The Mughal Empire holds a great significance in Pakistan, being the last Islamic Dynasty to rule this part of Asia before the British occupation in the 19th century. Unfortunately, much of what was created in this era was undermined as part of the British Divide and Rule policy, and this ridicule has been internalized and preserved in how Pakistan remembers its history today.
It is this very lack of historical “ownership” that affects our post-colonial psyche. Forever feeling overshadowed by their shiny neighbours, constantly embarrassed to be Muslim, Pakistan lives its life like a surly teenager who refuses to take a haircut because they’re afraid their acne will show. Our ancestors are “not cool like the West” and “India got all the good stuff” is the running sentiment of the nation. Nothing we do is good enough.
The goal of the Lahore Fort Digitization Project is to reclaim Pakistan’s historical narrative by re-examining our history and re-cataloging our historic sites, starting with the Lahore Fort.
The architecture housed in this Fort today represents the evolution of the Mughal Empire in the contributions made by four successive emperors in the dynasty. It represents the golden age of Islamic rule across Central and South Asia and how their individual philosophies have contributed to the arts and culture of modern day Pakistan and India.
The Mughal Emperor Akbar rebuilt the original Lahore Fort on a grander scale when he established Lahore as the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1566. A contemporary of the other great Mughal Forts in Delhi and Agra, this fort is equal in scale and design and house such architectural gems as the Shish Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and the Naulakha, a marble pavilion studded with delicate pietra dura using semi-precious stones.
Perhaps most significant is the location of the Fort. In the historic city of Lahore, this Fort forms one side of a quadrangle, facing the iconic Baadshahi Mosque, with a Hindu Temple and a Sikh Temple placed between them. This shows how these Islamic emperors respected the right to personal religion, so much as to embed their beliefs into the layout of the capital of the Mughal Empire.
The Mughal Emperors lived fascinating lifes and represented varying degrees of fidelity to the religion. Yet, even across this range, each Emperor was consistent in their basic family values, respect for other cultures, and their unwavering support of the arts and education.
In the era of the Mughal Empire, learning and culture were placed at the forefront. Some say that the literacy rate across the empire was as high as 90%, based on the number of people who could read Persian, Sanskrit, Hindi or Arabic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mathematics was a universal skill across the subcontinent. However, all of these statistics were nullified after colonization, as the British did not consider non-English speakers to be literate at all. It was, sadly, this erasure of existing achievements that started the decline of the Muslim populations in India.
The Lahore Fort was at the heart of the Mughal Empire for almost 150 years. Rediscovering this monument could provide us with new insights into the workings of the Empire that created such a lasting impact in the region. By reconnecting this past to our present, we can hope to start repairing the negative image of Muslims and Islam that exists today.