you can see the Hujras of the Wazir Khan Mosque, Shrine of a Sufi Saint Hazrat Said Souf and an eccentric Well of Diwan Dina Nath who was the finance minister of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. This is not the end, you can also see the colorful cloth shops of Asia’s biggest cloth market, Pakistan Cloth Market, dhol and dhamal being performed at the very point and among the melodies several enticing food stalls will surely attract you to try out the unique food. … So many wonders together in one Chowk are hard to find anywhere in Lahore – THIS IS “CHOWK WAZIR KHAN”.
The Chowk as you see today was not the same till a year ago. The area around this Mosque was also affected badly due to unplanned development and encroachments in the form of houses, shops and roads. With the passage of time the levels of road on northern side and open area on eastern side of Mosque were raised and hujras and shops were filled and blocked, and several encroachments snatched the beauty of the open space. The space was used by the welding vendors, car parking and at night for storing goods and parking freight vehicles. The open space that was once reflecting the hustle and bustle of the walled city life was completely damaged. The access to the grand Mosque was obstructed and created a bad image before the tourists. There were 73 encroachments overshadowing this jewel from the public. The well of Dina Nath was also encroached with shops and local stalls- all had literally damaged the beauty of 17th century locality. In April 2012 the Walled City of Lahore Authority got Wazir Khan Chowk cleared of the encroachments. In 2015 with the partnership of Aga Khan Trust for Culture planning to conserve the Chowk began and that was a step towards the revival of the lost glory. The US Ambassador’s funding was the source to revive the Chowk. Beside other consolidation and repair works of the Mosque structure, it was also decided to repair the shops and Hujras and restore the original floor levels of this Chowk as they were in Shah Jahan’s era. Finally, in the year 2015 the conservation of the Mosque and the square began. The funds for the open square were given by the US Ambassador’s fund.
Here comes something interesting now. For the purpose of conservation, the excavation started, and a few test pits were dug at different places on northern and eastern side of the Mosque, which produced encouraging results. Based on which it was decided to conduct a proper excavation. Before the excavation of the outside area of Mosque it was planned to dig two soak wells for disposal of rain water on extreme ends of the Chowk in southeastern and north-eastern corner of the area. Excavations were started in soak well, on the south eastern corner of open area in front of Mosque and carried down to the depth of 5’-6”. At that level a brick on edge floor was revealed. This floor was found in damaged condition due to fixing of an electricity pole at this particular point in the past. Over this original floor level five episode of raising the level of the area with debris were noticed by the experts. These debris layers were mixed with brick bats, potshards, ashes, charcoals, iron fragments, sand, animals’ bones and kanker lime plaster fragments etc. which was a clear indication that this area was intentionally filled and raised. At a depth of 8’-6” a number of human bones were exposed which showed that those bones were reburied at this place. After the removal of those disturbed bones, a complete human skeleton, buried in grave was exposed with orientation of north-south with its face towards west. It seemed to be a Muslim grave. All these bones were reburied in nearby graveyard after completing all necessary requirements needed and according to religious practice. This also indicated that at some point the place was used as a graveyard as well. As per historic record, this particular area was known as “rarrh” and used as grave yard in Sultanate period (1206 -1526) AD. This grave was unearthed at the depth of 8’-10” from the top floor level. The depth of this grave was almost the same as the grave of Hazrat Ishaq Gazooni located in an underground chamber in the courtyard of the mosque. Pottery collected from layers ranged from 17th to 20th century AD, and the potsherd collected from lower layers beneath the floor were of 12 to 13th century AD. The pottery found had rims, utensil bases, body shreds of small and medium sized pots, oil lamps and jars etc.
The project of conservation of this Chowk aimed at exposing the full façade of the Mosque and restoring the Chowk by taking down the pavement level of the Chowk to its historic level. It will also help reviving the urban open space by reorganizing it to be used for enhancement of the visual environment and for communal activities.
The clearing out of the Chowk and its restoration to something more closely resembling its original form now presents the locals and tourists both with an open vista where they can stop and enjoy the splendor and magnificence of the surrounding monuments. All these uphill tasks were completed in 2017.
Now there is another attraction attached with the Chowk… The Music for Peace! Every Saturday you can come to this Chowk and listen to different kinds of music. Qawali, Sufi Kalam, Dhamal, Dhol, Heer, Whirling Derwesh and much more is there. Yes, keeping in mind the sanctity of the grand Mosque there is no rock music or anything other than Sufi Music. Well, I think Sufi music is enough to promote peace and harmony. To my surprise foreigners and locals are now coming to enjoy this evening every Saturday. There are also religious ceremonies being held in this Chowk like Milad, Naat Mushaira (Symposium) etc. The local community is enthralled with this activity where all can come and have a good family time.