Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chauburji Gate, Lahore, Pakistan


The Chauburji gate is the only remnant of a large garden that has all but disappeared. It now stands alone in a grassy roundabout at the intersection of Multan Road and Bhawalpur Road. There is considerable uncertainty regarding who constructed it. An inscription on the monument gives the date 1056 AH (1646) and attributes it to "Sahib-e-Zebinda Begam-e-Dauran". According to the 19th century historian Syad Muhammad Latif, the full inscription reads:

"This garden, in the pattern of the garden of paradise, has been founded...
(the second line has been effaced)
The garden has been bestowed on Mian Bai
By the bounty of Zebinda Begam, the lady of the age".

Latif believed that Mian Bai was the favorite female attendent of Zebina Begam. He recounts a story from the Shah Jahan-nama that the garden was laid out on the orders of Zebina Begam with direct supervision delegated to a Mian Bai. As the princess approached the garden as it neared completion, she heard people saying that the princess was on her way to visit Mian Bai's garden. Seeing that the garden was already being described as "Mian Bai's garden", the princess resolved to make a gift of it to Mian Bai. When she reached the garden, Mian Bai came forward and prayed for the princess's long life. Zebina Begam took this as a positive omen and immediately bequeathed the garden to Mian Bai.

Regardless of the story's truth, Latif may not be correct in assuming that the "Zebinda Begam" inscribed on the Chauburji refers to Zeb-un-Nisa, the daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb. Zeb-un-Nisa was born in 1637, so it is unlikely that she was given command of sufficient resources to construct a garden at the age of eight. A better candidate is Zeb-un-Nisa's aunt, Jahan Ara Begam, one of Shah Jahan's daughters.

The very word "Chauburji", meaning "Four Towers" in Urdu, is likely a modern term for what would have been merely a monumental gateway to the vast garden at the site in the Mughal era. Due to flooding and neglect, the garden may not have long survived its completion. By the 19th century the monument was somewhat dilapidated, having lost its northwest tower to an earthquake in 1846. In the 1960s the Department of Archaeology supervised the reconstruction of the destroyed tower and also restored the surviving parts of the monument.

The design of the minarets with their distinctive flairing capitals is a stylistic variant found only in Lahore.

Chauburji is built in a syncretic style that blends Mughal architecture, the older Timurid-style from Central Asia, and Perso-Arabic styles from the Middle East. Its distinguishing features are the minarets which greatly widen at the top - a unique feature not present anywhere in the sub-continent. Some, however, believe that there were cupolas upon these minarets which collapsed with the passage of time.

The eastern and western facades of the structure are decorated by two-storey Timurid-style iwans flanked by two levels of alcoves in a style typical of the Shah Jehan period of Mughal architecture. The building was once covered in intricate blue and green kashi kari (or Kashan-style) tile work and frescoes. The iwans are embellished with muqarnas, which were first introduced into the Mughal Empire from Persia with construction of Lahore's Wazir Khan Mosque.

The building's red brickwork is typical of the Muslim buildings of the sub-continent; the doorways and windows running through the interior corridors are examples of the living style that characterised Mughal structures. Although most of the inscriptions on Chauburjia have been lost, on the upper-most part of the construction Ayat-ul-Kursi can be seen in Arabic script in blue and worked in porcelain.
It has been suggested that the Charminar of Hyderabad, India influenced the architecture of Chauburji.

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