Review: A tale of romance

Anjum Rehmani’s eloquent writing style adds universal appeal to an otherwise purely academic book

Anjum Rehmani’s eloquent writing style adds universal appeal to an otherwise purely academic book

LAHORE: Anjum Rehmani’s Lahore: History and Architecture of Mughal Monuments is an exquisitely-designed journey of the architectural splendour of Mughal monuments in Lahore. It is a visual, aesthetic celebration of the Mughal grandeur combined with a chronological, comprehensive exploratory account of the concrete vestiges of the long-lost Mughal era.

The book is divided in chapters specific to time periods with references to political rules dominating them. The introduction sets the tone for the reader, explaining the geographical appropriateness, practicality, and allure for the blessings that Lahore received from different rulers. The first chapter depicts the gradual assimilation and accommodation of Lahore’s indigenous population to immigrant and conquering influences expertly woven with historical present, fading and faded concrete evidences. Lahore’s agricultural fertility and the presence of Ravi River served as a magnet for conquerors even before the Mughal rulers initiated their affair with it.

The second chapter pays a systematic tribute to the pre-Islamic and pre-Mughal monuments with a lucid account of architectural differences to mark different political epochs. A fascinating elucidation of the political, sociological, and cultural influences on the monuments tinges the narrative with a story-like tone, enhancing the reader’s interest in and experience of the book.

The third chapter deliberates the monuments of Babur and Humayun in Lahore, complete with additions and subtractions to the then present architecture specifically the Lahore Fort. The chapter explores the introductions of new building styles and their adornment showcasing each emperor’s taste, inventiveness and creativity. The accompanying pictures and floor plans lend visuals to the articulate description of the author.

The fourth chapter celebrates the “Rise of Lahore” in Akbar’s rule by delving into the intricate details of the tombs, mosques, gardens, havelis and even ponds of that era.

The book also continues the explorational study of the Mughal obsession with architectural design and adornment in Jahangir’s rule. The architectural innovations are discussed in vivid detail, with historical and cultural explanations to provide context to readers whose interest lies beyond or not in architectural studies.

Interestingly, Anarkali’s folklore is discussed with reference to different historians’ accounts of the alleged scandalous affair and murder of the fair maiden, etching Akbar as the evil emperor in the memories of the romantics of the subcontinent. This, somehow, justifies or legitimises the romanticism in Jahangir’s architecture, bringing to mind Mughal-e-Azam’s dancing Madhubala’s reflection in the mirrors of Akbar’s court on the verbal illustration of the Shish Mahal in the subsequent chapter about Shah Jahan’s grandiose architectural ventures.

The subsequent chapters discuss the resplendent mosques and gardens, notably Shalimar gardens, built in the era of Shah Jahan, discussion of Aurangzeb’s restoration of the Mughal buildings and the construction of the magnificent Badshahi Mosque and the monuments of the later Mughal period.

The conclusion is a concise account of the design, materials and decorations of the monuments discussed in detail in the preceding chapters.

The book covers important ground as it discusses and reveals not only the architectural inclinations and mastery of the Mughal Empire but also the under-celebrated, even unknown, expertise of the artists of that era. The mentioned and discussed embellishment techniques of kashi kari, shisha kari, frescos, jali work, minakari, naqqashi, pietra dora, pinjra, parchin kari, qalibkari, and girabandi, to name a few, are testament to the Mughal artists’ expertise and skill. Also to be noted is the highlighted British disrespect and disregard of these monuments, contributing to their decay and demise.

The eloquent writing style of Rehmani is that of a master storyteller, adding universal appeal to an otherwise purely academic book. It not only charms with its factual comprehensiveness, but also the discussion of the attached folklores and legends with the buildings it explores in their times and historical contexts.

The book is indeed a valuable read for any discerning reader interested in the Mughal era or the city of Lahore, and an essential one for students and experts of architecture, art, literature and history.

Title: Lahore

Author: Anjum Rehmani

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan

ISBN: 9780199066094

The writer is a freelance writer and editor

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