The Mirror Palace
By Tania Qureshi for Pakistan Today. Published November 20, 2016
Located in the northwest corner of the Walled City of Lahore, the Royal Fort is one of the extraordinary structures of its kind in the world. One of the magnificent buildings of Lahore Fort and no doubt the world, Sheesh Mahal or the Palace of Mirrors. It is one of the most majestic palaces of the Mughal period. It was constructed under the supervision of Asif Khan for Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631-32 AD. In 1975, the Sheesh Mahal was listed as a protected monument under the Antiquities Act by Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology whereas in 1981, as part of the larger Lahore Fort Complex, it became inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
At present the administration of the Lahore Fort is again documenting and studying the Sheesh Mahal in consultation with Aga Khan Trust for Culture so the building is conserved and prevented from other threats.
The chief features of Sheesh Mahal are gilt work (placing of pure gold), pietra dura work (inlay of semi-precious stones into white marble), marble perforated screens and the aiena kari (convex glass mosaic work) with monabat kari (stucco tracery). The versatility of variegated marble stone slabs (Sang-e-Musa, Sang-e-Abri, Sang-e-Badal) added the beauty of spacious courtyard in front of the palace. The shallow water basin is constructed in the center of Mahal that comprises four jet fountains. The other buildings are connected with basin through the four water channels on each side. The mirror reflects the stars and the bedrooms presents, in its ceiling, the panorama of a star lit sky.
The exterior wall of the Sheesh Mahal presents the beautiful mosaic paintings that depict everyday sport of the Mughal princes for the enjoyment of the people who used to gather below the fort not only to have a view of the emperor sitting in the Jharokha, but also to admire the brilliance of colours on the wall. Here one can observe the great art of that time in the form of galloping horses, humped camels, elephant ride, hunting scene, animal fights, horse man playing polo, camel fights, figures of angels, demon head sand moving clouds, horse and elephant riders crossing Swords and verities of floral and geometrical designs. From Sheesh Mahal, one can have a magnificent view of the Badshahi Mosque built by Aurangzeb and the Minar-e-Pakistan. At night, this view is really stunning. Mughal culture reveled in great opulence, and the perfection of craft used in the Sheesh Mahal, or Palace of Mirrors, epitomises the sumptuous reign.
The Mughals had a special interest in the types of palaces that contained thousands of small mirrors in their design. This is the reason that the Agra Fort, Lucknow Fort, Ajmer Fort, Mehrangarh Fort, Rohtas Fort and Taj Mahal contained these types of palaces. The trend of mirror decoration is still running in Pakistan and India. Ceilings and walls are decorated with colourful mirrors in these countries.
My elders told me that in their childhood they were able to visit this palace at night as well and they would light up a match to see the light effect in all the mirrors. The walled city of Lahore authority is planning to open the fort at night but I guess this step involves a lot of homework and effort. If this is achieved I think Lahore Fort will again see a season of splendor and activity.
By Tania Qureshi. The writer is a media professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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