Thatta was once a centre of learning and commerce. It was the capital of Sindh for almost 95 years when the mighty Indus River flowed next to the city. The ancient banks of the Indus River, before it changed its course, can still be seen from near the Makli hill. The Makli hill is home to one of the two things Thatta is most famous for: the Makli necropolis (one of the largest in the world). The other monument that Thatta is famous for is the Shah Jehan Mosque.
The Shah Jehan Mosque was built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in 1647 and has been on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 1993.
After Emperor Jehangir, Shah Jehan’s father, banished him from Delhi, Shah Jehan sought refuge in Thatta. The construction of this mosque represents Shah Jehan’s gratitude towards the people of Thatta for giving him shelter during that difficult time.
It is barely a two-minute drive from the Makli necropolis. The road leading to it, which was intact last year, is now in a state of disrepair.
Outside and inside the main courtyard of the mosque, there are several streetside vendors that have set up shop, selling everything from small souvenirs, colourful bangles and what not. The fountains of the mosque are dry.
The mosque was built in a similar manner to that of a Mughal courtyard (which lies right outside the main mosque’s premises). What separates it from traditional Mughal architecture is that instead of three large domes, there is only one main dome in the prayer hall as well as the fact that the glazed tile mosaic design belongs to the Timurid School of architecture — as is the employment of a large number of pishtaqs (a high arch set within a rectangular frame). Also red bricks have been used in the construction of the mosque rather than pink sandstone from Jaipur, which was a more common ingredient in Mughal architecture.
The mosque represents an era in Thatta where tile decoration was at its peak. The ceilings bear testament to that as beautiful mosaics adorn the inner side of the two main domes. The tile work is predominantly in blue with several other colours, such as green, red and violet, added in sporadically to offset it. The colours provide a somewhat soothing effect from Thatta’s unforgiving summer sun. What is interesting about the mosaic is that there are very distinct star motifs, which, when arranged together form a vision of a starry sky arranged around a sun — day and night coming together as one.
The Shah Jehan Mosque is known for the sheer number of its domes — over 100 — the largest number of domes in a mosque in the world.
Architecturally the mosque has been built keeping in mind the acoustics of the area — a person speaking at one end of the mosque can be heard at the other end without the use of a loudspeaker.
This beautiful 17th century structure is one of the best-restored and well-maintained heritage sites in Pakistan. If the Makli necropolis is the crown of Thatta, the Shah Jehan Mosque is its most precious jewel.
Newspaper view: [click for larger image]